The classic way to report findings is to write a report. But writing is hard. Reading a well-written report is also quite hard nowadays, with full schedules and attention spans reduced to Instagram stories and TikTok posts.
The foundations of user research trace back to academia, in fields like HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), cognitive psychology, and computer science. Academics are used to presenting results in writing because writing is the currency of academia: you write an article, you send it into the darkness, and many months and many revisions later, a committee accepts it for publication, after which you add it to your CV (Curriculum Vitae).
Researchers who are actively involved in product development do not need this. In fact, this process hurts their ability to convey insights and inspire action. Instead, they should use other methods to inspire action in other teams. This is important, because the researchers—or the people who did the research—will not be doing the work that is implied by the findings.
Present Findings Instead of Sending a Report
A well-prepared presentation is more accessible and scannable than a long written report. Think of the presentation as a super-condensed version of the hypothetical complete report, giving priority to three to five top findings.
Include how you arrived at the research question, as well as your assumptions and hypotheses. Describe how you picked your method and how you did your recruitment. Then follow up with your three to five insights.
Under each insight, clearly state the problem or highlight. Show evidence that you are not making up your insights.
Then share your recommendations. These recommendations can be as simple as changing the wording on a page or as complex as reforming certain lines of business. Make sure that all of these recommendations are backed by the research material. If you are suggesting something based on your gut—which is fine—make that clear.
For the closing, summarize your findings around your research question, state your next steps, and ask who else might be interested in hearing the presentation. Do not send your presentation and expect them to go through it—go to that group and present in person.
Include Design Suggestions
Should researchers issue design recommendations? This discussion stems from the turf war between elitist designers who think that they are the only ones who could ever design, and researchers who are trying to add their voice to the conversation.
Absolutely, researchers issue design recommendations. The person who had quality contact with users knows more than anyone about the current user experience. So it is perfectly fine to express some of these findings as recommendations.
Some researchers are rightfully hesitant about their own design skills, and they also worry about creating extra work for designers. This is a valid concern and a very thoughtful gesture. However, both of these concerns go away if your product has an established design system. You are not expected to produce a production-ready, pixel-perfect sequence of screens; communicating the general idea within the guardrails of the design system will do.
Should researchers always expect the team to pick one of their recommendations? Or implement them right away? No, the researcher proposes starting points. Some of them may be great ideas from the beginning, and some of them could fall apart on first contact. This is how design works, and it is normal.
Make Narrative Prototypes
Making a prototype is one step further than creating screen designs. But if you show someone a prototype with no context, they will focus on the proposed solution, not the problem and the insights that follow.
To address this, minify your presentation into the prototype. Start your presentation as usual—include how you arrived at the research question and summarize your research process. Then show the sequences and screens. Narrate each screen with annotations to tell your viewers why you made certain design decisions. If you have alternatives, include a menu and custom internal navigation to access those.
Store Centrally and Share with Everyone
Store research findings in a location that is accessible by anyone. This can be as simple as putting it on a shared drive or as comprehensive as what Microsoft or WeWork do with their insight-management systems. You can also use Reframer, GitHub, SharePoint, Google Drive, or EnjoyHQ.
Note that you should only share the material after it has been properly anonymized.
Search is critical for this research repository to work. Make sure that your platform of choice supports content search and take care in tagging and categorizing your data to be searchable.
Make the Impact of Research Visible
These suggestions will make your research efforts more effective and impactful. Build on these small successes and socialize the impact that research creates with everyone in the organization. Make teams aware of how other teams have utilized research to get better results.
Create awareness in functions that would benefit from research, such as design, product management, business analysts, dev leads, marketing, customer support, and so on. Issue internal newsletters curated for your organization. Hold presentations about trends, best practices, and case studies. Enable teams to present and celebrate their research findings. Create social events [such as] happy hours, afternoon teas, and brown bags to share ideas and offer support to each other.
I’m fortunate to have worked with researchers that embraced these principles. Their research had high impact, and it wasn’t because of the quality of their methodological approach or their research knowledge. It was because they knew that their work wasn’t done by turning in the completed analysis. They recognized that sharing the results took just as much time as running and analyzing the study—sometimes more. They accepted this responsibility as a core part of their job, which turned their findings into real experiences in the hands of their end users.
Aras helps designers, product teams, and executives use human-centric approaches in product development. He has set up and grown many successful design teams that have created popular user experiences. In fact, more than 160 million users worldwide use the products he has worked on. Aras holds a Masters degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bachelors degree from Bilkent University. He currently teaches human-centered design courses at Kadir Has University. Aras is coauthor of Product Research Rules from O’Reilly. Read More