Designing a Research Report Your Stakeholders Will Actually Use
a.k.a. how to “UX” your Research Reports
This article is inspired by a UXPA workshop facilitated by Laura Faulkner, PhD & Head of User Experience Research for Rackspace.
A few months ago, I presented a research report to the VP of our Business Unit at IBM. Despite a few of us being short on sleep, it all went swimmingly: our VP asked some challenging (but answerable) questions, listened to our recommendations, and ultimately gave us the green light to continue along the path we were on. Yet—as many of us do—I immediately began reflecting on what could be improved the next go-around.
Fast forward to this past weekend: I’m sitting in a bright room early on a Saturday, listening to the Head of UX Research at Rackspace describe her approach to research reports. Who knew the inspiration I was looking for would come with breakfast tacos? Read on for 8 of my light bulb moments.
1) You can and should “UX” your research report.
As a researcher, the “user” is the center of your world. You spend countless hours working to understand their mental models in order to translate their needs into design decisions. When presenting a research report, your user is your stakeholder. Empathize with them in the same way you empathize with your users. Understand what your stakeholders are specifically accountable for, and what their expectations are from the presentation. More likely than not, they expect to walk away knowing what to do and why.
2) Provide actionable recommendations.
Your findings may have generated a laundry list of recommendations — but save those for a later slide. Give your stakeholders the top 1–3 actionable recommendations (the what) at the beginning of your presentation — and be prepared to immediately support them with data (the why).
3) The report you write is not the report you deliver.
Google “writing a research report” and you may notice that some of the most reputable articles are incredibly dated. This Nielsen Norman article dates back to 2005 (!). While it may be useful to write up a more comprehensive report, keep it for internal reference only. Your stakeholders — and anyone working in industry — are operating in a fast-paced world of Keynote decks, Webex calls, and agile methodologies. Design your report accordingly.
4) Speak their language.
Ideally, following these guidelines will ward off any hole-pokers. But if you encounter a skeptical stakeholder, try reframing your recommendations in terms of the risk involved in not taking them. This is why you need to understand what your stakeholders are accountable for. How is the success of this product measured? Could ignoring this recommendation result in something potentially catastrophic for your customers? Quantify the risk whenever possible.
5) Have a point of view, not an opinion.
Remind your stakeholders (and yourself) that your recommendations are your point of view. Of course, your point of view merits a high credence as it is supported by both the data and your expertise—but recommendations are objective and agnostic, and should be framed as such.
6) Hold your recommendations lightly.
Give your stakeholders the courtesy of making their own decision. It’s always possible that there are hidden reasons behind why they took a different course of action (more common in consulting situations).
7) Archive everything.
With that said—if your stakeholder doesn’t heed your recommendation, it’s likely to come back around. This is why it is important to archive your data. When things don’t go as planned and your stakeholders are asking for a new study, you can remind them that the research has already been done.
8) Make your findings shareable.
The more shareable your findings and recommendations, the more likely they are to be considered. Uploading your deck to a shared folder and emailing the link out usually isn’t enough.
Our job as design researchers is to spark faster, more confident decisions for our designers and stakeholders. When putting together your next research report, tap into what you know about designing user experiences—and design your report for your stakeholder.
Nicole Conser is a Design Researcher for IBM Cognitive Systems based in Austin, Texas. This article does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
Share your own “light bulb” moments below!