Implementing user research in the production cycle

Aww, that moment when you conduct your first user interview. Photo: Rob Hampson, Unsplash

The need of asking the user over the course of design is central and well-documented for many years. But user-centricity is very easily sacrificed for solutions that are wanted by managers or other stakeholders.

Follow me on short story of the implementation of user research in the production cycle.

TL;DR
It took me a long breath, persistence and internal evangelisation to implement a user research routine. Not only the UX team profits from real user input, but also product teams whenever they build new interactive contents.

Identifying the problem

When I joined About You in mid 2017, we imagined a UX Conceptioner as a person that would narrow the gap between developers and designers. My role would be to fetch the data, analyze it and then build an informed wireframe and prototype the product.

But when my team started executing this plan, I came to realize that we had to do more than crunching numbers from Google Analytics to understand the user.

“Can we learn about the user only with data?”

It wasn’t that teams at About You hadn’t used data before to prioritize on parts of the product. Tracking and performance indicators are some of the main drivers of success for About You.

Only few teams at the company had the user in focus. Customer Service, Social Media or the Brand Advertising teams were some of the few that were ought to maintain connection to the outside world.

Something was missing in our workflow.

Designers and product teams are just be two out of three parties, that have a say in the product. Users are the third, essential part to success.

But how could we talk to real users?

First steps

At that time our neighbouring brand team conducted interviews about their new billboard and tv campaign ads. So we asked to collaborate and sneak a few additional questions on the agenda. In addition, I teamed up with social media and product teams to collect every reaction of the users that we could get.

The findings were nice, but we haven’t had the time nor the resources or approval from the lead to do this routinely.

Are we still on this?

Then, due to changes in our team constellation, the long wait began. Whenever a new project came to us, me and my fellow UX designer asked to speak with real users. But all the good reasons didn’t help to convince leads.

But we felt that the time would come for us. I sometimes doubted and asked myself whether we forgot about user research.

Somewhere on the journey I felt a bit lost.

But then product team members themselves decided to speak to users. They approached me to support and we invited a focus group.

In retrospective I was underprepared and the new product we tested was about to launch in 3 weeks. If we implemented all of the feedback, the work of weeks would have been gone

It felt like in my worst nightmare: the test was expensive and the outcomes were thin and barely usable. “That’s how a dead end looks like”, I thought.

The tipping point

To not completely give up the idea of user interviews I personally educated myself with articles on medium, books and talking to people on meetups.

And sometimes you’re just lucky. In the end of 2018 our team hired a freelancer who exclusively works on a new project. That project was the tipping point.

There’s a new project in town. ©Jo Szczepanska, Unsplash

Now stakeholders were open to try new things and I took the chance to evangelize for qualitative user research interviews. Finally it was decided to start next week.

And just like you’d handle to a new years resolution its good start early on. Otherwise it’ll be hard to keep it as a good habit.

I was confident that we would have user research routinely over the course of the freelancers project. And we still do.

Moving fast

We decided to follow Steve Krugs ideas from his best-selling books “Don’t make me think” and “Rocket surgery made easy”. Ordered the hardware and software, we invited our participants.

On the same day, I started to build the questionnaire and checked on the goals of our session while the project manager prepared rooms and checked schedules.

Our users were asked to “think aloud” while completing these scenarios:

  • Find and place a product in the basket
  • Browse for a product that you need
  • Stroll around and find things intuitively

When we approved the questionnaire later that week, I was asked if I was able to take over the role as interviewer and accepted happily.

Let’s make user testing work this time. ©José Alejandro Cuffia, Unsplash

When the day came, we were pretty excited how the test would go. All audio and the users Screen was broadcasted to the stakeholders, while I conducted four interviews of roughly an hour.

Afterwards all of the spectators and I joined for lunch and discussed the findings they experienced.

Finally, we decided to keep this as a good routine to get us creative. User testing became a steady routine. It complements our other efforts to understand the person on the other side of the screen and their perception of the product.

Learnings from interviews I conducted

Although the real learnings from the tests are undisclosed, I would like to share some things I learned about conducting interviews so far:

  • Test your questionnaire beforehand with somebody not involved into the product. You’ll learn where your approach falls short early.
  • Hold yourself back and let the user do the talking. Wait a little second longer before you ask the next question.
  • Keep the technology simple and reliable. You don’t want to loose precious minutes testing connections.

Takeaways

As of now we had three tests running interviews with real users. Not only the main product profits from it, but also other teams that create interactive contents at About You approached us to help them get more customer-oriented.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.