I believe in starting a conversation with fellow professionals and learning from their experiences. Making their perspectives available to the whole community is one step forward in spreading the message about the importance of UX. That’s why I have started a project of #UXFika – lightweight conversations with inspiring UX, Design, and Product leaders over a cup of coffee (or two!).

This week’s special guest is Nikki Anderson, User Research Lead at Zalando. Nikki is also a founder of User Research Academy – where she is coaching, mentoring, and building remote courses on UX Research, including an introduction to UX, portfolio building, research plans, etc. I attended a few great courses and webinars myself and found Nikki’s insights very valuable. Learning from a working UX Researcher is a great opportunity in itself and Nikki goes above and beyond to make sure the knowledge she transmits is useful.

In this UX Fika, I talked to Nikki about sharing UX Research Insights: common challenges and ways to overcome them.

How did you get into the world of UX, Nikki?

I was getting my Master’s in psychology and debating with myself: should I do a Ph.D. and become a clinical psychologist or should I take another path. After working in a mental hospital for 2 years I was feeling burned out, but I loved helping people and talking to them. So a good friend of mine suggested I look into the UX field. That’s how I joined the General Assembly’s course about UX and where my journey into a digital world has started. I found the UX Research field super interesting and fell in love with it.

The main lesson I took from my experience in clinical psychology was being able to listen to people with little judgment. I was working with severe mental illnesses and even convicted criminals. Listening to their stories without judgment was a very important skill I got and use it as a UX Researcher.

You are currently working as a UX Research Lead at Zalando. What does your everyday look like?

There are a few different paths for UX Researchers at Zalando: you can either be a cluster researcher or a project researcher. A cluster researcher deals with teams and stakeholders: taking into different requests, figuring out research questions behind the requests, prioritizing them. A project researcher is someone who is on the execution part: they will actually do the research or work with the teams to empower them to do research. So I work as a Cluster Research Lead. A big part of my work is talking to stakeholders, managing a team of researchers, helping them grow. A normal day is filled with a lot of meetings and I have a great chance to participate in more strategic discussions within the company.

I love doing research, but I have been in the field for around 7 years. I tried and tested quite a lot of methodologies, wrote many reports, went through the whole process from recruitment to analysis of results. It was time for me to try something new and get into a new challenge: managing a UX Research team and growing as a UX Leader.

Here is another article where Nikki shares what her day is like!

Sharing research results successfully is a big challenge for many UX Researchers. What does sharing research results mean for you?

Surprisingly, one of the goals in our team is to share deep customer understanding, but we also have asked ourselves: what does it actually mean?

I think many people in the UX and design field are not sure what it means. Or what is an actual insight? So when I talk about sharing research results I have a few key pillars in mind:

– Sharing research results is about making the knowledge about your users accessible to the team, stakeholders and making it easy to find it, when they need it.

– Sharing research results is about making the information understandable, relatable, and not treating it as a scientific paper. No one will read scientific papers. I make it relatable by using videos, appealing graphics, visualizing data in a context, and being straightforward on what it actually means.

– Last but not least, when we do research we should be neutral as researchers, but when we present the data, we should take a stand and be straightforward on what it actually means. We can have an opinion then and we should say it.

Why is it difficult to communicate user research findings?

There are a few reasons. The skeptical nature of UX Research might be scary for researchers. Sometimes stakeholders do not believe you, therefore many UX Researchers might feel a bit insecure when sharing their findings.

The difficulty might also depend on the maturity of the company as well. If your colleagues understand that by talking to 5-7 users you can validate ideas and test hypotheses – you are off to a great start. If you are however talking to people who only believe in big data, it might be much more difficult to share UX Research findings.

I also think many UX Researchers are not sure what exactly we should communicate: recommendations, actual action points. We are not designers, we should not say what should be designed or changed, but we should be clear about what is not working (e.g: no one is clicking this button, this needs to be fixed). So it is important to know the audience, to think of the message you are transmitting, and not simply use templates repeatedly.

How to tackle the skeptical stakeholder challenge. Do you have any tips?

Firstly – back things up with qualitative data if you have some data, (for example – go into Analytics and try to find matching data). In this way, you complement your findings.

Secondly, I follow up on qualitative research with a survey to get some quantitative insights. Let’s take a travel app as an example. If you discover that people want to search trips by 3 key criteria: price, how romantic it is, and how much exercise you can get. You can survey people on these three options and have a few quantitative insights and go over the hurdle of having only qualitative insights.

Lastly, engage stakeholders. I sometimes ask stakeholders to try using a very difficult app and write down all the problems they face while using it. Then they group the findings together and I demonstrate that 5 people in a meeting room can find common patterns and issues. If people are willing to (I always bribe them with wine, beer, or cookies) collaborate – it could help a lot.

Last but not least, if you are in an environment where stakeholders are not listening to you – consider other options because you will hit a ceiling on how much you can do sometimes. A lot of people think it is part of our job, but by focusing too much on only stakeholder management that does not work in the long term, you will miss an opportunity to learn the most important – how to do UX research and grow in that area of expertise. You will find a supportive environment eventually.

Can you share an example of one failure and one success in sharing research results?

Once I joined a company as the first UX Researcher in the company. We kicked off an initiative to generate personas and customer journeys and we actually build great resources for the roadmap. The key success was that building those personas and customer journeys helped to bring different departments together and visualize all the gaps. It felt like a big victory and I was happy it also improved ways of working, integrating goals, and cross-collaborating.

Speaking about the failures, once when I started working as a UX Researcher my manager was very much into doing more discovery research. So we set out to conduct deep interviews and my manager asked me to interview someone for 90 minutes. Just talk about the product, how the person uses it, their daily life, etc. I shadowed one of the interviews and it seemed so natural to listen, so smooth. I thought: we have conversations all the time, it shouldn’t be that hard. However when I started the interview, I stayed like 5-7 minutes and had nothing to say. I failed miserably, therefore my manager took over and managed the interview perfectly.

I once failed in sharing insights as well. We were doing some research on the B2C platform. I was sharing the insights with the stakeholders however, nobody could understand and follow. My presentation was full of information: quotes, data. It was simply too much. It was dead silence and I knew I failed to understand the audience and presenting research findings properly. It happened 4 years into my career, not at the beginning, so it has taught me to have a good reflection on the audience.

What are the key principles you follow when sharing UX research findings and insights?

– Always include video and audio, if you can’t include screenshots or evidence that took place. It reminds stakeholders that the people you are talking to are humans.

– Keep it simple and short: as simple as you can.

– Adapt to the format. For example, I make a few different formats for different audiences: a short presentation (bullet by bullet and recommendations on what to do) for a product team. If it’s a more formal report, I add an executive summary and more visual material.

– Always include next steps and timelines and people who are owning the decisions.

– Find a consistent format for insights. Write all your insights in the same way, so it becomes recognizable and easy to follow.

– Differentiate between insights and findings. Findings are things like “this flow does not work, let’s change it”. Insights are more evergreen ideas like “people shop this way, it won’t change in time”. Use it consistently.

Let’s break down what insight means for you?

An insight for me is the following:

– A discovery about human behavior, and the underlying motivations behind that behavior

– Information that challenges what we believe about users and how they exist in the world

– The knowledge reveals fundamental principles that drive us towards seeing users in a new way

And here is a hypothetical example of an insight:

“People who are serious about moving will visit at least five apartments in one month to see what is available and what they could be missing (behavior and motivation)

How do you actually write impactful insights?

Here are a few tips on writing insights and presenting them to your team:

– State the context: put the listener into the situation.

– Explain what you have learned: critical learning might be an unexpected attitude or behavior.

– Articulate the root cause: explain why a particular behavior is coming up

– Talk about motivation: find the frustration that surrounds any given experience, and you will locate the core motivating factors.

– Communicate the consequences: what impact does it have on your service/product?

– Recommend next steps.

How can we get better at communicating user research findings?

I used to present voice memos and listen to myself to understand where I feel not confident. That sometimes helps to improve when presenting.

Before presentations, I used to write down everything I wanted to say: almost like a script. It really helped me to feel more confident when speaking.

Forcing yourself to get in front of people and talk is a huge step forward. It doesn’t even have to be related to user research. I took a few improv classes and it really helped me to become better at presenting and communicating.

Understand the goals of the audience you are talking to and start out with the KPIs that you are trying to impact. Really knowing the goals of those users will truly help to apply when you work.

Extra bits

Your favorite recent read:

Jobs-to-be-done playbook by Jim Kalbach and Never Split the Difference book by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz. Good podcasts I listen to are: mixed methods and Awkward Silences podcasts are great as well. Also, join slack groups where there are so many great discussions and readings.

Who inspires you?

Indi Young – who is a great researcher, she focuses a lot on mental models and has done great work in ethnography.

I also want to say thank you to my previous manager John Labriola who helped me to get to the place where I am now.

One wish for the UX Research community:

I wish that we overcome skepticism.

About the UX Fika Series

In UX Fika series of blog posts, I talk with people that inspire me and whom I look up to as my role-models. The motivation behind doing this is, you might see some patterns and hopefully you’d be able to learn from the amazing people that I have had a chance of learning from.

For my international friends, FIKA is a Swedish concept, a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea). With no rush, full immersion and being present in the moment. That’s why I thought “UXFika” is a perfect name for meaningful conversation with UX leaders I look up to.

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