Ladies that UX back in Brighton: talking user research in design

Nearly a year ago I was given the opportunity to lead Ladies That UX in Brighton and I was thrilled to have a chance to help out the community. At the time I was working on a research project with Steph Troeth at Clearleft and while I knew that user research was important, I had only before scratched the surface of how illuminating the findings could be once uncovered.

“What has been and always will be true about Design Research is its consideration of people. The future lies not in     ignoring needs, but in broadening our horizons. We need to think about more than just insights. We need to be collaborators and co-creators not only with the companies we are designing for, but also the communities and individuals we are researching”.— Tara Mullaney

One of our core values at Clearleft is “learn share, share learn” so I began curating the first event to be ‘An Evening of Design Research’ so that I could spread the magic of user research across the community. Here is an account of the evening from one of our attendees.

Article written by attendee Sally Creasey imagery  Benjamin Parry and  Hana Stevenson

A cold, crisp Brighton evening marked the return of Ladies that UX to the seaside town. Resurrected by Hana Stevenson from Clearleft,  30+ of us gathered to hear three inspiring user research practitioners, Ivanka Majic, Kathy Neuss and Stephanie Troeth, discuss user research in the design process.

Feeling inspired, I’ve captured five things that stood out for me from each talk (note: this is my take on what was said, so may not exactly represent what was shared).

Ivanka Majic: Engaging multi-disciplinary teams with user research

Currently working for Brighton & Hove City Council, Ivanka is a user researcher and designer. Formerly Head of Research at LBi, she’s also worked at Ubuntu, GDS, and the Labour Party.

Ivanka discussed the importance of understanding the user and how this understanding can create a positive impact on multi-disciplinary teams.

Five things that resonated…

  • User researchers need to work with sensitivity, as we are often brought into projects late on; testing products/services that others have lived and breathed for months or years (it’s personal for these people, and this needs to be respected)
  • User researchers should be ‘Purveyors of empathy’, encouraging all team members to identify with users and ultimately represent them
  • ‘Attitudes’ can sometimes be more useful than ‘Personas’ in engaging team members with audience needs, as they are more directed and feel real
  • Personas and attitudes capture the extremes of behaviour, enabling us to challenge the design process every step of the way
  • Communication is central to a user researcher’s role – ‘learn the craft, then learn how to make it relevant, so that others care and champion users themselves’

Kathy Neuss: Discussing cognitive biases

Kathy is an experienced user researcher, who has worked with Gumtree, MSN and eBay. She is currently at HMRC delivering the Government Digital Services framework.

Kathy discussed the impact of cognitive biases on researchers; why we get blinded by them and how to challenge what we think and see.

Five (well six) things that resonated…

  •  Cognitive biases are akin to illusions – they remain convincing even when we are aware that they are happening
  • ‘Confirmation bias’ is the interpretation of new evidence as confirmation of your own opinion (e.g. the Facebook echo chamber)
  • ‘Evaluation bias/research bias’ is a lack of rigour that goes into verifying facts and taking research at face value (e.g. the fake chocolate study)
  • ‘Cognitive or processing fluency bias’ is someone seeing ‘easy as true’ (e.g. companies with shorter, simpler names do better on the stock market)
  • UX is a team sport. There is a danger when user researchers work in isolation and report back, as you need other people to challenge your biases
  • Be the voice of the customer, real research quotes in personas and reports make them tangible (but be sure to transcribe the participant directly and avoid putting your own spin on what is said – as that’s biases at work!)

Stephanie Troeth: Prevention and cures in user research

Stephanie Troeth is a user experience strategist, researcher and designer. Currently Head of Research at Clearleft, she has led a publishing tech start-up, worked with MailChimp and lectured at the University of Greenwich.

Steph shared her experiences of how to understand user context in detail and get more from design research, beyond usability testing.

Five things that resonated…

  • When it comes to product and service design research, the context of a user’s pain-points and wishes is as important as what they tell you (it’s vital to mix research tools to reveal all sides of the experience)
  • People who use our ‘stuff’ often have other priorities – don’t get blinded by the importance of your product, think about their day-to-day experience
  • Check out the ‘Double Diamond’ (http://www.scott-fyfe.com/content/double-diamond.aspx). Two diamonds, four phases – Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver. Design teams often start with the second diamond, rushing to solution without understanding the problem, so they end up solving the wrong problem
  • There are a myriad of research tools, ranging from open-ended to close-ended. We need to look at the problem and choose the right tools and approach (too often we are led by the tools we’ve always used)
  • Build levels of user research on top of each other to obtain the real insight, often the key insight comes when you are a number of research phases into a project

Thanks for an inspiring evening

It was great to get back out into the UX community (since moving from London to Sussex, I’ve been to fewer events, the joys of being a commuter!)

Surrounded by inspiring UXers, in a relaxed venue, with interesting topics on the agenda made me remember how good these events are. My mind is now humming with ideas. So thanks for having me and see you next time.

Thank you to Sally Creasey for capturing the essence of one of a Ladies that UX events in Brighton. I’ve really enjoyed organizing and curating the events. Looking forward to more to come, including our upcoming afternoon tea with Contact the Elderly and our ‘Embracing Failure’ event in January. – Hana Stevenson (Ladies That UX Brighton Organiser)


Categories: Design Research, Research
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