article

Our 8 Recommendations for Building a UX Research Program

Written by

Katie Greiner

Six months ago I was asked if I wanted to become fully embedded at a local startup to help it build out its user research program. The task was large and would require all my years as a researcher to accomplish successfully. Luckily, I had experience building out a research program at my previous job at Zappos so I eagerly raised my hand to be part of the opportunity.

The task was to help build out and develop research practices and procedures at a company that was starting to think about implementing a user research team and program. This would require new processes and procedures and someone with UX expertise to help smooth the transition.

After four months of working at the startup, I have learned valuable lessons that I would love to share. Here are some of my recommendations on how to create a solid research practice within a new company.

1. Understand the Company’s Needs

First, Blink had conversations with the client’s team to learn more about its user research needs and request for assistance. We had learned that the UX design team was managing and running research studies, but this was straining resources. Larger user research efforts requested were constrained by bandwidth.

Ultimately, a more formal user research program was going to be set up, but in the meantime, there was an opportunity for us to engage and positively impact the business through a four-month, multi-study research program.

Recommendations

To help you better your company's needs, start by searching for pain points in current UX research processes. Where does your staff feel spread thin? Where are processes putting a strain on resources? Ask questions that lead you to a deeper understanding of your team's needs.

When you understand your company's pain points, you can then build your short-term and long-term goals around addressing them and creating an appropriate research program for the needs of your business. You should also define what a successful research program looks like to better tailor your goals and give your team something to work toward.

2. Make Connections Quickly

One of the first things I did when I started this multi-study project was to identify my main point of contact. It was important to establish a relationship with the individual who could help me set and manage expectations with teams on the research schedule.

This relationship was particularly important once other teams started to see the value in the research and also wanted their features or products tested. These additional research requests had to be funneled through my main point of contact since she was most familiar with the company’s direction.

In many companies, especially startups, product strategy will continually evolve and change. It was important that I checked back with my point of contact to ensure I was up to date with the latest strategic direction and how that affected upcoming research studies. The research schedule that was defined at the beginning of the engagement was flexible to account for the changing pace of the startup environment.

Recommendations

Get connected with the business decision-makers early on. Talk with the person who is in charge of the product backlog and strategy to help define research goals and studies. In addition to getting in touch with an influential decision-maker, you can also try to work with other team members to encourage greater connection and foster a shared understanding of the user base.

With the help of your point of contact and input from the team, you can build a flexible research plan that can be adjusted based on any strategic shifts in the future. By making connections early on, you can often create a research plan that's more personalized to your company's capabilities and that takes into account possible changes in the future. Like anything else, communication is key.

3. Share the Benefits of Research

To help stimulate the discussions about the benefits of user research, it was important that I got familiar with all the organization’s teams. I was constantly introducing myself to new faces in the company. I told them about my role and short-term research project. I made connections with the project management, marketing, customer service, UX design, and development teams. I got to know what questions they had about their users or features.

Share the Benefits of Research

Additionally, this was my opportunity to talk with those who were not too familiar with user research and answer any questions they had about what user research was and its benefits. Building and maintaining an insight-driven organization is an all-company undertaking. Research findings not only benefited the user experience design and product management teams I was tasked to work with, but it impacted the entire company. Keeping this in mind, I frequently shared insights with others who had interest in the results.

Recommendations

As you make user research a priority at your company, it's important to get everyone on board. Some might not immediately see the advantages, so it's important that you sell them on how it can improve your organization. As the UX research development process becomes more of your company's focus, help others see its value with these tips:

  • Focus on actionable insights. Your findings will gain the most traction if they are attached to specific recommendations.
  • Continually share research findings throughout the organization. Keep the research insights top of mind during introductions or casual conversations.
  • Grab lunch or coffee with people you do not know and learn about their role within the company. Use the time as an opportunity to discuss the benefits of user research.
Ux Reearch Schedule

4. Do Research on Their Research

As a consultant placed into a company, I had a unique standpoint in that I was an unbiased third-party. I was not familiar with or aware of the internal opinions about the company’s product or strategy. So naturally, I took an impartial role with recommendations on its product direction or internal processes. I came in with a neutral view on how things were run and was encouraged to critique how to improve processes or communications.

It was also important to learn about what research studies had already been done and what insights it had about its users or product. One exercise I found to be invaluable was interviewing stakeholders about what research deliverables or processes had worked well and what had not met expectations in the past. Through a few simple questions, I learned a ton about the current processes.

I also questioned if or how the client currently documents or share insights. Research is most effective when it is actionable and shared. Getting teams on the same page with how users understand and use a product is imperative for a well-defined strategy.

Recommendation

Develop an unbiased perspective and share it. Be bold with your suggestions for improving internal processes or documentation.

5. Get Into Their Environment

It was also beneficial to be able to get access to Slack, the client’s internal messaging system. I was able to join relevant conversations and it all helped me to better understand its space and current questions about its users.

Luckily, my desk was situated right by the feature teams’ standups area and a large whiteboard where UX designers, PMs, and developers often congregated to brainstorm solutions. I was in the ideal location to answer any research questions or jump into conversations with insights learned from usability studies.

Recommendations

If you're overseeing qualitative and quantitative research about users, you should be involved with the rest of the team. These actions can help you have a more cohesive team and ensure that your staff can pick your brain or send you info immediately. Therefore, I recommend that you:

  • Proximity matters. Consider where your desk is and the impact it could have on the frequency and types of conversations you could have.
  • Continue to question where you can embed yourself into existing processes to bring additional value.
  • Think outside the box if you have remote workers or multiple offices. Create an active, collaborative environment on Slack or another day-to-day messaging platform. Try to schedule "field trips" or retreats once a quarter to bring people together and build relationships across the entire company. You can also set up video calls if physical meetings aren't possible.

6. Set Expectations and Implement a Process

Since the UX designers were under-resourced and managed several projects, it was important that I communicated realistic expectations on when I needed the prototypes finalized for usability testing. I worked backwards from the testing date to allow time to get familiar with the prototype and write up a session guide with questions to ask. I also worked closely with the UX designers to ensure we were creating specific user flows that would help us answer our research questions.

I had to educate teams about the tradeoffs between delivery time and extent of reports. I could write up a topline report with video clips in a day but if more analysis was needed, I had to adjust the timeframes and set those expectations.

For this particular client, it was important to get the findings out quickly for the UX design and development teams to start iterating and developing. I made sure to provide an executive summary and thorough recommendations in the topline reports for those who were unable to attend sessions and needed to catch up quickly on key findings.

Recommendations

To ensure that expectations are being met, regularly communicate with UX designers on what prototypes or artifacts are needed for usability testing. If your team needs time to become well versed with the prototypes, set deadlines to give them a timeframe to work with and stay on track. You can also write a session guide with pertinent questions and answers.

7. Be Transparent and Accessible

Regardless of the feature being tested, I invited the larger product team to watch the usability sessions live. For those who were unable to attend the user research sessions, I shared a link to where all the video files lived shortly after sessions so they could watch or scrub to specific sections at their convenience.

Video clips served as a great way to disseminate information to team members who could not attend the sessions. The video clips needed to be easily accessed and also uploaded in a shared place for others to view. I did not want team members to jump through hoops to watch a video clip. Uploading the videos to Google Drive and linking to specific spots in the video was really efficient and effective.

Recommendations

  • Get as many people observing the usability sessions as you can. Ensure that people know when these usability sessions are happening in advance, and encourage people in-person to attend.
  • Always record your usability session, providing easy access for users to interact with afterward. Those who missed the meeting or want to review some prior material will appreciate the video. To make these videos even more useful after the fact, you can timestamp important moments from the video, so users can find relevant info quickly.
  • Disseminate the findings to the broader company to encourage discussion and critique. Getting people to discuss research findings will lead to a greater amount of ideas, make team members feel like their input is valuable and help craft effective actions.

8. No Insights Left Behind

I become very invested in the company and wanted its teams to be set up for success after my multi-study project was complete. I had the opportunity to talk with many users over my project timeframe and gained a clear picture on their needs, wants, and frustrations. I needed to make sure the company had all this insight as well.

My first step was to organize all the files I had generated and put them in an accessible location for everyone to view. All my session notes, session guides, recordings, and reports were organized and put into the company’s shared drive. This ensured that everyone at the company had access to the documents.

One of my last deliverables, which I’m hopeful will help them continue research discussions, was to create a set of user personas for the company. Personas documents users’ behaviors, perceptions, and motivations and help get teams and companies on the same page when it comes to identifying their users.

I created these lightweight personas from the series of interviews I had conducted during my engagement. Even though each study tested a specific feature, I asked general questions about the product so that I could analyze trends from all the interviews to feed into the personas. The personas also provided a great summarization of key findings and high-level themes from the past months of research. It could serve as inspiration for future research studies outlining the personas’ frustrations about the current product.

Recommendations

To make sure your team gets the most out of research and implements it, you should consider using these actions:

  • Summarize and share insights from research studies often.
  • Ensure that people have access to research on shared drives and other locations. You don't want to have any barriers up when someone wants to access the research, as they may get frustrated and move on.
  • Think of ways to document trends and recurring themes from multi-study projects. Synthesize themes in the form of personas to give teams a quick overview of how their users think and behave with their product.

The Result of a Focused UX Research Development Program

Over the course of four months, I was humbled to see the excitement for user research grow throughout the company. The more the research was discussed and shared, the more I started to see and hear a shift in how teams thought about problems and solutions.

At the end of the day, every conversation should keep the user front and center. Most importantly, remember to get teams involved early and often with user research to really make an impact company-wide. My experience researching has taught me to always keep asking questions. To expand on insights and improve processes, be inquisitive about your users, product, and company

Take Your Research Program to the Next Level

At Blink, we believe that the evidence is the most powerful design tool. We are always thinking about how a customer is going to use a client's product or service. With our team at your back, you'll have evidence-driven product design information readily available. Our experience working with a diverse array of clients means that we have a wealth of information to draw from as we help you build an in-depth research program and create experiences for your customers that reflect your core brand.

Ready to get started? Contact us today.