Groove With Us
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Groove With Us

The Evolution of User Research and Feedback in Tech Companies

How community became the center of UXR

A Brief History

I come from a background in the field of UXR (User Experience Research). It’s become something of a hot career path in recent years as more and more tech companies mature in their approach to user-centered design and recognize the competitive edge it brings. Each year more students graduate into the field and enrich an ever-growing landscape of techniques that businesses (not just tech-centered ones) now use to learn insights from the people that they serve.

Most of the time this involves interviews with users of a product, to understand what will make them happy, but methods can also include surveys, calls, meetups, games and other activities. At Groove, we take an evolved approach where we aim to give Groovers a lot of say in how the platform and community are built.

I think it’s pretty neat to look back on the last decade or so of research in tech companies and see how it has evolved over time. (Warning: generalized for brevity!)

A Rough Timeline of Attitudes

Early 2000’s

“We know what’s best for our customers. Why even give them a choice? If they like us, we can get them to do what we want.” (Note: some companies still operate this way today. Gross.)

Mid-late 2000’s

“People aren’t even aware of their own behavior, you can learn everything you need to know about them by tracking them and looking at their data.” This was the beginning of the Amazon Era. Quantitative metrics were king, and people believed the numbers told you everything you needed to know about anything worth measuring.

2010-2014

“We know what’s best for people, let’s study them to get even better results at what we do for them.” Around this time, established tech companies like Pinterest and Airbnb started looking to qualitative methods (like home visits and interviews) where they actually talked to the users of their service and learned why people were doing the things that were showing up in their database numbers. Minds were blown.

2014-2018

“Customers don’t always know how to give us answers to the things we want them to tell us. So let’s study them but not tell them exactly what we want to know, we’ll ask them in a way that will appeal to their subconscious and let them give us better answers.” UXR in these years matured as a discipline and could be used by companies at all stages or sizes. Researchers began to hone their methods to be more effective and less prone to biases.

2018-2020

“Maybe customers do know what’s best for them. Let’s make sure to ask them, since they’re already experts at the problem we want to solve.” Most modern companies start relying on customer feedback to succeed. Users and customers get consulted (and respected) earlier and earlier in the process of building new things. With the pandemic, UXR gets better at maintaining customer communities globally, and running remote studies.

2021-

“Customer-communities should decide, lead, and reap the benefits too.”

Decentralization and inclusion get a massive boost in popularity through the continued cultural effects of the pandemic and world events. Some consumers expect to be involved in decision making, or even that they’ll be able to buy into company projects and clubs using Web 3 tech.

I’m excited to see what comes next. At Groove, we haven’t structured our community participation around NFT’s or used crypto to crowdsource investment from members. For the near future, we’re leaning into our luddite roots and doing community participation the ol’ fashioned way, by constantly looking for feedback, ideas, and new perspectives as we grow.

Going beyond

We’ve further evolved our UXR to the point that the word “user” is at odds with the way we see people. We think it has skeevy connotations (are we selling drugs here?). And defining real, flesh-and-blood community members as “users” limits your view of human beings to just one very specific behavior they may do, which is so weird. Instead, we see people as partners, experts, creatives, friends, and colleagues (frolleagues?) that we turn to when we’re unsure or curious about what to do next.

On a practical level, this doesn’t mean we just hit them up whenever the team has questions. We aim to be transparent with Groovers about what we’re building each month (chaos of startup life notwithstanding) and our feature roadmap is available for anyone to provide feedback on. We also share with the community any limitations or challenges we face, involving them in our thought processes so that they can help Groove be a more effective, more human place to be. And lastly, we build our product around the idea that each person who engages with it can have a part in creating it.

How do you involve customers, clients, community members, or other users people in your decision making process?

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