7min Product Master Series

Rebecca Blakiston, Senior UX Researcher 🏛️ Ad Hoc

February 22, 2023 Rebecca Blakiston Season 2 Episode 7
7min Product Master Series
Rebecca Blakiston, Senior UX Researcher 🏛️ Ad Hoc
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Rebecca Blakiston is a Senior UX Researcher at Ad Hoc, a company that improves government services. Previously, she was a UX Strategist and Librarian at the University of Arizona. She has a decade of experience advocating for data-informed, empathy-driven decisions.


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[00:00:00] Rebecca: The things that are easy to measure are not usually the most useful things. Sometimes the things that matter the most are actually way harder to measure. They tend to be more qualitative. For things like confidence levels among your users are maybe harder to measure than time on task, which you can measure with a watch.

[00:00:17] Lewis: Welcome to the 7 Minute Product Master Series podcast. I'm Lewis Kang'ethe, and today I'm joined by Rebecca, Senior UX Researcher at Ad Hoc. 

[00:00:25] Rebecca: Thank you.

[00:00:26] Lewis: To start the show, give us a brief definition of User Research. 

[00:00:30] Rebecca: Sure. So I tend to talk about two types of UX Research, the Generative and then the Evaluative.

[00:00:36] Rebecca: So the Generative, which is often also called discovery or exploratory research, is where we're aiming to understand people and how they experience things. So their values, their goals, their behaviors, as well as their challenges and constraints that maybe are preventing them from reaching those goals, so that's the Generative side of things.

[00:00:53] Rebecca: Evaluative Research is when we're actually evaluating our ideas or our services or our products. So everything from gathering initial impressions of an idea or a prototype or usability testing of a website or an app to even things like evaluating the inclusiveness of a current service model or wayfinding around a physical space.

[00:01:12] Rebecca: So, is the design meeting the goals? That's kind of the intention of Evaluative Research. And so UX Research as a whole tends to include both that Generative and the Evaluative side of things. 

[00:01:22] Lewis: Thanks for sharing that. And I'm curious to know, what's the biggest UX Research mistake you've ever made, and what did you learn?

[00:01:28] Rebecca: So I would say doing research that didn't lead to any actual outcomes for people, because I didn't think ahead about how the research would be used. An example of this, a few years ago I was asked to do research that was supposed to inform a new feature on our website, but the research was done in a vacuum. So no one had actually talked to our Technology Director or our Engineering team, and the work to build the feature was then never prioritized.

[00:01:51] Rebecca: So months of research ended up just sort of sitting there in a filing cabinet, and it was never acted upon. So the lesson that I continue to learn from that is [00:02:00] to ensure that our design and our engineering and our product teams are all working towards the same goals. So the right people are in the room and really partnering with those that do the prioritization and the implementation work to make sure that our research is worthwhile. It leads to better decision making and better products, which is the whole point of doing the research.

[00:02:17] Lewis: Yeah. Thanks for that. And what's the one piece of "common wisdom" you disagree with and why? 

[00:02:21] Rebecca: Related to website usability, it bugs me when people talk about tasks being too many click and often say, you need to reduce the number of clicks it takes to get somewhere and that's sort of this common wisdom, it will make your digital product easier to use. But I found that as really not the right way to think about it, and it can actually make things worse. So, the goal should never really be the number of clicks. A much better usability measure is the number of attempts, the success rate, the time on task.

[00:02:47] Rebecca: It's really about how easy the product is to navigate, whether it's one click or three clicks. So you could make a bunch of tasks, one click from the homepage, but they're impossible to navigate because there's too much clutter, or the link labels aren't intuitive. And so three intuitive clicks are better than one click that's hidden among a bunch of other clicks.

[00:03:04] Lewis: Yeah. That's brilliant. Thanks for sharing that. And what's the best UX Research advice you ever received and why? 

[00:03:11] Rebecca: So, a few years ago I learned about the 'Seven Second Pause of Silence'. It's sometimes called the 'Seven Second Rule', which I learned this from someone who was sort of in the teaching and education field. So, sometimes teachers will use in their classrooms this 'Seven Second Pause' to see if their students have any questions. So they just pause and they wait and inevitably after when you get to that seven seconds, someone has raised their hand because by waiting that time and giving yourself that space, and sometimes it's uncomfortable for people to have that silence, but you give people a chance to process their thoughts and respond.

[00:03:42] Rebecca: And so I use this a lot in my research during user interviews, and I find that by waiting that extra moment, you often end up hearing more useful information from people. And I've also used it in work settings. So during meetings, during workshops, earlier in my career, I used to always jump ahead and keep things moving, but teaching myself to slow down and give people space to process information, articulate their thoughts and their questions has proved immensely helpful in many areas of my work.

[00:04:08] Lewis: And what's working best in your UX Research process right now? 

[00:04:11] Rebecca: So I work at a big company, but within a small and cross-functional focused team of folks, and we're actually a team of seven, so seems to be the magic number today of seven, and the collaboration within the team is working really well. So we have our defined roles.

[00:04:27] Rebecca: I'm the one Researcher, we have one Designer, a Content Strategist, three Engineers and a Product Manager. But we all work together in everything from drafting our roadmap, identifying our research questions, prioritizing features, making decisions, and sort of removing barriers for each other. So my research is not done in isolation.

[00:04:44] Rebecca: And so that collaboration, that cooperation, the ability to challenge each other, to build on each other's ideas. The flexibility of stepping in and helping each other out, even if it's something outside our normal scope of work and pairing on things, is working really well. So, I feel very fortunate in my new role that I'm [00:05:00] able to work on this really collaborative and supportive team.

[00:05:02] Lewis: Wow. And what's the one thing every UX Researcher should learn? 

[00:05:06] Rebecca: So related to the 'Seven Second Pause' idea, I would say how to be humble and curious and listen more than we talk. So we are often very passionate people and it can be so tempting to bring our own ideas, to think that we know the answers to things and we'll often have cognitive biases creep in as well, like Confirmation Bias. And so I challenge all of us to practice the 'Seven Seconds of Silence', listen more than we talk, challenge our assumptions and interrogate our own biases to just really lead to that better research, better decisions and better outcomes for users.

[00:05:37] Lewis: What's the one thing you've learnt about yourself recently that changed the way you work? 

[00:05:41] Rebecca: I read a book called 'The Four Tendencies' by Gretchen Rubin, and I learned that my tendency is as an "Obliger", which means that I need external accountability in order to commit and get things done and to make new habits for myself.

[00:05:55] Rebecca: And so since learning about this, I've been better at setting my own methods of accountability for myself when they're not set for me already. So things like tracking my work and checklist and tables in notion, setting goals for myself with deadlines, and it's even crept into my personal life. So I track things like cleaning tasks and home improvements.

[00:06:12] Rebecca: And since doing that, my house is a little bit cleaner and I've taken care of some problems with my house that I've been waiting and procrastinating for years. So learning more about myself and how I work best has made me more productive and more understanding of myself too. So we talk a lot about empathy for others, which is key to the work that we do.

[00:06:30] Rebecca: And another way to think about empathy is also empathy for ourselves, , and understanding ourselves and how we work and what our challenges are, and how we can be better humans and I think that's an important piece of the puzzle too. 

[00:06:40] Lewis: Thank you, Rebecca, for joining us today and sharing all those wonderful insights to the audience.

[00:06:46] Lewis: Well, that's the end of the episode. Thank you so much for listen. And see you next time.[00:07:00]

Definition of research
Biggest research mistake
Disagree with "common wisdom"
Best research advice
Research process
Every researcher should learn