User research isn’t easy, but it’s worth it
As designers, we can easily skip ahead to proposing and designing solutions but to ensure we design the right thing, we need to make sure we speak to the users first.
It’s now been two full weeks working with Rival, a London studio, and our client Appsmith. Rival worked with Appsmith last year and is now working with them again to look at their current product and areas we can improve. For those who haven’t heard of Appsmith before, Appsmith has created a low-code framework that allows developers to quickly and easily create internal tools.
With the initial groundwork completed when I joined the project, I wanted to focus on the research. For any project I approach, I strive to meet the users as quickly as possible so I can understand a bit more about them before designing solutions.
Many companies don’t seem to see the value in doing research so working with Appsmith has been refreshing. Appsmith has been supportive of the research phase and I believe this is because they understand that the users are at the core of their mission. Appsmith is an open-source framework where users are consistently providing feedback and solutions to the code. Speaking with the community of Appsmith users is second nature to the internal team.
Why bother with research
My research was aimed at understanding the low-code tool space more from the perspective of the developer community. As a designer, I’ve worked with plenty of developers, which means I could easily be biased into thinking I knew what needs or pains they had. Getting to know the users, their day-to-day role and why they were using solutions like Appsmith, meant I could find out what frustrations they faced when creating an internal tool. Speaking with even a few users allows us to design from empathy rather than design for our assumptions.
Doing research is more complicated than online articles make out
When I first started learning how to do user interviews and research, I always struggled with analysing the information generated. While learning, I had read a lot online about the process of researching and carefully followed articles about how to categorise and tag interviews to generate insights.
In hindsight, these blog posts made it sound very straightforward, but the process can be pretty tricky. It’s not as simple as all the interviews matching and aligning, and that the same themes appear across each of them. For example, I’ve always found that the first interview was the most difficult because it sets the baseline for the themes you’ll compare the rest of the interviews to. After you’ve completed your second interview, you may have to go back to the first and reassess — easily enough a new theme from the second interview may now appear in the first.
Analysing interviews isn’t super simple, but that’s okay. Reviewing interviews is one of the biggest tasks in a piece of research. I’ve started to view the tagging process as a way for me to set themes and topics which I think are interesting or might be useful later. Yes, you may have two or more tags that feel very similar, or you might feel that you have a new compelling piece of data and don’t know which theme to plot it against. But iteration is our friend during analysis. Ideally, it’s best not to get too hung up on the tags or themes being perfect. There is never going to be a one-size-fits-all tag or theme across your interviews. People talk about things from a different perspective, or they might phrase points differently which causes overlap in topics.
You won’t find the perfect quote from users
When I started learning about how to analyse interviews, I assumed that I would find the key or super important pieces of information in a sentence when tagging them. I thought I’d be like, ‘that’s it, that’s perfect, and that shows exactly what we need.’ And in reality, what happens is you find pieces of information, things that people have said or done, which ties to your theme in varying degrees. Ultimately, the goal of tagging data is to help you quickly pinpoint significant pieces of information around a theme. Whether that’s something you do the same day or a year later, it’s purely a reference point that you can come back to.
Becoming at peace with analysis not being simple or easy has meant that I’ll look at all the interviews I’ve done more holistically. My process currently looks like this: I will create an insight usually formed of a single sentence. For example; “Users primary focus is functionality, and visual design is secondary.” Within that insight, I’ll write a summary of what this sentence means and provides more context. Then I will use a list of bullet points to evidence how I came to that conclusion. Sometimes this list includes quotes or several sentences paraphrased into a single sentence.
Dovetail has got you covered
When speaking with one of Appsmith’s designers, Momcilo, he told me about Dovetail’s tool for user research analysis. It’s something that I’ve seen floating around on Twitter before, but I’d never taken the time to look at its potential.
Now that I’ve been able to use Dovetail, it has changed the way that I analyse my interviews. I was able to make use of Dovetails free trial, and once I’d done one or two interviews, I was like, “this tool is fantastic, and I’m going to sign up today”.
Dovetail allows you to create several different tags, which you can colour code. You can also have a kanban style board which allows you to group tags into an overarching theme. You can also upload videos; once uploaded, you can use Dovetail to transcribe videos. The transcribe function has made my life so much easier as I’ve been running the interviews solo. I have been able to trust Dovetail to take excellent notes, so I can focus on speaking with the person I’m interviewing.
Dovetail also has a cool feature where you can view your tags in various chart formats, which looks really impressive. Lastly, you’ve also got the insights page. You can create cards per insight, and you’ve got the space to add in extra notes and images. With your insights, you can pin tags, video clips and highlighted text to evidence your statements.
The research is done, so what’s next?
Now that the research phase is complete, I will show Appsmith what I’ve been up to and present the findings. Delivering the insights back allows us to have a collaborative discussion to see whether anything was surprising to them. It also allows us to confirm or challenge the assumptions they had at the beginning of the research.
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