Last week on our UX community Slack channel, we hosted a live AMA with Laura Klein, author of ‘Build Better Products’ and ‘UX for Lean Startups’. These are the highlights from our one-hour chat.

Laura fell in love with technology when she saw her first user research session over 20 years ago. Since then, she’s worked as an engineer, user experience designer, and product manager in Silicon Valley for companies of all sizes.

She’s written two books for product managers, designers, and entrepreneurs, Build Better Products (Rosenfeld Media ’16) and UX for Lean Startups (O’Reilly Media ’13), and she’s a frequent speaker at tech conferences, including SXSW, Lean Startup Conference, and Mind the Product.

She is currently Principal at Users Know, a UX design consultancy, and works as a coach and adviser to product teams and startups. You can also listen to her in What is Wrong with UX, the UX podcast where “two old ladies yell at each other about how to make products suck slightly less.”

Here Laura answers questions on sharing user research, shaming ignorant stakeholders and general advice on finding the types of clients and organizations that are right for you.

(Please note, some edits have been made for spelling and clarity)

How do you start your process? [Grant]

My process always starts with the business goal. Why are we building a project/making a change/adding a feature/etc.

The reasoning here is that, if we know the goal we’re all aiming for, we can then ideate and find the best way of reaching that goal.

I MUCH prefer this to starting with an idea for a product or a feature, because there’s no real way to say, “Is this idea or product or feature good?” unless we know what “good” means.

I’m tired of designing UI and thinking of moving into product management. What are your thoughts around longtime UXers wanting to lean towards strategy & vision rather than UI & graphics. [Mike]

Product management is interesting but sometimes it feels like you don’t get DO anything, since you’re herding everybody else to get things done.

I’ve never been great about doing JUST strategy vision for UX, since I think that those things are really tied into the details. It’s hard to do one without the other.

I did find that teaching UX to others (designing other designers) was really helpful in getting me to think about my process more specifically. The pay is terrible though. But, you know, fulfilling and lovely to have folks come back a few years later and tell you that it helped!

How do you share user research? [Jenn]

Sharing user research is so interesting, because there’s no one true way.

The best I’ve come up with is to treat research deliverables like a design project on their own. You have to understand who your audience is, what you’re trying to convey, whether you’re making design recommendations or strategy recommendations, etc….

It can vary wildly if you’re talking to an SVP and trying to get them to change their mind about a big thing vs, you know, explaining usability issues to a PM or an engineer.

But video of people failing to use a product or being really confused is always effective.

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Seeing that you’ve had multiple roles, I’m curious about how you found your niche and how you decided you were ready for a different role with different responsibilities. [Brenda]

Mmmm… great question. I haven’t found my niche! I just get bored really easily and jump to something new and then learn it.

I tend to work for small companies or as a freelancer, so it’s much easier to just sort of take on something extra because there’s so much that needs to get done. Then, once I have some experience in doing it, I can move on to do it more formally somewhere else. Or not!

When considering methodologies, when do you go with unmoderated user research and when do you go with moderated? [Phil] 

It depends on what I’m testing. I tend to do unmoderated research for things like usability where I’m really trying to confirm things like whether a change I made ‘worked’.

Anything where I’m trying to learn more about the user or their process/context (basically user research as opposed to usability testing) that’ll be moderated and more open ended.

If I’m looking at specific scenarios or tasks and asking, “Can a person do this thing?” unmoderated can be great and actually remove some of the bias that you might have from a moderator ‘guiding’ the person.

How do you handle stakeholders who try to blow holes in UX research or disqualify participant data if they don’t like the results? [Stacy]

OOF. I mean, I used to drink! The only thing I’ve found that works is to involve them as early as possible when you can.

And I realize that it’s not always possible in some orgs, so I kind of hate giving people that response. Because, I get that you can’t always get the SVP of whatever into the pre-planning research meeting.

But you have to get the plan set up collaboratively and signed off beforehand. If they were involved in the planning, it’s much harder for them to say “Oh, well, you planned it wrong.” No, WE planned it wrong!

This goes for experiments too, btw. Not just research.

You need to get everybody to agree ahead of time “we’re learning this and this is how we learn this and there’s a chance we’ll learn X and if that’s the outcome from this experiment then WE WILL ALL BELIEVE IT RIGHT???”

What things do you look for to avoid working in heavily siloed organizations? What are some red flags? [Brenda]

Look for a wide fracturing of titles and just talk to folks in various positions. For example, I’m a designer who does user research. If the team has both designers and user researchers, ask how much involvement each team has in what the other does.

More collaborative teams interestingly often will sort of scratch the itch for me of being able to be involved in lots of stuff without having to DO all the stuff.

For instance, I like to have some input into marketing. But you have to talk to people in marketing to find out if that’s possible in your org.

When you reach a stage in your career where you can choose your clients, what advice would you give to UX professionals who don’t have that luxury? [OJ]

I think we should always choose our clients. We are in great demand right now. If you’re finding yourself unable to choose, I think your answer is to market yourself better, not to just take whatever.

The reason here is that you don’t WANT to take stuff that doesn’t fit your skill set (or what you want to learn).

You likely won’t do it well, and you’ll have a bad outcome.

Every interview is two-sided. You’re trying to find a fit. It’s honestly one of the reasons I do SO much writing and speaking, etc. Sure, I like helping people, but also it gets me out in the world where people who want somebody like me can find me.

And believe me. NOT EVERYBODY wants somebody like me!

And I don’t blame them! Most places are a bad fit. We’re all better off if we can figure that out ahead of time.

What are your favorite kinds of work or activities? [Brenda]

I love prototyping, honestly.

And I enjoy research synthesis.

I like that part where we’re moving the sticky notes around and trying to make sense of stuff. It’s like a big puzzle.

And then I like the part where I’m deep in the weeds building stuff, preferably writing code.

The part I hate the most (that most folks love) is the ideation phase where everybody’s coming up with tons of ideas.

I hate ideas. Ideas are free. There are generally too many ideas. The engineer in me always wants to just get to the right answer by diving into the details and running experiments, etc.

I’ve seen too many brainstorming sessions that don’t turn into anything, and I find it frustrating.

Speaking of research synthesis, how have you operationalized doing research synthesis and analysis in the past? [Jenn]

Interestingly, Mike Kuniavsky is updating his classic book to include more of this, so you know, I’d check that out when it’s published.

I haven’t done a great job with operationalizing things, because again, I tend to work in smaller companies where I’m the only designer or I’m working on a small team of people.

Check out the Research Ops stuff that’s going on over at Rosenfeld Media though. They talk about this stuff a TON, and there are some really smart people working on it.

Do you have thoughts on operationalizing research? [Jenn]

I think that somebody should operationalize a lot of the research, but that doesn’t necessarily mean four on Friday or whatever. I’m not a fan of doing research just to do it. I want every experiment and test and study to be targeted and have a goal. HOWEVER, I’m also for people making it incredibly easy to do my job.

I don’t ever want to have to reinvent incentives or recruiting or whatever. I want to know where to put things when I’m done with them. There are lots of things you can streamline about research without removing the important art and science of the actual… you know… research!

You said you’re not a sociable person and your passion is making prototypes, so is it hard for you to be a product manager? [Ly]

Well, it makes it impossible for me to be a product manager in a large org where most of the job is stakeholder management. But it makes it super easy for me to be a product manager on a small team where I’m mostly working with engineers.

I tend to get along best with engineers.

What’s your experience with teams who are just trying to ‘check a box’ for UX and research but aren’t actually interested in following up on findings? [Brenda]

Is physical violence or quitting an option?

If not (and, I mean, have you TRIED???) shame them with video.

The most effective thing I’ve ever done is to make people watch what they’re actually putting their users through.

“So, is this the experience you want your users to have?”

Make them say yes.


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_