Researcher Grill: Summer Kim

Facebook Research
Aug 20 · 4 min read

Researchers are used to asking questions. But what happens when the tables are turned? Here at the Researcher Grill, we gently grill a Facebook researcher — get it? — about their work and their life. Our aim is to introduce you to these fascinating people, give you a peek behind the scenes of different research disciplines at Facebook, and maybe even provide some tips you can apply to your own work. Bon appétit!

Name: Summer Kim
Role: Head of Research, WhatsApp
Researcher since: 2005
Countries lived in: 4 (Korea, New Zealand, Canada, USA)
Number of countries travelled for research: 41
Number of ride-alongs completed: 202
Number of 1:1 interview sessions conducted: 1400+

You, in a nutshell:
A keen observer of all things human, originally trained as an industrial designer, a new mom, the wife of a Renaissance man, and an avid fan of Peppa Pig.

Most unique research approach?

I discovered by accident about 2 years ago that when you look at things from your research subjects’ perspectives — not just in a simulated mental way but also in a physical way — you develop a deeper connection with the person’s point of view. When my 3-year-old son took my husband’s Spectacles (eyeglasses that record video) and ran around the hotel where we were staying, it was amazing to see the perspectives from my son’s eye level. I’d been with my son at the hotel before, so I thought I knew exactly what he’d been experiencing. But as I played the Spectacles recording, I realized that I’d been projecting myself onto my son’s perspective.

I was so profoundly inspired by this experience that I later asked our participants to wear Spectacles. I learned so much from watching those videos.

Research that inspired you?

Every research trip inspires me — that’s why I love my profession so much. When conducting a research trip, I encounter a lot of people that I might otherwise never get to meet. The full attention, presence, and intent that research requires make the interaction so much deeper than the casual interactions that tend to dominate one’s life in just about every other setting. The deep human connections I experience in research are the driving force of my career.

Favorite book + why?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell — not because of its depth or profound topic but because of what it led me to realize. I can arm myself with data and analytics to wow my colleagues and other stakeholders. I can make user insights from my research projects complex and comprehensive, with all kinds of data points. But in the end, a user researcher needs to simplify the insight so the rest of the organization can easily digest and act on it. The book helped me see that a user researcher’s output needs to be like x-rays that see beyond what our users tell us.

Favorite quote?

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” — Matthew 7:7

To me, this biblical passage is more than just a religious quote. When I first read it, the literal meaning of these words spoke to my heart and gave me such incredible encouragement. I was suddenly given license to be myself and live my life in a way that I wished. I realized there was great power in my own willingness to charter my path and stay on it with perseverance.

A research trip that changed my life forever?

About 10 years ago, I was coming back to my NYC home from a 3-day research trip in Toronto. My flight was mysteriously cancelled, and I was forced to catch a later flight. On the way back, I was sitting next to a guy who’d chosen at the last minute to fly earlier than his original schedule. I ended up marrying the guy, and we ended up changing each other’s lives profoundly.

Most innovative method of sharing research?

About 4 years ago when I was leading projects at another large tech company, I began using a high-definition panoramic camera to capture what happens during a research session so I could later show the rest of the team every bit of interaction and feedback in full fidelity. It was a very useful tool for our engineers because they were able to watch things from our participant’s living room as if they were sitting right there with us. It gave us a way to inject any of our product development teams into a research session that took place in a research participant’s small living room a couple of thousand miles away.


We’re always on the lookout for talented researchers like Summer to join our team. See our open roles here!

Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

Facebook Research

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Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

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