GRATITUDE: A CORE VALUE

For about five years I’ve been ending nearly all my work emails with one word: “thanks.” It’s a small thing and I’m not sure if my colleagues even notice it, but for me it’s a simple reminder to show my appreciation and gratitude for their part in the work we’re doing together.

GRATITUDE is another of the core values I strive to exemplify in the work that I do.

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The amount of support I received in my UX pursuit, in the form of wisdom, energy, time, money, encouragement, etc. from numerous people, is impossible to calculate. Without these people I would not be where I am today. I tried my best to thank them in this post.

And the support continues… Successful research projects don’t happen because of just one researcher; it’s thanks to the work of research participants, designers, product managers, recruiting partners, technical support, project managers, other researchers, and many other stakeholders.

I will always strive to work hard as I share my thanks and appreciation for all those involved.

EMBEDDED AT MICROSOFT

If you do a quick search on in-house vs. consultancy UX work you’ll find a slew of articles by UXers like this, this, or this sharing their thoughts and observations. And when I think back on my classes at UW there were many conversations discussing the merits and/or hazards of both types of work.

From what I’ve read and discussed at school and with other UXers, here are three brief considerations regarding working in both environments.

Variety vs. Singularity. At a consultancy you have the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects while in-house you will most likely be dedicated to one specific product. In working on that one product you will get to see the impact of your work as you watch the product grow, develop, and hopefully come to fruition. In contrast, at a consultancy your work may or may not be implemented and you have very little control over this.

Slow Grid vs. Fast-Paced. In-house the work or progress made might be slow or drawn out due to numerous factors including business needs, legacy products, size of the company, etc. This, then can allow you the opportunity to make sure it’s designed and built based on informed research. At a consultancy the work can be fast-paced and you may feel the pressure of deadlines defined by the work contracted. Again, this can give you variety in your work – the opportunity to focus on one specific area of a product and then do something completely different on your next project.

Work-Life Balance. This one really depends on the company and the individual (more on this in a moment). I’ve read that in-house understands this balance better but I’ve also heard from others that they gained much better work-life balance after switching to consultancy work. At the same time I’ve heard from people who’ve left work-focused consultancies to go in-house where they found a much better balance.

A common qualifier that is a part of all these conversations and articles is that these statements are contingent on the organization and the person doing the work. Each are unique so in the end the choice to work in one environment over another ultimately comes down to the person and the place they’ll work.

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My UX experience up to this point has been entirely at a consultancy but I’ve just started on a two-month project where I’ll be embedded as a UX Researcher on a team at Microsoft. I’ll be developing and executing on a variety of research initiatives. I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to work in-house for a few months; to experience the other side of the coin. This will be a tremendous opportunity for me to learn and grow as a UX Researcher and to also see what working at a large company, on a small team, focused on a few products is like.

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What has been your experience working in-house or at a consultancy? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

THE DO'S AND DON’TS OF DIARY STUDIES

For the past seven months I was part of the research team on a large-scale project that incorporated two research methods repeated over the course of seven waves of participants. The first method was a hybrid of contextual inquiries and usability testing where researchers went to participants’ homes and watched them interact with hardware and software for a new in-home device. The second method, and the subject I’m discussing today, was a digital diary study, of which I was the lead moderator.

Diary studies will vary from research project to research project but in the context of our work participants were given devices to use in their home and each day, over the course of about a week, they would complete activities with the device and answer questions using an online questionnaire or digital diary tool. The diary portion helped us collect valuable quantitative and qualitative feedback, enabled us to interact with participants in different geographical areas, and helped us to discover how behaviors and attitudes changed over time.

Repeating this over seven months with seven waves of participants allowed us to also iterate on how we administered the diary portion (as well as the in-homes sessions) of this study. That iteration has produced some key “Do’s and Don’ts” of diary studies. Use these to help ensure your research is the most effective it can be.

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Use the right tool - Try to pick a tool that matches your users’ tech proficiency. Revelation and Dscout are robust enterprise tools which require participants to create accounts but a free and familiar-to-most tool like Google Forms or Typeform may be all that you need.

Schedule a 30-minute on-boarding meeting with participants - This give you a chance to meet your participants face-to-face, build rapport, and assist with any technical setup necessary. This should also create more buy-in from your participants. Use the great online meeting tool Zoom to connect with your participants and show them how to use your selected diary tool.

BONUS: During this meeting you can also convey the importance of the diary study they are participating in. Let them know that their feedback and insights will be used to improve the product/service/experience you’re studying. This can also help with participant fatigue (more on that later).

Set proper expectations - Let participants know what will be required of them and how much time they should commit to completing the work. Clearly defining the activities and diary schedule is crucial for two reasons. This will aid your participants in completing the activities in the timeframe you’ve designed and should result in more accurate and thoughtful feedback.

Ask a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions - With a mix you will uncover the “why” behind the hard numbers. Because your ultimate aim is to find the answers to your research objectives it’s important to get a mix of data points. Your quantitative data will help you understand success/failure rates and satisfaction ratings. Your qualitative data will help you better understand what is causing those success/failure rates and satisfaction ratings.

Ask questions that get at the impact value versus just satisfaction rating - This will ensure you are uncovering the impact of the product/service/experience you’re researching and help provide actionable findings. Using scales that show the ultimate impact on participants will provide more valuable insights. Consider scales similar to the following:

1 = I had a significant problem and was unable to complete the setup successfully
2
3 = I had a few problems but was still able to complete the setup successfully
4
5 = I had no problems and was able to complete the setup successfully

OR

1 = The instructions were not clear, and I was unable to continue
2
3 = The instructions were not clear, but I was still able to continue
4
5 = The instructions were clear, and I was able to continue

Provide regular updates to clients or stakeholders regarding the progress of participants - This gives everyone a sense of how your participants are advancing through the study. Additionally, by including some initial findings in your progress report, clients and stakeholders can feel they are a part of the research process as well.

Create a spreadsheet to collect all your quant and qual data - It makes for easier analysis. As data comes in, quickly scan it and input it into your data results spreadsheet. This will help with analysis because everything is in one place and you’ve already reviewed it once.

 Our data results spreadsheet from the final wave of testing.

Our data results spreadsheet from the final wave of testing.

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Assume your participants will dedicate as much time to the study as you think or hope they will - Despite your best efforts to clearly communicate expectations things will come up and participants may show signs they’re giving less effort (simple one-word answers, skipping questions, lagging behind, etc.). Reach out to these participants and see if they can expand their thoughts or encourage them to complete late activities when they can.

Ask too many questions - Participant fatigue is real. As your participants progress through your diary study help ensure they continue to devote quality time and maximum effort by asking the appropriate number of questions. Even consider reducing the number of questions per activity as participants get closer to the end of the study.

Devote time and energy to areas outside the original scope - Keep your study on track and more manageable by concentrating on the pertinent questions to help with your research goals. It can be tempting to add questions that help inform other research questions you may have but stay focused on your original questions. You don’t want your data set to grow too large and don’t forget about participant fatigue!

Be afraid to ask clarifying questions - Ask follow up questions to better understand what they really meant. Participant’s answers may be vague or unclear and may not help you understand the “why” you’re after. Respectfully ask participants to clarify or expand their thoughts on the answer they’ve provided - most are happy to oblige.

Do it all alone - Depending on the number of participants and the number of questions, there can be a lot of data points so don’t be afraid to get support from others. Divide and conquer or ask a colleague to focus on a specific aspect of your study. Google Docs’ ability to do real-time collaboration helps tremendously here.

Overcomplicate the implementation of your activities/questions - Keep the schedule simple so participants can focus on completing the activities and providing quality answers. It is very likely that your participants will have different schedules so give them the freedom to complete activities when it best suits them. We had the most success when directing participants to complete the day’s activities when it fit into their schedule.


These ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ came from our desire to continually improve our process. Hopefully you can utilize them in your next diary study. And, as every study is different, you’ll likely discover other ways to run more effective and insightful research.

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Do you have experience running diary studies? Please share your ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

TIM BRIDGHAM, UX RESEARCHER

Roughly three years ago I launched this site and began my pursuit of a career in User Experience. During this time I spoke with numerous friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, and acquaintances who all shared their time and advice in support of my goal. I shifted my focus on becoming a UX Researcher instead of a UX Designer. At my job, I was able to contribute my skills to more client-focused projects, learning a great deal along the way. And with each project my involvement focused more and more on UX research to where I was moderating usability sessions and collaborating on reporting. During this time I completed the User-Centered Design Certificate from the University of Washington learning from amazing UX professionals and working with driven and talented classmates to do some fun and engaging work. And throughout this entire journey, I had the incredible support from my wife who has lovingly encouraged me and has made numerous sacrifices to help me achieve my goal.

Today I officially became a UX Researcher at Blink UX and I am incredibly excited for what’s to come.

Geoff Harrison, Head of UX Services & Partner, announcing my new title. Cheers!

So thank you to Beth and Karen, Kelly, Kristina, Mark, Tom, John, Geoff, Brigitt, Randy, Skip, Layne, Jonathan, Jake, Louise, Nasahn, Sarah, Julie, Stephanie, Allan, Nick L, Piper, Roxane, Siri, Byron, Greg, Ankitha, Tristan, Darshana, Katie, Jill, Leili, Laura, Rebecca, Justin, Telle, Jenna, Ellis, Hayley, Nick W, Colin, Chris, Caitlin, Lu, Mom & Dad. To all of you, and the others - too numerous to mention, thank you for all that you have done to get me here. Without you this would not have been possible.

And my pursuit is not over. I’ll be striving to learn more, to continue to grow, and to become a better UX Researcher with each project I take on. In addition to continuing to share my journey, I’d also love to share others’ unique UX stories - all with the hope of helping the next person on their pursuit of a career in User Experience.

EDUCATION: USER-CENTERED DESIGN GRADUATE CERTIFICATE PROGRAM

I have benefited tremendously from working with amazing people at Blink UX; they bring passion to their work, exude empathy, and deliver creative and excellent work to our clients. As I’ve mentioned in the past, they have inspired me to grow and pursue a career in UX research. 

During my time at Blink UX, I have assisted on numerous projects including several prototype usability studies, field research projects, a data analysis and survey study, a microenthnographic in-home study, a retail intercepts study, and most recently, an application usability study and an unboxing + mobile app usability study (where I moderated seven sessions, created video clips, and assisted with the initial and final reports for both). I have even constructed a large-scale physical prototype to aid with testing. Also, I have been frequently sought out to create video clips in support of final deliverables. 

 The large-scale prototype I constructed to support research. Read more about the benefits of recreating physical products in the lab  here . 

The large-scale prototype I constructed to support research. Read more about the benefits of recreating physical products in the lab here

These experiences have all been opportunities that have come organically to me over the past few years. On a few occasions I was involved from start to finish but most often I was brought in to support a specific piece of a project. Because of this I have obtained many ‘dots’ of knowledge spanning user experience work so I have chosen to connect those dots through formal education in the University of Washington’s User-Centered Design Certificate program.

In this program I will devote time to learning and going through the entire user-centered design process as well as focusing in specifically on usability testing. I view this UCD certificate program as another opportunity to surround myself with other successful UX leaders, be they students, faculty, or guest lecturers. I am confident the UCD certificate will give me the academic grounding, in conjunction with all my experiences and passions, to excel in a UX research career.

*Photo for by Mark Gsellman.

THE RIGHT PATH FOR ME

As I mentioned in the very first post, just over two years ago, realizing what I want to do (for a career) hasn’t been the most straightforward process and definitely hasn’t followed the most common path. But around three years ago I understood where I wanted to go and I started down the path to reach my goal: a career in User Experience. (You can read more about my background here and here.)
    
To get to my goal I knew that it was important to first finish my undergraduate degree. I also knew that in order to move into a lifelong, valuable, and enriching career in UX I would need to do extracurricular training in user experience practices.

In April of 2015 I began the task of completing my undergraduate degree though Washington State University’s Online Bachelor's Degrees program. WSU afforded me the opportunity to take courses around my full-time work schedule and offered coursework that I could shape to enhance my pursuit of a UX career while completing my degree. 

So, I began pursuing a Social Sciences degree with an emphasis in Administrative Studies, Communication, and Psychology. As I suspected, I was able to tailor my coursework (particularly in the communications and psychology emphases) in a way that has contributed to my goal of a UX career. For example, in one communication course I learned content creation in several mediums that have aided my reporting skills. Additionally, several of my psychology courses gave me insights on how to design, conduct, and report on research studies, which are a key part of the work I hope to someday do. 

On May 6th, 2017, I completed my first step and graduated, magna cum laude, from Washington State University. I heard my name called, walk across the stage, and received my diploma with a great sense of self pride and accomplishment. (I would be remiss not to mention my amazing wife, Beth, who has been a huge support to me while working full-time and going to school. Thanks Beth!)

With my degree completed I will be focusing on user experience practices to grow the skills I have and to learn new ones. In fact, I have started to shift into a user experience research role at my company. This summer I’m scheduled to be an assistant researcher on several projects. 

My path hasn’t been the most common one but it has been the right path for me and I’m excited for the next step in my UX pursuit.

EMPATHY: A CORE VALUE

As I gain more knowledge and experience in the field of user experience several values have emerged as the core values that I want to epitomize and demonstrate when I practice UX research and design. The first of these is EMPATHY.

Stanford’s d.school is a prominent leader in the design thinking process. They use design thinking as a powerful tool (or methodology) in the user experience research and design field. They believe that empathy is the centerpiece for creating great user experiences. “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.”

I have seen this first hand and agree that empathy is extremely valuable in creating meaningful innovations or experiences. Over the past three years I have assisted UX researchers running usability sessions both in our office and out in the field. In this time I’ve sought to understand all that they must do while running these sessions. They are responsible for taking notes on participants’ words and actions, occasionally communicating with clients or team members in the middle of the session, and navigating some challenging technical equipment, all while cordially leading participants through the session. In observing this I understand that if I can lighten their load in any way I can help them to focus on running great sessions which in turn helps us discover great insights into the problems we are trying to solve. Because of this I’ve designed our labs and our field equipment to be as easy to use as possible while still delivering quality videos. I do whatever is necessary so that the technology used during sessions becomes invisible to the researchers.

As I’ve talked about in the past, empathy is a crucial part of creating great experiences. In truly caring about your users not only do you better understand their needs and desires but you also build meaningful (and often lasting) relationships.