4 ways to stop a user research mess

Yesterday, I talked about why democratizing user research was a good idea, especially in the context of a large organization with many disparate teams and diverse products.

But I felt like this topic deserved a little more attention.

I’m sure there were some who read that and thought it didn’t seem very realistic or feasible. After all, I didn’t really address the core problem from my friend’s story:

“…the result was a mess: duplicate interviews, overlapping insights, biased conclusions, and what felt like a hundred different versions of the ‘user truth.’”

How do you prevent a broad user research initiative from turning into a mess?

I’ll share some practical tips, but first, let’s talk about a mindset shift.

At a startup or small organization, user research tends to be hands-on and direct, tackling all the research activities from idea to execution… and sometimes even the design work prompted by the research insights.

At a large organization, user research is more complex and decentralized, often with disparate teams and products and vastly different user bases. If a central user research team does exist, it tends to focus on strategy and mentorship. I’m not saying a team like this wouldn’t do any user research, but explaining the process to other teams would be just as valuable as doing the research.

If you’re establishing a user research team like that (or think your small team has the potential to grow), here are some practical tips to keep it from turning into a mess:

  • Provide clear guidelines and processes. This is helpful advice for teams of any size. How do you establish goals for the research? What methods do you support? What are your ethical standards around consent, privacy, and sensitive information? Do you have standard templates for screeners and interviews or for documenting findings? Who do you need to keep in the loop at each stage of the process?
  • Create a central hub. This can be as simple as a dedicated Slack channel for UXR teams or as complex as a community of practice, weekly meetings, and a dedicated site. Ideally, you want to create a space where people can document and share (the larger the team, the more important this is.) This hub can also serve as a repo for common tools, standard templates, and research results.
  • Offer training. I covered this some yesterday, but the goal here is to equip teams, giving them the guidance and support they need to do UXR well: workshops, mentorship, continuous learning. If you don’t have the budget for a lot of training, at least walk teams through your guidelines and processes. (Sometimes you can unlock additional budget by classifying this as onboarding.)
  • Lead by example. One risk for a team like this is that you get too far away from the actual work. You’re doling out Nielsen-Norman diagrams on training slide decks, but “in-the-field” research work often needs to be scrappy and adaptive. Keep some hands-on user research work on your plate: you’ll stay fresh, your insights will provide value, and you’ll get some useful case studies to share (see previous point!)

What do you think? Do you agree with my friend that democratizing UXR is a recipe for a mess, or was I able to convince you that it's a good thing? Hit reply and let me know!

Jesse Gardner

Up Next: Data visualization methods

← Full Archives

Design Systems Daily

Sign up to get daily bite-sized insights in your inbox about design systems, product design, and team-building:

New to design systems?
Start with my free 30-day email course →