I believe in starting a conversation with fellow leaders 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 leaders, creators, and people who make a change through design.

This week’s special UX Fika guest is actually my colleague Vanessa Macedo – Senior Design Researcher at Electrolux. I got to know Vanessa through her work in researching food habits and future trends at Electrolux and decided to have a talk about her work and passion for discovery research!

How did you get into the world of design?

When I was growing up I already knew I would be in some kind of creative field. At first, I was considering fashion. However, I was living in a university city in Brazil with a very good industrial design education, so moving this direction just made sense. I felt it also might be better in terms of searching for jobs.

Once I started learning design, I just loved it. I could have continued studying on and on… From the beginning, I got an idea of what I enjoy the most: usability research and focusing on people. I was always thinking about how do people use something, what do they expect. It sparked joy inside me. Another aspect I really liked was how to present projects – I could really see that sometimes you might have very nice results and projects. But if you don’t present it in the right way – people will not understand it.

After finishing my bachelor studies, I started thinking about doing master’s in user experience and researching where I could do that! And I have always been fascinated with home appliance products because it’s one product that is not cheap and you want to make the right choice when you buy it. Secondly, it is used by many people in the household. It needs to be understandable, engaging for different people with different backgrounds, knowledge levels, and tastes. That’s what brought me into doing my masters in UX.

What excites you about the future of home appliances?

The future of current archetypes and how it will change. If you think about it, many current archetypes in home appliances haven’t changed a lot. A washing machine, a bicycle, a microwave looks more or less the same way as 20 years ago – I am always wondering what will be the future of our home appliances?

Washing machine in 1951.
Truth is that there have been many shifts recently. People start to realize how vulnerable we are as societies – so there will be a need to have a home that feels like your safety net. So everything that is at your home will get extra value. People will also spend more time at home.

You work as a design researcher at Electrolux, tell me – what is design research here at Electrolux and what your every day is like?

Design research collects, analyses, and synthesizes all the relevant evidence of people’s current and shifting needs and desires. In simple words – it is about both the current and shifting behaviors and why that behavior happens. Once you gather research, you turn it into actionable findings.

There is also another way to describe it: the present-forward and future-back research:

The present-forward is understanding what people are currently using, what are their values, and how things work at the moment. In this scenario, we are working on what we have and deliver feedback. For example, usability research is always about present-forward research.

Future-back research is about understanding big movements, structural, cultural, and political changes. This type of research tries to uncover what will be this micro shift happening in the near future when all those changes are aligned and understood.

How is design research different from UX research?

Discover research can sometimes focus on lead users or experts in the field. Many times you have to talk to people in the field and early adopters. Compared to UX research, we are not always talking about the majority of people, the mainstream users.

The presentation of findings is also a bit different. In the UX Research field, if you are presenting something, you share insights that will affect the majority of users. And in design research – we might be talking about early adopters more than “the majorities”.

What’s your approach to design research?

Our approach is really understanding what is the problem, why we are doing this, where is the landing spot of our research. If it’s just a research project without a landing spot – it will end up being a report on someone’s desk. I don’t want to give results that people don’t want to act on. They need to know “what do I do with it”.

Therefore here are the steps I follow:
1. Scoping (planning the research, defining the problem and key questions to answer),
2. Researching (executing, gathering data)
3. Sensemaking and application

Each method we choose to add in the research is like a thread. Imagine you are creating a rope and the more threads you have, the stronger your research will be. Sometimes it is about combining desk research together with expert interviews, co-creation, or shadowing. I am also always trying not to be afraid of doing small research. All methods are important.

Sensemaking is a very interesting stage. That’s when you have a huge post wall in front of you and you need to cluster all the findings, understand areas of interest and patterns. Before the pandemic we used to have huge physical boards at the office, now we are trying to use a digital tool, called MIRO for gathering all insights. It has been a very useful tool!

Finally, the application is when we think about how to make it understandable for our audience and not just copy templates, but find the right shape for it.

Can you share one example (maybe a favorite one) of a project you did?

I really enjoyed a baking study that we did at Electrolux. We wanted to understand the main movements in the baking industry: how people bake. It really opened my eyes to doing research in different ways. We focused a lot on desk research, complemented with key user interviews.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

I think the occurring challenge I see is making insights actionable: triggering people to act by getting in touch with research insights. It is rewarding when people get passionate about acting and when it gets ingrained into the culture. That’s when you feel that you have contributed and have added value.

What would you like to learn next and why?

I would like to learn more about budgeting: how to manage finances in research. Also, I would like to learn new research methods – it’s always inspiring to get to know new exciting ways of doing research!

Extra bits

If you could have any person over for a dinner party, who would it be and why?

I would just make a party for all my friends and family from Brazil, because I miss them so much in these pandemic times.

What you miss the most from your home country: Brazil?

Definitely food!

Recent interesting read:

How to Research Trends: move beyond trend watching to kickstart innovation by Els Dragt

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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