Opinion

How can we make user research more inclusive, and more representative?

By March 18, 2019 March 28th, 2019 No Comments

Following on from our previous team roundtable on the privacy implications of voice assistants (read that here), we held another to gather hot takes from the team on how research can be made more inclusive and representative.

Research is at the heart of what we do as user experience professionals, and finding the right audience to gather insights from plays a major role in our final product or design. The impetus for inclusive research is large – we want our designs to fit all audiences – but how do we identify those missed by research? The ExperienceLab team discuss how research can be improved:

Megan Kurtenbach, UX Consultant:

Research should be mindset and behaviour led as well as demographic led.

Research that is undertaken with participants based on mindsets rather than demographics produces research outputs that consider more contexts.

For example, when we recruited for The National Forest project we were primarily focussed on finding participants who had common hobbies and motivations surrounding taking part in and supporting initiatives around the outdoors and preservation.

That meant what we ended up with was a very wide range of participants from all different life contexts – everything from a retired teacher from London, to an immigrant mother of a young family, to an outreach worker planning activities for at-risk youth.

This gave us a more representative understanding of the different motivations for why users engaged with The National Forest. This meant we were able to make better recommendations, helping users with the targeted mindset to find the information that they needed more accurately.

Had we focussed on demographics first, we could potentially have missed out on the patterns that common goals and mindsets showed us.

There is a strong ethical case for research being more inclusive.

In the same way that we want to make sure that products do not exclude participation from users with physical or cognitive disabilities, we should be applying the same principle to research activities. This will help us to include representation in the way we understand context of use for our products and designs and how they impact people and behaviour, making sure to include all types of thinking rather than limiting ourselves based on types of people who fit into certain boxes.

This makes commercial sense, but it’s also ethically the right thing to do. We have the power to shape the way that we investigate impact and behaviour, and how we feed these insights into designs which will eventually impact the way that our society works and is understood. We need to make sure that it includes all perspectives.

To do that, we need to take an inclusive approach to developing recruitment pools – including finding those individuals that aren’t on recruitment lists and might not be the easiest to reach.

Katherine Corneilson, UX Researcher:

Research will be more inclusive when the stakeholders involved (e.g., the product owners, engineers, designers, and researchers) understand and expect their user-base to be formed of a diverse group. We can do this by not only diversifying the groups of people we recruit, screen for, and select to participate in studies, but also by ensuring that we diversify the groups of people who are responsible for procuring, directing, and conducting research studies. When we have a lack of diversity within the groups who have the power to decide what research is conducted and how, we will, unavoidably, be exclusive and fail to produce research that represents the needs, goals, barriers, and motivations of all users.

Neha Gupta, UX Consultant:

It’s a fact that people will use your products in ways you had never imagined, so I think a key principle to follow is to design for the lowest common denominator in terms of technical skill.

This doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’ design but designing beyond the obvious target group of users (the ones who will be able to learn to use the product most easily), to consider users who may not already be engaged with that type of product or service, and who might be on the periphery of research as a consequence.

Understanding who these people are and ensuring you capture insights from them should be considered a critical part of the research process.

To achieve it, it’s important to avoid making restrictive assumptions regarding who will and won’t use a given product or service.

One example is a digital product we researched that was primarily targeting millennials, with a client research brief that focused exclusively on meeting this group’s needs. During our initial discovery work, we quickly discovered that following the brief would mean excluding a considerable customer base of users aged 50-plus, who generally used the product in a different way to the millennial group. As a result we brought together a broader cross-section of ages and technical abilities in the ensuing research.

Terms like ‘accessible design’, ‘universal design’ and ‘inclusive design’ can be useful, but putting them into action requires sticking firmly to the principle of continuously learning from a broad range of users.

ExperienceLab is a research and design agency specialising in helping organisations understand their customer needs and creating innovative solutions that are designed to succeed. Want to get in touch? Contact us here.

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