11 ways to make your company embrace UX research | by Bas Wallet | May, 2023

From scepticism to support: winning over your colleagues for research success

UX Collective

10 min read

17 hours ago

Two cats conducting a user test
Image: Midjourney

This article is a follow-up on 9 bogus reasons why some designers claim UX Research is a waste.

Most of us have been in discussions where people questioned the need for research.

“Our customers already understand the user inside out. The engineers simply apply the design system, that’s enough. We’ll eventually collect feedback through our support system. Let’s build and ship, we don’t have time to lose.”

— The Product manager

Some people think that UX Research is a burden. It’s an unnecessary evil that slows down development and pushes back time-to-market.

Most UX people know better. We know very well how vital conducting research is. The challenge is, how are we getting our organization to invest in our craft? How can we make our colleagues see the value of our research findings? What can we specifically do to make UX research a default part of the product lifecycle?

This article will explore a few methods I’ve used throughout my career to get people to see the Research light.

I took a writing course, a very long time ago. It was probably the most valuable course I’ve done in my entire UX career.

The instructor started with: “Never tell your audience who your character is. Show them.”

Bruce Willis is badass. But there is no narrator that says this to inform you about this. Instead, you see Brutal Bruce exhale some of his cigarette smoke in someone’s face. Afterwards, he casually throws the cigarette into someone’s lap. He then drives off on his Harley Davidson without a helmet into a sunset-surrounded horizon. BADASS!!!

Small indicators are used to show the character’s identity. The screenwriter made the audience conclude by themselves that Willis is badass. Show, don’t tell.

A great exercise is to pay attention to the first 30 minutes of a film, or the first episode of a series. This time is used to establish the characters. The characters do many things you might not consciously notice to make you understand who they really are. Pay attention to it. You’ll find it entertaining.

Show, don’t tell.

This is precisely what you have to do in any part of the business. You can’t go into a boardroom and say, “UX Research provides value, can I get budget for it?” You won’t succeed. Statements don’t convince. You need to show the actual value.

You need to let your audience experience what you want them to conclude. They should realise by themselves how valuable UX research is.

You can apply several strategies to put research in the minds of your stakeholders. But be careful, influencing will only work if you persuade both the executives (or other people above you), and your peers and colleagues in other roles.

[Jargon alert!] You need to have a multi-dimensional influence approach.

This is the obvious one. A no-brainer. You must ensure that your product owner or manager, some engineers, your boss, and anyone you’d like to influence come to at least one of your tests.

They need to see how you interact with your participants, and, more importantly, feel the user’s struggles during the tests. They need to become empathetic to the user.

The only way to achieve this is to look the user right in the eyes. Science has shown many times that the further away you are from someone, the more apathetic you become to their issues.

I’ve seen it over and over again. The moment a stakeholder is in the same room as the user, the entire attitude towards UX changes. You need to find a way to get them in this room. Ideally physically. If physical attendance is impossible, they must still login into your zoom/teams-call. They should be able to ask the user questions and have a real-time experience. An asynchronous video is going to reduce the emotional experience.

You can’t invite everyone to every user test. First of all, no one has time for this, and secondly, imagine a user trying to perform some tasks in front of a big group of people. They would feel uncomfortable. Your tests will be unreliable.

You still need to find a way to share your most interesting findings with your team.

One thing I found helpful is organising a popcorn party. Get everyone together during the last hour of the day and prepare some popcorn. Watch your video summary as if it’s a movie première.

Cats watching a screen with popcorn
Image: Midjourney

This can lighten up the mood. Particularly, when you share your user tests for the first time. Developers are going to see how users struggle with their babies. This can be very intimidating. You must manage their emotions.

Obviously, you can’t throw a party every sprint, so you eventually go back to more traditional knowledge sharing. This can happen during dedicated research meetings, sprint reviews, or other product meetings.

Another great and engaging idea is that of the customer of the week:

Nachi Ramanujam had shown me how his previous design team at PayPal used to have an initiative called the Voice of the Customer, through which they would publish video highlights of their customer interviews
— Soo Park, Evangelizing user-centric culture as a junior designer

Showing a short clip each week keeps everyone engaged with their audience. It creates a nice cadence. A short burst of user empathy each week.

A good way to educate your colleagues on what your tests are about is to use them as early testers. This allows them to experience how to go about executing research. More interestingly, you can discuss how the questions and tasks you use might help your product forward.

This way, your colleagues will naturally start to think about the real function of each question. They become part of the test. They will help you improve the questions.

This will then lead to them becoming more interested in the test outcomes. They want to know if their input led to better results and see if the users experienced the tests the same way as they did.

You need to think about who to involve. You can’t really test the test with someone who has developed the feature you want to test. If you work with multiple teams, you can test features from team X with team Y and vice-versa. Or you can swap roles with researchers from other teams if you have dedicated teams. You will use each other’s team members for these proxy tests.

Another great way to excite your colleagues about user research is to conduct unconventional but engaging tests with them.

I’ve been working on my own methodologies and tested their validity.

For instance, I wanted to know if I could ask participants to sketch a UI on a blank sheet of paper from memory. And see how much their sketch correlates with how much a feature is used.

I asked my colleagues to draw UIs from apps they often use, like Facebook, Youtube, and our products.

This way, I could prove that memory and usage correlate. My colleagues were very interested in the outcome and invited other colleagues to the presentations I gave about my approach.

You should use each opportunity you have to plant a UX research seed. 🙂

You need to find ambassadors for your mission. Other people who share the same ideas and spread the word.

A very effective way is to find a group of like-minded people, ideally from various parts of the organization. You can work together on anything related to applying research.

I started a UX community across an entire organization and quickly found people in most departments that were excited about our world.

They struggled with similar UX challenges, even when not all of them had UX roles. We could organise user testing sessions together and amplify our visibility.

We often shared practical tips and experiences.

Building a network is needed if you want to influence.

You are on a mission. This means that you need to repeat your message much more than what seems reasonable.

You might become tired of the ideas and monologues in your head. The essence of UX research is clear to you. But most people have never heard your message.

You must find ways to share this with as many people as possible. Most companies have concepts like lightning talks, open mics, internal conferences, etc.

Use these events to evangelise. Yes, you really need to become a priest. People need to start seeing you as “the UX research” person. Establish yourself as the authority in the field in your organization. Eventually, people you don’t know will come to you with research questions.

If this happens, this part of your mission has succeeded.

Repeat your message so much until it becomes an automatic pilot pitch. Make sure to add tangible successes from your work that your colleagues easily understand.

The key here is to showcase the “behind-the-scenes” work such as user research methods, information architecture, or user journey mapping, that often doesn’t get presented in front of stakeholders. Use these education sessions to generate interest and help them understand your role on a deeper level.

— Eric Chung, Boosting UX visibility across the organization

Image: Midjourney

Design sprints are far from perfect for actual elaborate UX design, but they are a great way to show the essence of UX.

It’s a reasonably simple way to take teams by the hand and let them experience the gist of all aspects of UX.

I’ve been facilitating design sprints with quite some teams. After a few days, they become really invested in the problem you are trying to solve. By the time the research phase approaches, they want to know if the solution they designed will work with the audience.

You don’t have to sell research anymore by then. You’ve already done it by making them the owner of the sprint.

Not all, or perhaps most, companies apply scrum the way it’s meant to be. The right way might not even be the best way for your organization.

However, the philosophy of Agile and Scrum is that teams are independent and can solve their challenges without interference from other teams. This means that all competencies should be available in a team. Including research.

If you work as a UX specialist, or dedicated researcher in a team, you will share the same backlog as your team members. You can, and are expected to, involve them in your work.

This is a great way to emerge them into research. You can plan your studies together, let them participate in the interviews, and involve them in your synthesis.

Good Agile is teamwork where competencies come together. It’s not siloed development. If you struggle in this domain, form alliances with Agile coaches, scrum masters, etc.

If you want to show the necessity of research, you first need to determine the actual value. Often, studies are conducted without defining success criteria. What are we trying to investigate? How will it help our company succeed? Which decisions will be made when the study is done?

This item is too complex to cover in this article. But never settle for “just conduct the research, and we’ll see what we are going to find.” Those who want you to conduct a study must know what they will do with your findings afterwards.

Success criteria should be defined before doing the research. These could be:

Another opportunity some researchers miss is to give tangible action points when they deliver their study. Bad synthesis and abstract conclusions make it hard for your colleagues to understand the value of the work you’ve been doing.

Be as specific as you can when you share your findings. Don’t say, “The user finds page X confusing.” Instead, give very clear takeaways: “Change word X,” “Increase the colour contrast of button Y,” and “Move item Z to a more prominent location.”

Cat giving presentation
Image: Midjourney

It’s not the right time to be a UX fundamentalist when you try to influence people. Adapt your terminology to that of those you want to influence. You are already getting them to accept a different way of doing things.

This is hard enough.

If they speak about “getting face-2-face feedback from users,” use this. Don’t say, “Oh, yeah, that’s called usability testing.” It really doesn’t help anyone. After you’ve done your research, you can always mention, “Oh, BTW, this specific approach is called a usability test in the field.”

It’s your job to make those you work with as comfortable as possible with the changes you are proposing. The best way to do this is to reduce the amount of mental changes they have to process, without compromising on your actual work. Changing the name of your methodology is one of the simplest ways to achieve this.

Being an ambassador for UX research can be a highly complex task. If there were a single recipe for success, all companies would have mature research operations by now.

You need to use all paths of influence at your disposal. You need to make everyone experience how powerful UX research is. Let them see how you can change the direction of a product to fit the user’s needs better. Let them feel how uncomfortable a user gets when your product is used. Make clear to them which aspects of the product fail.

Let them find out how your findings make the product better.

Show, don’t tell.

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