How Instagram's Culture of UX Research Positively Impacts Customer Experience: Takeaways from Forrester CXSF

Posted by AnswerLab Research on Oct 29, 2019

Instagram's story of UX research

We were invited to speak at Forrester CXSF, and throughout our time there, we heard CX leaders discussing how to understand your customers' deep context, how their perceptions and experiences can change brand impression, and how research can shed light on your users' wants and needs.

We loved being able to share Instagram's story of UX research success to add to this conversation. Our CEO, Amy Buckner Chowdhry, interviewed Sal Becerra, Instagram's Head of Community Research, about how they're creating great experiences by embedding a human-centered design process into every product launched. Through a rigorous program of UX research featuring both ongoing evaluative research and ad hoc generative research on various topics, Instagram has built a culture of curiosity and met the demand for research with scalable programs.

To hear about Instagram’s core values and UX research and design practice, watch our full keynote below in conversation with Sal Becerra:


Here are a few of our key takeaways and recommendations:

Make your company values “people first”

To create experiences that impact all users, Instagram built user research into the DNA of their company, into every role and every process throughout product development, starting with their core values. Sal walked us through all of Instagram’s values, but the one that stood out to us was being “people first.” As he explained, if you want to solve problems for people, you have to really understand people and the problems they have.

For every product Instagram launches, there are three fundamental questions they strive to answer:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. How do we know it’s a problem?
  3. How will we know when we’ve solved it or made meaningful progress towards solving it?

By keeping these questions top of mind, their team is always thinking about what they’re trying to solve for the user. Research is a critical first step to help answer these questions.

Embed user research into your design processes

To ensure every product follows a human-centered design process, Instagram has implemented a rigorous programmatic research program focusing on two distinct tracks of user insights.

Product-based, evaluative research
The first track is continuous, evaluative research on Instagram's products, which ensures stakeholders, product owners, and researchers have access to end users on a consistent basis. Teams can sign up for dedicated research slots on a regular cadence to test products and features throughout the design process.

People-based, foundational research
They combine this evaluative research with a second track of generative work focused on understanding people and the problems they have outside of Instagram’s products. They ask questions like, “What are the contexts and interfaces people engage with daily?” and “What are the problems they’re encountering that aren’t on our radar yet?” This ad hoc research on larger topics can help teams across the organization by gathering horizontal insights that inform all aspects of development and design.

Make user research accessible, not locked away

There’s an incredible demand for research, but scaling can be difficult. Instagram’s embedded research model creates research opportunities that happen weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. These dedicated slots allow any team to jump in and research what they’re working on. They know research is happening on a given day or week, and that opportunity is communicated across the organization allowing anyone to access the schedule. Make research accessible and available to your entire company—people will take advantage!

Meet stakeholders where they are

As skilled researchers, we are trained in understanding people, and we can apply those skills to our stakeholders and executives when communicating insights. Understand what matters to your stakeholders, and as you think about your customer experience, frame user stories and findings so they resonate with them.

If stakeholders can’t find the time to observe customers interacting with products, think about how you can translate your research stories to immerse them in the customer experience. Getting the human emotional components across will help them see the value in research!

Support and encourage curiosity

By prioritizing curiosity and teaching empathy to teams across your company, you’ll create a culture where your designers, product teams, marketers, and researchers are eager for user insights. Instagram does this through storytelling exercises, empathy building workshops, and creating a star participants database to give teams across the company access to research findings and user stories. 

Talking to your users must be a critical part of your CX strategy.

While CX leaders work with quantitative data all the time, measuring quantitatively isn’t the only valuable part of conducting user research. Qualitative insights bring meaning to the quantitative data by surfacing stories, motivations, pain points, and more. As we saw with Instagram, understanding the problems users have and how you might solve them can be critical to creating experiences they love.

At AnswerLab, we conduct UX research, both qualitative and quantitative, in the digital space for clients in a variety of industries with a diverse range of products to bring customer insights to their customer experience initiatives.

Need help scaling your research practice? Get in touch!

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AnswerLab Research

The AnswerLab research team collaborates on articles to bring you the latest UX trends and best practices.

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