Whistle Research Strategy: Hang Out With Your Users

by Malia Eugenio

At Whistle, the quality of connection between humans and their pets is our modus operandi.

To us, user-centered design is more than a buzzword, it is one of our values. As a company, Whistle takes users and their pet relationships very seriously. After all, we are focused on building products that help enhance this relationship, so that pets and pet owners alike can live healthier lives — together. That’s why we keep user needs, attitudes, and behaviors in the vanguard of everything we build.

As a product team, we don’t see the people who buy our products as simply users, yet a central part of the Whistle family. So, we decided to invite a group of them to come hang out with us.

Sprucing Up User Research

User research is not simply about asking users what they want. In fact, that’s exactly what it is not about. To us, It’s about building a symbiotic relationship between the people making Whistle, and the passionate users who use our product to keep their pets safe and healthy each day. We find so much value in engaging our users regularly and doing so informs our design process sufficiently, while helping us set clear objectives for our product roadmap.

We can sit here and talk about “archetypal users” all day, revamping personas based on quantitative data and demographic information. We can send out survey after survey to gauge interest in potential features, but that can only get us so far. We need something more contextual. We don’t just want to hear customer feedback, we need to hear customer ideas. We need our design hypotheses to be challenged and debunked.

We need something a little more real.

By having product mixers at the forefront of our research strategy, we invite users to come have dinner and share their stories about their pets and experiences using Whistle. More importantly, we use the mixers as a means of amplifying the voices of the people on the other side of the product.

On one hand, it gives users an opportunity to tell us about their experience in a direct and candid way. On the other hand, it helps us test put our assumptions to the test early on. This allows us to refine our orginal hypotheses about users and their behavior with our product, and figure out how to prioritize features and concepts respectively. This keeps us on our toes. If we seek to be proven wrong by users, we will be led to the right answer, faster.

We’ve also found that the product mixer is a great way to involve Whistlers outside of the product and design team. Engineering, marketing, finance, and the executive team are all invited to participate as facilitators. These team facilitators learn how to ask effective, open-ended questions during the user testing and interview portion of the mixer. Allowing other roles outside of the product team to gain exposure to users makes for a more unifying product development process in which we are all keeping the end user in mind. It seems that each time, everyone learns something relevant to what they do here at Whistle, simply by spending time with a Whistle user.

The Simple Act of Observation

Apart from getting to know our customers face-to-face, there are 2 main components to the product mixer strategy…

  1. Hear directly from users about their current experience using Whistle
  2. Expose early concepts to see if we are on the right track

In a previous mixer, we used a card-sorting exercise to sort out a new navigation schema. We then presented them with two paper prototypes, and ended up implementing both of the designs after gaining further validation. Exposing content in such a raw way allowed us to take user interviews to a new level. From observing their reactions to an early version of a feature redesign, we gained the insights that we needed in order to hone in on the concept further and thus, worked the newly validated solutions into the Whistle experience.

A Beacon of User Insights

Recently, we took a more collaborative approach and made the structure of the mixer less interview-focused. As a tactic of observatory design research, we asked them to whip out their phones, open the Whistle app, and tell us everything they love and hate about certain features. This “live audit” methodology helped us benchmark how users currently interact with certain features, and allowed us to identify patterns within the context of them actually using the app.

Adding a little flavor to this approach, we tossed in a participatory design exercise and asked users what a more optimal pet activity timeline would look like to them. Of course, attempting to sketch a UI can be scary if you’ve never done it before. However, using this exercise as a primer to encourage ideation with the users allowed us to at least understand what feelings, attitudes, and emotions are behind their interactions with the product. Digging deeper into this behavioral layer exposes so much delicate information that allows us to increase the pathos of our product design process, which thusly increases the emotional appeal of the app itself.

Research Analysis: Mixing it All Up

A user experience is only as good as the research analysis behind it — both quantitatively and qualitatively speaking. By using the process of deduction to understand the research results of our product mixers, analysis helps us reach an understanding of what users need as we break down complex ideas into smaller, fragmented concepts.

While the whole is indeed more than the sum of its parts, the summation of user insights as a driving force behind design decisions can drastically improve the whole of an experience. We believe that by engaging with users directly through interviews and product mixers, we can distill our learnings as a way to increase our awareness of who our users are, and continue to move forward in building products that help people take better care of their pets.

Stay tuned for more here on how we do user research and analysis at Whistle!

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