Table of contents
There is something I would like to get rid of right from the start: This post will probably be different from what you are expecting. But stay tuned – it’s worth it!
Departments and companies conducting a lot of UX research these days are inevitably faced with the challenge of having a lot to do. They have to start many projects, repeat many steps over and over, and satisfy, gratify, and delight more and more stakeholders. If things go well, they will be your converts evermore.
Although at some point UX was only a cool, small and hip revolution, its content and thematic reference to everyday life have simply become mainstream by now. While I never want this to happen to my favourite music bands, I believe it’s okay for UX. In fact, it’s even excellent. The better the user experience of products and services, the better the world is. A simple theory, but let’s leave it like this for now.
But what do you do when you’re drowning in work, UX is important, and vacant positions within the company are not filled immediately or additional positions created? My answer: You have to create your own (!) processes and defaults to allow UX research to be scaled.
I’ve held several conversations, and quite often, with clients over the past year. Many of them are looking for a quantitative way to conduct UX research. If you only had a benchmark, a battery of items, then you could do a comparison, and this would also be a way of scaling. But actually, you don’t. And in many cases, it doesn’t make much sense either, because (for certain questions) the qualitative aspect can hardly be replaced. If you are looking for emotions and authentic behaviour, you have to watch people. There is seldom a way around this. And qualitative UX research is 1-to-1; observation is implementation; an hour-long interview cannot be scaled or carried out faster. It is what it is, and that’s a good thing because it’s right at the heart of the revolutionary mindset that we all called for (back then when UX was still something small). So, what can be done about this?
I’ll suggest a few things that I hope will inspire you. Based on my experience with clients and projects, I can confirm that some tips and tricks are quite good and can even be successful.
First of all, you should be really aware of which activities and skillsets are required and important. We shouldn’t start to switch to other methods with a completely different focus and emphasis only because we are short of time. Thus, assessing the needs to see what is actually required in the company to drive UX design (and product development) forward, can really help. Spoiler: It is usually not a benchmark!
A needs assessment should focus on regular questions in the company, the current product focus, as well as the work done with the results. In principle, you could also try to answer the question “What are we actually doing what for, and what do we need for it?”, but needs assessment sounds better. For this purpose, you can write down or record the past in a structured way, or also break down the company’s current strategic plans into your own actions. The best for this is an interdisciplinary approach and a combination of internal service providers (e.g. the internal UX Department) and stakeholders (e.g. developers or project managers).
Find a good partner network and rely on individual people you know for this. I conduct interviews, workshops and group discussions for our clients myself. Clients who have worked with us already for a long time simply throw things over the fence at us and allow us to do our work. The longer they know us, the less likely they are to get involved in the project. Sure, because they trust us. I’m very much aware that you can’t sell trust by means of a PowerPoint chart, but that it grows over several projects! But if you have such a person as a service provider or partner, you simply have to involve this person. There simply is no need to check every guideline or watch every interview. It can save time (and make sense) to simply outsource the content and just get the final results. Thus, it makes sense to use such people if you already have them or find them if you don’t.
You have to be aware of what you actually want. Drawing up documents, reaching agreements and determining questions are “messy” and time-consuming steps, because you always have to start over, change them slightly, and even sometimes you only start thinking about what you actually need when you are already in midst of the process. My proposal is an internal workshop in which the process of a typical (qualitative) UX research project is created from start to finish and processualised! What should the results look like in our specific case? What is the standard screener? Which elements must necessarily be always integrated and which not? What should my guidelines look like? Should the most important to-dos simply be available as Excel or as miro? Or should they be something else?
This may sound strange at first. Why should you, as a client, worry about this? Simply because then you always get what you want and have to spend less time writing, correcting, understanding, communicating. You know your grid and exactly what will come out of it. If you combine this with a good partner network, you can really save time. I have often carried out workshops like this for clients, to come up with a standard set that UX researchers always work with.
Our experience with this is that the defaults should really be developed by yourself, and not just copied from other industries or stolen from other companies. While the first step of such a transfer is usually easy, the constant adaptation, adjustment, and further development is most frequently very time-consuming and cumbersome. Investing time in developing your own screener or report template is therefore a much better idea. Ultimately, it saves time and really helps to scale UX research.
My proposal is to create the following defaults:
- Contact with at least 3 recruiting partners (including a list of strengths and weaknesses)
- Contact with at least 2 or -3 external UX researchers (if necessary; including their strengths profile)
- Process representation to be able to quickly communicate internally the process, duration and result of a UX study.
- Screening instrument to have a form and default questions ready at the beginning of a cooperation
- Default guidelines to communicate form and expectations directly
- Evaluation examples (2-3 charts or an Excel list to give the service provider a direct insight)
Depending on the possibilities, you can also think about standardizing briefing documents or similar structure and process-supporting documents. This will ultimately help you to save at least another 5 minutes in several stages of the process.
After a certain hit rate, it is impossible to avoid answering certain questions twice or even three times. This means that if you are not careful, results and questions will repeat themselves so that things will become rather inefficient at some point. Just imagine the treasure trove that some big companies will be sitting on at some point after years of UX research.
But to enhance the usefulness of such a treasure, you should document the results in such a way that they can be found again when you need them. And access should be public to everyone in the company to maximize the transfer of knowledge.
How do you succeed in doing this? These days there are many tools and approaches available. You can use keywords, create traffic light systems, internal benchmarks, and probably much more. But once again, my suggestion is to start using your brain and only look for the right tool when things are reasonably clear! Generally speaking, we seem to be rather inclined to start purchasing a cool tool (“cloud is best”) before thinking about what we actually need.
Sometimes we create these systems for our customers starting with the question: “Who actually has access to the results and what should these people get out of them?” Subsequently, we create user stories and special use cases concerning the reason for which a person would choose something in the company’s UX Insights. Based on this, you can come up with a good approach.
A tip from practice at this point: Ask yourself or formulate 5 to 10 specific questions or hypotheses for each study and answer them (or have them answered for you). The answers and the questions are the only things that I would document in the company. Not all insights are equally relevant – most of the time it’s just the big questions. And if you start early with these (5-10 questions!), you will quickly develop a basic understanding of the interaction between your own products and your own target group.
If you really approach this in a systematic manner, it can always help if you capture the expectations within the company yourself. What is it that people want? What helps them? And something extremely important: How do they work with the results? Great importance is attached to documenting things, but we should ask more often how insights are being used for work. How should they be formulated? Is an excellent visualization necessary? Or is it just a representation of our own performance? What exactly is important and who wants to have a say? All of this helps and allows you to derive processes and defaults that you will be able to a) carry out yourself or b) hand over to any external service provider. Please, don’t get me wrong: I like to do all this by myself, but it would probably be much faster and cheaper if the client says directly what they need in which format and how, and provides 2-3 examples. This saves time for everybody involved and it is already available. And you can always say: “It actually makes sense”.
My proposal is to create a graphically appealing document, but which at its core is structured very systematically. For example, I would include sub-chapters per use case, such as “Typical Solution”, Top 5 Problems”, “Optimization Options”, “User quotes”. This is a good aid to guide yourself, and it still looks good. Often, an Excel list will probably suffice, but it doesn’t necessarily look convincingly like a “cool method”. You should be very aware of this. A miro board can also be great, but only if your colleagues want to work with it. Therefore it is important to determine this in advance.
I know, I know… UX, design, creativity and processes and defaults do not exactly fit together, but the more frequently something is done, the sooner we should look for opportunities to improve the process. The time for UX has come, and it is also possible to scale UX research without taking the focus off the qualitative approach.
I, therefore, encourage you to find your own process and try to do so primarily by means of reflection, exchanges and standardization. But please, don’t talk about tools, benchmarks, or automatisms in the first step, because these things should only be a vehicle for a solution and not a solution per se.