Your research reports are boring

Tried and tested ideas to ensure your UX insights have an impact

Joyce S. Lee
Designing Atlassian

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A woman sits slumped at an office desk, fast asleep
Illustration by Peter Dickison

Another research project, another report or slide deck… yawn. If you follow this routine for each of your projects, socializing your research can slowly put you to sleep. And if it’s boring to you, then it’s probably boring to your team. Perhaps their eyes start to glaze over whenever you share insights. Or they stop turning on their cameras during your Zoom presentations.

You put a lot of hard work into each research project — designing the study, then collecting and analyzing data. Don’t let all it all fall flat at the end! Your stakeholders’ receptivity to research and your own sense of satisfaction are both at stake. You want your work to wake up your audience and make a difference. To that end, I’ve put together some ideas from the Atlassian research team to help you better socialize your research.

The challenge: delivering research under time pressure

Time is a luxury, and most of us feel like we could do with more of it. According to a People Nerds’ survey of 300 UX practictioners, the average research project takes 42 days. When asked which activities people wanted more time for, a majority (51.6%) chose Analysis.

In my experience, this isn’t surprising. The early parts of projects — like gathering assets, getting approvals, and recruiting participants — often take longer than expected. This creates time pressure in the later stages of research projects — analysis and socialization. When time is short, you’re faced with a difficult decision: do you try to extend your timeline, or cut time from packaging up your insights?

A graph of factors that impact project timelines, with “Recruitment, site securing, operations aspects” being the most common factor (36.3%)
When earlier phases of research take longer than expected, this puts pressure on later stages like analysis and socialization. (Image source)

We often choose to sacrifice time spent on insights, not having the autonomy or authority to extend timelines. You might even be a designer or product manager who only does research part-time, alongside other responsibilities, limiting your time even further. But cutting corners at the end of your project can lead to insights without impact. You risk compromising all the time and effort you’ve put into doing research. So how might we avoid our insights getting left behind?

Balance efficiency with novelty

One key strategy is to streamline the earlier stages of your research projects. Take steps like developing screener question banks, as well as using templates for project kickoffs and alignment exercises. You can’t predict unexpected recruiting hurdles or legal delays, but you can plan to be efficient during the beginning of your project to give yourself extra time to get creative later.

While it’s fine to start with templates for reports and slide decks, push yourself to deviate from what you’ve done before. Dare to be inefficient when sharing out insights. It’s important to experiment with new formats and approaches to communication — even if doing so takes time. Why?

To start, we humans have limited attention spans. Neuroscience research suggests that novelty engages the hippocampus, ensuring not only effective learning of new information but also the retrieval and recollection of this info. In short, sharing out research in the same way every time may not be memorable to others and result in insights that don’t stick.

A concrete pole (left) is transformed with some paint by a street artist into a Duracell battery (right)
A novel presentation can transform something people might otherwise ignore. (Street art by JPS via Rob Walker)

But beyond boring your audience, you might also be boring yourself. A recent Gallup-Workhuman report found that 1 in 4 employees described feeling burnout at work “very often” or “always”. While a constellation of factors lead to burnout, I’ve personally felt the monotony of research projects contribute to declining motivation and reduced efficacy. After all, if you’re constantly scrambling to get projects out the door, you’re likely to feel less satisfied when you complete one.

There’s opportunity to have fun on the job, however, blurring the lines between work and play. So I urge you to start thinking creatively about how you socialize research insights, for your team and for your own benefit. You’ve likely thought rigorously about what you’d like to say, but it’s just as important to think about how you’d like to say it…

Communicate to evoke multiple senses

There’s a commonly discussed myth about different types of ‘learning styles’:

  1. Visual: people that need to see imagery,
  2. Auditory: people who need to hear information, and
  3. Kinesthetic: people who need to engage in an activity to grasp a concept.

While there’s no evidence to suggest that people can be categorized into particular learning styles, this framework does highlight the importance of communicating in various formats. The more ways we experience information, the better it’s cemented into our memories. So present your insights in different ways simultaneously, to engage different senses.

Different ways to remember how many days are in each month. Using your knuckles (left) to remember is a kinesthetic approach (image source), whereas a nursery rhyme (right) highlights the sense of sound (image source).

Beyond words in your research reports, consider involving diagrams, illustrations, catch phrases, videos, etc. By sharing the same information in various ways, you’re also communicating more inclusively. After all, someone with a visual impairment may have trouble perceiving a complex diagram, and a hearing-impaired person might miss some of your verbal presentation.

As humans, we experience the world through all of our senses. So why shouldn’t our research engage with as many of those senses as possible? For instance, instead of just a podcast, consider supplementing it with a video as well. See below for sample stills of a video podcast episode we produced about the Kano model and the importance of reliability:

A Japanese city landscape is illuminated by bright billboards at night
“We’re in Japan, and it’s the 1980s. The economy is booming, and Japanese companies are exporting their goods all over the world…”
A headshot of Noriaki Kano, Professor of Quality Management at the Tokyo University of Science
Enter Noriaki Kano, Professor of Quality Management at the Tokyo Univesrity of Science. At the time, Kano was researching the factors that contributed to customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
A graph of the Kano model, differentiating excitement, performance, and threshold attributes on axes of satisfaction vs. functionality
“Kano popularized the idea that not all features are equal in the eyes of the customer. Some attributes create higher levels of customer loyalty… rang[ing] from dissatisfaction to indifference, and all the way up to excitement or delight.”

Not sure how to get started with multi-sensory communication? Two principles to keep in mind are to think visually and encourage participation whenever you can.

Principle 1: Think visually

Use metaphors to make abstract ideas concrete

At Atlassian, much of our research centers on technical processes within software development and IT administration. With curiosity, anything can be interesting… but technical processes can be a bit dry to certain audiences. One way to mitigate this is to use metaphors to make abstract ideas concrete. For example, you might relate internal release practices to cleaning out an oven. Or describe tool administration by comparing it to getting served via robot versus barista.

What makes these effective metaphors? For one, they relate a niche or specialized experience to a broader one that more people can relate to. Moreover, they also have a degree of emotion embedded within them. Cleaning out an oven is a painful but necessary task. A barista-made coffee is slower but bespoke, whereas ordering a coffee via robot feels fast and futuristic.

A sample metaphor to illustrate different approaches to how administrators manage tools within their organizations. Like ordering coffee, it can be a slower, customized experience (left, image source) or a fast vending interaction (right, image source).

Associate insights with shareable imagery

You can visualize insights with stock images (as above) or custom imagery. Below are examples of some illustrations our team created. One is a webcomicname-style comic strip illustrating potential pain points relating to the experience of buying Atlassian products; the other is a Lord of the Rings themed map to show a long and arduous product journey.

Even if you’re not the best artist, fear not! In fact, even simple illustrations stick out for being hand drawn and uniquely imperfect. This is particularly true in a landscape populated by homogenous, ‘corporate memphis’ artwork. If you lack confidence and/or time, you can always partner with a more artistically-inclined team member to co-create visual artifacts.

(Left) Poster of webcomicname-style comics about buyer experience pain points. (Right) A Lord of the Rings themed journey map gives an overview of a long and arduous journey while navigating Jira Service Management.

Once an insight can be visualized, it’s possible for it to proliferate more widely and take on a life of its own. Visuals — and thus insights — can resurface both online and offline. Consider converting insight-related visuals into custom emojis or Zoom backgrounds if your team is remote. If you’re in person, think about posters, swag, or even an in-office exhibition as researchers in our Bengaluru office did for an on-site gathering.

Printouts of illustrations, verbatim quotes, and research insights are taped onto a glass wall
A ‘mini museum’ display brings research insights to life in physical space.

Principle 2: Encourage participation

After conducting research, you’re often considered to be a subject matter expert on certain topics. In a best-case scenario, this can mean people listen willingly your insights and accept your recommendations as a strategic partner. But, sometimes, you might be delivering uncomfortable findings. When your insights aren’t what people want to hear, egos or politics can interfere with user-centered, data-driven decision making.

Participation with research insights helps people think expansively, rather than reductively, encouraging curiosity and imagination — the kind of thinking that kids and novices do — rather than critique and judgment as adults or experts are more inclined to do. The IKEA effect may also come into play, helping people feel a sense of shared ownership and pride in ideas that they’ve helped create.

A customer empathy map worksheet on the left and an archetype mad libs worksheet on the right
Using worksheets like these can guide and engage team members during workshops.

Signal collaborative intent in subtle ways

Encouraging people to engage with research findings will require you to step down from your position of authority, however. Instead, you’ll want to create a more level environment for collaborative dialogue.

Former Head of Innovation and Creativity at The Walt Disney Company Duncan Wardle suggests signalling your openness to collaboration in subtle ways. For example, consider sitting by side by side, as opposed to face to face. Or ending a presentation with questions like “Could you help me think about this a different way?” or “Could you help me build on these ideas?” As opposed to “Do you have any questions?” or “What do you think?”

During analysis, additional lightweight tactics you can try include sharing quotes or short video clips on chat channels for your team to preview (for example, ‘Slack snacks’). Or you can ‘prototype’ insights then ask for feedback on outlines or drafts of your work. These are particularly important tactics to ensure that research findings aren’t a surprise to stakeholders, and that they ‘land’ well.

During a presentation, you can gently prime people for participation by asking them to react or share how they’re doing before you start. Take questions throughout the presentation — not just at the end. Ask the audience questions of your own, and make sure to leave time for discussion rather than filling up the allotted time with your own material.

(Left) Example of an interactive, trivia-style quiz question asked during a research readout. (Right) An anonymous scoreboard shared at the end of the presentation to highlight high performers in a fun, not-too-competitive way.

Push proactive engagement with research findings

Once you’ve established collaborative relationships with your team they’ll be more convinced of the value of research, more receptive when you ask for their time, and more willing to try new activities. This is when you can experiment with more interactive and novel exercises, depending on the culture of your team and organization. Here are three methods of engaging teams that have worked well for us at Atlassian:

1. Watch parties, or events that enable people hear customer feedback or see customer experiences directly. This can be with a live customer (as we do during “Show ’n’ Trello” sessions) or with curated video clips. Be sure to prompt ‘sidebar’ discussion either on Zoom chat or Slack huddles. Other ways to increase the ‘fun factor’ include offering snacks and bingo boards as researchers on Confluence have done.

(Left) Example of a bingo exercise designed to keep the audience engaged during a Confluence CSAT-themed watch party. (Right) Detail of bingo card, which includes user images, behaviors, and quotes.

2. Insights trivia, introduced to the Atlassian research team by Caitlin McCurrie. Incorporating Q&A into research presentations helps the audience consume insights actively rather than passively. It can help you assess the baseline knowledge of your team, and also help your audience challenge their assumptions. Question formats to try include multiple choice, true or false, verbatim mad libs, etc. You can also leverage leaderboards (named or anonymous) as well as prizes, depending on the size and closeness of the group.

3. Flipped learning, a method popularized among the Atlassian research team by Bec Sareff-Hibbert. Borrowing from online learning platforms, this approach involves sharing out a report or pre-recorded presentation ahead of time. This enables you to reserve meeting time for proactive discussion. It’s a particularly useful approach for distributed teams.

The risk is worth the reward

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.” ― Rollo May, psychologist

Socializing UX research in creative ways requires taking risks, and not all your experiments will succeed. But trying new methods of sharing research insights will keep both your team and yourself inspired — the positive feedback from others and your own sense of growth can be incredibly rewarding.

Remember to think visually and encourage participation. And find ways to keep yourself creatively inspired, such as surrounding yourself with fresh stimuli, starting conversations with strangers, looking at examples from alternative industries, or even something simple — like placing a new object on your desk.

I’ve heard of creative approaches to research at other organizations, including hosting radio programs, role playing customer journeys, and many more. If there are creative ways you’ve found successful when conducting or sharing your UX research, I’d love to hear your ideas!

Special thanks to Peter Dickison, Bec Sareff-Hibbert, Gi Shon, and Shraddha Kumar for reviewing drafts of this post, as well as the Atlassian Research team at large for continuing to cultivate inspired ideas for socializing research findings. ❤️

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Joyce S. Lee
Designing Atlassian

UX researcher at Atlassian and occasional writer; previously published in Logic, Quartz & Designboom. Amateur zinester, mushroom forager & scuba diver.