How Microsoft’s Human Insights Library Creates a Living Body of Knowledge

HITS enables researchers and product teams to unlock their collective UX power

Matt Duignan
Jun 18 · 5 min read

A library designed to activate research

I lead the team that manages our in-house research library, the Human Insights System (HITS). HITS is a network of connected evidence and insight that research and data science teams across the company author and curate. When you visualize its underlying structure, here’s what that network looks like today.

Image description: lines (representing references) connect a network of multicolored nodes (representing different forms of knowledge).

Our library’s design sets us up to bring research into discussions like these, to make customer data our common touchstone.

How HITS supports real-time curation and encourages participation

In order to turn a research library into a truly living body of knowledge, you need strong participation from both researchers and product teams. On the research side, curation often presents the highest barrier to participation. Someone needs to synthesize insights in a way that optimizes for durability and reuse across time. But for researchers under pressure, it can be tempting to defer this work.

Rather than an arduous final step, curation becomes a natural part of an iterative process.

We’ve seen that real-time curation is achievable, and the results save all of us so much time. When a product manager asks me whether a push notification in a given circumstance will be too distracting, for example, I can run a search, pull up the most relevant insights on focus and distraction, and send them the link, accomplishing what might have been several days’ work — or even a whole redundant study — in a few minutes. Better yet, PMs and designers can learn to do this themselves.

Image description: searching for “notifications” returns individual insights from curated collections of knowledge.

Fostering a culture of engagement within and beyond the research community

New teams of researchers, data scientists, and accessibility experts are joining HITS all the time, and we’re seeing a steady growth of unique visitors who search the library. Still, it’s not easy to change culture in a company as big as Microsoft. It’s taken five years to get where we are today, and we’re continually working to get more people engaged.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

Matt Duignan

Written by

Principal User Researcher Manager & Product Manager for the Human Insight Tracking System at Microsoft. Views are my own.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.