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Ambient Research

Using Redundancy to Share Product Insights

I recently interviewed members of the Vox Media audience to understand how they follow the news. While most everyone visits our various sites from time to time, plenty of readers use Twitter and Facebook to filter and keep up with everything; others rely on Google Play Newsstand and Apple News. Many readers mentioned podcasts and videos, while a few depend on newsletters to catch up on things they might have missed elsewhere.

With such a diversity in news consumption habits among our readers, it’s incumbent on our product team to serve them where they are, in the formats they prefer—video, social, website, newsletter, whatever.

The same spirit applies to sharing user research with my product team colleagues. As the only product team researcher, I want my work to reach all corners of our organization; I need my work to take multiple shapes and appear in multiple outlets.

Because we work asynchronously, I’ve found that redundancy is crucial in sharing my user and product research. At Vox Product, we rely on Slack for most conversations, buttressed by a constellation of apps and services for meetings, documentation, and support.

But Slack is ephemeral—it’s too easy for something important to slip by. By peppering my work in multiple Slack channels and elsewhere, I try to create an ambient awareness of research across our product team.

Creating ambience

For example, I recently conducted usability tests of a new feature with some members of our different editorial teams. Here’s how I documented this single project with my colleagues across multiple channels.

During daily standups, I talked about the status of the usability testing. After each individual test, I shared quick takeaways, bugs, and insights as bullet points in a dedicated Slack channel for my immediate work group, i.e., the folks building the thing I’m studying.

After completing the entire slate of testing, I compiled all the test takeaways into a concise, company-accessible Google Doc. This short doc includes recommendations, insights, some background on the project, project goals, a list of the participants, and the methodology.

I then shared a link to the Google Doc in multiple Slack channels:

  • I shared it with my immediate teammates in a documentation channel. They saw the piecemeal takeaways after each test; now they can see all the test findings and recommendations in one spot.
  • I shared the report in my product team channel, visible to the entire organization. This gives folks working on other projects a chance to see what my team is up to.
  • I shared the report in a Research channel. I do this so colleagues can discover and see how I’m tackling all types of user research. By documenting my methods (including recruiting messaging, interview questions, and usability testing scripts), I make the entire process accessible to and achievable by others.

Ultimately, I want colleagues on my immediate team—and across the entire organization—to see that research is the default, is a fundamental part of a user-focused product team, and fits into every project and any workflow.

Research is the default

By showing my work everywhere and often, my colleagues see that research isn’t a “when we have the time” activity—it’s habitual and ongoing. Ideally, every project should bake in research.

Research is fundamental to product development

Research informs design and development, which begets discussion, collaboration, further research, and iteration. By creating feedback loops between the product and its users, we’re able to build the right product for the right audience with confidence, and react quickly to feedback. For designers and developers, research gives shape and necessary constraints to projects, ensuring we don’t waste cycles building the wrong thing.

Research fits into every project

Product schedules are in a state of flux—design might take longer than expected, things break, users have serious concerns. Research efforts need to fit into this environment where we lack clean start and end dates. By demonstrating that research is adaptable, I try to convey that there’s no excuse not to research.

The payoff

By sharing research everywhere, it becomes routine. It also becomes noticeable when it’s missing. Now members of other teams ask me how to incorporate user research into their practices.

I can’t be sure how or where someone might find research documentation specifically, but by sharing research redundantly, our research practices reach and inform the widest possible audience—just like our stories.

Recommendations

To create an ambient awareness of research in your organization, try starting with these steps:

  1. Share early and often. Sharing notes with your colleagues after every usability test and interview is an opportunity to close the loop between users, design, and development.
  2. Be redundant. Share your information anywhere it might get noticed. Unseen research is wasted research.
  3. Show and tell. It’s not enough to show your findings; document your processes, methods, and rationales. Make the practice of research—not just research findings—accessible to everyone.