9 essential tips from user research professionals

By Amy Kelly | April 6, 2022

When lockdown brought an end to in-person events in early 2020, UserTesting launched The Espresso Webinar Series to continue bringing thought leadership to customer experience (CX) professionals worldwide. 

In November of 2021, we aired the 50th episode with our guest, Anneke Quinn-de Jong from Philips. Previous guests of the series included CX author and influencer Adrian Swinscoe (check out his new book Punk XL all about Experience Leadership), Sandra González, Product Design Director of Not On The High Street and Founder of UX For Change, Michelle Lotia, Head of User Research at Trainline and many more leaders who are paving the way for better CX.

These leaders shared first-hand insights on everything from top tips for UX best practices, to how to communicate the value of the customer’s voice to internal stakeholders in order for change to be made. From these conversations, I’ve compiled the most interesting and practical insights and advice for CX professionals, of all levels.

1. Make planning a priority for all research

Any well-conducted research needs to be built atop a steady base of planning. By taking the time to carefully plot your goals and consider your strategy before research commences, you save time further down the line and ensure the best results.

Mapping out what you’d like to learn more about and keeping your goal grounded in reality helps to ensure research is headed in the right direction. 

A problem well-stated is half solved.

- Oli Mival, Global Head of Research and Insight at Picsart (previously Director of User research at Skyscanner), episode seven

Engage early with other departments who are involved in your research, but ask them the right questions. By understanding the problem they’re hoping to solve through research, you can then use your expertise and judgment to select the right strategy. Involving stakeholders early in the process makes them feel part of the process and increases engagement throughout the research and then when the insights are shared. 

2. Manage your time effectively

In the world of research, time is often in short supply. So it’s no surprise managing time and effective prioritisation were recurring themes amongst our guests. Head of User Experience at Lottoland, Lucy Neilson, highlighted the beauty of evergreen insights for time-poor researchers, as tools like journey mapping and personas can be returned to time and time again.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, the other vital part of managing your time is taking your time. Even when you feel stretched, allow for a buffer in your plans. Avoiding rushing can provide long-term benefits as you can proceed with more care and draw more insights from your work. As Alice Hayes, UX Research Manager at NatWest Group shared, researchers need to try their best to “be calm in the storm” and continue making strategic calls even when under pressure. 

3. Choose the right solutions

The solution you choose varies vastly depending on the goal, timeline, and budget for your research, but the important point highlighted by the professionals in the series was “balance”. All solutions have strengths and weaknesses and, as Stephanie McNee, Product Research Leader at Google said, when choosing yours you have to consider “what am I trading off?”

The pandemic has opened more eyes than ever to the potential of remote research solutions, in particular their ability to gather qualitative data through platforms like UserTesting in a way that is easily scalable and shareable. But for each research project, the solutions will need to be selected specifically to fit your needs and budget.

In an ideal world, you should be ensuring you manage a balance of solutions where you can deliver insights that are wide-ranging and gained at pace through quantitative methods, whilst ensuring you don’t lose sight of the human element and emotional depth of your research through qualitative methods.

4. Recruit the right people for your research

Once you have a problem in mind for your research to answer, a timeline and a solution selected, the next step is speaking to the right people to solve the problem. Through careful consideration of your exact end-users and customers, you can be certain to ask the right questions to the right people.

In the premiere episode of series three of The Espresso Webinar Series, WhatsApp Research Leader, Saswati Saha Mitra, raised the importance of not just engaging with participants who are easily reached. Instead, seek out those that are harder to attract, as excluding them means missing out on valuable insights from their demographic.

The participant recruitment process is often simplified through digital solutions. With a wider range of participants at your disposal, the ability to sort for specific traits easily and a global reach: technology has empowered researchers to target niche participant pools.

5. Build a positive testing environment

Getting the most out of your participants once you’ve identified them was an enduring tip from our research professionals. As Director of User Research at Monzo Bank, Katherine Vaughan shared, investing time to build rapport with them before jumping into your study helps to prepare both yourself and the participant for a great session. Building a connection allows you to draw out more evocative insights and richer stories.

Building a welcoming physical environment for participants that is conducive to helping them to share their thoughts ensures you get the most from them. This can mean minimising distractions but also includes taking the opportunity to engage in playful activities or games such as roleplay when these are useful in engaging those you’re speaking to.

Katherine also spoke about the power of keeping in touch with participants after the session. No matter the means for this, finding a way to keep highly engaged participants involved should they be willing to share further in the future can pay off when they think of additional insights after the session and feel comfortable enough to get back in touch and share them.

6. Always run a pilot test before jumping in 

Time and time again, my guests expressed the necessity of running a pilot before entering into fully-fledged research. Particularly when you struggle to gain resources, the thought of omitting this stage and diving headfirst into full research may seem tempting; but it makes significant savings in the long run by ensuring your tests are faultless before they’re conducted more broadly.

As Peter Grierson, Senior User Experience Researcher at Skyscanner flagged, researchers often get too close to their work and assume that participants will understand it too. But only through conducting a pilot can you be sure there is no room for misinterpretation, making any necessary tweaks before deploying widely.

7. Build your research from a business perspective

For those fascinated by research, there can be a tendency to get lost in your curiosity and lose sight of the business perspective. My guest Michelle Bejian Lotia, Head of User Research at Trainline, argued helping organisations make informed choices is the ultimate function of research. This starts with knowing exactly what business decision your research is informing.

This also helps to justify and communicate your research to other key business stakeholders. Although it might not come naturally, in commercial businesses it’s often necessary to highlight the power of research to bring direct cost savings to secure stakeholder buy-in.

While you may never be able to win over everyone, Eleonora Costamagna, Senior UX Researcher at TalkTalk, encourages you to accept varying opinions. Instead, seek out those who are open to research and bring them on board as ambassadors to create success stories, this, in turn, will help convert the skeptics. 


8. Communicate strategically

Many of my guests know the frustration of pouring your heart and soul into your research only to find it fails to make an impact on the business - so strategic communication is key.

Ensure stakeholder buy-in from the beginning by directly involving them, for example having them witness interviews or usability testing firsthand. Sparking interest early on ensures they’re receptive to hearing your final results.

Next, package your findings carefully because they have to capture the attention of very busy people. Simplify insights ruthlessly if you need to and share the top takeaways concisely.

OpenMoney’s Alex Jones and Zoopla’s Samantha Davies both urged researchers to carefully consider the chosen method in which you share your work, ensuring it is “visible, engaging and easy to consume”. Brief snippets of video can be a great way to highlight the human element behind facts and figures, and UserTesting’s platform allows for the easy distribution of video content from interviews. 

9. Embrace all teams as part of your process

Bringing those from outside of research into the process can bring unique perspectives. Wherever possible, taking the time to upskill and educate other departments helps to empower them to do their own research, making your workload lighter but also strengthening your relationships by helping them to understand both the potential and boundaries of research.

While time-consuming, the greater understanding the rest of your business has on research, the more enhanced their support of your work will be and the easier you’ll find your job. 

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About the author(s)
Amy Kelly

Amy is a marketer in the EMEA region. When she’s not working hard on promoting brands in EMEA, you can find her exploring Edinburgh’s culinary arts.