My top 3 learnings from UX Australia that I am excited to use today

March 25, 2019

Author: Annie Lee




I am a UX & UI designer that applies research as a core part of my design process, and I am always curious to know and learn about different research processes. Lucky for me, Arq Group gave me the opportunity to attend UX Australia – Design Research 2019 Conference, Australia’s UX event of the year.

Rohan Irvine, the UX researcher from REA who co-hosted the event, wrote a very sleek article summarising the event as covering three themes – Research as a practice, Research as a process and Research as a profession.

Even though the recurrent theme of the talks were quite clear, the topics that each speaker covered were quite diverse. Talks included co-researching and workshopping with non-designers, detecting lies, Google’s research van, gaining buy-ins and even compassion fatigue, no UX Research stone was left unturned.

It was inspiring to hear about Research from such a diverse range of angles and perspectives, but there is no way I can cover them all here. So in this article, I aim to cover the top 3 key learnings that I am super keen to try in my projects.

1. Set learning goals

In the talk by Nicola Rushton, she covered a few ways in which we could bring the whole team, along for the ride from a user research perspective. The five tricks she recommended were:

  • Set learning goals as a team
  • Have team members be a note taker in user interviews
  • Synthesise as a group
  • Revisit learning goals as a group
  • Do Research regularly

In ‘setting learning goals’, a neat takeaway and what stood out for me from the exercise that she has demonstrated was:

Step 1. Define your riskiest assumptions by this framework “If we’re wrong that__________, this idea will fail” E.g. if we’re wrong that users prefer to search for answers and browse through them, then this idea of having a search engine that only display the search field in the main page will fail.

Step 2. Gather your assumptions and measure these assumptions against – how right you think you are about these assumptions and how likely you will kill the idea if it’s wrong.

Step 3. Pick out the assumptions that you want to test, after seeing how it measures up and create questions, E.g. How do users look for and discover answers to their questions?

2. Read Social Context – do it always

The talk that Weidan Li, Researcher at Google, gave about Symbolic Interactions was one of my favourites. He gave examples of his findings in projects related to organisational learning and financial institutions to highlight the fact that social stories permeate through user’s interaction, emotional response, behaviour and experience with the product.

In his study focused on Chinese gen Y he conducted for a bank, he found out that genY’s concept of money is socially constructed – Gen Y’s motivation to save is shaped by what their parents have communicated with them throughout their lives, yet their spending patterns are highly influenced by their friends.

As a takeaway, Weidan encouraged us to try exploring the rich “human context” instead of only product pain points – take a few minutes to find out about their social context and influence. He also asked us not to ignore social context because they are not generating immediate solutions. They can be a source of innovation and fresh ideas in the long run.

"Understanding the social constructs of target users goes a long way in crafting experiences that they truly resonate with."

For example, there is this Chinese tradition of hongbao (red money envelope) which is indicative of the social meaning of money as a form of “gift.” Tapping into this social context, We chat created WeChat Red envelope that allows users to send money as gifts to their family and friends on their platform.

3. “My job is to help my team learn about users” – Caroline Jarrett

There were quite a number of talks that tackled team involvement, co-designing and gaining buy-ins for your user research. The one that I found most useful was the last talk by Nicole Fernandez (Researcher at Google), who went through 7 skills that she wished she learned as a User Researcher.

I felt like pretty much the first five skills she wished she had learned were all tips that I could use to help my team learn about users.

Here are her first five tips:

  1. Treat stake-holders like a user, empathise and try to understand their perspectives and build rapport.
  2. Always be collaborating with the team in every stage of the design
  3. Aim for quick wins to show the value
  4. Show; don’t tell – get stakeholders immersed in interviews, host workshops, show them videos or audios etc.
  5. Create engaging reports – tell a story and make it engaging to get people excited about the learnings

There were so many other learnings I have gained from this experience, but these were my top 3 learnings from Design Research 2019.

It was also exciting to see the whole community of Researchers get together to share knowledge and have meaningful discussions in that space. The talk that Brigette Metzler, Kate Towsey & Ruth Ellison gave about the journey that they went through involving a whole lot of researchers from all over the world to establish and set the foundations of the ResearchOps practice was quite a testament to how willing the community was to further these meaningful discussions.

Annie Lee is a UX/UI Designer, Arq Group