Day in the Life of a First User Researcher

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

And mighty teams start with one person. At Glooko, I am that one person in user experience research. (Glooko is diabetes management platform which includes a mobile app for people with diabetes and an online dashboard for health care providers.) My goal is to eventually grow the user research practice from one little acorn to a mighty oak team.

To make this future a reality, I’m cultivating (pun intended) a strong root system that is both deep — involving a variety of user research methods throughout the software development lifecycle phases — and wide — working with many teams across the company.

On a particularly fertile (ha ha) day a few weeks ago — let’s call it Root Day — I found myself tending the three vital roots which are intertwined (pun-y again) with the questions that drive the three main phases of the software development lifecycle:

  • What should we build?
  • How should we build it?
  • Did we build it right?

Note that each start-up’s needs are different, so these are some examples of the root cultivation activities that I’ve been doing that fit Glooko’s unique and current needs.

“What should we build?” Root

This root is about getting involved in the early exploratory stages of product development. The question “What should we build?” points to understanding users’ challenges, needs, and context. It’s the phase where the team looks for opportunities of new features or products to build.

Prepping for Type 1 Ethnography workshop

In the past few months we’ve been focusing on getting a deeper understanding of what it’s like to manage diabetes on a daily basis for people with Type 1 diabetes. I had led a series of in-home ethnographic style interviews with people who have Type 1 diabetes; I had folks from Marketing, Product Managers, Engineering, Data Science, and UX join me as notetakers and videographers on the visits. As the first step in bringing the lives of our participants to everyone at Glooko, I scheduled a one-day workshop to tell their stories. I assigned a Glooko employee to each participant; they were asked to watch the video, review the notes, photos, etc from each session and write a summary using a template I provided. (See my story “Three Ways to Build Empathy when working in Health Tech” for more detail)

On Root Day, I was taking care of the logistics for the workshop: creating a summary template, making video clips, and printing pictures of the participants and of key artifacts from their visits.

Later, at the workshop, we watched a video clip of each participant so everyone could get a sense of who they are, and the Glooko employee told the participant’s story. Everyone else in the room jotted down observations on sticky notes. By the end of the day, we were surrounded by our insights and the beginnings of significant patterns about our participants and their needs, which will lead to new feature ideas that we should build. All in all, about 30 people (about a ⅕ of the company!) took part in the visits themselves, wrote summaries, or took part in the workshop — including our CEO.

Healthcare Provider Interview

On the clinician side of the company, I was working with a Product Manager and a Designer to explore healthcare providers’ needs for a potential new feature. We had already conducted a series of interviews to understand the broad needs, and now wanted to get more specific using a series of wireframes to illustrate the experience. I worked with them to:

  • Articulate the research questions
  • Draft the discussion guide
  • Role-play with the Designer so she’d feel prepared to conduct the interviews

On Root Day, since we had arranged this project so they could conduct the interviews themselves, I was playing a back-up role in one of these interviews — just asking additional questions rather than conducting the full interview. With my mentoring and support, the Product Manager and Designer were able to get the feedback they needed to understand what we should build for healthcare professionals.

“How should we build it?” Root

The “How should we build it?” root picks up after the team identifies some opportunities areas, and begins to build the feature. This root is about helping the team evaluate a variety of concepts, diverging on the right solution, and honing that solution until the feature launches.

Usability testing a mobile app feature

We were working on a new feature in the mobile app, and two of our Interaction Designers had collaborated on the user experience and were ready to get feedback from users. I worked with them to:

  • Articulate the research questions and craft a research plan using the template I had developed
  • Pick the recruiting criteria to find the right participants and which screener library questions to use
  • Think through the tasks we needed in order to answer those questions and how to chunk the prototype according to the tasks to effectively evaluate them on
  • Set up the tasks in

On Root Day, after individually watching the videos of the user session of the couple of variations of the flow we were testing, we came together to compare notes, to analyze, and to synthesize our findings, and figure out the next steps of how we should build this feature. Additionally, as a result of taking the designers through setting up the tools, I wrote up a handy Marianne’s Guide to to avoid common pitfalls I had discovered and that could be a useful piece of organizational knowledge.

Usability Testing an ad campaign

In preparation for an upcoming big ad campaign, our Marketing Designer had designed ads with two different visual styles. She wanted help with assessing whether users would understand the copy, and which style would be a better fit for the audience that we wanted to attract. I worked with her to:

  • Articulate the research questions and craft a research plan using the template I had developed
  • Weigh the pros and cons of the tools we could use to evaluate these questions. We decided to do a test on Five Second Test to test initial impressions, and another on for understandability.
  • Write the set of tasks for each test
  • Pick the recruiting criteria to find the right participants

On Root Day, we reviewed the tests in Five Second Test and on environments to make sure they avoided common pitfalls, and to fix any final issues like typos or unclear instructions. Later, the Designer was able to do the analysis on her own, and to identify the elements of the design that were working and not working so she knew which ads she should build.

“Did we build it right?” Root

The final root is about validating the decisions we made by listening to users’ reactions, and looking for areas of improvement that could drive the next cycle of building.

Discussion with Marketing about moving to Quarterly Satisfaction survey

Glooko has been conducting an NPS survey for the past several years, but given some of the shortcomings of NPS, I was advocating our moving to a quarterly survey (and ultimately an in-app feedback mechanism).

On Root Day, we had a discussion with our Marketing teams in Sweden and the US to understand how they were using the NPS and whether the new proposed solution would meet their needs. By the end of the meeting, we had a clear sense of what the new survey would need to accomplish and I volunteered to write up a proposal to share with Leadership. Since then we’ve adopted the quarterly survey approach and are exploring even more immediate yet not intrusive ways to get feedback from our users.

By using a variety of user research methods throughout the software development lifecycle, being a coaching resource for every team to engage in user research, and striving to make Glooko as a company even more user-focused, I’m cultivating the ground for where a mighty User Research team can begin to sprout.

Are you a little acorn researcher at your organization? How are you tending your user research roots?

Are you a Product leader at your organization considering if it’s time to plant the first seed with a dedicated researcher? How does this jive with your expectations of what that acorn researcher could do for your organization?

I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you to Allison Gentes, Amber Hampton Greene, Amy Ng, Ashley Tudor, George Fairbanks, Kim Do, and Robin Jeffries for their feedback on this article!

Qualitative user experience researcher exploring the intersection of social entrepreneurship, technology, and design thinking. User research at Glooko.