Since 2010, we’ve helped hundreds of GV startups (like Nest, Foundation Medicine, Flatiron Health, Slack, Gusto, Lime, and Uber) use UX research to answer critical business questions and to build more successful products. We’ve shared our lessons on Medium and in the GV Library. This table of contents will help you quickly find everything you need to learn more faster about your customers, your ideas, and your designs.
There’s nothing quite like visiting a foreign city for the first time — especially with a great tour guide. That eye-opening, first-hand experience just doesn’t compare to reading a description or looking at photos a friend brought back from their trip. The same is true for UX research interviews. No second-hand research report or highlights video alone can deliver the same jolt of insight and impact as when the core team actively observes a full set of customer interviews. As a researcher, I try hard to help teams see and hear their customers (and the research process) themselves. …
When I do UX research for startups, I try to make it easy for teams to observe from anywhere, while demonstrating they don’t need a fancy usability lab to do it themselves. Having conducted over 200 UX research studies for GV companies, I’ve come to rely on a simple setup that’s inexpensive, and flexible enough for testing mobile and desktop prototypes in-person and remotely. This isn’t the result of an extensive software and hardware review. This reliable combination just fits my needs really well. After demonstrating and describing this setup countless times, I’m finally documenting it here.
After completing hundreds of research projects for startups across dozens of industries, I finally noticed something. Although each project seems unique on the surface, they actually match several patterns that emerge again and again. In my experience, startups look to UX research most often to achieve one of these five objectives:
This practical field guide offers a way to quickly identify a startup’s objective, and what kind of research they actually need. It outlines how to conduct research that will deliver actionable results for each of these five common objectives. And most importantly, the “North Star Questions” will help you steer the project from start to successful finish. …
When coaching startups to conduct interviews and usability testing, I see one opportunity that is missed again and again: building a strong rapport with research participants by reading and responding to their body language. For me, learning to do this was like finding a magic potion that instantly improved the caliber of my research, and it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable, too.
When we walk into the room ready to do our research, we’re usually focused on how to efficiently gather the information we need and get out. And we may be nervous ourselves, especially when we’re doing research off-site in unfamiliar territory like a participant’s home or office. …
As far as I know, I’m the only UX researcher at a venture-capital firm. (If there’s anyone else out there, please say hello!) This gives me a pretty unique perspective, and a big challenge: I’m constantly jumping into new domains and figuring out how to have an impact quickly.
GV has invested in more than 300 startups, so I’ve had a lot of practice. Again and again, I start from scratch, understand the business and industry, then find a way to help each team answer their most important questions.
So when I had the opportunity to address a group of Google UX researchers, I decided to talk about what I’ve learned from this experience and how I approach research projects.
Here are the slides and audio from the talk.
Feel free to respond below if you have thoughts or questions!
Our team at GV meets with startups every week to advise CEOs, give design feedback, and help companies learn about their customers. A company recently asked:
We want to conduct research sessions with our customers more frequently, but I don’t want to send them recruiting emails every time we want to test our products. Should we develop a consumer advisory board?
Probably not. Consumer advisory boards and customer panels have a major downside: stale feedback from people who have become too familiar with your company and your product. Customer research is most valuable when it helps you see the world and your product through your customers’ fresh eyes. Even if you carefully stock an advisory board with “representative customers,” it won’t take long before they’re not. With their special status and exposure to you or your business, they may start to see the product and business from your perspective. …
Our team at Google Ventures meets with startups every week to advise CEOs, give design feedback, and help companies learn about their customers. A company recently asked:
We’re planning to beta test a new hardware product in homes, but we’re still in stealth mode. How can we prevent leaks during our test?
For help, I turned to Mac Smith, Senior Staff UX Researcher for Google[X]. Mac has successfully avoided leaks while beta testing many highly confidential products, including Google Glass.
Mac reassured me that — while you should take several steps to curb leaks — you really don’t need to worry about it as much as you’d think. …
Our team at Google Ventures meets with startups every week to advise CEOs, give design feedback, and answer pressing questions. We talk a lot about customer research — why it’s so important, and how to run research sprints. One objection is that it can be tough to find customers to interview, especially when they are busy professionals or experts. The questions usually go something like this:
Our customers are super-busy experts. How can I recruit enough of them for research interviews? How do I convince them to give us time and access?
I’ve run hundreds of research sprints for companies across dozens of industries. I’ve interviewed oncologists, traders, pediatricians, corporate executives, restaurant managers, and many other specialized, busy, and/or well-compensated people. When I recruit for these interviews, I often lean on the startups themselves to get started. …
Our team at Google Ventures meets with startups every week to advise CEOs, give design feedback, and answer pressing questions. One question we’ve heard again and again is about prioritizing research. It often sounds something like this:
We have a small design team, and a long list of projects in different stages. On top of that, our bosses just asked us to work on [personas, customer journeys, experience maps, fill in the blank with other large research deliverable]. We want to incorporate more customer research, but we can’t do it all. What should we do? What should we test?
It’s best to test ideas early and often, but at a startup you can’t do research for everything. To prioritize competing research requests, you need a way to assess the potential impact, urgency, and effort of each request. …