User Research North — Back to work reading list 2018

‘What’s next?’ — Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

We can pretend, be in denial. But summer is sunsetting, days are getting shorter and cooler. Yet our brains remain in holiday mode: synapses firing more slowly, sometimes only occasionally. To help coax us back into work we’ve asked a selection of User Researchers and UXers to share things they’ve found inspiring this year. Here is what they replied with. Do share any suggestions you have in the comments, or via twitter.

Thank you to all our lovely contributors.

-James, Tom and Vicki -@URNorth ❤︎

Contributors

Click a name to jump to the relevant section

Cyd Harrell

Gregg Bernstein

Harry Brignull

Leisa Reichelt

Mark Goddard

Sarah Drummond

Steph Troeth

Steve Krug

Steve Portigal

Whitney Quesenbery

Our picks


Cyd Harrell

Deep Listening to Map a Community’s Information Needs — terrific example of actual practice doing research sensitively in a bilingual and multicultural context

From Voicemails to Votes — large scale study of US congressional staffs & how they manage constituent feedback through multiple channels. Many studies have tried to look at how the public would like to communicate with officials, but this was the first to look in detail at how officials understand and process what they receive.

And I just think this is an enormously practical thread, covering a topic so many of us need, but few actually put in the time to study: https://twitter.com/shoobe01/status/1017422919587319808


Gregg Bernstein

Paul Adam’s talk, The End of Naval Gazing, at UX London 2018 irked me, prompted a string of thoughtful emails with friends in the industry, and forced me to articulate my own views on the role of UX within the larger context of business operations.

I don’t agree with everything he said, but Paul’s examination of UX practice was thought-provoking, necessary, and — best of all — entertaining.

Often we conduct user research in service to a product team, but that’s a narrow approach to just how useful research and UX practice in general can be. Paul’s talk reminds me of Martin Eriksson’s 2015 article The History and Evolution of Product Management, which reinforces that the silos that exist today are ephemeral, and that a strategy of “putting decision making as close as possible to the customer” is timeless.


Harry Brignull

A little note for User Research North — Harry was actually on a beach when he responded to our request. It’s suitably brief, holidays are for holidaying!

This I’ve enjoyed most in recent months:

Leisa Reichelt’s newsletter

The rise of the research ops slack group / community

The vision for the ResearchOps Community


Leisa Reichelt

My recommended piece has been crowdsourced by looking at which link got the greatest response from my little newsletter. This was far and away the winner with almost twice as many clicks as any other link. This pleases me, because there is much to like about this offering from Jan Dittrich. Its called a Beginners Guide to finding User Needs but is a very practical handbook for user research and would be a perfectly acceptable starting point for anyone looking to get started in this field. It came to my attention particularly for the Analysis section — an activity sadly overlooked by many of the people to enthusiastically conduct research in support of their ‘real job’ (designing, or product managing in particular). So if you only read one section, start with Analysis.

https://jdittrich.github.io/userNeedResearchBook/


Mark Goddard

One thing I have come across recently is Netflix research website. It’s sort of half recruitment, half publication, but it’s really interesting to learn about some of the detail around how they select the cover art algorithmically (for example). But aside from it just being interesting information, the approach they’re taking to actually publish this is amazing. GDS did a lot of this in the past, but I’ve never really seen many private firms publish stuff. It would be good to see more movement towards publishing rather than holding information in secret, where it doesn’t really benefit anyone.


Sarah Drummond

Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary

I found this book useful as it helps people deal with the fact that the complexity of what you’re trying to design will seep in and that you’ll be trying to research and answer a whole load of questions around what you are designing but it’s ok. It’s almost soothing. His best quote in it is that we have Macguffins, a term from Hitchcock films that we can liken to designing or delivering a website, because it’s used to ask a whole load of questions about the organisation, how they deliver, the policy, the offer.


Steph Troeth

Why Westerners Fear Robots and The Japanese Do Not

I’m fascinated by the negative media narratives around how we would lose our jobs to robots and algorithms, primarily because it’s other human beings that create these robots and provide the data that trains AIs — for now. We seem to be on the confrontational path that views robots as something to conquer and to dominate, as opposed to a force with which we could cultivate a symbiotic relationship. Joi’s article reminded me how some of our fears and reactions can run very deep, sprung from nuances in our cultural contexts that we mostly take for granted. So when we seek to interpret human behaviour alongside technology in research, it’s a good thing to keep these contexts in mind.


Steve Krug

UXPA 2018 Opening Keynote by Dr. Carine Lallemand — https://www.slideshare.net/UXPA/uxpa-2018-opening-keynote-by-ached)dr-carine-lallemand.

My absolute favourite summer “reading” was the keynote at the 2018 UXPA conference in Puerto Rico: “Eventually Everything Connects” by Dr. Carine Lallemand of the University of Luxembourg.

UXPA has just posted the slides at https://www.slideshare.net/UXPA/uxpa-2018-opening-keynote-by-ached)dr-carine-lallemand.

Carine is an academic, and her intent was to try to remedy the fact that we worker-bees are often unaware of the great tools people on the other side of the fence are producing. So she shared a number of her favorite university-bred methods.

I found it inspiring. (And I tend to *hate* keynotes.)

One of my favourites was using graphing as a tool to do retrospective evaluation of a user’s experience with a product over time (sort of a poor-man’s substitute for the immensely-informative but ridiculously-time-consuming user journaling). It’s this simple: Users sketch a curve of their (recollected) experience over time, with a vertical axis of negative to positive. They number pivotal points, and add comments to report how their experience changed at those points. You can ask the user to create several graphs to focus on different aspects of their experience like usability, utility, engagement, satisfaction, and so on.

Carine handed out a delightful booklet designed for the keynote that had blank pages for us to try several of the tools during the session. (I also tend to hate audience participation, but this worked perfectly.)

For example, here’s the retrospective graph I did during the keynote, about my experience of the keynote! (I replaced my handwritten comments with type, so you could read them.)


Steve Portigal

Complicating the Narratives

I find a lot of great stuff in the conversations happening in other fields. This article takes a hard look at journalism in riven contexts (e.g, the ones we are in nowadays) but it offers some compelling principles, examples, and lessons for both gathering and sharing user research.


Whitney Quesenbery

We all know about deductive vs. inductive, but I thought that this article from Farnam Street was a nice refresher. The title says it all: Deductive vs Inductive Reasoning: Make Smarter Arguments, Better Decisions, and Stronger Conclusions

Maybe not user research, but I also thought this article was great, especially because it ends with a final guideline to “make accessibility part of your design research”. Designing for accessibility’s not that hard

And of course that made me remember: What we learned doing user research with people who have access needs — https://userresearch.blog.gov.uk/2018/08/09/what-we-learned-doing-user-research-with-people-who-have-access-needs/


Our picks

James Boardwell

I’ve been preoccupied with a few different themes in the last 6 months. The first has been quantifying things: using quantitative methods as well as qualitative to help product teams learn and make better decisions. I’ve found some well trodden references very useful here, namely this Neilson Norman Group article by Kate Moran on Quantitative User-Research Methodologies: An Overview. The other a book titled How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas Hubbard (via Caroline Jarrett), and far more interesting than it’s title and book cover suggest.

My second theme has been developing a needs framework for a commercial business (I was working at Co-op until recently) and here I found Jobs To Be Done both helpful and frustrating in equal measure. Alan Klement’s work for me was the most accessible, his book When Coffee and Kale Compete as well as his blog posts, such as this on switch interviews (if you can get past the snarky asides at others in the JTBD world).

Lastly, I’ve been reading more around behavioural design as I think user researchers can learn a lot from the way humans-as-animals are hard-wired, and as a result be more useful to product teams. Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational was a great primer and jumping off point for me.

Tom Walker

Lynne Polischuik’s blog post Lead With Problems Rather Than Solutions, has been an inspiriting read for me. It’s nothing complex and doesn’t say anything particularly groundbreaking but it’s honest about mistakes and gives a great example of why contextual research matters. As a community, we don’t often talk about mistakes, we want to hide them and only show our best stuff. This post doesn’t do that which is very compelling to me because it shown a really human side to working in user experience.


Thank you

Thanks again to everyone that contributed. And to the readers out there, we hope you found some good stuff.