SARA BELT

Contributed Articles

Building User Research: Careers, Teams, and Leadership

An EPIC Talk with SARA BELT, Spotify Overview Systematic study of people as users of services and products has a long history, but the practice in the industry, commonly known as user research, is as vague as it is ubiquitous. User research draws from many fields—social sciences, behavioral sciences, computer science, design, business, media studies, and others—with diverse epistemological beliefs and methodological palettes. Yet, we rarely discuss what is meant by user research and what specific skills are required from a researcher. This makes it hard to align on what good user research looks like, for companies to set precise expectations for the user research team, for leaders to hire the right composition of talent for their research teams, and for researchers to be deliberate about their career paths. In this talk, Sara discusses different researcher archetypes and the dilemma of investing in breadth vs. depth of research skills. She talks through how she thinks about matching the right skills to a problem,...

Accelerating User Research: How We Structure Insights for Speed At Spotify

by SARA BELT, Spotify Instead of asking how we can further speed up research itself, the question becomes how we can better integrate research into the product development practice and speed up organizations’ ability to learn and iterate overall. For many years, insights was seen as peripheral to product development because of the perception that user research had low validity. I spent the first part of my career advocating for why teams should systematically listen to the people using their products, why anyone should trust qualitative insight to guide their decisions, and why research is a field of practice that requires specialized skills. Debates about validity have diminished as the research practice has gradually proven its ability to contribute value. Approaching product making from the perspective of data, evidence, and empathy is pretty much a given these days. In companies such as Spotify, the pendulum has swung the other way, where growth in demand for research has pushed us to scale the practice. New, more substantive...

Cross-disciplinary Insights Teams: Integrating Data Scientists and User Researchers at Spotify

by SARA BELT and PETER GILKS, Spotify Sara Belt and Peter Gilks respectively lead the Creator and Free Revenue Product Insights teams at Spotify. In this article, Sara will explore the practice of User Research at Spotify, and Peter will lay out how Data Science and User Research work together to drive product decisions. Part 1. User research at Spotify Sara Belt, Head of Creator Product Insights When I say I work in user research at Spotify, folks' minds tend to travel in two directions: they figure I research either the kinds of music people listen to or the music itself: melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and how they impact people. Because, you know, what else is there to research with the world’s biggest music player? Over the past few years, Spotify has grown to be much more than that, and the research scope has grown with it. My team, for example, is focused on artists and the music industry ecosystem—how Spotify can help artists grow an audience, express their creativity, and thrive. We research fandom and how it...