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Is Your Company Mature Enough to Learn from User Research?

I’ve worked on products that were great and ones that were kind of atrocious. And through both ends of the spectrum, I can confidently say that if you’re doing research right, what you learn will make you cringe.

  • You’ll learn that the person who rates you a 10 out of 10 uses less than a quarter of your product’s functionality.
  • You’ll watch someone struggle and mutter under their breath as they try to complete a task that is both critical and (YOU THOUGHT) simple.
  • You’ll see that, even when individual tasks are easy to do, it’s tricky to string them together.
  • You’ll see people who don’t struggle with your app at all — but also are politely but utterly disinterested in using it.

This took me by surprise the first few times I conducted my own user research, because I had seen other peoples’ slide decks, and those decks always painted wholly optimistic pictures: 6 out of 8 participants completed the task without hesitating! 7 out of 8 would ‘definitely’ use this app! Quotes like “really easy to figure out” or “would allow me to work a lot faster” sprinkled throughout.

Was I just doing it all wrong?

I can’t blame those early researchers: they feared (probably correctly) that their clients would shoot the messenger. If research brings unwelcome news, well, do we really need researchers after all?

It’s a sign of the maturity of a company — and I don’t mean maturity as in series B startup or Fortune 500 — how they conduct research and how they accept it.

About a month ago, one of the researchers on my team at Yammer shared a presentation on how mainstream users use our product. It was depressing.

It signaled that, for all the progress we’ve made, we have so much farther to go. And yet it made me proud to see that the engineers and product managers in the audience asked respectful questions and encouraged follow-up research so we could learn more. I didn’t hear mutters or complaints in the hallway. We might not have been happy to hear the feedback, but we didn’t attempt to reject it, either.

Of course there is an art to delivering bad news: one can’t simply dump a bunch of negative quotes and failure rates and drop the mic. But when I hear usability test readouts/see slide decks/read blog posts where every bit of news is good news, I cringe. Those are companies that have much bigger problems than a probably-unusable product.

Published in Uncategorized