A few years ago I was set the task of establishing user research into our methodology. Starting from scratch led to several iterations of how we approached our work. We found a trend that started to emerge. We would learn the most about our work at a particular stage — passing on the outcomes to other teams and clients.
There’s two reasons why we learnt so much here:
- When it comes to presenting the outcomes, the spotlight is on you. It’s an opportunity to enlighten others — expectations can be high. Big occasions lead to big learnings.
- For some organisations the idea of user centric design might be ambiguous or too ambitious. It’s the chance to win over skeptical minds.
Three categories emerged from our journey:
- Knowing your audience
- Communicating findings
- Designing findings
1. Knowing your audience
We had a consultancy presentation with an important client for the business. The team didn’t get introduced to the decision maker. We hit a few bumps. She stopped us on numerous occasions as our assumptions weren’t accurate. Without getting to know who we were working for, our lines of inquiry were off beat.
User research is all about improving empathy with other people. But how can the outcomes make an impact if you don’t know anything about the people who need to absorb the information?
Preparing a presentation requires the same mindset you would have enlisted to improve user experience. Finding out how your audience interprets data can succeed in determining what narrative will hit the right tone.
From the outset you should be getting to know your audience. Preliminary conversations should reveal a lot about how they want to receive data. Listening to their language and terminology will give you a sense of how you will need to communicate:
- If you hear a buzz word you should frequent it in your research. It will inject familiarity and let the reader concentrate on more important things.
- If you’re dealing with two different personalities then try and identify a common ground between them.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a sponsor or advocate of your work sitting across from you — make the best of it. This person will be ideal to run through a draft with to begin with before the real thing.
2. Communicating your findings
Our agency was given a rather abrupt deadline. Our team felt the pressure and overworked to find brilliance. When it came to it, we had a pile of ideas. What let us down is that they could only stand apart. Fragmented, they couldn’t make an impact. They didn’t lead to something the client could find common ground with.
Research can be read on different frequencies. When it comes to talking about it to an outsider it’s possible for them to view it as a scrappy assortment of statements. Something needs to be done to make sense of it.
This is where a narrative comes in. Not just a structure of your presentation but a holistic view on the how the research contributes to the project.
The narrative should be front and centre from start to finish:
This will be the structure that injects focus and improves readability.
3. Designing your findings
Once you have a strategy to support a narrative, you can start thinking about how you can deliver it. To straighten things out we can split this into three subjects:
Appropriate visualisations can go far in turning your findings into clear statements. You can rely on complex reduction as an ally to improve interpretation. There are several ways to simplify data and avoid paralysis by analysis:
- Limit data points — focus on trends and any interesting outliers
- Avoid over loading graph real estate with too many possible interpretations
- Employ the right graph type
- Be mindful of deceiving data scales. If it could be misinterpreted, provide a caveat
- Detail why certain parameters are used — why that date range? Why that dimension?
Decks can often take on two extremes; barely any material at all to a maze of diagrams and paragraphs.
There’s a balancing act to play that will succeed in articulating outcomes. Too little or too much won’t help anyone.
Divide your deck into 4 or 5 page templates. Use the templates to take your audience through a journey, rather than a point by point summary. A deck can do this by utilising way-finders that refer back to the main objective.
Arguments and insights will naturally materialise during iterations of research. Before shaping a platform to share the wisdom of your research — consider how each point can be translated into a bold statement. Each tranche of information will need to fit in the entire narrative.
Speaking about data
We were running through some usability testing sessions. The majority of our participants couldn’t find where to submit their contact details. This was a shock to our audience, they had used the website so many times before — it was so obvious! They thought that our participants were dim, distracted millennials. While they were dismissive, we reminded them that this was their exact target audience.
In a room of skeptical minds you’ve got to be more than sure that what you are arguing has a solid foundation. Clearly describe how each research method was deployed and the grounds for how the insights were drawn.
A stubborn mind is the most difficult to reach with research outcomes. What may seem fairly straightforward can seem controversial to them.
Before an outcome is shared, all the facts need to be solid and checked again. What worked well for us is that we considered what might be controversial to our audience and made sure we had grounds to back up the findings.
Ultimately you don’t want to run a data heavy subject without any structure or strategy. Before you get into the depths of any research take a step back, take a deep breath, and actually consider the bigger picture.
Well thought out communication and design can be used to make sense of the complexities of research data. Outcomes need to be precise and relevant to the overall objective. It’s a huge reward to know that the end of a sprint or project makes a lasting impression on all involved. The good thing for us is that we have the insights to make it happen.