2020 has been a year of transformation, in all sorts of ways. One of these transformations has been my favourite user research conference – UXinsight 2020 into an online festival. More than 400 researchers from around 30 countries took part in the festival, which hosted 19 talks and 22 interactive sessions from Sep 14– Sep 18. Speakers from the Research Ops community took the stage too, making the event even more special.
The talks I listened to gave me a feeling as if user research is maturing. We are introspecting and learning how and where we fit into a bigger world. Instead of ‘how to deal with’ research stakeholders, researchers spoke about ‘how to work with or design for’ stakeholders.
Farai Madzima talks about diversity and inclusion in tech teams. Molly Fargotstein-Sanders shared marketing strategies for user research. Işinsu Sakalli shares personal experiences on earning the trust of stakeholders. Nic Price and Ben Garvey-Cubbon look at user research through the eyes of the participants. Jos-marien Jansen walked us through the intricacies of mixed methods research for AI, and Colette Kolenda shares creative ways to share research insights.
Here are some notes on the talks I attended this year.
Diversity and Inclusion
It is heartening to see Farai Madzima from Shopify talk about diversity and inclusion in the Tech World. Companies are now trying to build and maintain diverse teams. So, often people from minority groups might end up being the only ones of their kind in a team, project, or company.
And being ‘one of a kind’ in a team or room comes with challenges. Farai used hip-hop and the movie Purl as examples. When we seem different from others, we spend a lot of effort trying to be included which takes away time and attention from our jobs. Also, our identity may cause others to question our skills, rather than taking our abilities at face value. This can make us and others feel like our failure is a failure for all of our kind.
What has stayed with me is that any of us can end up being ‘one of a kind’ depending on the circumstances.
I am the only one over 60…
I am the only one who needs to use a wheelchair…
I am the only one who is a woman...
I am the only one who is divorced and a single parent…
In a time of polarization and defensiveness, I like how Farai asks us to embrace doubt. Because doubt can help us look around and make us try new things. And help us build teams that enable people from all backgrounds to contribute and flourish.
Looking at user research through the eyes of the participants
We often talk about the challenges of recruitment but Nic Price and Ben Garvey-Cubbon shine a light on a new area, that is, meeting participant needs. They found that meeting the participants’ needs can help improve the quality of the overall study, increase the response rates, and decrease the drop rates.
They conducted user research to discover the needs of user research participants. This included remote interviews, a survey with more than 900 people, and observing a recruitment team. Based on this study, they created a task model showing the journey of a user research participant.
What if we approach user research as a service for our participants, and we learn about their motivations and barriers, so we can collect diverse and valid data.
User research is a weird and unfamiliar interaction for the participants and it can seem like a black box. So, they used visuals to explain what the study and the set-up would be like. TheGov.UK uses a video that explains what taking part in user research is like. How awesome!
And finally, they concluded by asking a timely question. 48% of participants don’t take part in research over video calls because of low tech ability, privacy concerns, or lack of bonding with the researcher.
So, whose voices are we hearing during the pandemic because they can’t take part in user research?
Strategy for marketing user research within a company
Molly Fargotstein-Sanders from Mailchimp presents her team’s strategy to market UXR and bridge the gap with other departments. It was a rich talk which presented a tangible plan for championing user research. They started by defining what “UX Research Marketing” is.
UX Research Marketing is the strategy behind, and implementation of, intentional, effective promotion and communication of who UX Research is, what UX Research does and what UX Research knows.
Their strategy includes all three pillars: the people, the activities, and the knowledge/insights of UXR. They started a quarterly UX research newsletter, created a mini-museum, and share ‘Snackable insights’. To make people familiar with the UXR repository, they also organized a scavenger hunt in the repository.
(Re)building trust with your stakeholders
Işinsu Sakalli from Shopify shared a very personal talk on earning trust of your stakeholders, where she talked about earning, losing, and re-building trust.
She adapted the 4 Cs of trust model by Flinchbough which says that trust is built through Care, Communication, Competence, and Consistency. Işinsu adds that while embracing each of these Cs, we should remember the context we work in. For example, saying a direct “No” may be rude in cultures like Japan and India, so people will communicate using different words, e.g., “Possibly” or “Let’s see…”
My direct users are my team rather than the end-users, in order to make a difference in the lives of my end users, I need to earn the trust of my team… Rebuilding [broken] trust needs both sides, having tough conversations, making compromises.
In this way, the 4Cs lived through the lens of the context of a country, environment, or an organization can help us build trust within and between teams.
“Trust = (Competence + Care + Communication + Consistency) Context”
The intricacies of UX Research in the Field of Design, Data and AI
Jos-marien Jansen from Philips talks about user research for AI in healthcare. She showed a case study on tailored care for patients undergoing weight loss surgery. The amount of data and types of data needed for delivering tailored care are extensive. They placed different kinds of trackers and design probes in the patients’ context. These include activity trackers, physical scales, and buttons for providing subjective ratings. They also placed sensors on snack cabinets, doors of the house, and on bikes, etc.
“We looked at Data with a creative lens rather than a statistical lens.”
They also needed to develop new tools to combine the data from all the sources and to make sense of it. They found that AI can help offer timely advice to patients based on their behavior. But, unless the AI system understands the ‘why’ behind the behavior, it cannot offer relevant advice.
For example, the system learned that a family is eating unhealthy food based on their usage of a fryer. But to offer relevant suggestions, the system needs to know why they are eating unhealthy food. Is it because they know a limited number of healthy recipes, or because fried food is common ground for everybody’s taste. The suggestions would be different for each of the cases.
How do we share our insights creatively?
Colette Kolenda from Spotify described creative ways of sharing the rich data produced by a user study. The way her team collects and analyzes data guides their decisions on how to share the data. To determine what’s the most compelling way to share their insights, they consider the following questions:
- When conducting the research, ask, “What’s unique about the data you’re collecting?” In a study, they used eye-tracking glasses to record video from the participants’ point of view while they were listening to Spotify. They also recorded the soundtrack being listened to. To share this unique perspective of stepping into the participants’ world, they built a website with video clips from the study. Through the clips, the viewers could ‘see and hear’ what the users were seeing and listening to.
- When analyzing data, ask, “How can you expose others to the richness of the analysis?” For another study, they collected pictures, quotes, lots of video data, and graphs and charts with trends and behavioral data. To expose the abundant and rich evidence to their stakeholders and wider teams, they designed a museum.
- Finally, when sharing findings, ask, “How can stakeholders interact with your insights so that they can be memorable?”
So far, for the talks I attended. The UXinsight festival was invaluable, and I came away with great learnings for the next year. There were many more talks, workshops, sessions and activities that were worthwhile according to my fellow Festival participants. I would love to hear your thoughts. What were your favourite talks or takeaways from the festival this year?
About the author
Beant Kaur Dhillon
Beant is a Senior User Researcher and Usability Consultant with ~10 years experience. She is also an artist for the last 8 years. Having worked with the likes of Philips, Adidas and Ultimaker, as well as many medical start-up companies, Beant has led end-to end-user research projects on a broad range of products, systems and apps, across the globe.
Beant also trains and assists companies to set-up user research and user-centered design processes. She conducts workshops on Creative Thinking and writes altUXR – a bi-monthly email on how to grow as a User Researcher.