In my last couple of roles I’ve been taking on more leadership responsibilities. Now that I’m on a short break between finishing up at my last place and starting the next thing, it feels like a good time to reflect on things I’ve learnt.

Actively manage your stress and anxiety

This is a big one for me, and something I’m still working on. A very smart friend recently reflected that regulating your emotions is an essential part of being able to do any job. I’d agree, and I think this gets harder as you become more senior. …


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Doing international research often can be difficult and expensive. The logistical and financial barriers to doing it well are off-putting to many. Global media organisations face these problems all the time. It’s just not practical or affordable to send a team around the world for every set of research questions you are interested in.

Fortunately there are smarter ways to approach these challenges. Judith Mühlenhoff is the brains behind the User Research Lab, a global network of ethnographers and research participants specialising in media research. The User Research Lab has carried out substantial audience research for clients like the BBC World Service. …


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Recently I was researching the potential for a new product aimed at some very technical people. It had been really hard to find the right participants for our research. We needed experts with very specific skills. And these were busy people working in healthcare, not an environment where it’s easy to just rock up and start doing some interviews.

Once we found some participants, it was initially tricky to build rapport in our interviews, especially as I was interviewing in German — which I speak well but is not my native tongue. In German, the structure of the language introduces additional layers of formality and a feeling of distance. For example, you address people you don’t know with the formal Sie, rather than the informal Du. …


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It’s a dark, warm night filled with jostling crowds. Nearby you sense but don’t quite see a vast expanse of water flowing past. In front of you a stage glows with lights and the bright colours of musicians’ costumes. Directly beneath them eager fans stand close, faces and arms raised, moving in time with music. As you drift back the standing groups are broken up by clusters sitting on the grass, until at some point everyone’s sitting and the parties are more dispersed. The rainbow glow of the stage finds a hundred, blue reflections below in the phones and tablets pointed at the performers. It could be a scene from any festival in a stunning, outdoor location. …


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“Before I was less sensitive to it. I felt a lot freer, less observed. It has too much advertising. They use your info for themselves. I’m more careful now.”

“I’m more reserved. I’m never sure what happens to the photos, I’m very cautious.”

“Before my child I had lots of photos on there, because I had nothing to hide. Now I don’t put photos of her up there because I don’t want them stored.”

I’m sure you can guess which social network they’re talking about. Yes, these are all opinions people hold about Facebook. With plenty of negative press recently, you’ve probably heard people say things just like this about Facebook. Except these quotes aren’t recent. In fact they come from 4-year old research I did with people living in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Two years before Snowden’s revelations, many middle and northern Europeans were already feeling distinctly uncomfortable about Facebook’s cavalier attitude to privacy and personal data. …


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In recent years, the way we build products and services has changed: small teams can build something new that rapidly grows to a global user base. If someone sees value in what you make — and providing they have the skills and access to the Internet — they can sign up to your platform or purchase your product right away. Before you know it, you can have customers anywhere and everywhere, from Tokyo, to Nairobi, to Berlin.

Most of us in the digital industry are now aware that design research helps teams build better and make smarter decisions. Research helps us create better experiences and spot new opportunities for innovation. Increasingly, user researchers work embedded directly in teams rather than contracted from large agencies. And we’ve learnt the value of doing lean research — frequent, constant and modest in scope — instead of commissioning lengthy studies disassociated from the teams who will act on the findings. …

About

Cath Richardson

Design researcher, living in Berlin, working all over. Formerly @gdsteam, @madebymany

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