How to measure ‘simple’ in user experience

LinkedIn's effort to quantify what it means to have a 'simple' user experience, and its relationship to LinkedIn's metrics and revenue.

Kevin Newton is Manager of UX Research Practice at LinkedIn; in this episode, he shares insights on how he’s scaling a research team at a large and growing company. His team is also working on a unique effort to quantify what it means to have a “simple” user experience, and its relationship to LinkedIn's metrics and revenue.

Listen to the conversation and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform so you never miss an episode.


Alfonso de la Nuez: Welcome to UXpeditious! A show that shares quick and efficient insights from product, User Experience, and design leaders across the tech industry.

Dana Bishop: Each interview we dive into how UX research impacts user insight; shaping the design and business strategy of some of our favorite tech tools and products.

Alfonso de la Nuez: I’m Alfonso de la Nuez, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of UserZoom.

Dana Bishop: and I’m Dana Bishop, VP of Strategic Research Partners at UserZoom.

Alfonso de la Nuez: And we’re your hosts.

Did you know that LinkedIn has 810 Million users! That’s a whole lot of users. And almost 50 million people use LinkedIn to search for jobs each week. On today’s episode, we’re talking to Kevin Newton, Manager of UX Research Practice at LinkedIn, about scaling research at a large company.

Dana Bishop: Yeah, I can’t wait! I log into LinkedIn at least once a day. I’m really looking forward to hearing how they prioritize research resources.

Alfonso: All right. Kevin, how are you?

Kevin Newton: I'm doing well. It's really good to talk to you.

Alfonso: It's been a few years. I see that you have long hair.

Kevin: Well, the hair keeps growing, with the pandemic, the hair just keeps going.

Alfonso: That’s awesome. So can you please introduce yourself first?

Kevin: My name's Kevin Newton and I'm a Manager at LinkedIn, for the User Experience Research Team. I run a team that implements programs across the company, and so we are focused on scaling our efforts and creating impact and quantifying the user experience on a daily basis.

Dana: So you talked about scaling research. Tell us a little bit about your team and what scaling research at a large company is like, can be tough.

Kevin: I think about scaling research in two kind of main arenas, and that's scaling our efforts and then scaling our impact. And I think when we talk about scaling our efforts, we talk about empowering people who do research or people who aren't researchers, who want to talk to customers and do some research.

And through that, we're doing templates, we're doing programs that are ongoing, that we can kind of hand over a basket of goodies, like a discussion guide template, et cetera, that can empower them to do the research that they're, let's be honest, gonna do anyway.

Water always finds a way, my manager has always told me. And so we really just want to join their hand and say, "Hey, here's just some materials to help you out, since it's not your area of specialty."

Dana: I love that description, and it's so true.

Kevin: So true.

Dana: What have you learned, what's working, what maybe didn't work so much that you had to experiment?

Kevin: Yeah, so we've gone through a couple of iterations. My manager and mentor, Cassie Chaney, who's phrase, “water finds a way” that's who I stole that from, she created a program right before I came to LinkedIn, empowering designers to do their own research.

And we have since kind of shifted that because as you all say, at a large company, as we grew the past four or five years, the designers don't have the time that it takes to go and recruit all of the participants and to really get into the lab and do all of that.

What's interesting is when you're a smaller company, as we kind of were four or five years ago, that was when we really hit our second run of growth, and then the companies I've been at previously, scaling research or scaling yourself, scaling your efforts, is mandatory almost. So you have to empower other people if you want to show a greater impact, because you're only one person, you're only 10 people, you're only 20 people.

I've challenged my team to kind of start thinking about when does a professional researcher need to be leading something, because it's no longer out of a need, I mean, a burning need, it's really about what value do we bring, and when we don't bring that value, could we just empower someone else to do it in an easy way that doesn't take up a lot of their time and be okay with that. Instead of being reactive, being proactive.

Dana: No exaggeration, I've had a very similar conversation, three different times today, with other companies. So this is the hot topic. If we rewind, you said, four or five years ago, or more, there was sort of a resistance to empowering designers, and there weren't enough guardrails and people sort of had this hesitation around it. I think there's been a push out of necessity, and then maybe raising up the comfort level, templatizing things, creating that and opening up the conversation between UXRs and design teams.

Kevin: 100%. And I would go back to another one of my mentors and old bosses, Julie Norvaisas, she recently wrote an article for dscout, and she starts it out by saying, "I asked on LinkedIn when I say democratized research, you say…" and she was trying to get some things for people. And the first response, was why.

And I think one, it's a good question, as she goes on in the article, I would highly recommend it, to say is that it shouldn't be just because you can, or just because you feel bullied to, or you feel like the industry's going that way. It really should be a concerted effort in a way that's strategic for your own team.

I think the resistance that we've seen, because we've pulled our own researchers and sometimes we're like, "Oh, should we really be doing this?" And I think the underlying fear is that we'll give our jobs away. And my response always to that is trust me, no one wants to do your job, they have their own job. They are busy designing or being a PM or being a PMM.

If you've seen me, you might not think that I'm a big corporate person and you'd be right. But the reason I got into business and corporations in the first place, was this shift from trying to build products that we then try and convince people to buy through advertisement, which we still do, but hey, why don't we talk to the people first and see what is their world like? What is their problems? What are they trying to achieve? And then see if we can just build something that solves that and then they'll buy it because it's solving a problem, not because they saw a commercial or heard a TV ad.

Alfonso: Exactly. And I know you're into quantifying simple, very interesting concept. So can you tell us more about that effort?

Kevin: Yeah. So simple is such a easy word, I think everyone hears simple and they're like, "Oh yeah, simple, or easy, simple, that was easy with the easy button." But I think when it comes down to the psychology of those sorts of words, it's actually pretty complex until what exactly is simple? What's simple to you, maybe something different to me, versus someone else. And so defining that becomes crucial.

Essentially the approach that we're taking is trying to look at the heuristics that exist in the industry, and we had our own custom heuristics as well, and we're theming those into a certain number. And then from there, creating validated and reliable measures that measure those heuristics within an experience. And then those together becomes the simple score.

I think once we have a measurement of simple and other aspects that we're working on, then the idea would be to, exactly what you said, we can send it out to an experience that's live and then we can then correlate that with revenue or whatever it is that is important for that experience.

And if it works, we can show a relationship between our metric and the revenue or whatever the metric is, and then create a prediction model where we say, "If you move this score one point, it will move revenue 0.01%," or something like that.

Alfonso: Super cool.

Dana: So this idea of quantifying simple sounds like it's your north star, right?

Kevin: It's what we've been working on a lot. Yeah.

Dana: How did you go about getting buy-in and consensus around this? Because that process to me is really fascinating.

Kevin: I think it takes a lot of conversations, it takes a lot of meetings and to be quite, honest, we're not even there yet on our team. So this is something my team kind of dreamt up and started and thought it would be kind of a small project. “Hey, we're going to redo the heuristics” and kind of snowballed into, oh, this could be a measurement of simple.

And so we're now having those conversations with leadership and trying to say, "Hey, we believe that this is a way that we can get the company on the same foot as to what does this word simple mean? Even though we all believe in it, here's how you can actually codify it and measure it."

Kevin: I think speaking the language of business is something that is, in my experience, severely lacking within the user experience research community, and I could probably broaden that to say the design community. And is something that we actually are working on as well.

Alfonso: But I would also add to this Kevin, that business people also need training on design and research. Sometimes, I mean, it's so easy, I guess, nine out of 10 times it's oh, design or UX, oh, it's all about UI and visual. And of course, there's a lot more to that.

Kevin: There's a lot more. And I think another part of the impact, like scaling the impact on top of quantifying and connecting it to metrics the company cares about is exactly that participation. And again, this is Julie Norvaisas's model, has a cell in there where she talks about this as well, but you got to bring the stakeholders along the research journey.

Dana: Love that. And we've all seen the investment in UX really move at an accelerated pace, especially these last few years. And we're having more conversations, I'm having more conversations with people about really being able to measure the ROI on that investment, back up to their stakeholders and executives. And I feel like that is going to be a growing trend, right.

Kevin: I absolutely agree. And another thing that we're doing at LinkedIn is we're using Airtable, a software that's like a database/spreadsheet for our usability studies in particular, where we are capturing the assumptions or the hypotheses of the design.

So they will be able to understand this, they will be able to find this, they will be able to do this. And then capturing those in Airtable as a pass, fail, partial pass, partial fail, like the rainbow kind of sheet that we're all familiar with, that we used to use Excel and Google.

So we're using it in that because then we can create different views, we can look across, and it's a pretty powerful tool to do a retro and say, "Hey, we had this many insights," and then we follow up with the teams four to six weeks later and we go through those and we say, "Hey, did you change this design? Did you change this? Did you change this?" And then we're able to capture that, and then we can say, "Here's the impact that we had just from this one program." So it's been pretty good.

Alfonso: I would just really want to thank you for sharing these stories with us, because I think it's going to be helpful for the audience and hopefully inspiring.

Dana: I understand six people are hired every minute through LinkedIn. So how long have we been talking? How many people got jobs during this conversation?

Kevin: Boom, that's right. If you don't have a profile, go get one today.

Dana: It was a pleasure meeting you and speaking with you. Thank you.

Alfonso: Thank you so much, Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you very much.

Alfonso: That's Kevin Newton, Manager of UX Research Practice at LinkedIn

Dana: Thanks for listening to UXpeditious. Make sure to continue listening to our new episodes each week for quality insights from UX industry leaders. If you like what you heard, help us out by rating and reviewing the show on your favorite podcast platform.

Alfonso: UXpeditious is produced by UserZoom in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team: Christopher Ratcliff from UserZoom; and the team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Hannah Pedersen, Colleen Pellissier and Jason Mack.