Conducting Research on a Shoestring Budget

Paul DiGioia
May 15, 2018 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post

In our journey to build intentful, opinionated, and delightful products, we focus our creative attention directly on our customers. However, access to this specialized group of users can be difficult. When designing web-scale solutions, time and resources are limited. In this article, we describe our method for efficiently obtaining user feedback, and explain the benefits of incorporating user feedback into the design process.

Hungry to Provide the Best User Experience

Hungry to be the best — it’s part of our core values here at Nutanix. Our entire team is committed to creating the best user experience for our customers. To accomplish this, we are passionate about getting feedback. Working directly with our customers is one method we use to ensure we are building solutions that meet their needs and designing interfaces that are a delight to use. Nutanix builds solutions for a very targeted set of users. These users can be challenging to find, and it can often be difficult for them to make time in their busy schedules. In addition, traditional methods for obtaining user feedback present many challenges.

Traditional user feedback options include:

  • On-Site Customer Visits
    Designers can travel domestically or internationally to the customer’s work site to observe users and gather feedback. This option can be somewhat costly (both in terms of dollars as well as time), difficult to coordinate, and inconvenient for users (this is the design equivalent of couch-surfing). There are also challenges to scaling this solution. For each additional observer that is sent or customer to visit, there is a corresponding increase in cost.

While none of these methods are perfect, each has its own set of benefits. At Nutanix, we have formulated a hybrid approach that combines the benefits of in-person interactions without the logistical issues it can bring.

Our approach is simple. We leverage the Nutanix .NEXT conference — which brings thousands of customers from all over the globe to a single location — to host our own user feedback lab. With a modest amount of space and infrastructure, anywhere from 5 to 10 collaborative workstations are arranged to support 1-on-1 interactions between customers and designers. Conference attendees have the option to visit the lab and engage with designers in between their other conference sessions. This drop-in style of attendance has morphed into a registration-driven style, due to increased demand for these sessions over the years.

The interfaces under examination can be anywhere from click-through prototypes, to full-on Javascript mockups of the final product. This approach reduces churn, because we aren’t forced to change the design after the feature has been fully implemented. It also allows us to focus our attention on interactions and user needs, rather than on implementation details.

As an alternative, we could have chosen to outsource this research, but there are benefits to doing this in-house. The design team and engineering teams — the folks involved in building the product — are able to gain empathy for our customers. They get to understand the complex business problems and technical challenges that our customers are trying to solve. This arms the team with a clearer vision of how to build products that satisfy those needs.

It is important that these sessions occur in-person and are driven by the members of our own design team. Interactions with customers are often nuanced. Summarized reports or transcriptions of these engagements can’t fully communicate the subtleties of the human connection. Designers are better able to understand our users when they experience their reactions first-hand.

Incorporating user feedback into the design process is a key part of how we deliver delightful experiences to our users.

Humble in our Approach

It’s clear that Nutanix benefits from these engagements with our customers. So what’s in it for them? Our belief is that all engagements with our users should be mutually beneficial.

We know that our customers are busy people, with busy personal and professional lives. Their time is precious. Since user-centered design is all about empathy, any approach to research must come from a place of genuine respect for our users.

What are the benefits to our customers?

  • Engagement is low-cost and low-effort for our customers
    Conferences present us with opportunities where our customers and design teams are in the same location at the same time. It is relatively easy to quickly match up attendees and designers, since both are already attending the conference. Since this lends itself easily to lining up the timing and the location, our users don’t have to worry about scheduling their workday around a feedback session or accommodating visitors at their workplace.

By providing real, tangible benefits to our customers, these feedback sessions have become one of the most highly sought-after sessions of the conference, and have “sold out” for three consecutive .NEXT conferences.

Honest — Transparency Makes for Stronger Collaboration

Obtaining open and honest feedback from our users requires an open and honest approach from our side.

First, the idea of “asking for help” can initially feel awkward. However, asking a customer or potential customer to critique our work isn’t an admission of weakness or a sign of failure. Instead, we see it as an opportunity to explore new creative directions and a commitment to making the product as strong and delightful as possible.

Second, whenever a team is involved in creating something new — whenever we push the envelope — there is always some risk that it may not resonate with our users exactly as intended. There’s some vulnerability there. Sometimes we may strike gold; other times, we may discover areas that can be improved and enhanced. Our belief is that this vulnerability is a key factor in obtaining honest feedback from our users. Being open about our creative explorations allows our users to respond with their honest and unfiltered thoughts.

Finally, innovation requires that we seek learning and discovery vs. simple validation of our ideas. The way we approach getting feedback from our users is important. Our curiosity doesn’t end when we discover whether the customer likes the design or not. Instead, we strive to understand why they had their reaction. The focus is on the insights and motivations that drive those decisions and opinions. This humble approach allows us to dive more into the qualitative side of research.

As designers, we must be honest in our relationships with our customers. The openness is appreciated by customers — and in return, they offer us their honest opinions. These feedback sessions allow us to form a true and mutually beneficial relationship with our users.

Conclusion

When designing simple interfaces that solve complex business problems, getting it right requires research and feedback. Traditional research methods make it difficult to incorporate feedback in an efficient and timely manner. This presents challenges when the technology moves at a breakneck pace. At Nutanix, we employ a hungry, humble, and honest approach to obtain user feedback.

We invite you to be a part of the experience. Join us at the .NEXT conference, where designers will be on-site for 1-on-1 collaboration. Or reach out to us anytime at design@nutanix.com

Nutanix Design

Nutanix Design

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store