Reimagining UX strategy and the role of researchers.

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As a UX researcher or any kind of UX practitioner, what would you do if you were asked to come up with an experience strategy to help an insurance company grow its user base? You might start with understanding the existing user experience and journey, identifying gaps and pain points along the way, and come up with what to do and what to stop within the existing product scope.

Ping An Insurance, China’s biggest insurer, took a different approach. They realized most people in the addressable market already had basic insurance, and there was not much more to optimize within the existing offerings. In order to reach their business goals, they needed to create reasons for people to buy more insurance. How do they plant those seeds in people’s heads? …


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Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my current and past employers.

In September 2019, without warning, Uber laid off almost half of its researchers globally. This followed a similar lay-off of market researchers only a few months prior. In an open letter from the leadership, it was made clear that the company intended to rely more on rapid AB testing to make product decisions, rather than on user research.

From that moment, researchers who survived the lay-off went on a soul-searching journey, exploring our self-worth and the meaning of existence. Some read the letter over and over again, trying to make sense of it. Some took the chance to ask the leadership what value they place on research. …


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Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

I came to Uber looking for a fast-moving environment, and the experience did not let me down. On the first week, I ran a usability test for the product team. Within two weeks, I planned a global foundational research project, took almost twenty stakeholders from multiple disciplines with me to three continents, conducted six types of research with four target audience groups.

The pace was just the tip of the iceberg. Within less than a month at Uber, I was particularly impressed with a couple of things, which will be addressed in this article. The early experiences with Uber made me think of a question I like to ask during job interviews: “What surprised you the most about this company?” I wondered what my answer would be if a candidate asks me the same question. …


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Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

I joined Uber as a researcher in August 2018. Within my first few days at Uber, I drove my car to a Greenlight Hub*, had it inspected, took the Seattle knowledge test, and became an Uber driver.

I sometimes joke to friends that I drive with Uber because I didn’t make enough money working for Uber in the office job. In fact, the idea of becoming an Uber driver arose even before I started to work at Uber.

At one point, Uber was a share-economy platform where people would offer spare resources (namely, their car seats) to others. However, now that the product has become more widely adopted, there are more and more “professional” drivers who drive Uber full-time. Over time, people, including myself, started to see and treat the driver as a service provider, instead of just another person who happens to have additional space in his/her car. …


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Scene at Beach St. via PhotoPin (license)

How can someone new to the United States know the differences between T-mobile and AT&T? Is a box of blueberries that costs $7 considered cheap or expensive? What are people’s impressions when hearing someone is from San Francisco versus from New York?

High-end, low-end, hipster, sketchy… local people have their own perceptions about brands, areas, and products around them. It is hard for those who’ve just arrived to a country to instantly form the same perceptions and see the world from similar perspectives as the locals.

One of the challenges in cross-cultural or cross-country user research is that we only have limited time in a country, and we head to the next country soon after we are done in the previous one. …


NPS is tricky. In my business consulting days, we loved and highly promoted NPS. Our clients, who were usually C-suites, tended to buy in easily as well because it’s simple, straightforward, and proven to be correlated with revenues.

As more and more companies started to adopt NPS and use it as their North Star Metric, I also see more criticisms. Interestingly enough, I have found that UX researchers are especially no fans of NPS. Some have critiqued it in a very constructive and systematic way. Some had a good time making fun of it.

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My colleague shared this and evoked a long email threads which included gems such as “I talk about way more interesting things with my friends”.

Is NPS really that useless?

A few months ago, my product team decided to abandon NPS because they could not see a clear relationship between NPS and MAU (Monthly Active Users), which is our primary KPI. …


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In-house UX team versus consultancy — What are the differences and which one should I work for?

You can roughly divide user experience (UX) design teams into two types — internal teams that work exclusively for their employer, and external teams that provide service to multiple third-party clients. The former is usually called in-house, while the latter is known as an agency or consultancy. “What are the differences?”, “Which one should I choose?” are questions often asked by people who are new to the UX industry.

If you have experience working on both sides, you might find that sometimes people overstate the differences. …


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Photo credit: framepool

I worked in a Tokyo-based Japanese company for several years. Being the first foreign employee and a non-Japanese speaker, it was enlightening to see how a Japanese company struggled in foreign markets, trying to find a balance between its unique culture and fitting in to how other societies work.

Japan has long had a close relationship with the U.S., especially politically. Nonetheless, the country maintains its uniqueness in many respects, including recruitment and workplace cultures.

Prefer generalists with cultural fit and no work experience

When the company I worked for opened its first overseas branch, I joined the Japanese founder in conducting almost a hundred interviews with local talent. Compared with my experience interviewing with companies in the U.S. and in Europe, the questions my Japanese colleagues asked focused a lot more on understanding the candidates themselves, including their beliefs, values, and future plans. Most of these questions were never asked in my interviews with western companies. On the contrary, the skill-specific and highly technical questions that I always encountered in western interviews rarely featured in interviews with Japanese companies. …


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Photo: arch2o.com

When I was working in Singapore, I found myself and friends who also work there felt dissatisfied about the life more often than when we were in other places. We all have experience working in several countries, but only Singapore, this charming island on the surface, makes us feel gloomy for no reason.

My question was answered when I traveled from Singapore to Denmark, the happiest country in the world (although not everyone there agrees with this. Some told me they are only happy in the summer, some think if Denmark is the happiest place, then the world must be miserable). The contrast between these two countries became the central research question throughout my stay in Denmark: Why does Singapore, a developed country where anything you need is affordable and at your doorstep, make people depressed, while Denmark, with a high cost of living and brutal winters, make people relatively happy? …


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In the user experience (UX) professional area, at the moment most of the jobs are in UX design, and most of the UX designers come from visual design, communication design, or graphic design backgrounds. As a result, employers usually expect UX designers to take care of traditional design work, and UX designers also enjoy immersing in crafting details, without thinking much about things other than beautiful design.

UX should be more than that. It should be the partner of business. It should utilize user-centric methodologies to help a company make strategy decision. Why? Because companies exist to create profit, profit comes from users, and UX people know what the users are like and how to satisfy them. In that regard, UX designers should stop focusing only on the thin visual and functional layer of a website or application, and start to create the user experience that is aligned with business strategies. …

About

Elsa Ho

Research @ Facebook. Previously at Uber, Microsoft, healthcare, startups, and strategy consulting. I am offering free UXR consulting: http://startupuxr.com/

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