Meeting the Demand for User Insights: Lessons Learned from UX Leaders

Posted by AnswerLab Research on Nov 20, 2019

Last week, we hosted UX leaders in our office in partnership with our friends over at dscout to talk all things UX research. We’ve seen the demand for UX research rise in recent years, and as companies become more and more customer-obsessed, we need to grow and evolve to keep up with the increasing need for user insights. Our panelists from Airbnb, LinkedIn, Charles Schwab, Google, and our very own VP of Research at AnswerLab spoke to the ways they’ve seen UX research change, how their teams are adapting, and where we’re heading next. Here were some of our takeaways and recommendations for how you can prepare yourself and your teams to thrive in the next evolution of UX organizations.

The tactical is strategic.

Great experiences come from thinking through tactical things. Even when you’re working on something that feels very tactical, it can be strategic if you’re in the right mindset.” 
- Julie Norvaisas, Senior Director, UX Research, LinkedIn

We hear a lot from researchers about the differences between tactical and strategic research. But many of our panelists rejected the idea that tactical and strategic need to be separate, and even further, argued that it’s more important to talk about the role each of these play in the larger user experience. Tactical research layers up into the overall experience. As Julie said, if you have the right mindset, even the smaller evaluative pieces can influence your overall strategy.

We find that tactical research often creates a massive amount of data. Unfortunately, this data can only be strategic if you’re able to synthesize the insights and communicate them effectively. If you have no way to aggregate tactical findings and share those out with the broader team, it can feel stuck in that lower level of research. To overcome this, we recommend making data available across your research teams to let more tactical findings influence other research and product strategy. By making it available to them, researchers from various teams and products can synthesize and benefit from your collective user insights.

Too much data. Not enough insights.

“A lot of times, there's parallel work going on, and we’re not really leveraging the wisdom of the crowd. We’re always thinking about how we can overcome that and create a structure that gives us the best of what embedding offers, but also creates a strong community of researchers that are sharing knowledge and feel like they're part of a team of researchers in addition to their product team.”
- Katy Mogal, Head of UX Research, Google Assistant, Google 

Speaking of struggling to aggregate and synthesize dataan overarching theme we heard from our panelists was that research teams are growing and expanding fast! But often, that fast growth can mean researchers aren’t quite as connected as they once were.

For many companies, researchers are embedded within product teams and get deep in the weeds of their own research, making it tricky to take a step back and see the bigger picture. It’s important to create ways for researchers to share insights across the organization in a band of horizontal insights that sits above your product teams. Not only does this create an organizational culture where research is prioritized and teams benefit from existing insights, but it can also prevent duplicate work! By building a culture where insights are shared across teams, you can streamline how researchers approach and conduct research within their product teams.

Creating UX community increases your impact exponentially.

“We work towards utilizing our community of researchers across the country [...] to create this guiding force to help each other grow by teaching each other different methods we're working on, teaching what’s working with one industry that may be useful for another. We’ve seen our team expand that community to a place that you can bounce off opportunities and ideas for growth.”
- Jennifer Keller, VP of Research, AnswerLab

Many of our panelists credited communication and community as reasons their growth to date has been successful, and that focus continues as they plan for growth next year. Many panelists mentioned learning and development, collaboration, and community as top of mind going into 2020. With bigger, more dispersed teams, it’s critical to find ways of building community, engaging your researchers, and encouraging collaboration. When researchers can learn from each other, share insights and strategy, and build closer relationships, your research practice will flourish.

Insights aren’t valuable unless you take action.

“We’ve been embedded across specific product teams and people weren’t talking to one another. [...]
Sometimes it's just that our stakeholders aren't in the room with our researchers, so just telling them [recurring themes and findings] is really powerful.”
- Sabrina Kang, Head of UX Research, Charles Schwab

As researchers our work can only direct change if stakeholders understand and act upon our findings. But, remember, your stakeholders get a lot of information from sources across the organization, and they often need to make decisions based on what may seem like (or could be) competing information. When you spot recurring themes and trends or discover findings from one study may have implications for the broader customer experience, it’s critical to clarify and communicate these to your stakeholders so they have what they need to make informed decisions and take action. Learn more about meet the diverse needs of your stakeholders.

Develop trusting relationships with your stakeholders, host a workshop to share out findings, encourage them to observe the research, and help them build empathy for your users. These are all ways of creating effective relationships with your designers, product owners, marketers, and more to help your research findings influence the strategic focus of your company.

Understand your brand's role in the larger digital landscape.

“Because we have the beauty of working with many clients across industries,
our research team can elevate findings and understand them in the context of what we did with another industry. And so we're able to bring in other mindsets that our client may not be thinking about at that moment.”
- Jennifer Keller, VP of Research, AnswerLab

People have high expectations of the products they use, and those expectations are continually evolving and increasing with every digital experience they interact with. Customers will compare your experience to all digital experiences, not just those created by your competitors. So, whether you’re a social media platform or a financial services company, it’s important to understand where your brand fits in the larger digital landscape.

Throughout the panel, we heard our panelists talk about the value of taking a step back to think about how your more granular research influences the bigger picture. In our work here at AnswerLab, we build on partnerships with our clients to help ensure their tactical research becomes strategic. In doing so, we often offer critical context from our experience with other industries or products. Keep an eye out for great user experiences in your day to day, and bring those to back to your team. Sometimes having that extra perspective can change how your team is thinking about your user experience and shift your approach to getting user insights.

Diversity and inclusion should be top of mind.

“For most people hosting guests on Airbnb, English is not their first language. They don't live in countries where English is the predominant language. Those are just a few ways to look at a really global community that isn’t necessarily reflected in our product offices. [...] How do you build a research practice that even begins to represent the fullness of a global community of people?”
- Judd Antin, Director of Research, Airbnb

One of our favorite takeaways was hearing how our panelists are thinking about success for 2020. We heard a few answers about how diversity, inclusivity, and belonging play a role in creating a successful research organization. Many brands have a global reach, so creating a research practice that truly taps into that global community is critical, as we heard from Judd at Airbnb. Building a diverse and inclusive workplace and research team where different perspectives are welcome and encouraged is a crucial first step to creating better products for all your users.

AnswerLab's Salon Series provides a space for researchers to share ideas and stay informed about emerging topics in UX. Sign up now to hear about events like these in the future, and learn more about our friends at dscout!

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AnswerLab Research

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