How to Respond to Excuses for not Doing User Research

post-it notes with responses to "Research takes too long" and "We already know our customers" excuses

The other day I attended a meetup hosted at SAP about responding to the most common excuses for not doing user research. For those who don’t know, user research aims to understand user behavior, needs, and motivation. You can read more about user research at Interaction Design Foundation or UX Planet.

Going into the meetup, I was expecting the host, Sally Lawler Kennedy, to talk about her experience and how she responds to excuses. However, I was pleasantly surprised that this meetup was more hands-on and collaborative. We divided into groups and discussed what excuses we heard and wrote them on post-it notes.

“We don’t have the time or budget.”

“We are so far along the process… NO TURNING BACK.”

“We don’t know how to run user research.”

“We don’t have millions of users, [so] we don’t need [user research].”

And many more… 😬

Sally clustered similar excuses and asked us to vote what are the most common. We voted for “We don’t have time,” “We don’t have money,” “I don’t see the value in doing research upfront,” and “We already know our users.” She then asked us, within our groups, to come up with responses on how to counter these excuses.

Whiteboard with post-its of excuses for not doing user research

Here’s what we came up with:

“We don’t have time.” / “We don’t have money.”

These two excuses somewhat go hand in hand and the responses we came up with were similar, so I grouped them together. If you ever run into these situations, respond with: “Compare how long it would talk to redo/fix the feature/product if it’s unsuccessful,” or “What is the cost of fixing it later versus addressing the problem now?”

To give you an example of the cost for fixing a problem later, there’s a design process model called double diamond that breaks the design process into 4 phases: discover, define, design, deliver. According to Sally, fixing a problem costs $1 in the discover phase, $10 in the design, and $100 in the deliver phase. Cue record scratch. Yes, you read that right, fixing a problem costs 10x more over the course of process. Read more at Agile Modeling.

a line chart displaying a line moving towards the upper right, cost on the y-axis, and time on the x-axis.
the cost of fixing a problem over time

If you’re working in an agile environment, not only may you be short on budget but maybe on time. Figure out your timeline and offer a schedule that is compressed to workaround a time crunch. Instead of spending weeks interviewing users, maybe spend a day interviewing. If you’re short on time or money, you can find your customers/users by leveraging your friends and family network. In my experience, the UX researchers I’ve worked with talk to 6–8 users generated a decent amount of insights.

“I don’t see the value in doing research upfront.”

Unfortunately for this one, we couldn’t come up with a good response to counter this excuse; however, a group suggested finding allies. Sally recommended getting a team to do a project pilot that utilizes a design-led approach to persuade leadership buy-in. Leadership gets to participate in the problem solving, and hopefully will see the value. Even if they don’t immediately change their views, at least you planted a seed 🌱

“We already know our users.”

One suggestion my group came up with is bringing in users to validate what they—product managers, leadership, other stakeholders—know.

Sally suggested asking them to share because this response acknowledges what they know, and is a starting point in understanding the users. Often times, product managers and other stakeholders may know things only on a surface level, so you’ll need to figure out the gaps and show them that they’re missing behavioral understanding (e.g. How does the user actually use the product/feature?).


I should emphasize that these are not the only responses to handling the most common excuses (see additional readings for more suggestions). It may take time to persuade leadership to see the value of user research, but don’t get discouraged!

If you’re a UX Researcher, what are the most common excuses you’ve heard for not doing user research? How do you respond to them? Please share in the comments 😊


Additional Readings

Duarte Presentation Training

 

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Last Monday, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) invited Duarte, a design firm in the Bay Area, to train us on how to make better presentations. The training session took an entire workday, but it was an eye-opening experience to learn brainstorming techniques, visualizing techniques, and how to help the audience understand your thoughts and messages.

Takeaways

  1. Take the risk, lose the fear
    Watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDTalk on creativity
  2. Avoid teleprompter slides
    I tend to create “teleprompter” slides, which is a slide that has about 50 words. A long bulleted list slide can be considered a “teleprompter” slide. They’re easy to make, but these slides are more for you, the presenter, rather than the audience.
  3. Presentations are glance media
    Since the audience looks at slides rapidly and process them immediately, the presenter needs to ensure that the slides don’t have a lot of noise—too many images, excessive animation, and random transitions—and have a clear signal or focus point.
  4. Be audience empathetic
    Understand your audience’s problem, spend more time on how you can help your audience. Focus on the WHY (why should your audience care?).

Powerpoint tip: If you are using Microsoft’s Powerpoint, you can use the selection pane to reorder the layers in your slide. This feature is similar to the layers panel in Photoshop.

Experience Working as a Remote Design Contractor

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screenshot of Book Riot store with Halloween ad (this was before their store redesign)

For the past year, I was a design contractor at Book Riot, an independent book review company. I was fortunate enough to be referred to by a friend, and I gained a new perspective being a remote designer.

My primary responsibility was to create marketing creatives to boost audience outreach, which was mostly creating graphics for various social media platforms. I also had the opportunity to design t-shirts, which allowed me to flex my illustration skills.

Continue reading Experience Working as a Remote Design Contractor

eBay and StubHub: Marketplace Panel

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One of the last events of #SFDW was eBay and StubHub’s Marketplace Panel (and After Party). On Thursday, I left work around 2:15 to catch the 2:55 Caltrain in Sunnyvale. I arrived at SF Caltrain station around 4, met up with my friend, and we walked to StubHub’s HQ.

Left to right: Bradford Shellhammer (moderator), Christine Fernandez, Dave Lippman, Katie Dill, Karlyn Neel
Left to right: Bradford Shellhammer (moderator), Christine Fernandez, Dave Lippman, Katie Dill, Karlyn Neel

The panel featured Katie Dill, Head of Experience Design at Airbnb; Christine Fernandez, Sr. Design Manager for Global Expansion Products at Uber; Dave Lippman, VP / Executive Creative Director at eBay; and Karlyn Neel, Director of UX Design at StubHub.

The topics they covered included how their companies build trust, diversity, what they look for in designers, and leading a design team.

Some key takeaways:

  1. Transparency builds trust. Have a reputation system and a way for people to communicate who/where they are to set expectations before transactions. People tend to embrace those who are like themselves.
  2. Diversity optimizes design because it brings many different perspectives.
  3. Selling an experience vs. selling a product: selling an experience takes in consideration human-centered problems and the end to end experience (i.e. everything is interconnected and happens at multiple touchpoints)

Design Sprint Workshop with Google

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As part of SF Design Week (#SFDW), a couple friends and I decided to attend Google Sprint Workshop Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, my friend and I were late due to rush hour traffic, so we missed the ice breaker and food.

Anyway, this workshop was an opportunity to learn and experience what a sprint is like at Google. The challenge was to design an app to connect designers to non-profits. We learned methods like “How Might We” and Crazy 8’s. “How Might We” questions reframe insights and allow room for trial-and-error (i.e. not restricting team to one solution immediately). Crazy 8’s is a method where you fold a paper into 8 rectangles and sketch an idea in each rectangle within 8 minutes.

They were promoting Sprint, written by Jake Knapp with the help of Braden Kowitz and John Zeratsky, which discusses these methods. You can learn more about the book here and here. 

googlesprintworkshop2

It was an enjoyable time collaborating and brainstorming with designers from around the area, and a pleasant surprise bumping into many of my former classmates. #roughcut2015

ZURB Soapbox – Katie Dill

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Yesterday my coworker, friends, and I attended ZURB Soapbox to hear Katie Dill, Head of Experience Design at Airbnb, share her experience working at a consultancy and in-house, and how designers can improve the experiences of their audience.

Some key takeaways:

  1. Watch Making the shopping cart video
  2. Triforce: Product, Design, and Engineering. If these three have equal power, then the experience of the product will be great.
  3. Designers should inherently be good communicators.
  4. Storyboarding supports your voice because it brings an emotional reaction when you can visually see the human interactions. It helps us understand what’s happening in that moment (context, environment, etc).
  5. Watch Joe Gebbia’s TED talk on trust
  6. Users traverse between the on and offline world. Experience Design is different from Product Design because it considers the offline component.

Failure is an Option

Excuse me for my cliche title.

My User Experience (UX) professor asked us the other day “what can students do to experiment more in the classroom?”, to which I asked, “Shouldn’t the professor facilitate an environment that allows failure?”

He volleyed, “How?”
I conceded with “I don’t know.”
“How would you do it?”

My professor then said that even if teachers facilitate that environment, students should change their mindset from getting good grades to a mindset that’s willing to explore. He said, and I’m heck paraphrasing here (i.e. I could be off), if students only aim for that “A,” their mindset is narrowed to only achieving that “A” level and they don’t realize their other potentials.

Continue reading Failure is an Option