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Research & Design: Finding a Perfect Blend

Kim Dowd & Jen Briselli

Research Presentation

Research and design go together like peanut butter and jelly… or peanut butter and chocolate… or peanut butter and marshmallow fluff… come to think of it, peanut butter and research go with almost anything! Design can look very different from project to project, but research is always a core ingredient when creating great user experiences.

Sometimes it can be tricky to achieve the perfect blend of research and design. This is especially true when each is happening in completely separate, siloed teams, or even trickier, when they are being performed by the same person.

In our organization, we have a lot of experience finding that key balance between the benefits of separate teams and the advantages of close collaboration. We work to find the sweet spot in the middle of the research-design venn diagram, and we’d like to share our insights with you.

We’ll help you maximize the power of both design and research roles whether they’re sitting just across the office, in separate buildings, or inside the same brain. This talk will cover helpful tips and common pitfalls to avoid that we have found from experience to be keys achieving a goldilocks “just right” blend of research & design.

We will provide concrete examples to help you facilitate better research if you’re a designer, facilitate better design if you’re a researcher, and facilitate better collaboration for both roles. Some of the techniques we’ll highlight for researchers include understanding your designers’ process, learning & sharing their vocabulary, and understanding how to create applicable output that will improve designers’ work. Transitioning to a designer’s role, we’ll discuss how to avoid the “handoff & disappear” problem in conventional waterfall process, by being involved in defining goals early on and collaborating on recommendations throughout. We’ll touch on the various ways a designer can find opportunities for research beyond the typical usability study.

Ultimately these insights can help ensure both perspectives are represented in your client deliverables and the user experiences you create.

Hungry for more? Join us!

Timing Outline

  • Introduction: (5 min)
    • Who we are & why we’re here, and what we want to share
  • Research & design: peas in a pod (5 min)
    • We want to maximize the power of both but it can be difficult when its a one-person team or completely siloed departments
    • How to achieve a goldilocks “just right” blend of research & design
  • How to get researchers & designers pointed in the same direction (20 min)
    • If you’re a researcher, how to facilitate better design
    • If you’re a designer, how to facilitate better research
    • How to get the right blend
      • If you’re a one-man team
      • If you’re in separate siloed departments
  • Conclusion (5 min)
    • It’s a unified search for insights: dialectic, not rhetoric
  • Q & A (10 min)

The Researcher’s Quandry: Keeping Personal Beliefs Out of Research

Susan Mercer, Fiona Tranquada, & Meena Kothandaraman

Research Panel

As design researchers, we encounter participants who hold different beliefs and opinions from our own, that may span sensitive topics, such as different religious beliefs, cultural norms, or political views. In many situations, these tangential topics to our research goals can be sidestepped to avoid confrontation. This often means the researcher must skillfully guide the participant back on topic should these differences come to light.

Sometimes, though, these differences are at the core of our research focus or are inherently tied to our research outcomes. It can be very frustrating to talk with, let alone maintain objective non-bias, toward someone whose general worldview is the polar opposite of ours, or who is passionately opposed to ideals we hold dear. These kinds of core beliefs form our identities and cannot be entirely detached from our behavior or practice. This poses a challenge however, because as research professionals, we aim for objectivity and are trained to withhold judgment—to understand the implications of our participants’ beliefs only as they relate to our research goals where relevant. Our personal identities technically have no place in the realm of research.

Our challenge then, as researchers, is to maintain objectivity and balance when researching people for a specific goal. In real time, we are forced to understand the place that our own values and passions have, and indeed, whether they belong in the conversation at all. Using a panel of experience researchers and designers, we will further discuss this need for balance, and the constant drive towards equilibrium, by asking the following questions:

  • What techniques can be used to help keep the focus on research goals, and remain calm should the balance between objectivity and personal value go awry?
  • How can we empathize with our participants when they seem so different from our own values/beliefs?
  • What lines of questioning should we explore to understand the roots or implications of our participants’ differing perspectives?
  • How can we practice and be prepared for a situation like this?

This discussion will benefit anyone who researches people for the sake of furthering insight into a concept or specific product. Attendees will take away tips for better handling interviews, and possibly, gain a better understanding of their own motivations in handling these situations.

Timing Outline

  1. Introductions – 5 mins
  2. Example stories of these research situations – 10 mins
  3. Q&A Panel Discussion – Sample Questions: 25 mins
    1. What techniques can be used to help keep the focus on research goals, and remain calm should the balance between objectivity and personal value go awry?
    2. How can we empathize with our participants when they seem so different from our own values/beliefs?
    3. What lines of questioning should we explore to understand the roots or implications of our participants’ differing perspectives?
    4. How can we practice and be prepared for a situation like this?
  4. Audience Q&A – 15 minutes

Are Mega Menus Really all that Heroic?

Heather Bauer
Design Presentation

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? What if you have a feature that a user can’t find – does it really exist?

Hero menus (more formally known as mega menus) have become increasingly popular for large sites with many sections and pieces of information to put all of the options in front of the user at once. E-commerce sites such as Amazon.com, Staples.com and Target.com all utilize mega menus to display more context and additional levels of navigation. The question becomes whether these mega menus are going to become the best choice for all websites or whether there is still place for the standard drop down, fly out, and accordion menus. Jakob Nielsen may have blessed the mega menu but is it really the most usable of the options in your situation?

During this session I will cover:

  • The differences between mega menus and other navigational menu structures
  • When is the best time to use each type of navigational menu structures?
  • How do you determine your navigational needs?
  • What implications are there when considering the mobile first mindset
  • Does your navigational structure introduce a paradox of choice?

Who will benefit:

  • Anyone building or revamping information architecture
  • Anyone deciding where to put that new page they are designing

Timing Outline

  • Introduction – 5 mins
    • Who am I?
    • Who is in the audience?
    • Philosophy
    • Agenda
  • Information Architecture – 5 mins
    • Introduction to the topic
    • Information scent
    • What users need to know
    • Why users visit your site
  • Research – 8 mins
    • How to do organization
    • Types of research
      • Card sorting
      • Sitepath diagramming
      • Task analysis
      • Sitemapping
      • Journey mapping
    • Forces at play
    • Roadblocks
  • Navigation – 5 mins
    • Types of navigation
    • Pogosticking
    • Crabwalking
    • Faceted classification
  • Navigation Design – 8 mins
    • Navigation locations
      • Top
      • Left
      • Right
    • UI
      • Mega menu
      • Breadcrumbs
    • Sub navigation best location
    • Hover vs. click
    • Absent navigation
    • Search
    • Navigation for wayfinding
  • Other thoughts/conclusions – 5 mins
  • Q&A – 9 mins