by LIBBY KAUFER and MARIA VIDART-DELGADO, Ad Hoc LLC
Ethnographic methods that center systems-thinking, how knowledge is constructed, and how knowledge is shared among communities are the best approach for developing collective digital products like APIs.
Application Programming Interfaces, commonly known as APIs, connect the front-end interfaces we see when we navigate the internet (like websites and apps) to the back-end systems, or databases, that store information. APIs enable people to carry out transactions online, like purchasing goods, booking flights, or applying for government benefits. While they are invisible to end-users, APIs are crucially important to developers and to the way many websites, programs, and applications function.
Like codebases and databases, APIs are objects consumed collectively and collaboratively by teams of developers who work together to integrate front-end to back-end systems, run tests, and monitor and troubleshoot integration issues. In the context of APIs, typical UX research methods...
User Experience Researcher, eBay Inc.
Evidence, today, can have very narrow definitions. For digital products, this type of evidence usually includes clicks and engagement metrics. I believe that in our effort to only listen to numbers and data, we have created a culture that looks down on intuition as something messy and to be rejected. As a result, we train ourselves to cast our intuition aside. When we do listen, we dare not speak up about it.
Intuition is a part of what makes us human. It is often the primary way we make sense of our work (and the world around us). Yet, we continue to focus only on rationality and logic. Ultimtately, the goal of this piece is to present intuition from a different lens – to understand it, learn to listen to it and create spaces where we talk about it.
Anish Nangia is a User Experience Researcher that uses human centered design to understand complex problem spaces and inspire compelling products. firstname.lastname@example.org
2018 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry...
Few professions appear more at odds, at least on the surface, than ethnography and data science. The first deals in qualitative “truths,” gleaned by human researchers, based on careful, deep observation of only a small number of human subjects, typically. The latter deals in quantitative “truths,” mined through computer-executed algorithms, based on vast swaths of anonymous data points. To the ethnographer, “truth” involves an understanding of how and why things are truly the way they are. To the data scientist, “truth” is more about designing algorithms that make guesses that are empirically correct a good portion of the time. Data science driven products, like those that Uptake builds, are most powerful and functional when they leverage the core strengths of both data science and ethnographic insights: what we call Human-Centered Data Science. I will argue that data science, including the collection and manipulation of data, is a practice that is in many ways as human-centered and subjective...
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video
Case Study—The Amazon Prime Video User Experience (UX) Research team endeavored to balance qualitative and quantitative insights and translate them into the currency that drives the business, specifically customer engagement, to improve decision-making. Researchers conducted foundational qualitative research to uncover what matters most to Prime Video customers, translated resulting insights into a set of durable, measurable customer outcomes, and developed a global, longitudinal online survey program that validated the importance and perception of these outcomes at scale. Researchers then systematically linked customers’ attitudinal survey results to their usage patterns and overall satisfaction with the service. The resulting data showed how investing in improving a customer outcome is likely to increase service engagement, thus closing the loop between insights and business metrics for the first time. Prime Video executive leadership has not only embraced...
Hitachi, Ltd. Research & Development Group
Independent UX Research & Design Consultant
In international business ethnography, clients and subjects don’t share the same background. Without an understanding of the underlying factors affecting the subject’s behaviors, data can lead to false home-market based assumptions about cause and effect. Where do we as researchers look to detect meaningful findings in international contexts? Drawing on our decades of international fieldwork, we describe how focusing on culture or cultural differences to interpret differences in workflows and attitudes can sometimes hamper accurate interpretation of observations. We describe through case studies how instead, identifying foundation factors shaping behaviors and mindsets such as market forces, government policy, labour markets, and financial schemas can be the key to insight in international contexts.
Keywords: Ethnography, International, Japan, fieldwork, workflow, products and systems, user research, UX,...
This essay offers an analysis of the “pain point,” a commonplace figure of speech in UX design and contemporary business contexts more broadly. By situating this everday trope within a wider discourse of pain, and its politiciztion in the United States, I seek to problematize the modes of relationality and forms of care entailed in the practice of design research. Ultimately, I will argue, while the “pain point” can be an effective tool for communicating with stakeholders and fomenting alignment about research objectives, it also implicates the more troubling ethical dimensions of applied practice. Through a narrative account of an innovation focused ethnographic research project conducted within the design unit of a major tech company, I argue that questions of solidarity, and its contemporary aporias, can be obscured by the humanitarian rhetoric of contemporary design praxis; a rhetoric of which the “pain point” is a prime example....
Case Study—One of Uber’s company missions is to make carpooling more affordable and reliable for riders, and effortless for drivers. In 2014 the company launched uberPOOL to make it easy for riders to share their trip with others heading in the same direction. Fundamental to the mechanics of uberPOOL is the intelligence that matches riders for a trip, which can introduce various uncertainties into the user experience. Core to the business objective is understanding how to deliver a ‘Perfect POOL’—an ideal situation where 3 people in the vehicle are able to get in and out at the same time and location allowing for a more predictable and affordable experience. This case study argues that, for a reduced fare and a more direct route, riders are willing to forego the convenience of getting picked up at their door in exchange for waiting and walking a set amount to meet their driver.
This case study explores the integration of qualitative and quantitative research...
Product teams, including our own, often interpret empathy as evidence. However, in practice, empathy is actually something that drives us to seek evidence. By observing and evaluating various examples within Shopify, we have identified 4 traps that are common in the way empathy is manifested. We modelled the relationship between empathy, problems, evidence, and decisions to provide strategies for how to use empathy effectively while being sympathetic to its limitations. Since empathy drives us to seek evidence, and thus cannot be considered evidence itself, empathy must be used at an appropriate level of abstraction throughout the product decision-making process in order to influence good decisions....
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...
by MICHAEL THOMAS, Ford Motor Company
User Experience (UX) Research and Design is a dynamic and diverse domain where designers, social scientists, and hybrids of all sorts are putting theory to work. It has successfully advanced a more holistic framing for human-centered design intervention, ideally keeping our attention on the user as the key unit of analysis at every stage. But we’re also discovering that herein lie potential opportunities for further refinement.
UX has familiar practical limitations, and we debate these continually—the best way to measure, how to communicate, appropriate sampling, sample size, methods, protocols, metrics, and so on. Its fundamental limitations, by contrast, are inherent theoretical assumptions and biases. It is critical to innovate at this level of UX’s underlying principles; to move beyond the generally unspoken assumptions that the user is necessarily an individual and that the user’s perceptions about discrete temporally and spatially bounded experiences are authoritative.
As a case...
by KATHY BAXTER, Salesforce; CATHERINE COURAGE, DocuSign; & KELLY CAINE, Clemson University
Ten years is an eternity in the tech world. But the speed of change makes the classic “decade of reflection” even more valuable for assessing which changes really count and why. We had a chance to reflect systematically on the last decade of user experience research for the second edition of our book “Understanding Your Users,” which was first published in 2005. Since then, user research has become more widespread and more sophisticated. It has also responded to challenges of faster development cycles while simultaneously contributing more, not just to product development, but to the bigger picture of strategic innovation.
So among the noise of trendy terms and fashionable phrases we found five key trends that really do matter:
1. Usability to User Experience
One of the biggest changes is the shift from a focus on “usability” to “user experience.” “Usability” is an attribute of a system or user interface (UI). It...
by CARRIE YURY, BeyondCurious
Critical thinkers that we are, researchers are skeptical of buzzwords, one-size-fits all methodologies, and facile business trends. We scowl as ‘ethnography’ is invoked just because someone actually talked with a customer. We say things like, “If you want to be Agile, try yoga.” Even so, we remain deeply committed to the core value of these approaches when they’re done right.
At BeyondCurious, we practice Agile Research. Why did we adapt our research practice to Agile? We did it because we had to. BeyondCurious is an innovation agency that specializes in mobile experiences for enterprise clients. Mobile moves incredibly fast. In order to be an effective, viable, and integral part of BeyondCurious’ mobile design and development process, research has to be done in sync with the rest of the team. And the rest of the team, from strategy and design to development, works in two week, agile sprints.
It wasn’t easy, but we’ve adapted our research methods—from ethnography to UX research—to...