Doing Research as an Evangelist

I think this case is special for me because it was the very first time that I participated in a user research project as a coordinator. I have been participating and leading in user research projects for years, but almost every time I positioned myself as a support role in a product team.


Team: Yuzhou Guo, Qi Qin, Beibei Zhang
My Role: User Research Lead
Methods: In-depth Interview, Collaborative Design
Date: Mar-Apr, 2016


As a user researcher, or to say a supporter in a product team, I felt my voice was quite limited, let alone my research findings were taken into consideration and really applied to the product I had been working on.

Firstly, I interpreted this product teams behaviour as they were not interested in user research. As I met and made connections with more and more product managers and product designers during work, I found they were actually hungry for practical knowledge about real users. The problem was that our report took a great deal of time, and sometimes insights and key questions we received from users were unanswered and not taken into consideration. Could it have been done differently? In this project, I tried a more engaging way to involve product teams into our research process.

Starting with a Project Kick-off Meeting

There are two reasons that I think this kick-off meeting is significant for a user research project:

  • User research resource is limited which doesn’t make things feasible for just one research to cover everything that a product team wants to learn Therefore, it is necessary to for each role in the product team to participate in this meeting to discuss what concerns them most during product design and development. This is an important process which allows the product team to create a priority list upon their research. If I, as a user researcher, collect research, I would need to summarise them by myself one by one. It will be too difficult to prioritize each question and see the main problems the product team is facing.
  • User researchers would be able to build a deeper understanding of the product they are researching. It would be more effective if user researchers can discuss these questions while the whole team is present. I suggested to figure out the following information during this meeting: product current and prospect position, product advantages and disadvantages. During this process, I use “Affinity diagram” to discusses and brainstorm these questions with the team.

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Observing User Interviewing Session

In this project, I scheduled each of the roles in product team to join at lest one user interviewing session.

During the session, product team members sat in a observation room and observed users’ facial expressions through a one-way mirror. In addition they watched how users interacted with the product they designed through a handy-cam. In the observation room they were able to listen to users giving their feedback about their usage scenario through headphones. If they had questions to ask, they could contact the user researcher through an internal instant messaging tool.

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Before participating in this session, there were three basic rules I suggested them to keep in mind:

  • Observing over listening. When respondents start talking, they usually start reasoning. We need to know their real behaviours instead of the ones they are predicting they are going to have during our interview sessions. Therefore, I suggested the product team to focus more on users
  • Care more about WHY instead of WHAT. It is very possible that respondents will talk about the ideal features that they think our products should have. However, it is the WHYs behind those features that matter most. Because each feature is one person’s particular solution to a much bigger problem. If we can dig out what the problem is, we can come up with more and better solutions.
  • Start by watching three things:
    • User flow: it has been known as major factor affecting conversations, and it is important to get it right by creating one that match users’ goals and needs.
    • Pain-points:they are the obstacles users meet in user flows. Therefore, we need to always focus on them.
    • Surprises: these are the ones that improve user experience journey. We definitely want to know which design elements/factors bring our users these positive feelings.

Crafting Persona

Usually this process is done by user researchers alone. However, in this caseI invited each role of product team to collaborate. Because in my opinion, persona is a communication tool. It helps product teams to communicate with each other, build support for a chosen design or more generally to advocate user needs.

Step1. Review each respondent we interviewed

By reviewing each respondent’s basic information together with product team, we had a brief walk-through on who we interviewed during these sessions which gave our team  a shared understanding of users.

Step 2. Find key dimensions to define the persona quadrant

Make a quadrant by defining two key dimensions that can classify users. This is a exploratory process, so didn’t expect anyone to find the very key dimensions at his/her first try. During this case, we listed all the possible dimensions and had them paired with each other in order to try them all out, until we found a perfect fit.

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Step 3. Cluster users into groups

To direct the team to do this process collectively, I suggested them to position each respondent into a quadrant by giving each respondent a coordinate position. In this case, we used Decision Involvement and Product Quality as key dimensions, so we “rated” each respondent based on these two features.

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We continued to try until it was the best fit. This is  how qualitative research works.

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Mapping Out User Experience Journey

After finalizing the quadrant, we had each persona’s typical shopping scenario which allowed us to map out the users experience journey. In order to make this process interactive as well, I adjusted this mapping process into a simplified 3-steps.

Step 1

Start with a set of sticky notes that contain observations the team made during interview sessions. Each sticky note contains one single observation.

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Step 2

Group the observations into task that respondents carry out. And organise the tasks in order of page visit sequence.

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At this point, we have an overall view of the user experience which allow us to see the bigger picture. This is for the team to build a shared understanding of the user research. The next and final step was to help each role to have a more specific task in mind.

Step 3

Clarify which role(s) should be involved to solve this problem. During this step, solutions to each obstacle in the users journey are not necessarily to be described into detail. Keep it rough and let the creative juice flow at the next phase called Design Studio.

Practicing Design Studio as an Ideation Session

A design studio is a process that helps to make sure user research insights will be created into product design. In this 3-step process, I set “constraints” in the ideation session in order to keep the design concepts from being something based on the product team’s personal likes.

Step 1. Form the skeleton of ideas

There are three fixed factors in this skeleton: persona, scenario and motivation. No matter what you design, these three are always the key elements.

In this case, in order to keep the design concept from being out of line, I added two extra “constrains”. Unlike the fixed factors, these two constrains could be chosen from a bunch of variables, which included Design Pattern, Emotional Intent, Usability Objectives, Behaviour Nudges, Business Constraints, Stages.

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Step 2. Choose a Realistic Match

If they were not the previous user research listed above, it was very likely that we randomly chose one of the personas and matched it with whatever scenarios and motivations listed below. However, since we knew each persona’s typical scenario when conducting the ideation session, we would choose the realistic match. Take this case as an example.

For the Fashionista type of users, “Seek” for product on sale was not a typical scenario when shopping for grocery product category. Therefore, this was a pseudo-match that we must avoid to dig deeper in the ideation session.

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Step 3. Sketch Out

Once we finished choosing the right match, the next step is to define the new feature. In my case, for the Fashionista type of users, one of the typical scenarios of their grocery online shopping was “stumble” for “high quality” product. And since we wanted them to have a “superiority” emotional experience, we designed a promotional page stating that “here are the ten items we specially selected for you. They are on flash sales, but since you are the customer we value, you have the privilege to enter this page 5 minutes earlier than other customers”.

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All methods I discussed previously, have been my personal experience which is the best way to get people invested and involved in UX. However, research and ideation methods are just the surface. The key is: engage the product team by showing the process.

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