Advancing Research 2020

I’m in a new role at this Rosenfeld Media event; I’ve been co-curating Advancing Research 2020 with Lou Rosenfeld, Abby Covert, and Steve Portigal. So, even though I’m not technically on the hook for tripnotes, I’ve enjoyed having a more relaxed approach to capturing some of the key messages coming out of this event. It might be a little patchy in spots, but I hope you enjoy this rough cut of the event … and please check out the conference website for a link to the curated videos, slides, sketchnotes, and official tripnotes.

Scaling Our Impact

Curated by Lou Rosenfeld.

From Lou’s introduction to the theme: A spike in what the ResearchOps folks call “PWDRs”: People Who Do Research, but aren’t researchers. What does it mean when so many non-researchers suddenly know about and even perform user research? Is democratization necessarily a good thing? Our first three speakers cover a spread of perspectives on this question. The other scaling trend revolves around managing research. Repositories and other means for operationalizing research open up new opportunities—but force us to ask new questions as well.

The theme opened with Leisa Reichelt speaking about The Five Dysfunctions of Democratized Research at Scale. We are trying to achieve two very different things when we conduct research. One is to

The first dysfunction is speed – speed is valued over reliable and valid research. We risk compromising both the quality of recruiting and our analysis later. Speed forces us to rely on cognitive biases, which are inherently flawed:

The second is regarding silos. Good researchers and designers consider layers of context in conjunction with a clear understanding of the user needs. The third dysfunction is weaponizing research. Research evidence can result in a combative relationship between designers and product managers. How to build confidence and trust in design?

The most powerful has been focusing on the end-to-end journey, and a set of shared priorities, so they are connected to customer needs. It leads to more reliable research outcomes as well. The fourth dysfunction is quantitative fallacy; numbers get attention. Leisa recommends using mixed methods. She draws attention with numbers, and provides nuance with stories.

Finally, the fifth dysfunction is failure to thrive. Steve Krug has helped so many organizations take their first steps with usability testing. Leisa recommends framing is as risk management – match the method to the risk.

The second speaker in the theme was Crystal Yan on Building a Customer-Centric Culture. Remitly is a financial services firm. How to create a culture where everyone feels comfortable being involved in the research that informs product decision-making. As research leaders, how do we address the challenges we face, especially as it regards evaluating the insights they collect together? For Crystal, democratizing research is about transparency, actionable research, and permission to care (outside the research team).

Crystal started with coaching, shifting from a workshop format to micro-lessons. She also made a shift from research office hours to short ‘quests’ – a small research activity like observing going to a bank and asking how to open an account or cash a check. Her recommendation is to incorporate these efforts into existing team rituals; don’t just wait for people to come to you.

She also recommends sharing insights to debate impact together, which helps to avoid the focus on methods, and data validation. She recommends sharing in such a way that it invites curiosity. Consider the format, the cadence, and the channel.

Finally, Crystal spoke about the importance of driving policies to change organizational culture. That means ensuring that people are being recognized (both publicly and privately), and budget / time are being provided. At the company level, customer-centricity is built into company values, including employee hiring and performance management.

Crystal recommended that if you can only do one thing, win leadership support to make an announcement about a research initiative, support that with a follow up email, and publicly recognize people who engage with those efforts.

In closing:

Next up, Jesse Zolna on Inviting the Whole Org to Come See for Yourself. His team focused on generative research, focusing on users in a holistic way. They don’t focus on use of individual products.

He joined ADP around the time that the Harvard Business Review published an issue called The Evolution of Design Thinking. Product Owners, Product Managers, business leaders, and even designers don’t necessarily conduct research like we do.

Similar to Crystal’s concept of coaching, Jesse established a program to pivot towards more strategic research. The goal was to work across organizational silos, and to get many ADP employees involved. Over time, this approach emerged:

And then over time it evolved:

Jesse shared not only the activities, but how he uses those as learning moments for those non-researchers who participated.

Following a short break, we continued with the next presentation in the theme, in which Matt Duignan spoke to us about Atomizing Research: Trend or Trap.

The goal is to extract and curate durable insights from the body of material that your researchers collect.

What are durable insights?

This frame work was combined with a “culture of continuous curation”. But it was challenging, especially as the group of researchers included market researchers and data scientists. Furthermore, designers needs quick answers to their tactical design questions.

Deeper generalized insights are important, but they are challenging to generate and may be less desirable to consume – do we need to create the appetite in our teams?

Three principals – provide immediate tactical value, make connection effortless, and ensure durability. It’s important that those insights remain in the context of their larger narrative.

So, is it a trend or trap? Many are talking about it and trying it. They are seeing indicators of value, but there are lots of pitfalls. Do you have the energy as an organization to overcome those? It’s not necessarily about having a specialized platform, but most importantly about having the right processes.

Finally, Brigette Metzler joined us at 3 am her time (!) to talk about Scaling ResearchOps: Helping Researchers do Their Best Work. Among her other responsibilities, Brigette co-leads the ResearchOps community with Holly Cole.

Where do you want to be in a year? In five years? Democratizing research tends to lend itself to faster methods. Two different models on research happening at scale … and then combine them into a usable tool that we can use to determine where to start and how to scale.

The 8 Pillars comes from extensive research done within the ResearchOps community:

The eight most common challenges:

It’s a lot to think about before we even begin to do research.

Stewart Brand’s Pace Layers are about time, speed, and depth:

Slow has all the power.

The research at the top makes all the noise. Noise and speed can make it hard to get support for the deeper work. But, it’s important for creating a vision for research across the whole organization – where do you want to be in one year, five years?

Instead of research at the bottom, ops at the top:

Let’s consider those layers:

How do we really advance research, now that we understand how research and operations fit together. We need a vision, a mission, and how the parts contribute to the whole. You have to consider your level of agency, authority, and autonomy to create a different future. Can we start to tell stories and shape what our organization could be?

Understanding Diversity & Inclusion

Curated by Steve Portigal.

From Steve’s introduction to the theme: In our profession of user research, we often sit in the shadows of the fields we work in and work with. Many researchers are practicing within user experience, and you’ll definitely hear language that broadly wraps our work up under that as an umbrella term. But when important conversations start to happen in user experience, or even in tech at large, being consolidated into those issues doesn’t really suit us. These issues are different for user research, there are specific concerns for us to take into consideration and specific opportunities for our practice to advance, in this session in particular where you’ll be hearing about Diversity and Inclusion, from the perspective of user research.

Alba Villamil kicked off the team with her talk on Stereotyped by Design: Pitfalls in Cross-Cultural Research. The topic stems from a discussion thread on interviewing people of color. At first, she sought more context. And then it made her angry:

Design research has a problem with race, and ethnicity.

Our stereotypes inform our research process, but they also diminish our work and our potential impact.

Stereotype #1 – When researchers attribute design differences to cultural values, they overlook user workflows, constraints, and needs.

The problem with this model is that it creates a blind spot for researchers. Why does people’s behavior look the way it does? We have to avoid the pitfall of attributing design differences to cultural values. Instead, consider the following:

Stereotype #2 – User behavior isn’t strategic. But, when researchers ignore how users make sense of the world, they misattribute the causes of user behavior. Culture is a frame through which we perceive environments, people, and events.

Stereotype #3 – Unhealthy behavior is due to individual failures. But these downplay the systemic barriers, and we need to address those too, or we preserve systemic dysfunction and inequality.

The Moynihan Report was an inflection point in the literature on this topic. In spite of his good intentions, his work pointed to the failings of individual people of color – rather than systemic racism – as the reason for their struggles to succeed. We need to do better than our predecessors.

Sarah Fathallah on Lessening the Research Burden on Vulnerable Communities. Some of her early research work on human trafficking shaped her future thinking.

Vulnerability is not always visible in photographs. Four stages of research, and ways to work around unique challenges of those vulnerable communities:

In reality, interviews (especially in the home) may not be suitable or comfortable. For example, some topics are tough, and eye contact is difficult to sustain. What other activities could be designed instead?

Traditional recruiting and compensation may not be effective. You may need a local cultural broker, for example, before connections can be made.

Normally we would seek consent, but it may be hard to do that in a straightforward way in different situations. After multiple translations, are subtleties lost? We are not trained mental health professionals or social workers. How to handle those complex situations, if / when they arise?

Finally, even if we anonymize participant information, we may still put them at risk as our results are shared. Can must find ways to avoid showing faces and other identifying information, while still providing relevant contextual information about them. Letting participants choose which pictures to keep or delete, and giving them one or more of the resultant pictures can also help to mediate those concerns.

So, how do we go from relying on ‘best practices’ to challenging and evolving those practices? How do we remain mindful of vulnerability in our own work?

Yasmine Khan on Checking Bias and Listening to Financially Vulnerable Americans. She has been focused on personal finance for the past few years. Money is a subject that impact everyone, but the wealth gap has been widening in the past years. The conversation is riddled with paternalistic judgement. And current fintech products tend to focus on budgeting or money management. But you can’t manage something that’s just not there.

Here is some of what she has learned from her work with over 200 financially vulnerable Americans:

  • People struggle financially because they lack money, not because they are not capable of planning and tracking.
  • People who are struggling are battling an unstable financial situation, which causes a huge cognitive burden. It has nothing to do with how hard they are trying.

A researcher’s job is to remove bias. A poor neighborhood is not necessarily more dangerous than a rich one.

We need to be reasonably uncomfortable – insights are just outside our comfort zone.

If we don’t give voice to the voiceless, who will?

Be ready to hold deeply uncomfortable conversations – there are so many social taboos on these topics. You need to know yourself, first.

Immigrants and people of color have more hidden dependents. For example ‘black tax’ given money to friends and families to support them. Vietnamese will borrow money from family before a bank. We have to be extra flexible about rescheduling and logistics. She has also learned to avoid adjectives that would signal her value system, and re-using the words that they use.

Consider using Financial Health Network toolkit for recruiting, and don’t just look at income. Don’t forget that financial insecurity affects most Americans. Many Americans – across the 99% – may be living paycheck to paycheck.

And finally, Joi Freeman on A New Vantage Point: Building a Pipeline for Multifaceted Research(ers). She has worked as a strategist across sectors, including work on a brand that was launching an improved product / service for launch in global markets. They thought they were well positioned to enter these emerging markets, but it didn’t turn out as planned – in the end they lost $150K. Some of the early signs were positive in the US, Canada, Australia. However, in Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe they weren’t getting tracking. Where did they go wrong?

They had some hypotheses around translation and other tactical issues, but those proved to not be true. They went back humbly to their global partners (the way they hadn’t the first time), seeking to understand why they weren’t getting traction. What they learned was that their value proposition was unclear because they didn’t understand the consumers.

Their review helped them understand that in highly religious or formerly communist markets, the concept of power didn’t resonate.

In digging deeper, the core team wasn’t diverse; most of the diversity was with their cultural brokers and translators. But this isn’t just about her project – many of us are dealing with similar circumstances – everything from bias in AI to VC funding. What happens when you have the right diversity at the top?

Rhianna’s makeup line launched with 40 shades, and achieved $100M in the first month, which is unheard of in that industry. Gender diverse companies perform 15% better, and ethnically diverse companies perform 35% better.

Research is a critical foundation for business strategy & execution. We need to have the richest possible perspective from the outset, at the base.

We have to change our organizations from the top. We have talked about diversity of researchers. Having the right methodology, recruiting diverse populations are good, but there aren’t enough conversations about diversity in research.

Consider the broken rung. How do we help people move from entry level roles into middle management?

Think about operating in your organization in much the same way that you navigate your research work. We need to make a demographic shift to ensure we bring multiple perspectives into the work we do.

War Stories

Steve Portigal was working for a financial technology company on small businesses. He couldn’t get access to someone who had done similar work in the past. Several of his go-to recruiters declined the work. He had a participant whose expectations were not clear on a number of different levels; during the interview he politely asked questions about the client and the purpose of the research. Steve was unsettled by the questions and became very deferential, which doesn’t lend itself to a good research process. He was surprised to receive a LinkedIn request from that same participant asking for information about the incentives.

One of the things that characterizes War Stories is that the protagonist doesn’t always prevail. That allows us to connect with them as human beings. Those mistakes, that vulnerability is messy. We can learn and reinforce best practices. But, even better, find empathy and recognize that failure comes for us all. We are always learning – we have to grapple with ourselves as humans.

We have to share how / where things go wrong. Share those stories. Arrange a Happy Hour and talk about them. The more we share these, the more we normalize the transparency.

Susan Simon-Daniels with a story called A Sigh is Just a Sigh. People who just recently purchased and set up smartphones, asking them to do it again. He shared a personal story about the passing of his parents’ and those of his wife. He was experiencing lingering sadness during those quiet moments. She had to ask why, and let ‘Rick’ share how he was feeling. As time goes by … from Casablanca soundtrack. We can’t assume.

Randy Duke II with a story called Don’t Fall Flat. He was asked to work on an IT tool with an employee, “Laura”. After some other meetings, they were slated to meet Carol, who they knew would have strong opinions. He tried to build rapport and talk about how she works. Flat Carol was a ten year old photo with a bubble. How to proceed – get the data, or just talk with Carol. Flat Carol would have kind words for people, and some comments on the software. Laura was appreciative of his ability to adapt, and they both walked away better for it.

Tamara Hale on Piercings, Power and Getting Older. As part of her resarch, she has worn head scarves to recruit at mosques in London, big boots for urban environments, and literally relearned how to walk in a way that was appropriate for the context she was in. She sought guidance about research in Japan. She had learned to adapt for work in financial services and big sales pitches, so she was accustomed to adapting in that way. But then she met the Product Manager, who had a nose piercing.

Maybe changing was inauthentic, but the reality is more complex. Sometimes we do it out of respect, and lessening distance between us and our participants. Sometimes minorities do this for protection, self preservation. In the eyes of the customer, I was the serious business lady, and the product manager was a cool young California kids. Her reaction was “I’m hip, I have an asymmetrical haircut!” But she realized that the interpretations are not under her control.

Keynote – Priya Parker

Priya Parker is the author of The Art of the Gathering. Rather than a formal keynote, Priya answered questions, with a focus on how to manage gatherings in this unusual quarantine period.

She referenced an article called “The Phone Call is Back” on NY Times. This is a social x-ray of this social and economic period, and of our relationships. On Sunday mornings her entire inter-generational family (mostly in India) does a Zoom call. Her kids are seeing cousins they normally see only every few years. Adoption is being radically sped up, especially in the past two weeks – especially for the older generation who has been dragged into Zoom with a lot of love.

The definition of gathering is three or more people come together for a purpose. Communities have gatherings; gatherings help shape communities. Her background is in group process, specifically conflict resolution.

What is the purpose? What is the need now for this community? And then, how do we design our infrastructure to meet that need? What we are trained in – no more useful set of skills.

Purpose or need, then designing the experience. In ‘meatspace’, we are constrained (for better or worse) by the furniture in the room. Instead of sitting three across and having a ping-pong match, have one person at each head of the table, forming a circle.

Winston Churchill ‘we shape our building and then they shape us’ . Gathering starts with the future promise of the host, and the anticipation leading up to the event. The name matters, for example.

We have to be careful we’re not ‘Columbusing’ – communities have had different constraints that have been figuring out how to do virtual gatherings for years. Globally distributed companies, the disabled community. But now people are hungry and there is an opportunity to interact in new ways, and with new tech. A new app called Houseparty, which is the Wild West. A context where you don’t have to organize a specific time with a firm. Virtual Summit is another where a larger group can coordinate. We do have a monopoly, but there will be new players, too.

This is ultimately a question about power. Who access has access to which technologies? Who has a smartphone, or a cell phone, or a land line? Not every gathering is for every body; gatherings suffer from over-inclusion. Create equity within your gathering. Video is good for intimacy, getting people to pay attention. But it means you are being asked to bring people into their home – where they are? who is in their home? who are they care-taking? What are the unintended consequences?

Diversity and inclusion was part of her pedagogy. Mixed groups put a lot of burden on people on color; don’t put all the weight on people with the least amount of privilege. Now we’re learning (after twenty years) to bring white groups first, to work through some of those issues before putting more burden on the disadvantaged.

Power in a gathering is about decision-making. How do you make decisions together. Most gatherings are under-hosted; we should practice generous hosting by connecting guests to purpose, protecting guests, and temporarily equalized them.

Over the course of this pandemic we will lose in-person events that no-one will talk about again. Other types of gatherings we will deeply miss – reconnecting to my running group, my Harry Potter group, etc. We will storm the gates for those physical gatherings. We’ll savor those, and not take them for granted.

How to work through emotional challenges? Both sides need to be willing to engage. We always look for that first, in conflict resolution. How do you increase the willingness, in a way that is ethical (and creative!)? We are in an organic moment – we are constructing, it is synthetic.

And then think about the ground rules – sometimes video off may help us listen more intently. Have an explicit conversation about what you need at this moment.

Once we know the basics (e.g. of Zoom), what we focus on will change. Challenges now will be different than two weeks for now. There is an app called Daybreaker where people dance at 6 am. Every 30 minutes they send out a dancing bear. Find ways to interrupt, check back in.

Lack of equity doesn’t only happen because of bias, it can also happen because of boredom. When a group gets stuck, we may ask them to switch seats. That is a way of changing the conversation.

How do you elevate someone’s voice in a digital gathering? You can mute the others. Move.org hosted a call with 60K people after the last election. Everyone was unmuted, and asked to scream together. They had that release, and that helped manage the call afterwards. Create inventive structures.

We are in a difficult moment, and it may get more difficult before it eases. What do you most know, and what is most needed right now? Choose one way to apply your skills to a need. Her lens is gathering, which is basically culture-making. The way we gather is contagious.

Broadening Our Perspective

Curated by Abby Covert.

From Abby’s introduction to the theme: One of the notable trends from our call for proposals was the wide net that we ended up casting outside of what might be considered typical UX research work. The next 4 talks are all given by researchers who have had to broaden their perspective on what it means to be a researcher given a variety of factors in their organizations.

Sarah Flamion on Complex Problem? Add Clarity by Combining Research and Systems Thinking. She was assigned to do research for a new product called Customer 360 Audiences. It’s large and complex, has many types of users, being developed quickly, and has very specialized stakeholders.

Here is some of the material on systems things that she found the most compelling:

From Tools of a System Thinker – There are constant feedback loops and flows between elements of a system.

  1. The Whole and the Parts. Broad view, with the detail in mind. Our natural instinct is to break the whole into smaller parts we understand, but then we lose the big picture. We can learn best if we stretch across organizational silos.
  2. Connections. People make decisions with limited information – bounded rationalization. Thus, they make imperfect decisions about most distant parts of the system.
  3. Intangible Elements. System diagrams need to include tangible and intangible elements. [BTW, that was one of the big failures of early systems thinking – not effectively accounting for human behavior / agency. That gap is what led me from systems theory to anthropology.]
  4. Boundaries and Mental Models. These should be examined, and can be changed. Ask yourself – do you have the right boundaries drawn?

Jed Ahmed on Convergent Research Techniques in Customer Journey Mapping. We are seeing a fusion of techniques that have historically been quite siloed.

Market research is changing due to the growing availability of data. And then MR is being pushed to operate with more speed. Not just what what they are asking, but how. Jem believes these insight disciplines will come together even more over time, and lead to emergent research practices. Convergent insights comes from this fusion.

She is going to share an example from her own work on collaborative journey mapping at Magic Lab.

Here is what the traditional process looks like:

In this case, her team was relative new, with little historical research to draw on. There was a lack of time to observe at scale, and stakeholders didn’t have much direct observation time. So, they created a new process, instead:

  1. The homework is something she has historically done more on market research than in UX Research. They were given a template with a timeline, and then they focused deeply on certain parts of that timeline. This helped to improve recall. They helped vividly unlock their memory through cues around smells, and more.
  2. Their focus groups were creative working sessions. Together, they built out a virtual representation of their journey, using a number of MR techniques like tightly timebound activities.
  3. They used classic co-creation techniques to ensure that stakeholders and participatnts had time to interact.
  4. They used data analytics, pasive feedback teams, and used that to stress test their final artifact,

They were able to execute quickly – in just a few weeks – and at a much lower cost than if they had taken a more traditional approach.

One of the many great comments from the conference Slack was the parallels to Path of Expression from Sanders and Stappers’ book, Convivial Toolbox. You can read more about that here.

Sohit Karol spoke about on Designing Delightful Listening Experiences: Mixed Methods Research in the Age of Machine Learning. Machine Learning is everywhere now, but now consumers are increasingly aware. Spotify playlists are managed through a combination of ML and some human intervention. In the past, a DJ would craft a sequence of songs. How do you make that kind of experience available for every single user, every single time? He went from a traditional, core research role into this new team.

In the music industry, the great unbundling happened with the advance of the first Apple iPod. Today, Spotify maintains 5K playlists, and supports 3B user-generated playlists. There is a staggering level of personalization, from merchandizing, to content, and of course experience.

Machine Learning is what enables this matchmaking at scale.

From AI Academy, What is Machine Learning?

Modeling and prediction is a serious business – it can make or break the user experience. Getting these right is a multi-year effort. This ultimately the story of a skip – why do people skip a song? The assumption is that skipping is bad, and that ML models should reduce the number of skips.

Their personas had very different reasons for skipping, but in some cases (for Nick especially), skipping is normal.

Nick has a complex model for understanding playlists:

And of course, context is key:

Their research showed that a skip is not a skip. We need to think differently about mixed methods:

And finally, Liwei Dai on The Heart and Brain of AI Research. She works in a startup in the integrated workspace management space.

Machines can’t explain the why.

This reduced the number of calls, but people were still calling support. She was engaged to figure out why. She ended up reaching out to the customer service team, and used that to generate some hypotheses.

This enabled them to move from Q&A to a more conversational model. We can apply our interview, observation, and sensemaking skills to understand the why of human behavior, in turn, enabling AI to solve the right problems.

And, of course, building relationships and empathy with AI researcher partners. How they think, make decisions, etc. There is a lot of common ground. AI has many branches, but right now ML is the star of the show, in spite of it’s limitations. These other branches can help, too.

Some nice connections here to the systems thinking talk from earlier today.

The user perspective (in blue) is the heart of AI, and where we as UX researchers can help. But the heart and the brain are deeply connected.

Three lessons from her experiences thus far: (1) Get into the weeds. (2) Focus on research thinking, and worry less about methods. (3) Take ownership – actively participate in everything from product strategy to design sprints.

Managing Up

Curated by me. 🙂

From my introduction to the theme: We received nearly 240 submissions to this conference for less than 20 slots.  One of the themes that emerged strongly from those submissions is the challenges and opportunities associated with ‘getting a seat at the table’.  How can we be more effective in managing our relationships with executive stakeholders? How should we evolve both our work products, our teams, and ourselves accordingly?   In this fourth and final conference theme, we’ll be exploring the theme of Managing Up, which, most of the speakers will argue, is a misnomer. 

Dalia El-Shimy opens our theme with her presentation So You’ve Got a Seat at the Table. Now What? This talk was inspired by a work meeting, in which individual contributors presented their work to senior stakeholders. She was dismayed about the level of detail they were sharing; there was huge gap between what they were sharing, and what the VPs actually wanted to hear.

We are providing too much detail for senior stakeholders. They want strong opinion that we are uncomfortable providing. We haven’t take the time to understand the people inside our firewall.

Having a seat happens as soon as they internalize your work and begin to reference it.

Three things:

  • Look for patterns in their emails, presentations, check-ins, or reports they may write and share. And then consider how they communicate – whether positive, fact-based, or intensity-based. And of course, pay attention to what they talk about – from people to business metrics. Within her team, Dalia organized workshops to help the researchers communicate more effectively.
  • Tell the right story – storytelling is a major topic is UX Research, but this is different than the stories we tell day-to-day … about features. This is about making investment decisions, and providing a memorable shorthand using a narrative, and make sure they get the so-what. But you need to keep cultural differences in mind – inductive in North American, and deductive in places like Germany.
  • Close the loop – in the Shopify investment planning process, they solicited input about their inputs and the impact it had on the decision-making process. As well as how effective their pitches were.

We;re not being gated out in pupose. Research isn’t being grown to be shut out of key decisions

Our role is to expand those boundaries.

Nathan Shedroff on Double Your Mileage: Use Your Research Strategically. We have the most contact with customers, but we’re rarely into corporate or organizational strategy process, and that really needs to change.

We, as customer-centric researchers are well positioned to make it better. Instead of this:

This:

But this is rarely the case. Nonetheless, it’s worth fighting for. Here is what you can do:

  • Learn about great strategy on their own. Just because you haven’t been invited doesn’t mean you shouldn’t engage.
  • Learn the vocabulary, frames, and issues of your peers (and expand them).
  • Build relationships within your org’s leadership. Get out of your studio space, or invite them in.
  • Share insights from the field in innovative and appropriate ways. Get into a regular cadence – don’t wait more than 90 days between communications. Find ways to transcend beyond numbers (like NPS), or given them better numbers.
  • Share stories from the field in appropriate ways – like living personas for your segments.
  • Contextualize your insights and work in terms of IMPACT to organizational goals, mission, and performance. Enliven what they know by sharing the why – that’s what we do best as design researchers.
  • Use tools that emphasis opportunity and accuracy. Make it look more scientific, which in turn makes it appear more trustworthy.
  • Connect your activities and budgets to strategic corporate goals.
  • Expand your research to other stakeholders when you can – create a stakeholder map if you can.
  • Learn the current business tools. If you can connect your understanding of customers to business goals, that will put you at the forefront of business strategies.
  • Learn leadership skills. It is the clear communication of a future others want to follow. Research gives you the credibility to lead.
  • Business as usual
  • Fear of change, of losing influence
  • Expanding your network both inside and outside the organization
  • A quant vs qual culture

Brianna Sylver on Lead with Purpose. This report has the intent of informing the how, since the general value of why is better understood in our design ecosystem. In order to lead with purpose, you embrace the ‘flywheel of design’:

For Design Leadership, you must regularly surface the strategic implications of your work, and become an indepinosebla resource to yoru business partners.

These environments are the reality today. As a researcher in a problem-driven environment, Brianna recommends that we intentionally track and visualize the framework journey happening around project. If in a solution-focused environment, advocate for an exploratory approach to help set direction.

Creating Specialized Design Competency, including

As researchers, get in tune with your organization’s key priorities, and define where you need to level up to align to those priorities.

Christian Madsbjerg on Influencing Strategy. Regarding the theme premise – advice is partnership, and being treated as equals.

But less than 10% of big decisions are made with grounded, data-driven efforts – especially those with a human-sciences perspective. Christian thinks that music may be a better metaphor than economics, race cars, fishing. More than design, than marketing, than UX … the most relevant place for the human sciences is in corporate strategy.

Attunement and Harmony – People talk about customer segments, journeys, and so on. But half the work is getting attuned to the internal logic and jargon. Why do they say what they do, or do what they do? Ethnographers are well suited to this. To deeply understand their world, you need to speak their language. Unless you follow and understand how money moves around, how decisions are made and not made, you can not be an effective adviser.

Rhythm and Cadence – if you are off-beat, you lose. Christian worked with a company that made beverages. In Latin America, sweetness is delicious, but also dangerous due to the prevalence to diabetes. There were also huge problem with waste disposal.

For five years he tried and failed to address those larger environmental issues. And then finally his client (the CTO) sent him a picture (above) of the number of coke bottle produced every ten minutes, and the she finally said this was the right moment. But he wasn’t understanding the cadence like his client was, and for years he was frustrated.

Dissonance – if you challenge what they think, you can only introduce one new idea at a time. And that is possible only if you are attuned. Some of these most senior people are only waiting for you to make mistakes. You have to get at the heart of their assumptions. An example from his own work – people using these $200K machines are not sophisticated users. Each machine has ten different alarms; people aren’t trained so they ignore the alarms. And they would buy a cheaper timer at Walmart that they would put on top of the machine and use as needed. You have to go after basic assumptions with surgical precision. A beverage manufacturer was giving away lots of merchandise their client didn’t want, it was being thrown out or was collecting dust. By eliminating that, they not only freed up funds but improved client connections.

Hooks and Riffs – Without hooks, the audience forgets you the minute you leave the room – there needs to be a nugget. His team was asked to look at people who receive immunotherapy .

The guy in this picture was not a very good dad, according to his daughters.  He was forgiven when he was dying.  He sold his house, bought a boat, quit his job.  But his body was able to accept the immunotherapy and he got eight years of extra life.  But the daughters didn’t expect him to go on.  And the lack of a job meant that he couldn’t pay his bills, and he couldn’t afford his house at the ocean, and his boat.  That one story helped his clients understand that they need to provide financial advice, life coaching – when life happens following immunotherapy.  You have to help them when you throw a miracle technology into this.  That perspective sits with executives for a long long time.

All the executives in this Germany sporting goods company were men.  For them, sports was about winning and medals.  But Christian’s team learned that getting into a dress was also a fitness measurement tool – a very different logic for these competitive, German executives.  It helped them get into new, less male-dominated categories that they hadn’t considered before.  

Practicing your instrument to keep learning, attend conferences, read the academic literature. These are two of the books that were recommended to Christian nearly twenty years ago, and which are still worth reading today:

And finally, the closing plenary by Leah Buley, entitled The Crisis of Digital.

Have our research practices advanced as fast as the evolution of animation?  Customer Journey workshops today are more inclusive and more trained on end-to-end user journey.  We’re using data more effectively today, and more unmoderated research.  But have we really drastically moved our field forward?  Today she is going to talk about where are we, and some provocations on where we need to be headed.  

At Forrester in 2015, she was supposed to survey the landscape of service design providers.  It was a survey of about 100 organizations, and they looks for patterns and behaviors.  In hindsight, there were five themes:

The categories were interesting, but they pointed to something bigger.  All of our services are being reimagined for digital.  We have been arguing for a broader experience focus because we didn’t want to get stuck in minor UI decisions.  The data from this study suggested that even this most expansive lens is highly trained and pointed at digital, now and into the future.  Our responsibility is to help do digital in a really humane, appropriate way.  The lion’s share of what we’re doing is helping digital channels take hold and be used appropriately.

The conundrum is that if you focus on specific digital, product, usability questions, does that lack of broader curiosity impede your ability to explore how digital impacts real life?

What happens in that case?  Digital innovation across the supply chain from growers to consumers.  Apps to train would-be growers – to simulate the grow experience, new digital-enabled lighting for growers.  And digitally enabled dose inhalers and educational platforms for consumers.  Even dispensaries are developing their own AR to support buying experiences. 

And the downstream effect was significant as well – new businesses emerged and grew into new spaces, including near state borders.  New revenue drove regulatory and governmental changes, which are also increasingly digital.  These new funds increased state revenue by 1%, which was used to fund education. 

She didn’t even think to wonder about this when she studied those networks.  You can imagine it in the rear-view mirror.  So, she has been asking herself whether there is a way we can better anticipate what is coming up ahead – both the waves of change, and the groups of people who will be affected.

The last project was from her time at Invision in 2018.  She was looking at design and research behaviors in organizations. 

Getting to Level 4 and 5 is an achievement, but most would have never gotten to the downstream impact that she outlined in that Invision study.
We need to design more defensive research methods,.  We may need to borrow from other industries who look at things in a new way.  What could we borrow for epidemiologists, urban planners, catastrophe modelers … maybe even from science fiction writers.  

So, fast forward to today.  She is going to share another outing, she went to a company that is a Bay Area success story.  The new tech businesses seem to have influenced their immediate surroundings, but the neighborhood is not necessarily doing better.  This business was particularly stark – one beautiful building, two layers of security … outside it’s loud, crazy, dirty, unpredictable.  Very few people had time to validate whether the product was genuinely doing to improve the lives of its’ users. 

These organizations have a sort of frenetic purposelessness.  This digital crisis $2.3T industry trying to make everything digital as quickly as possible.  It’s been a fascinating an privileged place to be – she has been grateful.  But she has contributed to this – more design, more research, more digital, more of the time.  We can’t just make products that will function and be usable.  We must and predict how enabling those behaviors will alter our people and interconnected webs of people.  

In a perverse way the COVID-19 pandemic is changing her thinking again – services that are providing new data – whether it’s Kinsa thermometers or Zoom.  There are even services to connect people to each other locally.  That has made her really hopeful for where we can take it in the future.  We’ll be surprised at how more this medium will penetrate our lives.  Our task is to help do that humanely and responsibly as possible.  

And … that’s a wrap!

Thanks to the great team at Rosenfeld Media for pulling off a terrific event. We hope to see you again next year!

1 Comments on “Advancing Research 2020”

  1. Pingback: Дайджест продуктового дизайна, апрель 2020 / Блог компании Райффайзенбанк / Хабр

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