By the User Research team
Reactive Research: Our Notes From the Last 6 Months
Back in March, we reluctantly watched as normalcy not-so-quietly left the party and priorities quickly began to shift. As researchers working across multiple product teams, our roles became fundamental to understanding new thought processes, reactions and routines and ultimately shining a light on new areas of focus.
Six months in, we’re reflecting on the few tips and reminders that could have better prepared us to tackle research and discovery during an especially reactive time.
When you’re planning
- Think twice about your research objectives. This level of change brings along with it a constant stream of questions, but it’s good to remind yourself that not all of them need answering right away. Have a think about what kinds of decisions your team might make based on the answers your research will provide. If there’s a lack of clarity there, make sure you discuss this as a team.
- Prioritisation is key. As things quickly and constantly evolve, there’ll be a tendency to add new questions to the mix just as research is kicking off. Settle on a few core objectives as a team to help everyone stay focused on what the priority is now.
- Flex that new-found ability to adapt. Carve out some time to explore new processes and tools that work for your new context.
When you’re researching
- Be thoughtful about possible sensitivities. Go through your discussion guides with a new lens and make sure you think twice about how certain questions might make your participants feel. It’s good to be extra mindful of the anxieties the pandemic has instilled in many around health, safety and security.
- Embrace the connection with participants. Remote working allows us to see participants in their own space, on their own devices and in their comfort zone. Make note of some of the small details they might point out and ask questions around them too. Participants tend to be a lot more relaxed in their own settings, so don’t be afraid to follow that lead — it can help foster deeper conversation.
- Let your team listen in. Being out-of-office and navigating requests for less virtual meetings makes it harder to keep everyone involved along your research journey. Live-streaming or recording your sessions means your team can listen in when it works for them — on a morning walk, lunch break or during a quieter work day.
- Manage your energy. Remote working can sometimes make you feel like you have endless hours in a day, and planning back-to-back-to-back sessions starts to feel super manageable. Spoiler: it’s not. Keeping a comfortable pace for your own energy will help you stay focused and give you time to analyse and reflect on your approach in between sessions.
- Plan breaks to analyse. Instead of whistling through large numbers of participants and racing to the finish line, take some breaks to understand what the team has learnt so far. Perhaps you’ve explored one area, but need to adjust your approach to ensure you are answering another one. When the team is working quickly, it helps to work in an agile manner.
When you’re reporting
- Live stream, Slack, Hangout, etc. Abandoning the full report every so often will enable a faster-paced, iterative approach. Gather thoughts over chat during live- streamed sessions, set up quick team video calls to debrief, and use your notes to start workshopping.
- Don’t be afraid to caveat. Signpost research debriefs with caveats so in the future, people understand the context around the research as well as its limitations.
- Make it interactive. It can be underwhelming to be met with the sound of your own voice and mute symbols towards the end of a research project. Let your team know you want to hear from them too ahead of time — add in discussion break slides, or turn your insights into a mini workshop around next steps.
- Discuss process learnings, too. Just as you need some time to analyse between sessions, it’s helpful to take time to analyse between research projects as well. As we’re uncovering new tools and ways of working, talking about what worked, what didn’t and what you learned will ensure you don’t get stuck in that loop of doing the same thing over and over because it’s the quickest way forward.
In some ways, this year has been an exercise in re-focusing on our most crucial research skills — but we’ve also learned to throw out some habits or steps when they don’t necessarily serve us in order to move quickly and be concise.
If you’ve gathered any of your own notes or thoughts from conducting user research in the past six months, we’d love to hear them and discuss below.
Also, our research team is hiring! Come join us at the FT.