The UX Review
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The UX Review

“You don’t have to be one way to be successful as a researcher..” — Interview with Katherine Vaughan, Director of User Research at Monzo

What do diversity and inclusivity mean to UX Researchers? Katherine gave us some very interesting insights on how to improve the diversity in recruiting both researchers and people she speaks with. She also talked about some initiatives her team drives to talk about research with stakeholders as well as her experience in conducting accessibility testing. Hope this sparks some ideas for you and your practice today — Enjoy! 💆🏻‍♀️

Katherine Vaughan, Director of User Research at Monzo

Why do you think inclusivity and diversity are important in research and design?

Summary: Researchers are the bridge between people and designers. Diverse research teams can approach problems from different angles and that helps teams build tools that work for a wider range of people.

It’s clear that if you have a narrow group of people building products and services, they’ll be more likely to solve the issues they see in the world and not the issues they don’t experience. That’s a problem in any sector, but especially in essential services like finance. The way that people manage their money is tied up with so many complicated, nuanced, intersecting aspects of their wider lives.

Researchers are the link between people with a problem and the people who have the tools to fix it. Diverse research teams are more likely to approach those problems from different angles and support their teams to build tools that fit the needs of a wider range of people.

Diverse research teams can approach problems from different angles

What do you do exactly to ensure inclusivity and diversity when recruiting researchers at Monzo?

Summary:
1. Cast a broad net around the seniority of titles to call for applications for more people
2.
Shortened the task candidates do and give them options how they do it (virtual onsite or in their own time)
3.
Flexible options help candidates perform better

It’s a really good question, and we’re thinking about it a lot, we’re constantly evolving our approach. There are a few things we do in the User Research team to be more inclusive. We’re definitely not perfect yet. We’ll continue to change our approach as we get feedback.

In the roles we’ve recently put live, we’ve cast a broad net around the seniority of titles. That’s because I’d rather talk to a range of talented people with different experiences than just talk to those who peg themselves at one particular level of seniority since — anecdotally — we’ve seen that men are more likely to apply for the Principal role and women for the Senior role. And we know from wider data that people from minorities are more likely to undersell themselves. The level they peg themselves at doesn’t always tell us that much about them. And we think it’s more important to hear from more people and learn about their experiences before we work with them to agree on the right level of our framework in Monzo.

By casting a broad net around the seniority of titles, you can encourage more people to apply for roles.

The other thing is that applying for jobs is so arduous and can take up so much time. I’ve definitely felt that personally. I have been thinking about how we can respect candidates’ time — especially those with caring responsibilities — while also having a process that allows the most people to shine when applying. So based on feedback we’ve now shortened the task candidates do, and candidates can choose to do it either during our virtual on-site or in their own time. The goal is that people in lots of different circumstances should be able to fit the interviewing process around their lives.

There are other benefits to making it more flexible, too. The different approaches help people who perform better with more or less space and more or less time pressure. You don’t have to be one way to be successful as a researcher, so giving people the choice lets them put their best foot forward. We’ll keep updating it as we need to but we’ve had really positive feedback about this so far.

You don’t have to be one way to be successful as a researcher, so giving people the choice lets them put their best foot forward.

How do you create an inclusive environment in a user research team?

Summary:
1. Nurture a culture where mistakes are embraced.
2.
Share mistakes and learn from them
3. Organise twice-weekly
Research Office Hours where non-researchers can ask anything about research

It’s important to have a culture where it’s ok to make mistakes. We do a lot to create a team environment that makes it ok to share them. Each of us will often bring reflections on things we’ve learned and mistakes we’ve made. I learn a lot from the reflections that other researchers share and I bring very many myself, too.

It’s ok to make mistakes!

I think it also applies outside of the research team. We have twice-weekly Research Office Hours where non-researchers can come and get advice about the research they might want to do. We’ve recently started having more than one researcher present, and now the quality of conversations is through the roof. We stress test each other’s approaches and improve our ideas together. It also means that non-researchers aren’t intimidated by this practice called research as they’ll see there are usually multiple ways to do research. I think that makes for a more inclusive environment where people from any background or specialism can get involved and not feel there is just one right way to do things.

We stress test each other’s approaches and improve our ideas together.

Have you faced any challenges when conducting user research with underrepresented people? How did you overcome them?

Summary:
1. Be flexible in terms of the hardware or software you do the test on
2.
Leave plenty of time — half a day is a good benchmark
3. Make sure your product
reaches a baseline level of accessibility before taking it to people
4.
Think about the logistics and experience for people with accessibility needs

My mind goes straight to accessibility testing — there’s so much that’s hard to predict.

It’s good not to be prescriptive over what hardware or software you do the accessibility testing on. You need to listen and let them use what they use daily.

Leaving plenty of time is helpful. I’ve visited people who have particular accessibility needs at work, and it’s taken us a while to get the set-up right so they can start the task. I tend to set aside half a day when there are accessibility requirements as there’s so much to learn about the decisions someone needs to make. It’s an investment of time for the participant too, so if they’re happy and willing, it makes sense to make the most of being with them and learn as much as you can. I did some work with someone who needed to use a pencil to tap the keyboard instead of their hands; this came up after the session. Lots of people say the most interesting things when you’re packing up after the session. It’s that lightbulb moment that shows you how you can help them better.

Lots of people say the most interesting things when you’re packing up after the session.

Also, respect people’s time. Make sure your product reaches a baseline level of accessibility before taking it to accessibility testing with customers. You can do many things internally before you take the product to users with accessibility needs. Then with them, you can work out how to improve it. But you should already have that baseline.

The very last thing I’d mention is logistics. How they’ll get to the venue, how they can give consent, whether they’ll need an interpreter. When we’re setting up research with people with accessibility needs, it helps to think about the whole end-to-end experience.

Think about the whole end-to-end logistics and experience.

As we come out of lockdown, how will that impact your practice and the people we speak to?

Summary: While remote-dependent research improves the inclusivity of participant recruitment, there are limitations especially when speaking with people in vulnerable situations which prevent participants from sharing their experience comfortably.

Obviously, lockdown has forced us to do a lot of our research remotely, if not all of it. In many ways, that’s great for inclusivity as the makeup of people is spread more evenly across the country. Even though you try to avoid it, when you are recruiting people in the office, or doing guerilla research on the street, you’re naturally going to skew to people living and working in that area. With remote research, we have been able to speak to people with caring responsibilities and super remote people too. If you’ve got a baby, it’s a lot easier to dial into something for 45 minutes than shoot across London to an office. I hope that we’ll be able to take this with us when the world opens back up again.

There were limitations of being so reliant on remote, especially when speaking with people in vulnerable situations. For example, if the participant is in an abusive household and can’t tell you their whole story from where they are — that is a limitation. There are lots of other situations like that, which can prevent participants from talking to us comfortably. So, I’m looking forward to talking to people in a setting that feels the most appropriate.

I’m looking forward to talking to people in a setting that feels the most appropriate.

The big thing I’ve missed is ethnography. I can’t wait to just hang out with people, watch them in their daily life, see the little things that happen between the big tasks and understand the context they’re living in. That’s the most exciting thing for me.

We made a small donation to Women’s aid who is a grassroots federation working together with women who are experiencing/have experienced abuse in England.

Interviewed by Misato Ehara
Edited by Misato Ehara and Katherine Vaughan
Illustrations by Andrea Méndez
Edited with Google docs
Published on July 2021

Interviewee:
Katherine Vaughan is Director of User Research at Monzo, a bank whose mission is to make money work for everyone. Before joining Monzo, Katherine led User Research at M&S and Citizens Advice. She believes in fair and inclusive access to services for all. Alongside work, Katherine mentors people facing difficulties with addiction, homelessness, and dementia, and has helped a number of charities launch remote digital inclusion programmes for isolated service users.

Interviewer:
Misato Ehara is a founder of The UX Review, former design Strategist at Gensler. She has just completed a Masters in Curating Contemporary Design and currently working as a User Researcher at Refinitiv/London Stock Exchange Group.

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