Conference Program

The Advancing Research 2021 program is—surprise!—research driven. Our curation team has interviewed a variety of industry thought leaders to identify important opportunities to advance the practice of research.

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Opening Remarks

Theme 1: Researchers Thriving In The Organization

Research is at a crossroads; our customers are becoming more sophisticated and demanding, while at the same time, the quality of our work may be dragged downward by an influx of inexperienced people who do research. We struggle with systemic inequality baked into who does research and with whom—while a handful of Big Tech employers dominate hiring, and have an outsized impact on our society. And we’re still navigating how to be better at partnering with other research-connected functions. What is research in 2020, and how do we advance it in the face of these challenges?

What is the role of care in user research? Why is care the greatest superpower of user research research—not only in what we do but how we lead? In this talk, Etienne discusses the importance of inclusive leadership and shares lessons on leading through care. This session will help researchers leverage their research strengths for leadership as individual contributors, team leads, and people managers alike.

More and more researchers with no business or product backgrounds are in product research. In the day-to-day industry practice, we are called to march towards the same goal despite our different ways of knowing, talking, and past experiences. Failing to do so could lead to missing opportunities for innovation, reinventing the wheels, and building products that may pose risks to society.

When ‘thought worlds’ collide, what can we do to better understand and support each other? This talk answers the question by taking a closer look at the differences and similarities between research and practice, and offering lessons learned about communication and collaboration within diverse product teams made up of a mix of academic and professional disciplines.

UX practitioners are plagued by self-doubt. Do I have the right skills? Am I having impact? Does my boss believe in me? UX attracts gentle souls, who often struggle to stand up for themselves. I want every researcher on the planet to feel competent, valuable, and confident, so that they can tackle the big issues our world faces. I’ll teach attendees how to examine their own brains to see how their beliefs are the only thing holding them back. Using mindset tools from my coaching practice, we’ll create NEW beliefs that will banish imposter syndrome from our collective lexicon.

Check your cohort page for details.

How do we advance our professional practice, and decide where we invest in ourselves and our team? We start with a clear look at how our work is situated in the organization, and what it takes to build real impact through research. In this talk, Dave will walk through the core skill areas that researchers and research teams need to succeed in modern organizations, as developed from workshops involving almost 500 research practitioners. We will see how those skills evolve and support each other over time, and gain a new tool to ‘map’ a systems-view of professional growth, for individuals and for teams.

Break

Sponsor Session

Software companies love to talk about their shiny new features but very rarely we get to see the why or the principles behind some of their product decisions and how those decisions impact customer’s outcomes. In this session, Sofia Quintero, founder of EnjoyHQ will share the philosophy behind EnjoyHQ as a research repository and why it matters.

A situated practice for training, transforming and leveling up UX researchers in Latin America. I was frustrated with my efforts training new UX researchers. Hours spent on presenting theories, methods, analyzing them, and timidly practicing knowledge did not necessarily translate into the successful implementation of that knowledge in the practice. In the last two years, moving away from traditional learning, we have been designing, implementing, and analyzing a professional training strategy for UX researchers in Mexico and in Latin America.

Our approach balances:

  1. Training professionals without previous experience on UX research, our Practicing Learners path.
  2. Training professionals with two or more years of experience in UX design/research, our Learning Practitioners path.

We need more people with research skills in positions of influence and leadership in tech companies, but it can be difficult to feel like we’re succeeding in our roles, let alone growing into leadership. There is a lot to contend with—from the inevitable chaos of quickly growing organizations, or struggling to find “fit” when working with product teams, to ethical dilemmas about the unintended consequences of the technologies we help create.

Rebecca Buck will discuss the most prevalent areas of conflict she has seen lead to researchers leaving teams, companies, or distancing themselves from the title “researcher”. Through stories and examples she will cover common patterns of frustration and offer tips and frameworks for navigating issues of defining the role of research, championing quality, and increasing influence with stakeholders.

Break

How do we draw and navigate the boundaries around the ethics of story collecting and telling? As UX researchers, we collect stories through interviews—stories that connect us with others and communicate the core humanistic values of integrity, empathy, and respect. At the crux of the matter, is that these stories are not our own—they belong to our interlocutors. As we collect data, we are not passive listeners either—we also leave our imprint on these stories through interpretation and subjective insights.

Executive leadership typically requires leadership for the company or organization at large, not just of one’s team or functional discipline. While my day job is leading a team responsible for delivering work and informing the product-making process, I’ve also had to weigh how much to apply the researcher mindset to challenges and opportunities outside my team’s direct purviews. For example, do I point out methodological concerns in our company-wide surveys? Or do I challenge other teams to cite the unnamed “data” used to define decision-making outside of my team’s scope. And how do I remember that pointing out problems always comes with the obligation to help solve them? I will share how I navigate the challenge of leveraging my research skills and energy – and that of my team – without cannibalizing or de-prioritizing the product-related work of my team.

Wrap up

Opening Remarks

Theme 2: Research as Applied and Evolving Practice

We’re great at listening and empathizing, but those qualities can become millstones in business settings that require advocacy, assertiveness, and persuasion. We are often isolated in teams, which may limit our ability to learn and grow. How might we develop our skills and our team’s skills to become strong, valued partners in our organizations—while maintaining the attributes that enable us to make sense of the complexity around us?

A multidisciplinary research team needs a well-crafted framework to guide their behavior, nurture their growth, and cultivate their culture. Otherwise, they feel stuck in growth and unmotivated to collaborate. Through a participatory design, the authors established a three-pillar excellence framework at Uber. First, it focuses on the research impact on product experimentation, products, roadmaps, and the company/organization. Second, it promotes creative research methods that successfully prioritize work, produce and scale rigorous insights, and empower other researchers. Third, it recognizes true partnership cross functional teams and beyond their own product area. This framework worked well at Uber for years, and recently was applied by the authors in Booking.com and Course Hero with some modifications. As this starter framework, they hope all researchers and research leaders can build their own ones based on their situations.

Netflix’s documentary “The Social Dilemma” shined a harsh spotlight on how design patterns and advertising targeting developed to encourage engagement and tailor content to users’ preferences have dangerous, far-reaching consequences. We will discuss:

  • What role can researchers play in mitigating negative social and personal impacts during the design process?
  • If we discover evidence that a design solution to a business goal negatively impacts customers’ lives, how might we help our design and product partners consider a different solution?
  • What is the responsibility of researchers to determine how products we’ve already launched affect our customers’ lives?

Cohort Check-In

Check your cohort page for details.

As a Research Strategist, Chris is frequently asked “What is Research Strategy?” Let’s start a conversation that defines this practice and develops its approaches. Research Strategy brings processes and frameworks to bear to ensure that an organization’s research activities are deliberate, effective, and aligned with business objectives. Notably, it is not just the purview of research leadership! All of us are already engaged in this work, but we haven’t been talking about it as such. Chris will present his work in this area and invite others to join him in evolving this emerging practice.

Want to help make better product decisions? You’ve got to combine qualitative human insights from user research with data analytics and experimentation. Too often research questions are “sent to the team that can answer them best.” Questions about how many users do something goes to analytics, questions about which design might work better goes to user research. But what if you partnered with those other teams to answer the questions together? In this session Marieke will share how, as a qualitative UX researcher she’s partnered with analysts to identify high-growth opportunities and gain a deeper understanding of users.

Break

A story about how to quantify and use survey data to create audience clusters that are statistically representative of the people that use your online product or service. Edgar joins the dots between multiple research/pattern finding/storytelling techniques, such as proto-personas, affinity mapping, survey creation, quantification of qualitative data, organic clustering of audiences, user interviews, journey maps, and business modeling canvas. It makes research tangible and actionable: instead of being an end-point that provides stakeholders with insights, it takes stakeholders through an inclusive and structured process they can be part of.

Break

Artificial intelligence (AI) has graduated from science fiction to commoditized widget form, readily able to snap into many processes of daily life. Hence, enterprises of all maturity levels are increasingly eager to explore AI’s roles in their innovation, or outright survival strategies. Concurrently, ethical and responsible development and execution of AI-based solutions will increasingly become critical for purposes of safety and fairness. Ensuring that AI proliferates along the right path will require the infusion of multi-faceted research activities along the entire AI lifecycle. We will discuss the challenges and opportunities regarding this topic in this presentation.

Wrap up

Opening Remarks

Theme 3: Research Impacts the Organization

Characteristics like race, ethnicity, gender, and disability status can have a significant impact on how we experience the world, and how the world experiences us. In UX research, diversity is the first thing to vanish from the recruit when the going gets tough; I will talk about what we miss when that happens, and what researchers can do about it in their own practice. This presentation will demonstrate why a diverse recruit is imperative for a strong user research study, provide examples of what we miss when the recruit is homogeneous, and offering tactics for addressing the issue.

Overcoming stakeholder objections and positioning qualitative data as an input to business and product strategy. When stakeholders have access to real-time data about millions of user interactions, how can qualitative researchers articulate the value of small-sample studies for product and business strategy? In this case study, we’ll show how we used our insights chops to understand stakeholder motivations and concerns, and get qualitative research a seat at the table shaping Google Assistant’s 2020 strategy. We’ll share learnings about how human-centered researchers can effectively collaborate with functions like data science and business strategy, and how to persuade analytically-minded stakeholders to embrace rich qualitative data about people’s needs and motivations as an input to business strategy.

In large companies, we are seduced by OKRs, and, in general, growth. And it seems that to be “on the business side” researchers need to speak the same language, have the mindset that, to be strategic, you need to shoot for sales or growth. Although we agree that companies should have profits, for us this is a result, not a purpose. And, speaking of purpose, there is another kind of impact: research provides context and must be able to question the organization and its limits. This is the B-side of research impact.

Cohort Check-In

Check your cohort page for details.

Traditional design metrics and KPIs are often geared towards measuring product success. Dark metrics challenge this paradigm by proactively measuring the unintended yet harmful psychological, social, and physical effects of our technologies. The examples within digital health are plentiful. From accelerating burnout among clinicians to widening racial disparities in quality of care, we can only reach the height of our most courageous solutions when we expose our deepest failures.

Break

Our recent UX engagement on a federal grant focused on a challenge in Alzheimer’s research: Black, Hispanic, and/or Latinx people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease more frequently than their white counterparts, yet participate in clinical trials, particularly prevention trials, at a lower rate. We were tasked with solving “usability issues” that prevented underrepresented populations from participating in research. Predictably, we surfaced more about inequality than usability. In this talk, we will share some of the mistakes we made and lessons we learned about broadening the definition of usability. Additionally, we will discuss how we articulated systemic inequality as part of our usability findings, and how this experience continues to influence our thinking about usability, inclusivity and anti-racism in our present research endeavours.

Break

Wrap up