A New Series from Awkward Silences

We’re changing things up a bit! Introducing a brand new series: Tacos and Tide Pods! Every month or so, Erin and JH will chat with User Interviews’s VP of Research (and a User Research Yearbook Class of 2022 member), Roberta Dombrowski. They’ll talk about what’s going on behind the scenes at User Interviews, reflect on recent lessons learned, share their thoughts on the UXR space right now, and discuss what they’re hoping to see more of in the future. 

In this episode, they talked about:

  • Upcoming events, including the Learners UX Research Conference
  • New projects and team members on the research team
  • Growing pains at UI, including micromanagement and time constraints

Psst—can’t get enough of podcasts? Here are 30+ more of the best UX and User Research podcasts to add to your listening queue.


[2:21] In-person events are back! We’ll be at the UX Research Conference next month.

[4:39] User Interviews’s research team is growing. We’ve added another researcher and are exploring even more types of research.

[7:14] JH is loving Readwise for surfacing interesting quotes from past articles. 

[9:35] It’s a tough lesson to learn, but sometimes you have to steer into difficult situations, rather than micromanaging them. 

[11:50] Growing the team means spending less time doing hands-on research, and that’s sad.

[17:42] A growing team also means more meetings, so guarding your time is important!

About our guest

Roberta Dombrowski is the VP of UX Research at User Interviews. In her free time, Roberta is an adjunct professor through Boise State University’s Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) program and mindfulness teacher.


[00:00:00] JH: maybe the meta point here is if you have something that feels off and your research practice or your product or design things maybe just take a moment and take like a holistic look on how you’re going to approach it, versus just taking the, like what seems to maybe be the obvious path.

[00:00:11] Erin: Hello everybody. And welcome back to Awkward Silences. Today we are here with Roberta, our friend and VP of UX research here at User Interviews. Welcome back, Roberta.

[00:00:23] Roberta: Hi. It’s good to be here.

[00:00:25] Erin: Got JH here too.

[00:00:27] JH: Yeah, a new format. I’m excited.

[00:00:28] Erin: New format. So we’re referring to new things. So, you know, let us know if you’ll like it and whatever way you want to do that, Twitter, something 

[00:00:35] JH: And if you don’t like it, don’t let us know.

[00:00:37] Erin: don’t let us know.

Don’t want to hear it. We only like positive feedback. Just kidding. That is not what we do here at user interviews. We want all the feedback, good, bad, and ugly. And on that note we have a format for this potentially recurring series where we get Roberta on to join us and talk about. Kind of what’s going on macro in UX and micro at user interviews and how the two play together.

And to do that, we’re going to talk about good stuff and not so good stuff. So, and user interviews, parlance, we have tacos and tide pods. JH, you want to explain what that means?

[00:01:15] JH: Yeah. So we’re a remote team and we always have been. So we use slack a lot and a lot of our culture comes out of slack. So way back when somebody installed a slack bot called Hey taco, which is, you know, you give somebody a taco emoji as a thank you or a shout out for doing something well, we’ve sent a sense of all to a more sophisticated tool where you can like tie it to specific values and other stuff.

But this was how we got started. And so tacos have just become a long, celebrated, positive thing in the team. And then somewhere along the line somebody made a tie pod emoji during. People eating tide pod craze in the world, which I don’t remember when that was, but it 

was a thing. Yeah. And obviously the team quickly flagged that it’s not great to have a tide pod.

Somebody else is not meant to, you know, it’s meant to call out Erin and say tide pod or whatever. And somewhere along the line, it just became this organic thing where if you made a mistake, you would just tide yourself over and kind of own like, Hey, I kinda messed this up and I just want to call that out and say that to the team.

And so, we thought that’d be a fun way, a little inside joke for us.

[00:02:11] Erin: Awesome. So on that now who would like to share a taco?

Okay. I’ll go first

[00:02:19] JH: You’re the host.

[00:02:20] Erin: twist my arm. Okay. So my taco is, I guess, a couple of things, a we’ve been hiring, which anyone who’s hiring noses, you know, it’s a whole vibe right now hiring, and I’ve got two new people on the team and one of them. Betsy is leading events and that’s really exciting, but really exciting.

Part of that is that in person events are back and we are sponsoring our first in-person event in literally years. It’s the learner’s event. If anyone listening is familiar, if you’re not coming to see us there, we’ll be there. A bunch of us, me and Roberta, some other folks. And I’m just so, so excited to be at an in-person event to meet the learners. I’ve been emailing with videoing, with zooming, with podcasting, with. For years in real life, super excited. I’m glad that this is something we get to do again, just like generally speaking in human terms, but also research and general, and the programming is going to be awesome. Just a really cool list of diverse conversations on topics that are hot and interesting, and we should be having so very excited for that.


my taco. 

[00:03:32] Roberta: I’m so excited.

[00:03:33] JH: Yeah, it sounds good. What’s the, is it like multiple days? What’s the format?

[00:03:36] Erin: It’s multiple days. In fact, I think learners, the, you know, what started, I believe as the UX research conference is now a series of conferences and community and content and all these wonderful things. And we are sponsoring the UX research conference Monday and Tuesday, June 6th and seventh. And then Wednesday, June 8th will be the research ops conference.

First time for that. Later in the week, there’s a design conference. And then I think there’s another conference the week after. So it’s true. A whole lot of, kind of connected, but separate events and of course remote as well. So if you can’t be, there will be on the interwebs.

[00:04:13] JH: Nice.

[00:04:14] Roberta: The program is stacked. I am so excited. I’m also very, because I’m so introverted, like hanging out with my capital day, nervous to me, everyone in person, but very excited. Like the ReOps community has been huge for so many years and just seeing people in person is going to be amazing.

So I cannot wait.

[00:04:33] Erin: Yeah. Awesome.

[00:04:36] JH: Good one, Roberta, you want to share your taco?

[00:04:39] Roberta: Sure. I’m really excited. Our research team, when I started, we did a lot of like discovery research using Teresa Torres continuous discovery framework. And slowly but surely we’ve been introducing new research methods for the team over the last like eight, nine months. And it feels like it’s really coming to a head like over the last few weeks where.

We’re rolling out new methods, like surveys, usability testing, concept testing. So it just seems like our team’s hitting a new maturity level, which is really exciting. Get to get in the weeds and talk about the craft of research a little bit more. And like our team’s growing too. Like Aaron said, we have a user researcher who started in February Morgan.

We have a research ops manager. So it seems like our team is really hitting its stride and really starting to show the impact of research on the team, which is really exciting.

[00:05:36] JH: Was there one you were particularly excited to see ?

[00:05:41] Roberta: For me, it’s honestly a usability testing, like preference testing. This is really embarrassing to admit, but because I’ve been in the land of like product strategy research strategy for so long, especially. Like job wise. I actually hadn’t done a usability test for probably a year, like I was looking at the calendar and I was like, oh wow, it’s been a hot minute.

So going in and it’s just a different way of doing research and. Like our team’s going to have to unlearn things we’re currently going through and learning new things has been really fun. I like the cycle too, because it’s much quicker than like strategic research . Research is so impactful, but it’s just a really nice change of pace that I’ve been enjoying a lot.


[00:06:31] Erin: Yeah, that research is impactful, but can also be overwhelming, right? It’s like, oh, there’s so much opportunity. But with usability testing you know, it’s not always like a silver bullet. Here’s what to do, but you know, it’s pretty, pretty clear oftentimes what the next steps are. And hopefully you’re in a position where you can take them.

So very satisfying.

[00:06:50] JH: Yeah. When the feedback loop is that tight it’s.

[00:06:53] Roberta: Yeah. And it’s really nice to be, especially with concept testing, usability testing, to be closer to walk step with the product pods and the product teams too. That has been really fun for us. So getting to work more with JJ as a team, like on a daily basis, for sure.

[00:07:13] Erin: What’s your taco?

[00:07:14] JH: My taco is I’m going to try to speak an idea. I want to see the world into existence. And I use this app called read wise which sinks highlights from my Kindle and Instapaper and, you know, various sources. You can save tweets there as well. And the whole premise basically is every day or whatever frequency you want, it’ll send you five, like randomly selected highlights from books or articles you’ve read.

And find myself uncovering like so many things that I forgot or interesting insights, and it’s causing me to revisit stuff. I’m sure my team is aware because I keep sending quotes to everyone. I think there’s something like this to be really cool for insights and a company. Like whether it be, you know, from research in the past or some, you know, about users or, you know, an analytics finding or whatever.

But if I could get like one or two of these a week or a day that just says, you know, Hey, don’t forget about this thing that we learned three or four months ago. I just find that like a really rewarding cycle. And you don’t, I don’t go back and read my highlights, you know, on my own, otherwise.

So. As people get into the repository game and better packaging and storing the stuff, I think it’d be cool if there’s a way to automatically resurface it. So it’s going to try to plug that.

[00:08:12] Erin: That’s cool. I’ve got a folder to read later, which is where articles go to die. So anything that actually gets me and rereading things, definitely a fan of that.

[00:08:25] JH: Yeah. And I think like, you know, not to be pessimistic, I think in a lot of organizations, right. Somebody does a ton of work to put together a deck or do a write up or whatever and share it out. And like for two days or something, maybe it’s getting consumed and commented on, but then it kind of falls off and, you know, resurface in that two or three months later and letting people take a look at part of it again I think it’d be useful.

[00:08:42] Erin: Absolutely.

[00:08:43] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:08:45] JH: All right. So switching gears,

[00:09:25] Erin: yes. Let’s take a turn for the negative the tide pod section. So, let’s jump in. Hey, J H why don’t we just stick with, you can ride it on 

[00:09:35] JH: Yeah, this, I mean, this builds off of what I was just talking about in some ways, because some of the stuff that’s been resurfaced to me is about product development and different thinkers and articles I’ve loved on that front. And I think one of the things that has been really top of mind, I think applies to user research as well. Is a lot of how you fix stuff. That’s maybe not going the way you want. It’s kind of counterintuitive because I think obvious stuff to do when, say, product development is not going the way you want, like something shipped late. People try to put more control and more planning on it.

And then, you know, you get into some finger-pointing or some tighter roles and responsibilities, and you actually kind of get into this like a detrimental or like vicious cycle. And I think with work like knowledge work that has an ambiguity or any sort of nebulous stuff to it. The way that you need to manage it to break out of any ruts or get out of any bad patches, I think is just not obvious unless you’ve done it and like to live this stuff for a while.

And we’re just thinking about that, how that applies to research as well. Like if a research plan doesn’t yield the insights you need or this or that, I can imagine organizations taking, what seems on the surface to be good corrective actions, but actually have like second order, negative consequences.

And so I don’t have a clean way to wrap that up, but it’s been super top of mind for me lately.

[00:10:44] Roberta: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of like, Control a little bit, like if something’s going wrong, you want to course correct. It controls it, but sometimes you just have to give in to the craziness and then that’s where some of the beauty comes from. It’s like, you’re figuring it out.


[00:11:02] JH: I wrote about this at one point. I forget where it is, but the idea of like, cause I grew up in central New York where there’s a lot of snow and if you go around a turn in the winter and you fish. You know, you don’t turn the way you return. You have to turn into a problem.

You know what 

[00:11:14] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:11:14] JH: It’s like, I think there are a lot of problems like this in knowledge workers too. Sometimes you need to like to lean into it. Yeah.

[00:11:19] Roberta: Very cool.

[00:11:22] Erin: Yeah, I’m just thinking about it sometimes, you know, and it depends. Depends. Depends on the problem. Sometimes you gotta go the other way. Sometimes you get it. Let it ride and know what to do. That’s the art of it.

[00:11:34] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:11:35] JH: maybe the meta point here is if you have something that feels off and your research practice or your product or design things maybe just take a moment and take like a holistic look on how you’re going to approach it, versus just taking the, like what seems to maybe be the obvious path.

[00:11:47] Erin: Yeah. absolutely. 

[00:11:48] Roberta: Look for sure.

[00:11:49] Erin: Yeah, I love that. Cause I think, you know, like there’s the sunk cost fallacy, of course if we don’t want to, we’ve invested time. We don’t want to course correct. But then at the same time, we don’t want to be knee jerky and switching directions too much. So I think that’s one of those. It’s an one.

I’ve got a tide pod, kind of a confession, I guess, for my monthly confession. So I haven’t done research like I have set up myself in a long time. Like going to set up a session with a participant and talk to them. It’s been a minute. And certainly I have benefited from all the great Roberta and her team have been doing.

I consume a ton of passive insights. I feel like I am mitigating my own confession now with all the wonderful passive research I’m doing. I do miss, like being in a semi-regular cadence of either doing like research projects I’m leading, or there were times when I would do. Just kind of ongoing interviews just to have that steady diet of kind of talking to researchers.

So I miss that. I would like to get back to it someday. And if I make my intention known, perhaps it will happen.

[00:13:02] Roberta: Well, now that you told me to, we’re going to make it happen.

[00:13:05] Erin: Yes. the right people. 

[00:13:07] Roberta: Yes. 

[00:13:07] JH: where do you actually think about this? Cause I’m actually in somewhat of a similar boat to Erin, my team is now doing so much research in their work and they do a really good job putting together snapshots and write ups and summaries and sharing clips. And I consume all that.

So I feel like I’m

[00:13:21] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:13:22] JH: I’m closer and have a pulse in customers in a way that is almost greater than I’ve had in the past, but I’m not actually the one doing it or facilitating it.

[00:13:28] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:13:29] JH: And I go back and forth because in some ways it feels like it gives me. Like, I’m getting this pulse across the whole business.

And as I think about strategy and vision, and kind of like how we’re going to plan for the next six months or so, it’s really useful. But I’m wondering if I do need to supplement that with some of my own, you know, research.

[00:13:44] Roberta: Yeah, I’m actually hitting something similar as we grow the team too. Because of my role shifting into research coaching now with my own team and then with the product teams, I find that I personally get an itch or I’m like two to three months. If I haven’t done a study of some sort. And so I try to keep up a regular cadence for myself.

I think it’s like, I mean, a long-term dream. If we’re doing things like intentions manifesting, hopefully I want to get a recurring research program going. I think a lot of our stuff right now is project-based or like opportunity solutions, but I would love to use our own tool and. Hey team Friday for going to talk to like eight participants and reschedule it and like, we’re going to do it once a month.

And maybe it’s like the leadership team who pops in or like other teams, but just having like that reoccurring touch base I think the work that the teams like the research team, the product teams do is super valuable, but I think it’s also valuable going through the process of like, scheduling, like the parts of the research process, not just digesting the insights especially when it comes to our own product to J H like, 

[00:14:56] Erin: Um, 

[00:14:57] Roberta: I think it’s yeah.

[00:14:58] JH: no, I think it’s tough. I feel this way is a little bit quantitative too. Like now that we have a whole team of data scientists and analysts. Usually I’ll just poke somebody and they probably already have a report on it or whatever. And then every, so often I’m like, well, I could write this query.

Like I could

[00:15:10] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:15:11] JH: kind of fun to stay sharp, but then it’s like, I don’t know. I just wasted a half hour. I should’ve just asked

[00:15:15] Erin: The star is selected over here.

[00:15:16] Roberta: Yeah. For sure.

[00:15:18] Erin: that. I think what I miss is, you know, just like the connection, like it’s 

[00:15:21] Roberta: Yeah. 

[00:15:23] Erin: researchers talk about putting the research together and getting people to actually. Read it or absorb it. And so if you can bring people along for the ride or just like the more you can sort of or intimately involve them in their research some way, besides here’s a doc, please read it at your own convenience.

The more they’ll actually. And there’s just nothing that beats actually, whether you’re moderating or just note-taking or whatever, but actually being there one-on-one is pretty cool. Yeah, but I’m thinking about the ongoing research practice, Roberta, and I don’t know. What it looks like, I know on the product team, we have the ongoing discovery and the opportunity trees and these kinds of frameworks, but I’m imagining, I don’t know, like a collage, right.

Of where, how do you build on your understanding of the researcher over time and just like a layer on top of it? And, you know, like, We’re getting more conviction here. This is an interesting outlier. Let’s dig into that. And what does that actually look like? I don’t know, but 

[00:16:23] Roberta: Well, because we are rolling out, enjoy HQ. They have knowledge graphs where you can see where, you know, they have the most insights in a particular area. So ideally like we’re in the final stages of getting that rolled out that we can start to look at it and say, huh, we don’t really know this much here.

Let’s actually investigate that area a little bit.

[00:16:45] Erin: Cool.

[00:16:46] JH: Yeah.

I will give a plug just cause I know sometimes we speak at a high level, but like the. The snapshots that the team puts together, like is a nice intermediate of obviously being in the sessions is very different. But waiting until the end for a big roll up report is also kind of different and getting these like real time, like this thing happened a half hour ago.

And what we do is the team will share it out in slack. So we have dedicated channels for these things. There’ll be a quick fact section. So like three, four bullets about who the person is, you know, what their org is, you know, whatever sort of relevant metadata. Then they’ll have some insights. So like a handful of bullets, of things that were more interesting than a handful of bullets or opportunities of like, how might we be able to help this person?

And then they’ll link out to some of the clips on those things and I’ll see those come through. I’d like to read through it for five minutes, watch a couple of clips. Like it’s a really nice way. So if people are looking for new things to try with we give snapshots of plugs.

[00:17:37] Erin: They’re great. All right. Who else has tide pod Roberta? 

[00:17:42] Roberta: Yeah, one of my worst things I especially right now, because the demand on our team is growing and just a lot of coaching work education I’ve been in like back-to-back meetings for the past, like two to three weeks, which is horrible. And. I mentioned it because when I’m in interviews with researchers, they always talk about time.

Like crunches, not having enough time, just like no, no day, no two days I have the same and seeing this manifest in my own schedule. And sometimes they’ll be like note taking for our team. And I just. I don’t schedule in time for synthesis or analysis or coaching. I’m like, why? And so I’m like going gung ho right now with blocking off my calendar, like 

[00:18:29] Erin: Oh, yeah, you 

have to. Yep. Yeah. If you’re good. If your calendar is going to be back to back, no matter what you got to back it with where your values are and how you want to spend your time. Right. I mean, easier said than done. No one has enough time in the day, but,

um, gotta protect it. Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:18:46] Roberta: I’ve been scheduling walks in the middle of the day, just trying to start to do that too. 


Love it.

[00:18:53] JH: I do. I go on a side rant, I do think for like remote teams where you have some autonomy on your schedule, you know, assuming that your role supports it, I’m a huge fan of this sort of somewhat atypical schedule. You know what I mean? Like if I’m up early getting a jump on some work I need to do taking a break to hang out with my kids.

You know, working, sneaking out in the middle of the day for a run or a walk, you know, maybe wrapping up early to make dinner, jumping on later, to close it out. Like, I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. So I’m going to, I always just like to plug it in, I feel like it’s just like, it feels like you’re almost like your own small business and you get to like, kind of work on your own terms.

Obviously there’s limits to that, especially with meetings, but

[00:19:29] Roberta: Yeah.

[00:19:30] JH: I’m a fan versus I know some people are really strict and they’re like nine to five, close my laptop and take off my work from home slippers, put on my hanging out slippers and, you know, switch gears. But

[00:19:39] Erin: how many slippers do you have?

[00:19:42] JH: Yeah. You know what I mean? Like, some people

[00:19:43] Erin: Yeah, no,

totally, totally. 

[00:19:45] JH: like the blender, but it does require some discipline for sure.

[00:19:48] Roberta: Yeah, 

[00:19:49] Erin: It’s all slippery slopes. Cool. Well, that was that. Any other thoughts, folks?

[00:19:56] JH: No. I’m super curious to see if people have feedback on the format. I think now that we know the format ourselves, we can probably do a better job of, you know, keeping track of things that are interesting to us. So we can talk about them. Yeah, it was fun.

[00:20:07] Roberta: Yes, 

[00:20:07] Erin: Awesome. 

[00:20:08] Roberta: I know where I’m going to poke you guys over the next month. So we’re going to be doing studies. I’m going to be sending J H insight follow ups, like read wise. It’s going to be great.

[00:20:18] JH: Yeah, I canceled all my meetings with Roberta and called it a day.

[00:20:23] Erin: Awesome. Until next time.

Read the full article here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Quick framework to answer what your favorite product is as a Product Designer

Quick framework to answer what your favorite product is as a Product Designer

Whenever I’m tasked to answer what my favorite product is during interviews, I

Should you use Figma for your UX portfolio?

Should you use Figma for your UX portfolio?

[ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS]  This article had me click-baited because I was like, I

You May Also Like