Bookmark Beat: EP 4
What's the point of UX research, anyway?
Wow! It's been a whole month since I started this weekly summary of my browser history… I hope y'all have learned something from reading my musings. If not, I'd love to hear what you think I should be sharing instead. If you are, I'd also love to hear from you!
This week, I'm geeking out about the purpose of user research within the context of the business, diving into the core competencies of conducting research and how to ensure the research we conduct is actually inclusive.
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An intro: Dungeons in Dragons… IN SPACE
Polygon covered, what they believe is, Dungeons and Dragons' weirdest setting, Spelljammer, then and now. In my opinion, Eberron is way weirder… but that's not the point. The point is there's going to be a table-top campaign that's basically a Treasure Planet look-a-like.
I love table top games. They're a great way to hang out with friends and exercise the imagination muscles. I also love big ships and space. So, despite not loving the 5 edition rules, I'll likely still get the Astral Adventurer's Guide for the pretty pictures and lore!
What's the point of a UX Research Team?
That's what Jane Davis answers in her recent blog post. I'm a sucker for two-by-twos (2x2s) and it's worth staring at this one for a long while. Having hired external research vendors, grown a research team, and helped facilitate self-serve research for product teams, I appreciate seeing how they compare on the level of “research expertise” and “organizational context” that comes along with these staffing decisions.
I agree that an internal team, with the right practices and priorities, can be significantly more effective than outsourcing research to an agency and/or whichever PM/Designer has time. As my research team was starting to grow at Chipper, I loved this conversation from dscout to help frame the purpose of the team. At the same time, I read Matthew Godfrey's post on a having a 'research framework' - which helped me get better at explaining why some projects took so much longer than others.
And, once a project was complete, Adam Fry-Pierce's guide on The 3 Unbroken Chains for Org Alignment For Design Teams helped me bubble up insights gathered in research projects back to the design team, product teams and the rest of the organization.
But getting “buy in” is only half the work…
You then have to actually conduct the research. Whenever a new researcher came on board, I assigned Just Enough Research to them. If you haven't read it, stop reading this newsletter and buy it. It's one of the most important books for any designer, researcher or product-aligned person could read.
As a contrast to that fully-fleshed out book, this post by Austin Z. Henley is a great intro for more technical folks who might need some convincing that research is important (or even possible). Although not a complete guide to all user research methods (this Field Guide from User Interviews is much better for that), Austin's writing style and examples makes me want to send this post to every developer I know!
Where UX strategy is all about communicating to “the business”, UX tactics are more focused on getting folks on your team (like engineers) to understand what you're actually doing.
So let's do research right!
It all starts with taking your time. In tech, we've become so used to doing things as fast as possible. “Move fast and break things” was the default ethos for so long that it's easy to forget how long it takes for our brain to work on things in the background.
That's where tools like theme identification come into play. Techniques to Identify Themes in Qualitative Data is a classic paper that describes these techniques in detail. Indi Young's Removing bias from your solutions dives deeper into how to identify themes while minimizing bias.
Coda: Music theory for folks like me
I've been playing guitar for over 15 years and I still can't read music. I know my scales and pretty much every chord. But if you would have asked me last week why something it's called “a 13th note”, I would have shrugged and said “I dunno, but it sounds good”.
Thanks to this Practical Guide to Music Theory and Improvisation, I actually know now! Piano is also becoming less of an impenetrable mess in my brain. So I think I'm on the right track.
I read through this guide with a pack of sticky notes and a MIDI keyboard - I recommend anyone who is interested to do the same.
Tweet of the week
I wish more had been documented about the non-white male contributions to early design/UX et al. When I read “histories” they always perpetuate what was most visible, yet I know countless women and POC who have 20+ year-long careers that have been all but erased from the story.