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Oct 30, 2010: Going Beyond User Research

Lately I've been hammering away on a lot of session and workshop descriptions. It's nice to be working on new ideas, and it's wonderful to have some great venues to try them out in. My last blog entry covered a new workshop focused on tuning an information architecture; I'll teach it in April at UX London (thanks Andy Budd and friends!).

Below is a draft for a new keynote that, assuming y'all don't hate it, I'll present for the first time at UX Lisbon in May. It's a follow up to one I've given a couple times now—to mostly positive reviews—called Marrying Web Analytics and User Research. I'm trying to go a bit broader here, and I'll confess to being worried that it's just a wee bit over-ambitious. But let's see what you (and the organizer, Bruno Figueiredo) think:

On Not Declaring Victory: Going Beyond User Research

As user research becomes firmly established in organizations around the world, it's tempting to congratulate ourselves and retreat to our shiny new labs. But our work is nowhere near complete. As currently practiced, user research remains narrow in focus, often limited to the qualitative methods that reflect our own educational biases, and the tools that fit within our own comfort zones.

Other research practices, such as web analytics, business analytics, and market research, are equally powerful ways of learning about users' wants and needs. More importantly, they're often complementary with what we do. When organizations consciously investigate what is going on together with why, only then will they truly realize the value of all they invest in their research.

In his keynote, Lou Rosenfeld will explore the complementary aspects of these different research perspectives, argue for breaking down the silos that divide them, and suggest a framework for developing products and services that are better analyzed, better designed, and, ultimately, better performing.

What do you think?

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Comment: Jane Pyle (Oct 30, 2010)

I think this sounds like a great topic for a presentation Lou. Do you think this would be applicable to designers working on mobile platforms? I currently design iPhone apps for enterprise use and I use a combination of user research and mobile analytics. I find analytics particularly useful when assessing the value of proposed projects. Many app ideas have died as a result of studying analytics

Hoping I'll get to attend one of your presentations!

Comment: Stephen Clark (Oct 31, 2010)

The earlier and more often you are able to present observations and raise questions on the convergence between user experience, web, business and market research analytics, the better off we'll be as practitioners and business executives.

In August I was fortunate to listen to Stan Rapp and Don Peppers at a direct marketing conference in Chicago. Key to these esteemed thought-leaders perspectives on the future are the benefits of integrating insight from these areas of specialized research, analysis and forecasting.

While large fortune 10000 companies may be increasingly agreeable to, and proactively seeking out, integrate user experience analytics as they do product and service development and execute go-to-market activities, the broadest swath of commercial organizations have not matured to the point where they are robustly seeking out these consultative services or building their own internal competencies.

Thanks for the deep insight and evangelism.

Comment: Lou (Nov 1, 2010)

Hi folks!

Jane, I know nothing about designing iPhone apps.

That said, what I'm suggesting ought to apply not just to design decisions, but to *all* business decisions. (Yes, I said I was being a tad bit ambitious here.) Essentially, I think it's foolish to make major business decisions without data that balances quantitative and qualitative, intuitive and behavioral, things about *what* versus things about *why*... So yes, I definitely think this ought to apply for iPhone apps.

Thanks Stephen; I'm probably not saying anything that's already been said a whole bunch of times, especially in other fields. But I'm just not seeing my UX colleagues making this point strongly enough...

Comment: Lou (Nov 1, 2010)

Just some further thoughts on what I might try to cover in this talk, in no particular order:
* Start with a broad framework for understanding research inputs, along the lines of Christian Rohrer's excellent "Landscape of User Research" (see: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/user-research-methods.html ). Look at inputs along these axes, and you'll start getting a much better sense of where things fit (and what gaps you may have in your current menu of inputs).
* Identify and work from common boundary objects (see: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/boundary-objects.html ), as XPLANE's @DaveGray suggested to me.
* Develop a common vocabulary, or at least some mutually understood mappings between perspectives (boundary objects can help here).
* Design a decision-making dashboard from scratch. In a blue-sky scenario, what data inputs and analyses would you need to make informed, confident decisions? Hint: leave jargon (e.g. discipline names like "market research" or tool names like "Omniture") at the door. (You guys already know I love to ban terms.)

OK, good for now...

Comment: Jean-François Petit (Nov 1, 2010)

I can only agree with (and applaud) the idea of using Web analytics data to refine UX research and results. I have been promoting and selling this idea to my clients for the last 3 years, with at least one interesting success. But my personal experience shows that it is a terrain that is fraught with perils. The maturity level of web analytics in many enterprises/organizations is even shakier than their UX maturity. Data is often of poor quality because of defective setup of web analytics tools. So, as with any research, caveats abound, but optimism must reign.

Note to myself: I must attend one of your workshops soon!

Comment: Lou (Nov 1, 2010)

Many thanks, Jean-François. I'd love to hear more about your success (as well as the failures, if you're willing to share). What worked? What didn't?

Also, it's frightening that you're finding organizational WA maturity to be less than UX maturity. Yikes. That doesn't say much for any of us!

Comment: Jean-François Petit (Nov 1, 2010)

You are welcome, Lou.

I have been meaning to document my work and create at leat one case study, but I seem to lack the time and discipline... The success I alluded to in my previous comment might appear a bit basic, but it marked the first time that I convinced a client to let me spend some time on analytics data to help rethink and redesign their home page (which receives 70% of their incoming traffic). The use of Analytics data helped me to sway my client from some of his, shall we say, "interesting" IA ideas and return to a little bit of sanity. We have just completed a satisfaction survey 6 months after redesign, and things are looking good. The plan is to overhaul their analytics setup (with the help of a consultant) and build from there. We'll see how it goes.

Comment: Lou (Nov 1, 2010)

Thanks Jean-François; keep up the good fight! And when you've got more to share, please let me know!

Comment: Jean-François Petit (Nov 1, 2010)

I Forgot: if you are interested in finding out more about Web Analytics maturity, Stéphane Hamel, a world-class web analytics consultant out of Québec, has published a model. One if his latest posts:


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