Anyone who works in the UX field understands how important research is to the UX process, and more generally, to delivering a successful product. Research isn’t a step within the process, but more of a thread throughout the process. Research lets us understand the people using our products, the context of that use, their goals, motivations, pain points, and almost anything else we want to know about their use of what we’re working on.
The “insight at scale” theme explored the challenges that can be faced when performing research in service of enterprise UX design, including: workers situated around the globe, economic buyers not being true end users, business and process rules that may or may not make total sense, and more data than you know what to do with, amongst others.
— Malin Huffman (@MalinHuffman) May 13, 2015
Christian Rohrer, Chief Design Officer at Intel Security and Consumer Products, Chris Chapo, Head of Data Science at ENJOY, and Kelly Goto, CEO and Founder of gotoresearch, all gave pragmatic advice on how to handle issues relating to gaining insight, starting with performing the research itself. There are many, many ways to go about gathering data about your application or your users; some quantitative or qualitative and others behavioral or attitudinal. Christian pointed us all to this article of his on the Nielsen Norman Group site that gives a nice overview of UX research methods and when to use them, including a really handy chart for the visual folks in the crowd. During his presentation, he mentioned an additional layer for that chart he calls “the golden trapezoid of user research,” which covers all the previously mentioned research types, with an emphasis on ethnographic field studies.
“The ‘F word’ of user research”
Context was mentioned quite often throughout this theme, with contextual inquiry being the most oft-mentioned research method to gather data around context of use. This was nice to hear, as field studies (contextual inquiry as we would call them) are our favorite research method to utilize on any project we work on. One of our least favorites — and something we would probably never suggest — are focus groups, which Christian called “the ‘F word’ of user research.” From my recollection, that was the only time focus groups were mentioned throughout the two days.
Chris highlighted the role of data by mentioning that data “shifts the conversation from ‘I think’ to ‘I know,'” brings focus to the design process, and is brought to life by design. Just having loads of data isn’t enough, and could potentially be a bad thing, but using it to bring focus to what you’re doing and highlighting opportunities is very powerful. Chris talked through three quick case studies throughout his presentation, but one of those in particular has stuck with me. He talked about a project where he was given the 137 “core metrics” that a client tracked for each of their stores, but the stores still weren’t performing as well as they would have liked. Chris and his team performed contextual inquiry research at only the very best performing stores and found that there were four key behaviors of the management teams in those stores, and by tracking those instead of all 137, they were able to increase conversion by more than ten percent. So instead of delivering a stack of 137 core metrics, a simple visual representation of the four most important ones told the more compelling story.
Compelling stories was one of the key points to Kelly’s presentation. In addition to a neat story about her daughter being the first child with a 3D-printed cast, she highlighted the importance of “thick data,” which delivers not just numbers, but stories; thick data also highlights the context and touch points between data. Instead of taking data, surveys, interviews, field studies, and ethnography individually, thick data pulls it all together to tell the holistic story. Similarly, she pointed out how storytelling matters, and especially so when working with people who don’t have a lot of time to give to your documents. Having an easily consumable and nicely put together presentation is a key element to a successful reception of your work.
That wrapped up the first theme of the conference, sending us all out into the San Antonio rain (which I honestly didn’t know it did in San Antonio) to get in line at the food trucks, which were excellent!
Follow up with second theme, Craft Amid Complexity.