Alfonso de la Nuez on ‘Why and How to Democratize UX Research’
Alfonso de la Nuez, UserZoom’s Co-founder and Co-CEO, discusses how we now live in a world of digital experiences and in order for modern companies to survive, they need to democratize UX insights throughout the entire organisation.
In the following video and transcript of his talk at BetterUX London 2019, Alfonso takes a deep-dive into one of the key recent UX trends – the democratization of UX, highlighting how it’s necessary to empower teams throughout the organization to run their own research and surface UX insights, and how this collaboration between research, design and product can lead to better, more user-centric products.
In the meantime, take it away, Alfonso…
Hello, guys, how are you? Feels great to be here. I wanna, first of all, thank Tom and the whole marketing team for putting this show together, can we get a round of applause for them? It was just yesterday that it was only 30 people that were getting together, you know, and now we’re looking at 300 or 400 or however many we have, which is fantastic just to see the growth and the interest and the community, you know, how much it’s grown, that’s fantastic.
So, I’m honored, humbled and excited and proud to be here for sure. I also wanna give a round of applause to the speakers that are going to be speaking today. Thank you for joining us. All right, so are we ready to democratize the UX insights? Are we ready? Yes or no? All right, all right. So, I’ll talk a little bit about the “Why” first, why are we talking about democratization?
And so, what we’re seeing is that we live in this digital world and this digital experience world. It seems like everything, every time we interact with a company is through a digital experience. Is through an app or through a laptop or whatever, right? I used to know the person from UPS that delivered the goods to my home and I don’t anymore. I just look at the app and I look at the tracking number. And you know, everything is just digital, everything is a digital experience.
Now, what that means is that if you can produce a great digital experience, that’s going to help you be more successful in business. If you don’t, it’s going to hurt your business. And so, this is something that I think most of us here know but as we’re gonna see in a minute, it’s starting to impact the business, it’s starting to impact the bottom line. And the C-level executives are paying attention to this.
And I think that’s why we’re growing and why there’s so much demand and thirst for insights. Which means that every company is a digital company, and if not today, tomorrow, it will be. Every company will be a software company or is a software company, in some way or form or some time now or soon.
You know, even not just these, like the digital companies, they were born digital pretty much, but also these companies that are in all kinds of industries, insurance companies, banks, retailers, brick and mortar, all sorts. 3M or, you know, travel companies, of course, all of them are going through digital transformation. And while the early adopters have really paid a lot of attention to design and to UX, some of these other companies, you know, it’s taken them a little longer to get there. Okay? But they will and we’re seeing the trend.
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UX is a huge part of digital transformation, basically. That’s what we’re seeing today. You don’t have to just have great, you know, enterprise grade back-end, you have to have fantastic consumer grade front-end as well, whether you’re in B2C or B2B, doesn’t matter.
So, let’s talk about these companies over here. Marc Andreessen is one of the most famous and successful venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. And he was also the founder of Netscape back in the day. How many of you remember Netscape? Yeah. All right, we’re all pretty old. So, he says something about four or five years ago, in short, software is eating the world. And this is kind of what we’re talking about here. If software is eating the world, user experience is breakfast, you know, or whatever. It means that software is taking over and basically, we do everything through software.
Now, these companies that I’ve listed here, this is just a few that followed Apple in being very design-centric, and really caring about design and implementing user-centered design practices, and certainly having large teams of designers and researchers. And these guys have a few things in common. One of them is valuation. Many of these companies are valued at a billion or 2 billion or more, and some of them are going public, like Lyft just announced they’re going public, Uber, of course, we all know about Slack. I mean, Atlassian, Grubhub, all these companies are extremely, extremely valuable.
The other thing they have in common is that they have, you know, chief design officers, they have a big research team, they really care about design. And they’ve actually so much so that they’ve made UX actually a competitive advantage because they own the experience.
They might not have a hotel like Airbnb, they might not own a car like Uber, but they have the experience and because everything is software, guess what? They are actually the ones that own that, that relationship with the customer and therefore they’re valued so much. And of course, the other thing they have in common is revenue. They bring in a lot of revenue.
So, great UX, as McKinsey & Company says, great UX equals great business. Meaning that if you design, if you invest in design, as McKinsey has proven here with this study that they came out with recently, it actually shows that if you are investing in design, in great design, great UX, it’s actually paying off in financial performance. So, that’s what gets all the C-level executives interested in this. And that’s why we’re seeing such growth and hunger for UX insights today.
Now, if you don’t invest in UX, or if you don’t do testing, if you don’t try things with users first and you release to the market, then you have issues. And this is what happened to Snapchat last year, big redesign, and they got all kinds of bad reviews, right, and social media. Now they fixed it afterwards but that week, actually, it was so bad that it even had an impact on their stock market, actually, so on their stock value. So, more about, you know, why this matters.
Again, I’m just showing you slides on why UX is getting so big. I deal with Forrester and Gartner pretty much weekly. I thought about it last year, and I was like, “I think I wanna educate these guys on what this is all about.” You know, they don’t really get it and I’m the one paying, they should be paying me because, you know, I’m giving them all this information, but it’s a good relationship.
You know, I’m trying to get their analysts to understand the value of everything that we’re doing here, you know. And so, the good news is that both Gartner and Forrester are actually covering UX, they used to do a lot more CX and now they’re moving towards UX quite a bit and there’s a ton of materials. This is just the list that I got from an email from my account manager at Forrester of papers and talks and things that they’re doing this year.
And one that is not showing here is in November, I think it is on October, November, they have what they call CXSF, which is basically a customer experience conference but the title for and the theme for this year is User Experience Design. So, a lot of the CX people are looking at UX, and they’re saying, “You know, maybe UX is important as well, not just CX.” That’s a whole, you know, separate debate, but UX is definitely here.
All right. So, we can definitely conclude that end users expect, not just want, but they expect easy. And again, this is true for B2C and for B2B, but here’s the thing, easier said than done, right? It’s really, really difficult to design great experiences, it is getting more and more difficult and it’s more competitive and that you have to support different devices. I get it. I mean, it’s extremely hard.
So, one of the things or one of the best things we can do to help designers do their job is to provide them with insights, to run more user research, so you can inspire design and optimize or correct whenever there’s a chance to correct, or get it right from the first time. So, to us, we look at it and we say, “UX research is now more of a must than a nice to have.” And I think it’s going to be… we’re gonna see a lot more research happening in the near future.
Now, yeah, I’m sitting here telling you let’s do more user research, but it used to be pretty painful, right? Or it still is. If you’re in the lab, you know, it’s time-consuming, it’s costly, it’s slow, it’s limited. If you run a lab, it makes it a lot more difficult, for sure. And I understand that because before UserZoom, I co-founded a consulting company and we were in the lab all day. And it was difficult, it was tough, it was slow and costly, all of these things.
And today we have a lot of companies moving towards Agile development. And so, a lab and an Agile development, they’re not best friends, right? We can’t move as fast as we’d like. So, that’s a challenge. And then in this slide, I have more challenges from our recent survey that we put together. And here’s the top four challenges that we saw, securing budget, integrating research into the development and the design and development process.
Once again, it’s all about speed, getting the executive buy-in, and then, of course, sourcing the participants, which is probably the biggest pain for researchers. And so, yeah, we have challenges, but I think we have a situation now where we are in a better position to conduct research than we used to be. Fear no more. We have technology, and again back to Marc Andreessen, talking about software eating the world, but again, technology is eating the world as well in research, because we have kind of like a cloudified lab. We have technology enabling this, and UserZoom is one of those vendors. There’s other vendors out there, and what we’re doing is we’re automating the process, the research process, we’re putting it up in the cloud, so that we can be faster, we can make things easier, faster, collaborative, scalable, and, you know, kind of meet those Agile design and development sprints that we were just talking about.
And what we’re seeing with this is that this is kind of like the way that because we’re producing insights in such a fast way, and because we can collaborate because everything is in the cloud and you can share everything, then what happens is that you have this so-called democratization of UX or user research.
The benefits of this is, you know, kind of the opposite of what we just saw in the picture in the lab, right? You have a user that can participate anywhere, at home or at work. And so, you can make it cost effective. So again, back to the budget issue. Now, research is a lot more cost effective than it used to be. I think it’s very important that you make it an ongoing thing. We’ll talk about culture in a minute. It’s very important that UX research is embedded and is part of the design process, not just something that you do once in a while.
You know, we have corporations that have users all over the world. So, it’s great to be able to do it remotely and so, you know, locate participants that are all over the world. And we’re gonna talk about this later for sure, right Brooke? And this whole thing about Agile, you need results fast. If designers and developers are going…and product managers, if they’re going to listen to the researcher, if they’re going to actually use it and if the insights are gonna be actionable, is if we’re able to collect those insights fast so that you can again embed it into the design sprint.
So, this is ideal for today’s Agile development, and if UserZoom by the way, as the founder, as a co-founder and CEO, if we’ve grown quite a bit in the last few years is because of this. Is because we’ve benefited from companies going Agile, which is what I was gonna show you here.
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So, what I’m seeing, you know, in the market today is this industry that I like to call it the Digital Product Experience Management Ecosystem. It’s kind of a long word, long sentence. But we’re seeing a lot of companies and we’ve seen product managers are kind of like the new kings of the hill and they’re being offered a ton of software applications for them to manage.
You know, product managers are like mini CEOs, and they have to manage these properties, these digital properties. But they have a ton of different tools, you know, for designers, for researchers, for the product managers to get analytics. And so, this whole process, this Agile process, you know, has different stages. And there’s a ton of companies across this stage, these are just some examples. There’s probably another 10 or 20 that I can paint here, each of the stages.
So, these are just a few examples of companies that I wanted to highlight with you. You know, we at UserZoom, we use our own product, of course, we drink our own champagne. That’s why we have the research team out there doing research today, for sure. We also use products like Pendo and we used to use Gainsight, you know, Atlassian, for sure, Envision. So, we at UserZoom have a product team and we have our own research team as well, just like any other company, just like you guys. And, you know, UserZoom is providing insights across multiple stages of the product lifecycle here.
This is an industry guys, this is an industry, is growing really fast, I think it’s gonna get bigger and bigger pretty soon. Now, Tom mentioned something that I think is really, really important, right? Is that, yeah, there’s a lot more research coming but we have to be careful and bad data can be worse than no data.
So, education is really, really important. And I think that kind of like with music, you can’t stop the fact that automation and software is allowing more people to do research. Personally, I’ll tell you that, I think it’s good news, I think is great, that there’s more research, because the more insights you collect, the more you reach out to your users, the better, but we have to be careful with the quality of those insights.
So, I think what’s really important is education, training, and culture. I think that researchers that know how to do research should be facilitators, educators, enablers, or the design and development teams or for the product managers. I think that’s just the way things are going, I think that’s what I’m seeing in large companies in the U.S. And I think that if we don’t do that, then we have the risk of running a lot of research but collecting insights that are not valid or not high quality, and making wrong decisions. But I think that that combination is really good.
In our side, we actually because we believe in this because we firmly believe in this, even though we’re a research company, and we have our own research software platform, that makes things very easy. We figured the best thing we can do is, is put together a learning, an LMS, a learning management system, we call it the UserZoom Academy, and we make it free for everybody to access and learn how to do research. I believe in this project very, very much.
I’ve invested a lot of my personal time on it, I think it’s totally strategic and we’re gonna make something big out of this academy this year and next year, for sure. But I think that beyond this, of course, within the organization’s, once again, research teams, they need to be educating and they need to help spread, you know, the knowledge on how to do research.
And this is kind of like what I was talking about earlier about culture. I really believe that democratization of UX research helps build UX research culture. At the end of the day, you know, the culture is very difficult to change, very, very difficult, especially in large corporations, very, very difficult. And so, one of the best things you can do is share the insights, show why you’re making this decision, why you’re changing something or why if something doesn’t work, and you need to change it, you know, why is it important.
Some people are still today…some managers they still need to be convinced of why this is important, why good design is important. And research is definitely something that, you know, they might not really care about that much. But if you can spread, if you can show those videos and those statistics and show the before and after and do some benchmarking, and really prove that, you know, you can make positive changes to your website, that’s really going to help.
And so, I think the democratization of UX research is part of the building of the UX research culture, and ultimately is going to end up in better design better products, and ultimately, business success. This is a quote that I got from Jonathan Horowitz in a presentation that I really liked. And I really believe that this is a great way to define a UX centric or user-centric culture, as he called it. An environment where discovering and discussing customer insights is an ongoing cross-department activity, which steers the product service strategy, I think that’s perfect.
And then how do we do this at UserZoom? Are we actually drinking our own champagne? Yeah, we are. We do quite a bit of research, we have basically a research team within the product team that works very closely with the design team and with the product managers, developers. We’re getting better at it.
To be honest with you, this was not something that we used to do well in the past. This is something that we’ve gotten better at in the last few years, our software was not the easiest software to use. Today it’s a lot, lot better than it used to be. So, we are an example, just like probably many of you guys. You know, we’ve done a lot of research and we’re also building relationships.
So, I was just actually talking to Rose, one of our researchers who comes from Google and she was telling me all about how she’s talking to sales and she’s talking to customer supports and building relationships. It’s really important that you don’t work in silos. You know, don’t stay out there in the corner and do your thing and just ship the insights. Talk to people, get out there and mingle and listen to, you know, the business strategy and the business needs. Understand what it is that the company wants to do, what is the actual strategy? If we can combine research, design and business strategy, I think you get the best of both worlds.
So, build a relationship with other teams. Sharing is caring. So, one of the things that we’re doing is we’re, as I said earlier, we collect these videos and these charts and these testimonials and, you know, heatmaps and things like that, or you can collect through UserZoom, and we put it in a folder where every employee at UserZoom can see and can actually watch those videos if they want to. This is most important with the PMs and development team, of course.
But what I would like to do is, I’d like every executive at UserZoom to actually go through this and watch those videos. And so, I’ve asked the research team to put together kind of highlights so that you don’t sit there and watch, you know, a whole lot of videos or have to go through a full report. But even if it’s just highlights, everybody in the organization should be looking at those on at least monthly basis at the very least, if not a little more often.
So, you know, again, through the democratization of research, because everything is in the cloud is much easier to do that. And that’s what we’re doing at UserZoom. Another thing to share with you guys is something that you might have thought about is the difference between how you actually organize your company and your research. You know, this is something that I got from Forrester. So, Forrester, you know, really thinks about how, where in the organization, the research team sits, it’s very important and when they do research. But the differences between a centralized and an embedded or hybrid model, you know, I think it varies based on how big the company is, and also how mature the company is. My personal preference from what I know in my personal experience, so this is just personal, but I think it’s best if you can do embedded research.
So, every product, every PM, every design team from every different property in the organization, has a researcher as part of the team, okay? Now, you may have also a centralized research team that works on other things that may be more strategic for the company, and they should connect and they should talk to each other, right? The embedded teams and the centralized team.
Now, in many cases, here it might be like maybe it’s overkill, maybe I’m talking about something that you would like to do, but you only have maybe one or two researchers and that’s already great. So, if that’s the case, and obviously, starting with a centralized team is the way to go. But as you grow and as you mature, this is something that you may wanna consider, is having an embedded or hybrid mode. And Forrester has interesting information published on this and how other teams are doing it if you’re interested.
So, you can see it at Forrester and if you need the actual link or if you need the paper, we can get it to you. All right. So a few more slides here. This is what MailChimp does. So, how many of you here have your personas well defined? Not that many, huh? Okay. So, building your persona and defining who your target audience is very, very important. And what these guys at MailChimp do is they actually define it and they create posters and they put them on the walls in the office. So that you can, every time that you come in and you sit in your workstation, you know that those guys are the ones that you’re designing for, or you’re doing research for, or you’re, you know, targeting as a business. And so, that’s the link right there from what I picked up this picture, and MailChimp has plenty of literature and articles about how they go about this.
And then the last thing I will say is that, you know, it all starts from the top. I’m a firm believer that, you know, if things run well or if things don’t run well, you know, the leaders, we have to take responsibility, full responsibility for it. If things don’t work well, something maybe we’re not doing right, the leaders, right? So, it starts from the top. And I know that, you know, we weren’t doing things well just a few years ago and we’re now doing way, way better as far as our own product.
But if you can convince management, it’s gonna make things a lot easier. And one of the best ways that I’ve seen is through UX benchmarking and competitive benchmarking. So, you can show, you know, how you’re doing as far as UX versus your competitors, that’s a great way to start and show that, “Hey, we gotta improve here or maybe we don’t, we are the leaders,” that’s great. But if you’re not, why? And who is the leader and why are they ahead of us? So, convincing the management team is important.
Now, I’ll tell you that in defining the metrics and benchmarks, by the way. I’ll tell you that in my case, I’m doing a whole lot to get those insights spread across our organization. You know, we’re not that big, we’re only 200 people at UserZoom. But we’re very spread across in multiple countries and some people are, you know, very UX savvy and they have been in UX for a long time, and others have not. Because, you know, when you grow and you scale, some people may not be as familiar with all these concepts. And so, I’ve made it part of my personal goals as a CEO to spread insights, to spread and to basically do everything that we can using our own product, even if it’s, for instance, HR asking for where to go for a Christmas party. Well, we’re not gonna go just because somebody decides it. We’re gonna go because we do a UserZoom survey, and we’re gonna get a vote, right?
And that’s how we’re gonna end up picking something or whether this vest is going to be black or orange, or it says whatever. We’re gonna run a survey on what are the preferences? Maybe the vest is very successful in California but maybe not so much here in the UK, you know. So, showing the insights. And this is just something silly that one of the marketing team members caught me doing, but that’s how I like to think about it. Show me the UX insights. Yeah. And so thank you very much and enjoy the event.
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