Collaborative user research – Learning from Erika Hall

I recently listened to a podcast where the mighty Jared Spool talked to Erika Hall about collaborative or team based research. Erika is co-founder of a design company called Mule Design and author of Just Enough Research. These are the main things I learned about collaborative user research from listening to Jared and Erika talking about this:

  1. “The value in research isn’t the answer” – Erika made a great point when she stressed that the value of user research isn’t in finding the right answers. Instead, she argued that user research is about creating a culture where it’s ok to constantly ask the same question. It’s about finding out what today’s answer is, and finding a way to feed the answers back into your product.
  2. User research isn’t a one person job – I particularly liked Erika’s point about user research not being a one-man job. As she explained, “No one person can do this. You can’t have the research specialist off in the corner finding this stuff out and then running back saying, “Hey everybody, I have a new answer.” I’ve learned how important it is for everyone on the team to be aware of the experience you’re looking to develop and get feedback on.
  3. Create a shared understanding – Collaborative user research is all about making sure that everyone in the team knows what the goal is, as well as having a shared understanding of our assumptions, constraints and requirements. Instead of arguing what the behaviour is that we’re designing for, the conversation centres around “Given that we all know the same things, then you use that as a basis to evaluate something.”

Main learning point: From listening to Jared Spool and Erika Hall, I learned that UX research can be so much more powerful if the whole team is involved or at least aware of it. UX research shouldn’t be treated as a one-off project or something that generates a big report that you can then shelve. Instead, the focus of UX research should be about constantly testing your assumptions and asking the same questions. This shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of a UX researcher; a shared understanding needs to be in place for the team to work towards the same goal.

Related links for further learning:


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