Versive logo
May 8, 2024
Designing better products with resourceful research
Guest Posts

Designing better products with resourceful research

How designers can use research to make better product decisions, even with limited resources.

This guest post was written by Leslie Luo. Leslie is a designer with 10+ years of experience working across early stage startups and large companies, including Uber, Fundera, Patreon, Milkbar, and more.

As product designers, identifying the right problems to solve and how to solve them requires not just intuition but also insight. Insights can come in various forms, such as quantitative data about product usage or qualitative findings from customer interviews.

Whether you're a design team of one or many, gathering insights can be intimidating and time-consuming. It's easy to understand why teams decide not to incorporate research into their design process.

Instead of forgoing it, let's chat about a few ways we can get creative to make insight-informed decisions throughout the product development cycle.

Research as a strategic shift in perspective

Teams often skip research for a few common reasons: it can be expensive, require specific expertise, and eat up precious time. It can be tough to balance these factors, especially when deadlines are looming.

But here's the thing: looking at research as a smart investment changes the game. When we gather both qualitative and quantitative data, we're not just guessing. We're building stronger hypotheses and making decisions based on solid insights, not just gut feelings.

Investing in research upfront also pays off big time. It saves us from building things that miss the mark with users, saving us headaches and rework later on. So let's dive into research with confidence, knowing it's our not-so-secret weapon for creating products that users love.

Let's take a look at a couple of case studies that illustrate how research can level-up your product design.

Case study: Fundera

How an up-front investment in leveraging existing customer insight via shadowing cross-functional colleagues, understanding customer data, and validating prototype concepts helps teams like Fundera execute more efficiently and understand the "why"s behind user interaction

At Fundera, while we didn't have a dedicated research team, we dove headfirst into understanding our users' needs. My days were filled with shadowing our sales teammates and absorbing valuable insights from their customer interactions. This hands-on approach fueled our initial development of a customized onboarding workflow that hit the mark with our users and their needs.

To back up our instincts, we delved into metrics using MixPanel and conducted user tests via UserTesting. These tests were game-changers, validating our hypotheses and guiding our product and design decisions in the right direction. This upfront investment of gathering insights allowed us to understand the "why" behind user interactions. This allowed us to more quickly refine our hypotheses, iterate on our product, and ship features that solved actual user needs.

This approach to research wasn't about following a flawless process. It was about using every tool in our toolbox to make informed decisions and create products that truly resonated with our users. By being resourceful and understanding our customers and data, we were able to more effectively experiment, learn, and craft experiences that made a real impact.

Case study: U.S. Federal Government

How the U.S. Federal Government leveraged hallway testing and A/B testing to update the highest stakes moment when someone calls the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: the hold music

Don't just take it from me. One of my favorite stories about research comes from Radiolab's "Hold On" episode. In the episode, hosts Lulu Miller and Simon Adler delve into a crucial issue: many callers to the National Suicide Hotline hang up due to the time it takes to connect with a qualified counselor.

During this waiting period, callers are subjected to hold music. The team wanted to understand whether this hold music had an impact on callers hanging up. So, they turned to research and testing.

Despite the constraints of a small sample size and regulatory limitations like the Paperwork Reduction Act, the team utilized hallway testing with around 8-9 participants, where they went around the National Mall in Washington D.C. and stopping bystanders to get their feedback. This scrappy yet impactful approach provided enough information to lead the team to run a countrywide A/B test. This test found a statistically significant increase in callers staying on the line, when the hold music was improved.

The example illustrates the power of using testing and research, even in resource-constrained situations, to uncover insights and drive actionable outcomes. It underscores the importance of starting small and applying creative methodologies even the largest issues.

Some actionable takeaways

Considering running your own research for your teams? Here are a few parting ideas that I would recommend:

By embracing these strategies and taking a hands-on approach to research, product designers can gain valuable insights, validate assumptions, and ultimately create products that better meet user needs and expectations. Keep experimenting, learning, and iterating to drive continuous improvement in your design process.

Leslie Luo

Leslie Luo, Lead Product Designer at Uber

May 8, 2024