3 things you can do when you lack UX research data and support
When networking with other UX professionals, I often hear that they are frustrated because of the lack of UX maturity within their organisation. They express frustration with being a lone voice, lacking resources and being asked to turn out designs with no research against which they can validate their designs. Kara Pernice, Senior Vice President at Nielsen Norman Group, says that there are no bad designers, only bad designs — that is any design that is created without UX research.
So, what do we do if we are a lone voice? What can we do when we can’t get funding or permission to conduct UX research? We don’t want to just turn out what may be a bad design. If we design and present two designs to those who have no more access to UX research data than we do, how are they going to determine which design is “better”’? Of course we want our designs to be successful in meeting the goals of our users and the organisations we create them for, as well as being professional and pleasing to look at, so how can we proceed?
Find out why
We should examine what excuses are holding our organisation back. Barriers we face as people who do research (PWDR) often falls into four categories.
Maybe our organisation has fears of being wrong or doesn’t want to put in the effort. It’s much easier to correct something that is off course if you know where it is off course and by how much. If a ship doesn’t have a compass or other navigational aids, it doesn’t know what direction it’s going and cannot correct its course. How will it ever get to its destination? In the same way an organisation that doesn’t do research will not know if it is hitting its target, and cannot make corrections. They never intended to miss that target, but they will never get it quite right if they don’t know if, or how far, they are off the mark.
Maybe your organisation thinks it will be too expensive or time consuming; however, qualitative research works best with small groups of studies. When we do qualitative studies, there is a point where we find a diminishing return on each additional research participant. We uncover the majority of issues with a relatively small sample.
Maybe autocratic thinking in your organisational culture means that the leadership will make the decisions no matter what research you present. Like the concern about being wrong, most organisational leaders don’t want to be wrong either. Just because the decisions may be the CEO’s call, doesn’t mean they don’t want to make an informed decision. Being able to provide reasons and evidence for why we have made certain design recommendations can go a long way to convincing senior decision makers in our organisations.
Maybe our organisation thinks that they already know the needs of our users or the issues with your product. However, when we assume that, we often put ourselves and experience in place of our users.
Once we understand what our organisation’s barriers to doing research are, we can change our approach to address these barriers, which have become ingrained in our organisational culture. Of course, changing culture is not an easy task, and it takes building influence which takes time. Rarely are PWDR in a position to immediately change the culture in the corporate structure above us, but we can certainly work to change our subculture and we can attempt to influencing our organisational culture. For those at the top, Craig Groeschel, in his leadership podcast, reminds us, “Healthy culture doesn’t happen by accident … your culture is a combination of what you create and what you allow.” (Creating A Value-Driven Culture, Part 1) You have the power to change your subculture and influence your organisational culture.
Find some friends
It’s always good to not walk your organisation’s UX journey alone. We need to find partners to help us build the UX practice in our organisations. Maybe we’ve found a developer on a project that is interested in what we do and why we do it. Maybe we can find a manager who recognises that something is missing and is open to hearing about what UX research information we can find to make improvements. Share good findings with them as well as where there are places for improvements. It’s rarely all bad. Talk to them often about what you’ve found and why you’re proposing a certain path. Take advantage of small wins and share the glory with them when you’re successful.
Derek Sivers, in his TED Talk How to start a movement, talks about building a movement. When we’re on our own, we may feel (and look like) the lone nut, but when we can find someone with an interest in what we’re doing we can begin to influence and lead. But one benefit that Sivers doesn’t mention is that when you have that first follower, you’re no longer alone. You don’t just have a follower to nurture, you also have someone who can help support you and your goals.
Find some data
I’d like to say that any data will do, but through this data, we need to be able to hear the voices of our users. We want to glean any insight about what the user experience is like. This data might come from an exit survey or some other form of customer feedback. While this data likely comes after a product has launched, it can provide valuable data that we can leverage to help begin to change the attitude toward doing user research within our organisations. We can use it to say, “I found this from this data, if we took this next small step to get user data before we began developing a product we could meet such and such a business goal.”
When we can tie the results of our research to business goals and share our UX insights in the language that other parts of the business uses, it can help to build our influence within the organisation, which, while starting off slowly, can have a snowball effect to push UX research forward within our organisation.
When we find ourselves in situations where we lack research or support for research, we can change those situations, though it can take time, patience, hard work and influence building. In one organisation, I started a “skunkworks” UX project. It started out that I was just supposed to read exit survey comments and classify them. From those comments I realised I was able to elevate a number of recommendations. Some were quick, easy fixes. Some of the comments needed to be validated to understand what the user experience was. Very quickly in my task, I started to see that there was valuable data there that I needed to understand better. In the end, I was able to use the data to highlight the good things about the product. I was also able to produced a hypothetical journey map to help others understand the experience along with some recommendations for improvements. And some of those recommendations were acted on. It helped to build influence, which in turn made the organisation more receptive to doing more UX research.