As you may know, the theme for our 2021 festival is “learning through failing”. While we’re confident we’re going to be able to deliver a perfect event for you, there have been plenty of times throughout our careers when we’ve messed up, done things wrong, and of course – forgotten we’re not on mute!
Last week we published the stories of three of our team members. In the following examples, the remaining four members of the UXinsight Festival team share their own stories and experiences. Not only will this make you feel better about your own tales of woe, but they’ll also offer you guidance on what they learned and how they made it work for them in the long run.
Karin den Bouwmeester
Not testing is often better than bad testing
I was working on a highly confidential product. Everyone was worried the competitor would discover our new strategy. Involving users from outside the organization in our user test was out of the question.
We, the designers and me, really wanted to start testing this very innovative user interface. We had so many questions. So, why not ask colleagues to participate in our test?
- our intended end-users were often school drop-outs, while my colleagues all had a technical University degree; and
- our intended end-users worked with this type of product on a daily basis, while my colleagues never actually worked with the product before….
but a test is always better than no test at all, right?!
Well, we learned a lot during the test with colleagues. Made a lot of changes to the design, and after months of hard work were finally ready to test with real users. All the ‘improvements’ made, appeared not to be improvements at all. To our users the interface didn’t make sense, was way too complex and didn’t prove to be useful in the daily lives of the actual users of the product.
Strange as it may seem, sometimes it is far better to not run a test at all, rather than running a bad one!
Mistakes that you can’t forget
Oh, so many failures! I don’t really think about things as a failure as I have always been blessed with people that help me figure out a plan B or simply understand that sometimes things don’t work out. In terms of research, I think most of my failures have been around recruitment:
I was working on the navigation of an app dedicated to a niche audience. I decided to do a tree test and aimed to get around 200-300 participants. You probably see where this is going… We had that test live for weeks and never got to even 10% of the required sample. The issue was that we were trying to reach out to this consumer through wrong channels. I ended up scrapping that study completely and moved on with a moderated approach (and smaller sample size).
Long before this, when I had just started my career, I made a horrible mistake that I still can’t forget. I was conducting user interviews and once the call was complete, I was discussing with my fellow researcher how we didn’t learn many new things from this person, etc. To my surprise (and horror!), I had apparently not disconnected the call and the participant heard the entire discussion. This was an interview with my client’s team members and everything about this situation made me feel like I never want to show my face to anyone.
This taught me to always double check who could hear me, and that calls really are over!
Renée de Wolf
As a researcher you want to understand the users’ needs, goals, pains, behaviors, the context, etc. Because, how can we come up with solutions if we don’t understand these things? After all, that’s our job!
But I tend to use this skill in other settings as well. Analyze everything – conversations I had with colleagues, that one presentation I gave to stakeholders, failures I made. All in order to understand them and come up with solutions to do better next time.
And I think analyzing and reflecting upon these topics does help me. But sometimes the topic is so complex, making it a heavy burden and instead of helping to get further or better, making me feel stuck.
What I recently learned is that sometimes it’s ok to stop analyzing. Accept that there is a problem; in the design that you are working on with the team, or in your personal life. Be gentle and fair to yourself by saying that this is something you’re struggling with, but that you’re working on it. And to look forward and just try something different.
Now we’re on the topic; this is attempt 362 of this piece. Getting there.. ?
I’ve worked in New York City in smaller organizations as an arts manager for over a decade now. When I was first starting out, it took me a couple of years to realize and acknowledge my need to manage too many facets of an organization. In the long run, what this meant was that while everything functioned, nothing was exceptional. It also made for what felt like a one note organization, instead of the thrum of collaborative yet independent voices — the exact opposite of anything envisioned. It felt awful.
It came down to the realization that my own vision for the work I was trying so hard to improve, my desire to get it right, was part of the problem. It wasn’t just my work. It was everyone’s. Intrinsically I knew that, but this problem had snuck up on me all the same. It was a harsh reality to face.
Being aware of this and naming it has really helped to shift the way I work. Having open conversations with coworkers, asking for assistance, trusting everyone’s best intentions and honestly, the luxury of time and learning on the job also played a large role. While I do think over-managing is something I’ll always be on the lookout for (as I believe it can take many forms) within my own work in small orgs. Specifically, being able to not have all the answers and to allow for those “growing edges” to exist makes me feel more open and secure in my own development.
Join us at the UXinsight Festival and learn how to become a master in failure in UX research!