After delivering a world-shattering report on usability that was fully hyperlinked with reproducible methodology, the expectation was that academics would be praising it all over the world but instead, nothing happened and a full two years afterward, none of the original findings had translated into product action.
This newly-minted researcher asked himself ‘why didn’t that work??’ and it set him on a six year journey that is still going forward. This question has been transformed into something more complex. It has gone from why didn’t it work to what does it take for research to positively influence product and design and how do I do that? Of course, a complex question has a complex answer.
It is a broad interplay of dynamics of people, structure and processes. Success lies in the mastery of the research process, technique and ability to influence the team.
This can be done by thinking which means process mastery and ownership of the research process, execution which means technical competences in technique, method and output, and impact which means organizational influence, empowerment, alignment and direction. The research process is somewhat linear: first comes figuring out what to learn, then deciding how to learn it, followed by uncovering and observing evidence, then making sense of what was learned (synthesis or insights) and deciding how to act on what was learning and finally ensuring consistent action.
There are three levels of researchers. At a junior level, the process mastery focuses on who, what and when, the technical competence focuses on recruiting, interviewing and interview notetaking and debriefing, observation, data collection, surveying, user testing, and simple reporting. Influence should be making a credible report, a fair and honest judgment of product and design and interaction level and usability authority. A mid-level researcher should add what and why to the process, project planning and management, structured design and research methods and complex synthesis to technique and embed and partner with functional teams, empower other project teams, reframe and focus research questions and develop a respected point of view on product level decisions.
A senior level researcher should add why and the ability to shape, reframe or reject the entire process accordingly to process mastery, centralizing customer feedback, roadmap planning, framing and storytelling, and workshop facilitation to technique and strategic partner to product design and functions, reshaping higher order processes, centralizing and unlocking existing knowledge and direct organizational research focus to influence.