Reframing the User Research Conversation

Who has struggled with implementing user research? Do you have hard sell clients/stakeholders on the value of user research? Are the necessary costs of these activities debated?  Although many speak of current UX practices as the era of user-centered products, we still find ourselves explaining the what and the why of user research and how it is the beating heart of creating a great user experience.

When projects start, the costs and time required to implement user research often takes our stakeholders by surprise. Most often, clients who haven't had experience with user centered thinking and hence, don’t understand what user research entails. They think they want to experience user centered design processes, but often get cold feet at the changes that these processes bring.  At worst, the client doesn’t agree to research, which leaves us with our assumptions unvalidated and our designs untested. At best, we find a way forward, but often our start times are delayed, and expectations still aren’t clear. The London Pivotal Labs Product and Design teams decided to take steps to fix this broken chain and smooth our client on-boarding process to user research.

At Pivotal London, we were a small office for many months. We didn’t have extensive networks to reach into for recruiting participants and our capacity was low.  On a project that was particularly strapped for time, we engaged Criteria, in order to get five interviews scheduled with only two days to prep. Using a recruitment agency meant: 

  • We cut the time needed to secure interviews by half.

  • We could specify a specific profile of user.

  • Our interview subjects were not tainted by personal connection, incorrect knowledge or leading set-ups.

  • The attrition rate for interviews went down to nearly zero.

  • The client received the invoice for the cost directly.

The office grew and we took on more projects that required a research plan. Many teams came up against a user research roadblock with clients. While using recruitment agencies helped cut down on admin time, sometimes it didn't make sense to use one, which left us double over an barrel when it came to getting user research off the ground.  

We found that different clients had different reactions to the costs of user research. Small start-ups worried about overhead costs. Large corporations worried about deadlines and IP. In most scenarios, getting ongoing buy-in through the course of the engagement was tricky at best.

Fast forward a few months. London Product and Design had tripled in size and had gathered enough information about what our user research challenges were to tackle the problem head on. We now had the capacity to create a strategy for how to bake this process into our engagements, which included using Criteria for all interview recruitment.

We came up with a concept of “Packages,” and workshopped how our experiences fit into what became small, medium and large. Our goal with these packages was to outline our research expectations and process, given the scope of the product, and get client buy-in. The outcome; the costs for discovery + framing and ongoing research were now baked into our engagements.

Clients and businesses always need to understand the costs, constraints and time structures around any work done.  The lack of transparency around the nuts and bolts of how user research happens put it at risk of being accomplished.  This puts our clients at a disadvantage when it comes to creating great products.  We believe that these templates can provide a foundation that can just as easily be used by start-ups and product companies as they can by consultancies.

The London Product + Design Team identified a gap in the sales process, and a risk when it came to delivering great lean practices to our clients. Our hope is that we can continue to work with these concepts and refine them as we get new clients and new products through the door. We would love to know if other offices are using similar techniques, and how these have helped or hindered your product development.