Another eventful, productive, and at times tumultuous year rapidly comes to a close, and as January looms….
I reflect on another twelve months spent navigating the enterprise UX research trenches, and wonder: What advice do I have for those who might be new to these trenches? Noted below are some key strategies that have helped me run 1:1 user research studies during the last year. I will certainly carry these user research “tips and tricks” into 2018 and beyond.
- Do a pilot test. Even if you have been to the rodeo before, it’s critical to test your study with someone, prior to running your first participant. The pilot participant can be someone that works at your company, but should not be someone involved with the design or development of the product. Through my many years of completing pilot sessions, I have always found a better way to word a question or pace my study.
If you can get your product owner and developer stakeholders to attend the pilot session, that is definitely a BONUS! It is their opportunity to ensure that business goals are aligned with research goals.
- Know details about your participant (who is often a customer) prior to your session. When designing enterprise experiences, your users are often customers. I find it valuable to look at the participant’s LinkedIn profile before the session, to see how long she has been in her current role. If your company has accessible customer data, it is great if you can see the full suite of products and services the company has purchased and implemented. This will enable you to get a sense of what other applications the user is interacting with during their workday, and how the product you are gathering insights on fits into the context of their customer experience.
- Create a rapport and clearly outline the study protocol with the participant. Creating rapport can be as simple as asking the participant how their day is going. If the session is in person, ask them if they had any issues finding the office. If the session is remote, ask how the weather is in their city. Next, give the user a sense of how long you will be chatting, and how the session will unfold. It is common courtesy, but it’s also informative, and sets the stage for a relaxed and focused conversation.
- Ask the participant to verbalize their thoughts, feelings, and opinions while interacting with the stimuli. This “think aloud” technique might not be natural for all users, but it is a great way to capture a wide range of cognitive activities; this technique focuses on gathering information on the thought process of the user undertaking the task. Think aloud will also give you insights into terminology she would use for the process or items shown to her on the screen.
Don’t be afraid of silence while the participant is “thinking aloud.” Often times, participants will “dig deeper” for insights if you allow that moment for them to reflect.
- Learn the three basic facilitation techniques suggested by the Nielsen Norman Group: echo back, boomerang and Columbo. These techniques will enable you to gather key insights, while not influencing or biasing the participant. The echo is simply repeating back the words of the user, in a questioning tone. When the user asks a question, boomerang the question back to them– for instance, if they ask if a button will navigate them to a another page, respond back with “What do you think the button will do?” Finally, the Columbo is a technique of being purposely obtuse, so the participant will provide details that allow you to understand her thought process and intentions. At the core, these techniques will prompt the user to explain their thoughts, and probably give you a deeper explanation that will truly inform the design.
- Allow the participant to digress–to follow her train of thought in an organic manner. Yes, you do have a script and have a set of questions that need to be answered. But real insights (or aha! moments) often result when you allow someone to go off script.
I watch the clock carefully while conducting my sessions and ensure there is definitely time at the end to chat off script. This time can be a great opportunity for the participant to give you a response that reflects on a specific task that they completed. It also allows the participant to summarize their experience and “wrap up” details from their perspective.
- If you have the time, spend 10-15 minutes and jot down or elaborate on the key things you learned immediately after the session. You will be surprised at the accuracy of top-of-mind insights, noted right after the interview. If you wrote a couple of notes in “chicken scratch,” immediately after the session is the best time to elaborate on these ideas, so they are not forgotten. You will find that your high level notes or summary of the session can be formulated in that short time frame.
- Listen to the session recording to assess how you did as a Moderator. As a moderator, sometimes it’s annoying to listen to your own voice! But there is much to learn from reviewing and analyzing your own contribution as the interviewer of the session. Use this review as an opportunity to improve both your ability to ask questions and also your facilitation techniques.
- Know your audience when you make your presentation and make sure that your findings tell a story about the data. Like any good movie or presentation, a good story contains the following key elements: great characters, a believable challenge, details on obstacles, and finally, the outcome or recommendations to win that challenge. To do this, I often showcase one or more specific users that were interviewed and bring their struggle to life–I indicate how representative she is of the user base. Knowing your data will serve you immensely when you craft your storyline and provide recommendations. The more you know your data, the better you will be able to present the challenge and support it with specific details.
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Soon we’ll all be tackling ambitious new projects, engrossed in whatever goals the New Year brings for our careers. I encourage my fellow researchers to reflect upon and learn from the past twelve months, before you dive back into those trenches! I would love to hear from others about the keys to making their projects successful, and how they will carry those techniques forward as they dive into another year in the UX trenches. All the best to you in 2018!