Talk to Each Other: A Workshop Approach to Research

At Nasdaq, we’re lucky enough to have buy-in for customer research right from the top of the organization. Our CEO, Adena Friedman, regularly talks about the value of listening to customers. In 2015, she said, “Listening is probably the most important aspect of all in creating a strong client-centric culture and organization. It means that our clients’ needs are at the center of our internal conversations and decisions.”

The Product Design team takes that advice to heart as we work on products for the financial industry. We gather insights from our customers constantly, using one-on-one interviews, surveys, usability tests, and more. But recently we tried something we’d never done before: workshops involving multiple customers. Not focus groups to gauge reactions to proposed features or even user groups for gathering feedback on an existing product, but exploratory, participatory workshops. The participants came from companies that were not each other’s competitors, but people who work in finance are justifiably wary of giving away any confidential information, and we weren’t sure whether we could even get several of them in the same room at the same time. Fortunately, we were able to, and the results were helpful — for us, and, we hope, for our customers as well.

What We Did

The main purpose of the workshops was to get input for a new navigation scheme for our flagship product, which serves investor relations professionals. The current navigation is effective but crowded, and we have been exploring ways to streamline it. We’ve done card sorts, both in-person and remote, and a large-scale tree test, but for the workshops, we decided to take the reverse approach: we conducted what could be described as “cardless card sorts.” We asked the participants to think about everything they work on, and group those efforts into categories. They each wrote down their own set of categories, then we put them on the board for discussion and to attempt consensus.

Our first attempt at this exercise was initially confusing for participants, so we asked them to think of their work as a pie and divide it into “slices,” then give each of the slices a name. (At the next workshop, we handed out printed sheets with an empty “pie” for the participants to fill in.) Once each participant had created their categories, we put them all up on the board and grouped similar categories together. There was a lively discussion about the subtle differences between similar categories, as well as what tasks would fall into each category. We listened carefully as the participants debated, reorganized the categories, and reached a user-approved consensus. At the end of the exercise, we had the foundation of a set of navigational labels that reflected user language and thought processes. The labels from the first and second workshops differed in minor ways but were fundamentally similar, and we’ll test the variations in future workshops and studies.

The remainder of the workshops included a timeline exercise in which we captured the people, tools, and artifacts involved in the investor relations workflow; and a prioritization exercise. These exercises validated some things we already knew, and listening to the participants compare workflows and ask each other questions gave us insight into the different ways customers use our products.

We finished the workshops with an optional happy hour (our treat, of course). This was another great opportunity to hear directly from our customers, this time in an informal, no-pressure way — and it seemed that they appreciated the chance to share their comments and questions freely. We’ll take what we heard as input to our next iterations of the product.

Now You Try

One of the factors that made the workshops successful was the range of experience levels, roles, and responsibilities our participants represented. We worked with our service and support teams (highly recommended for recruiting, if you have one) to find customers who varied in

  • title
  • years on the job
  • company size
  • industry

This variety helps us design for the varying needs of our customer base. If you’re designing for a generalist audience, it should be even easier to gather a diverse group and listen in on the conversations they have about their use of your products or services.

  • Recruit from different marketing segments (if you have them)
  • If you’re doing guerrilla research, go to more than one place to recruit. Don’t just go to Starbucks; try McDonald’s or a movie theater too.

Aiming for a range of users may introduce some design challenges, but ultimately, it will make your designs more useful to a wider set of users.

What We Learned

In addition to achieving the main goal of the workshops and coming away with inputs for an improved navigation scheme, we learned more about the full spectrum of our customers’ workflow than we could have in one-on-one interviews. And most important, we learned that there is value in having customers from different industries and demographics interact with each other while we listen in.

To continue the conversation, we sent the participants a summary of what we had heard. This gave them the opportunity to confirm, correct, or add to our interpretation of what they’d said. Doing this also helps us avoid hearing what we want to hear and other confirmation biases. We also share findings with product management, sales and service, senior leadership, and others in the company. We see all of those teams as our partners in making sure our products take users into account.

As we continue to iterate on our navigation scheme, we’ll circle back with these same customers to get their feedback and to show them how we incorporated their workshop input into our designs. We’ve found that many of our customers appreciate the chance to not only give feedback, but to see the results of that feedback.

We can’t wait for the next workshop.