AMA with Jennifer Trich Kremer, Ph.D., Strategist, Mentor and Senior User Researcher at Anthem
Last month on our UX community Slack channel, we hosted a live AMA with Jennifer Trich Kremer, Ph.D., Strategist, Mentor, and Senior User Researcher at Anthem. These are the highlights from our one-hour chat.
Over the past 20 years, Jennifer has been improving the user experience for the masses, working at companies where she’s directly impacted the user experience through design and research – whether it was taking manual processes and automating them for internal teams or making it easy to purchase a car or health insurance online.
In her current role, she spends her days researching the needs and wants of consumers in the healthcare space as well as evaluating how they interact with their health insurance company whether on a mobile phone through a website or call center.
Jennifer has worked for many companies during her career IBM, SDRC, Trilogy, Aon, most recently Anthem. During her career she spent five years at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College teaching human factors, human computer interaction and research methodology.
One of her more recent pursuits was building a business called Tech Made Easy which educates and empowers individuals on how to use technology to make their day-to-day lives easier.
Here Jennifer answers questions on building a formal research process from scratch, the key business skills for a UX professional and the value of a formal education in human-centred design.
(Please note, some edits have been made for spelling and clarity)
What are you doing to catalog your research and making it findable so that the learnings aren’t lost to the organization? [Mike]
This has been an interesting problem that I’ve been tackling over the last two years. Here is some of the evolution of the approach I’ve been working on with the team. But please note it is still evolving:
- Have all reports stored in a company-wide repository (so anyone can find a report at any time— in theory)
- Actually tracking your findings, what was fixed and what was not fixed— we did this in an Excel spreadsheet to start but we need to evolve
- Sharing the tracking with leadership to show where we are and are not moving the needle
That was phase 1.
Phase 2: Getting the results into a dynamic and searchable repository for researchers and designers. We have tried out one tool and it wasn’t bad but it didn’t do everything we are looking for. I will be looking at another tool Aurelius soon.
How do you generate and select your UX research questions? [John]
We have some standard questions and prompts that we use across studies. We also build questions based on the task. The art of building an unbiased question takes time and effort— sometimes this is forgotten. One rule I always apply is “don’t use the name of the thing, in the task description or test question”.
What’s worked well for your team in meeting with sponsors who fund your programs? [Joanne]
One thing that has worked really well is understanding the sponsor’s pain point and then working to incorporate the consumer’s needs and wants.
Another thing that has worked well is connecting our sponsors to the pain our consumers are experiencing. This could be by having them attend live or remote usability sessions, sharing verbatim comments with sponsors, or even running the sponsors through a usability study.
How would you go about changing the culture of a large organization that does very little UX currently and is known to be resistant to change? [Brian]
You have to have both bottom up and top down support. Sometimes organizations may not be ready and you may need to leave if you don’t feel like you can make a positive impact. Knowing when enough is enough is a good skill to hone.
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What would your conversation look like with UX/UI Designers to encourage them to conduct their own design validation studies? [Joanne]
I struggle with the term validation at times… if we are validating only, we are missing the boat. I encourage validating and invalidating the design or hypotheses. Test both sides (does it work, does it not work). I also think it is very hard for someone to test their own thing.
You can partner with them to build unbiased tests and unbiased analysis approaches and have them attend or try to moderate sessions.
How do you feel your academic research background has influenced your approach to UX (and what was your PhD topic)? [Pete]
First I will say that to be working in human centered design in technology, the PhD was not required. I did that for me (and for my academic pursuits).
The three things that have given me the most value are:
- The broad statistics training
- The broad research methodology training
- The continuous learner mindset
Which part of UX will continue to have value in future? Research, Interaction design, UI design, Content or anything else? [Hermant]
Right now I would have to say all of it. We have gone from a general discipline to more specialized skill sets. It will be interesting to see how the roles evolve with the use of voice and gesture for interacting with devices as well.
Would you share a story of a research project/effort you’re most proud of? [Bethany]
One of the things that I am most proud of actually isn’t a research project it is something that came in a text to me the other day. I had an old student tell me that when asked at an event “is there someone in your life who totally changed your life for the better” they said it was me.
I think the biggest most powerful impact I can have is not in the individual projects that I work on but the sharing and mentoring of knowledge to others. The most others are excited about this field the more change we will see.
I have the opportunity to help build a formal research process – where is the best place to start when it comes to taking a company from basically zero user research to doing more qualitative/exploratory/generative research? [Bart]
There are lots of places you can start but you are definitely on the right track with small wins. You want to ensure that each research task/activity that you add is providing value and you are able to show it. If your leadership values X then make sure the approach you start with measures X and shows how you can improve X.
I have worked with multiple teams over the years at various stages and when you are able to understand ‘what is in it for them’ and drive your approach around that you build support more easily and quickly.
Wins for the other can include (1) Saving money (2) Solving an unsolvable problem (3) Reducing time on task (4) Increasing sales.
What are the top topics people should focus on when studying user research? Should one gain more theoretical knowledge and then apply it through practice, or start from practice? [Nikita]
I prefer the broader research domain approach. You can start with a specific skill or technique but feel you also need to broaden your knowledge to understand other techniques and approaches— even if it is just to allow you to say— we don’t use that technique here because it doesn’t work/measure what you are interested in.
My best example is knowing when to use a mean vs. a median. You don’t have to use both but you better know when to use one versus the other. Hint: if you really like the mean then always include the standard deviation— it tells you how much your results vary and therefore how much to trust them.
Have you witnessed a shift in the field from user-centered design to visual/UI design? If so, what does that mean for research? [Mike]
I think we will continue to see shifts as different skills evolve and are valued differently by organizations. One other shift I see is the development of Service Design and Consumer Experience Teams— when I started all of that was in my space but now it is separating out and people are developing more specialized skills.
Many top companies are laying off the degree requirements from jobs and adding an option of ‘or relevant exhibited work experience’ especially in software development roles. Which aspects of UX research, design, content or others do you expect to follow a similar trend? [Vishesh]
I would argue that you need knowledge from reputable resources and that could be a university, a certificate program, or a very good mentor. Ideally, I see an unbiased organization being the best source of accreditation because it isn’t making a profit off of it. When companies are making a profit off of educating people you are dependent on them being ethical and providing the right skills, and that may not always happen.
What business knowledge or skills would you most recommend for UX professionals, and why? [Carolyn]
I have been working on this skill recently so it is fresh in my head – how to speak and represent data in terms that business partners will understand communication skills in writing and verbally— always good to practice those.
Understanding the economics of their situation— the cost of decisions and change. If you understand it then you can help guide them on how to better integrate UX (and all it facets) into their process more regularly.
Use your psychology training for good (not evil) empower your business partner with the tools and knowledge to fight the good fight.
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Every month, we have a special guest, sharing their knowledge and experience in a live AMA discussion. If you want to take part (or know anyone who’d love to) give us a shout out on Twitter @betterUX_
When he’s not searching for the perfect hashtag or emoji, he trawls the web for the next guest host of UX Chat on Twitter or AMA on Slack. He loves to keep his finger on the pulse of the online UX community, and his passion and knowledge of UX has grown that if UX Marketer were a job title, he’d happily own that.