At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of doing user research is to drive business and product improvements. Yet I've seen it happen over and over again where UX researchers spend months gathering answers to important user questions and, while they're doing the leg work, the products aren't significantly improved. The product teams start to undervalue research because it doesn't end up leading to product improvements. And then, as a result, people who do research become demoralized.
We're putting a lot of energy into gathering insights and analyzing them accurately but there's not a lot of focus and energy spent on making sure that these insights stick and are really relevant to the audience.
I found that applying some principles from education theory to sharing insights can improve the chances of the research being applied to products. The four key areas from education theory are:
- Make sure insights are relevant
- Incorporate all learning styles
- Frame the learnings as a challenge
- Keep insights focussed
Make sure insights are relevant
It's much easier to learn and understand a subject you're interested in over one you find irrelevant to your needs. There's a great quote by Clayton Christensen that I like to use, where he said,
Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven't asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.
This is why it is so important to get your stakeholders, or those who are consuming your research, to ask the question. If they ask the question about user needs, or what they're experiencing, they're more likely to then absorb the answer and be able to apply the research, because they've created that space in their mind for the answer to go.
I run a kickoff workshop called Research the Right Thing for scoping the research and I invite everyone from across the business who needs to use these insights. This will be people ranging from the onboarding team, the customer team, the point of sale team, and the marketing team: everyone who is interested in audience insights.
We start by writing down what we know about our users and then we rank those items by confidence. This helps us to see the things about our users that we don’t know yet which become our questions that need to be answered. We prioritize these questions using a matrix based on the feasibility of actually finding the answers and the business impact that the answer would have. The questions in the top right quadrant become the main research questions that we scope into the research project.
Incorporate all learning styles
There are three primary learning styles that you can apply when sharing research insights to make them much more likely to stick.
Journey maps offer an excellent way to visualize an experience that users are having. And they're a great tool to really bring attention to pain points that different users might have.
Diagrams help you to make complex topics more coherent, for example, communication models and information flows.
Videos are best for conveying pain points to highlight human emotions and encourage empathy. 10 to 15 seconds is ideal.
Illustrations are excellent to group together themes and patterns so that they remain memorable.
Meeting recaps. At the end of a workshop, I like to split attendees into breakout rooms to discuss insights. By having the people share their main learnings the audience gets to hear the insights from different angles which helps to reinforce them.
Storytelling also helps research remain memorable, and personas are a good way to apply this method. For example, with our franchisee research, I used the hero story format. I wanted our franchisees to be the hero of the story. I started by introing them, introing who they are, what their roles are, what their responsibilities are, and what a day-in-the-life looks like. I added videos, journey maps, and all that stuff to add color to who these people are, what matters to them, what doesn't matter to them, and why they do this work.
And then I really wanted to show something that they're struggling with. Every hero story needs a “drop” when everything seems lost. I showed them struggling with one of our competitor’s terminal support. And then finally ending on a high note with, if we do this, if we offer this, or if we really focus on these types of solutions for them, we could really impact the quality of their lives and resolve their major pain points.
Tactile learning is about processing information by physically interacting and engaging with it. A simple example is a Google spreadsheet where everyone writes their name at the very top in each column. And then below their name, I ask them to take notes throughout the presentation of anything that stands out to them as interesting, surprising, or that can be applied to their product or service. This can be so successful that people return weeks later to the spreadsheet to revise their initial ideas.
Other examples include getting stakeholders to participate in creating journey maps using sticky notes. Or creating persona cards that people can interact with.
Frame the learnings as a challenge
The human brain really loves to noodle on a challenge or a puzzle. So after sharing the tools and visual aids, you then frame it as a 'how might we’ question. By framing it as a challenge, people really have to engage with the problem statement and it serves to consolidate their understanding of the user research.
Keep insights focused
We've all had the experience of a lecture that included way too much information and we were left not really grasping anything. One way to prevent information overload is to prioritize the challenges or insights that we're sharing. I like to do that through an impact feasibility matrix. You look at the intensity of their pain points as well as how much value a certain feature offers a user.
This allows us to divide insights into quadrants. The low-effort, high-value items are the low-hanging fruit that we should address immediately. Those are the ones I'll really focus on first when I'm sharing the insights.
Doing research can be very time-consuming and analysis can be very mentally draining. And so once this researcher has found the insights, it can be really tempting to just share them real quick and move on to the next project. Making sure that the insights stick means changing the definition of done for research.
In addition, research skills aren't exactly the same ones that it takes to create a sticky presentation. It requires researchers to upskill in many aspects. Investing in these skills is critical to get the best return on the research investment.
How has this approach improved outcomes for Adyen?
Our insight presentations have become a lot more engaging and most importantly, way more impactful. The insights are being applied more often to improve the speed of product development and ensure that they are better aligned with users' needs. For example, we see fewer support ticket tags for topics like finding something in our products and faster time for users to complete their tasks.
When research insights stick, the morale is boosted for the researchers and more stakeholders are likely to be involved in research projects. This creates a virtuous cycle where you'll see research being cited at all levels throughout the organization.
Finally, we saw research requests increase quarterly by more than 20 percent. It brought more visibility to the UX research team at Adyen, giving us the clout to grow the team.