Aurelius Podcast: Episode 42 – UX Research Process & Practice with Bethany Stolle

Episode 42 highlights – Bethany Stolle podcast about UX Research Process & Practice:

  • Quantitative vs Qualitative Research
  • Starting a new UX research team and practice
  • How to sell UX research to your company
  • Pitfalls to avoid when starting a UX research practice at your company

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UX Research Process & Practice with Bethany Stolle

Episode Transcript

(transcription was automated and has been minimally edited, please excuse any typos or weirdness 😀 )

Zack Naylor 0:01
This is the Aurelius podcast episode 42 with Bethany Stolle, I’m Zack Naylor, co founder at Aurelius and your host for the earliest Podcast, where we discuss all things UX research and product. This time I got a chance to chat with Bethany Stolle, the principal designer at Vanco. She’s been doing UX and research work for a long time in various different company types and sizes. In our chat. She shares some really practical tips for setting up a new UX research practice at a company that includes processes tools and getting buy in. I know I say it every time but this was really an awesome conversation that I know you’ll enjoy and have immediate takeaways from the earliest podcast is brought to you by Aurelius, the powerful research repository and insights platform released helps you analyze, search and share all your research in one place. Check us out that’s Okay, let’s get to it.

Zack Naylor
Hey, Bethany.

Bethany Stolle 1:03
Good morning, Zack.

Zack Naylor 1:04
How are you today?

Bethany Stolle 1:05
I am doing well. How are you?

Zack Naylor 1:06
I’m pretty good. I’m excited to chat with you. You have done some really cool work for a long time. We’ve known each other for a little while. And I’m glad you said to join us and have a conversation for a show.

Bethany Stolle 1:16
So glad to be here to dive right in.

Zack Naylor 1:18
Yeah, well, you know we typically do to is before we start it just in case, you know, folks maybe don’t know who you are not familiar with you do Introduce yourself. Talk about the work. You’re doing things that you’re passionate about and kind of where you’re coming from.

Bethany Stolle 1:29
Yeah. So I’m Bethany Stoli, I am a designer and design researcher in the Seattle area, I came to design through a little bit of a circuitous path actually started my undergraduate degree with youth and family ministry, and somehow ended up in this world of Design and Technology. But I think the interesting thing for me is like there’s this through line of education, because I worked in edtech, for a while. And I had done curriculum design for religious publisher for a number of years. And because I was the intern, and then one of the youngest members of the team, I naturally was working on technology stuff, developing platforms, and ziens webzines. To go along with some of our products, and got really interested in the technology through kind of a lens of that we talk about a lot in Human Centered Design of how do we understand the people who are using these resources that we’re publishing, and then create products that will actually, you know, help in that case, like, deepen their faith and help them grow and help them learn. And after I’d been there for a while, I decided I learned about design there, and I wanted to learn more. So then I went into, I went through the Austin Center for Design Program, which then opened up this whole new world of understanding about design, about research about technology, I had language for the things I was naturally doing. And then from there kind of shifted into more formally trying to develop research practices at the publisher, and then I moved into a switch jobs into edtech. Then from there moved into now I’m working for a like financial services payments processing company. And I’ve done a lot of contracting and consulting with other organizations and nonprofits along the way. But the heart of it all is my passion is learning and design and figuring out how I can, you know, evangelize design to other organizations. Very cool.

Zack Naylor 3:18
The story sounds very familiar. In particular, the one way you said something, I finally had a language to use for the things I felt like I was doing naturally, he worded it somewhere similarly to that, and I can relate to that a lot because I had started my career in front end development and visual design. And what I usually tell people as I was like, pretty good front end developer, okay, visual designer, at best. That’s what design was. And I never felt like I was really good at that. But I felt like I knew what decisions to make. And in for me, it wasn’t going through Austin centered design, but rather I had read the book elements of user experience by Jesse James getting that finally, it was like he just provided this vocabulary for all the things that I felt like I was already thinking of. That’s just kind of super cool to hear. But you mentioned Austin’s in for design. So at the time, I assume then working with and learning from john Kolko, right probably really introduced you to a lot of like, just sort of research on how we apply that to design and stuff.

Bethany Stolle 4:07
Yeah, I think what was really helpful for me was, it was such an immersive experience. A lot of people who came to that program didn’t necessarily have a design background, it tended to be oddballs from various humanities or other parts that wanted to make this shift. And the foundation of the program was, you know, social entrepreneurship and interaction design. The first quarter was all about user research, doing generative research, which I think for me was really helpful. I kind of hacked together, you know, based on like, reading, don’t make me think I’d add together some usability tests and things like that. When I was before I had gone to ac 40 and when I was at the publisher, but to really dig into generative research, learn some different approaches, learn some approaches to participatory design really gave me a broader understanding of what qualitatively research could look like instead of you know, there’s nothing place for evaluative, and I think a lot of organizations start in on evaluative, but I think the challenge is sometimes you don’t know what the problem you’re trying to understand. And so for me, having that world of generative research kind of opened up to me from the start to explore problem spaces to think about the complexity of wicked problems was really powerful. And something that I brought back and have actually brought with me to any place I’ve worked since they’re trying to build up the practice of generative research. And I think it helps with a counterpoint to a society that’s very data driven in a quantum sort of way.

Zack Naylor 5:37
Yeah, that’s extremely true. I’m actually really glad that you brought that up, because I seen a lot of the same things I have to believe, you know, folks listening probably experienced a lot of that to where, you know, they’re their first sort of dipping toe in the pond of researches, or evaluate the thing that we’ve got, we’ll do testing on the thing that we’ve already got, which is an interesting point, because it’s not always the best way, or the best place to start, you know, maybe the right approach. And I think that that’s a very useful pivot point. For me that directly asked you the question, because you’ve done this a bunch of starting a new research practice in a place where either it wasn’t being done, or it was very new, or is very, you know, lacking in maturity, I guess in some places, we’d maybe use that term. Talk to me about, you know, how how you’ve done that in the past?

Bethany Stolle 6:17
Yeah, I mean, I think it has to start with understanding who are the stakeholders in your organization? What are the needs, and what are the opportunities, I think, evaluative research sometimes is can be can be an easier place to start, because you can quickly point out to people who have probably been involved in the project, like, here are some issues that we have, that we need to address. And so sometimes that can be a little bit clearer or easier case to make, to justify doing more research. And to build a practice that way. I think the other way that I’ve approached it, though, has sometimes been trying to do a foundational generative research project. So the team I’m working with right now, when I started was beginning of Coronavirus back in March. And there were also two other people on our product team who are pretty new, you know, within probably two to three weeks of starting when compared to when I’d started. And then someone who’s been there longer. And so we actually pulled up a generative research project to kind of build a foundational shared understanding of who uses our stuff, who doesn’t use our stuff. And this is a payment processing company that serves faith based market, you know, also understanding like How is Coronavirus affecting churches very kind of early on in the pandemic. And this was in April and May, the thing that was really exciting about that project is because we were a relatively new team, trying to develop some strategy looking forward, we were able to come together and do this generous project and develop some design principles that are guiding our work moving forward and have some shared stories and understanding of who we’re trying to serve. that builds a foundation for our work. Whereas I think evaluative research would give us some and we are doing a little bit of that and trying to build up that muscle or that reflex to do regular iterative evaluative research, you know, that would get us incremental improvement, but not necessarily make sure that we are you know, following the same Northstar?

Zack Naylor 8:08
Yes, really, really awesome response. There are a couple things I want to pull out. But I guess you know, where to start is you kind of said lots of places to start with evaluative research, usability testing, we’ve made a thing, actually watch people use that thing and see what happens, right? I mean, in the most crude definition, I guess, curious question I had in mind is, you know, have you ever used that as a strategy to doing more foundational research, like the generative study that you just mentioned? Right, so So specifically, what I’m asking is, have you ever, you know, tried to really spin up research team and research practice by just showing flaws in a thing that you’ve made, that then basically sets the stage for you to ask a bigger question like, hey, did we make the right thing? Because that might be really met with resistance? If you just kind of walk in as a new person? I know, I’ve certainly experienced that. Right?

Bethany Stolle 8:55
Yeah, I think that one project I’d worked on, we did sort of use the evaluative research to point out there were a lot of issues and bigger problems. I think that’s a really good strategy. I think the hard thing to navigate is how invested are people in the thing that you’ve made, I’m thinking about some projects that I’ve worked on to in the world of edtech. Like, as we were doing evaluative research, we discovered some pretty significant gaps. But I don’t know how effectively we were able to sort of launch that into a bigger generative study. And some of that is probably based on, you know, the nature of the team and the constraints of the project and all of that. I think it’s a really good approach, because you can probably continue and say here, let’s do incremental improvements. And we’ve discovered these major gaps that we need to or just like unexplored areas, and we want to do some research around that. I think the challenge is how invested are the team members and your other stakeholders pursuing one path and how open are they to potentially pivoting which for me one of the biggest frustrations of user research especially generative research, empathy oriented research is That empathy challenges us to change if we really respect and honor the people that we’re inviting into this sort of CO creative process. In the best case, it’s not just extractive. And now we know what we need to do. And we’re going to do a better product that gets more money out of you. But empathy changes us as the people who are designing things. And sometimes when leadership or stakeholders who are you know, higher up in the organization aren’t part of the research, they don’t feel the pain, they haven’t sat in a room with someone who has opened up and sometimes you’ve cried, I’ve cried with people in interviews before for generative sessions, like I carry their stories with me. And I want to do justice by them in the work that we do. telling that story to people who haven’t been part of that process, or, you know, just want numbers to give them perceived easy answers is really hard. And I think that’s sometimes the challenge going from evaluative to generative research, because evaluative gives a clear path forward. While you could fight about the numbers, it feels like an easier case to make compared to generative where there’s a big interpretive move, an important part of it is becoming part of those stories, caring for those stories, empathizing, and finding ways to potentially pivot or change your strategy as an organization based on the experiences of people that you’ve worked with.

Zack Naylor 11:23
Sure, that’s very, very true. And I think, you know, there’s a lot of stuff that goes around to about just researcher burnout, and almost like, there’s articles about empaths, and how they have this on the surface, you know, kind of like ducks on a water syndrome was like, everything looks great. But like internally, you’re processing so much, because you’re you are empathizing with those people. And you’re carrying a lot of that with you, as you said, that’s its own challenge, but kind of just to weave it back into part of your answer to the original question. I wonder how do you identify those situations? I guess it’s twofold. How do you identify when the people are truly ready to accept change? And then how do you approach that? Like, what are your first steps to suggesting maybe a generative researcher or helping people see the point of making a different decision? Right?

Bethany Stolle 12:07
Yeah, it’s something I’m still working on. I think different organizations and different leaders are probably open in different ways. Like I’ve worked with people who get it, they get the value of generative research, they’ve seen the impact of that on no corporate strategy, on adoption, whatever it might be. Sometimes, I also have been working with people where you essentially position it as a two fold there, you do some generative research, because this is about we’re not doing statistically significant research that you can really rely on that this is going to have x ROI, doing that to understand the problem space. And then partnering that with evaluate research down the road related to you know, concept evaluations, or usability testing, kind of your solution space research, or partnering a generative project with something that feels more quantitative, so that you can say, here are the insights. And then can you essentially evaluate or validate that with a broader audience to understand sort of mitigate the risk of following the insights from generative research. So I think I still have a lot of growth opportunity in figuring out how to kind of advocate for that with stakeholders, especially if you’re looking at like, senior stakeholders leadership, it’s probably worked best when I’ve pointed out case studies where it’s worked or shared stories of projects I’ve worked on, I think the challenge is sometimes you can come up with a really great product idea. And if the organization isn’t able to find a compelling way to either build it or to sell it that can, you know, kind of undermine generative research efforts moving forward.

Zack Naylor 13:43
Yeah, that’s a really interesting point that you brought up there mitigating risk, right. So because what I’ve talked to a lot of people about, because most of the research I’ve actually done throughout my career ahead, but luckily, I think selfishly been more in a sort of qualitative generative stuff. I’ve certainly done evaluative research. It’s just part of that, because I think it’s part of any good product process. But when I talk to people about quote, unquote, selling researches, it really is about helping people feel more confident, feeling like they’re making a less risky choice. So you know, it’s kind of like just starting by asking the question, Are you confident the choices you’re making today? And obviously, not directly to a stake holder? Because in a lot of cases, there’s a lot of ego there that they can’t say, No, right? You, you have to be the person that says yes, I feel completely confident. But if you can position in such a way to say, well, there’s a lot of uncertainty around this, I have a way I can help clear some of the fog out of the room, do you want to talk about that. If they’re open to that, then all of a sudden, you’ve got your foot in the door. I like this strategy that you mentioned, though, of saying, you know, we’ll do this and we’ll help you find some insights that are directional, but I’ve got a plan to help you measure it, which is the evaluative type research that we can very quickly get to some actual tactical design decisions and actually measure whether or not we did take the right direction. Does that sound good? I mean, am I kind of summarizing what you’re saying?

Bethany Stolle 14:54
Yeah. And I think the other thing that I have worked on and learned over the years to is getting stakeholder involvement earlier on. So and you know, from a research operations perspective, like having a relatively clear process for how you kickoff a research project, and what are the different stages and check ins, you know, I have a research plan template that we use where you make sure that we outline the objectives. And people are on the same page, because I’ve worked on projects where, you know, basically, after you present the findings, it gets ignored or shelved or set aside or, you know, worse yet kind of undermined and undermines the entire research efforts more broadly in the organization, because, oh, well, we already knew that for that wasn’t actually aligned with the questions that the team wanted to understand. And so having a clear, like, kind of a clear and consistent research plan, that is an input before you can kick off any project. And some of that depends on the size of your skill of your team and how you’re trying to scale research. But like, what are the objectives? Who are the stakeholders? What research methods are you going to use and your methodology? And what are the risks associated? What’s your rough timeline, knowing that it’s subject to change based on x, y, and z, just to make sure people who are your participants, I worked on a study once where we had trouble finding participants, because it was a very particular group of people who used a certain feature in a particular way. And we are trying to design, you know, new versions of that. And so the participants that we got were sourced by a colleague, it came from participants who had already been offering significant feedback on that feature, you know, to that product manager that I was working with. And so basically, we already in that had informed acceptance criteria, and like the shape of the feature to start with, that entire study basically came out like, Oh, well, we already knew that I didn’t learn anything new, because it was a combination of the research objectives were off and not checked with that product manager, the participants that we brought in, we’re already you know, already had that person’s ear and had significantly shaped the thing that we’re making To start with, like, they might have found a couple of small things. It didn’t have the impacts that we would have hoped for. And I think if we had done, you know, closer collaboration with the stakeholder earlier in the process, making sure that our approach to participant recruiting was effective, it would have it might have had a different outcome.

Zack Naylor 17:14
Really, really good stuff. You know, that reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you just in terms of what are some common pitfalls? Or what are the things that you should look out for when trying to start a research practice? Because you kind of you kind of touched on a couple of those that might not have been perhaps the beginning of your research practice in that case, but those are absolutely, gotchas. Right. And I know that you’ve got some of those, are there any of those that you can share for folks that might be in a similar position?

Bethany Stolle 17:37
Yeah, I mean, I think where you can start to develop some templates and consistencies in practice. So having a research plan for every single project, whether it’s survey, like I even have shared some of that with marketing colleagues that I’ve worked with, or product management colleagues who might be running studies that aren’t necessarily like design research, per se, but we want to make sure that we’re aligned in how we’re approaching it. I think another major thing that can get overlooked is speed to results over quality of results. I see this often with participants recruiting or participant panel building. And I was just talking with friend and former colleague recently that he’s had to run several studies, and they just aren’t getting the quality of results that they want from the panel that they’re using. And so it undermines confidence in the research, it doesn’t give you the results that you need to inform decisions and iterations to move forward. So I think that’s a major pitfall of, you know, how do you make sure we’re not doing necessarily like representative research if we’re doing a generative study, but you want to make sure that you’re getting the right types of participants? So I think that’s another challenge. If is figuring out how are you going to get the people that you want to do research with because that’s a major, major pain point with research operations?

Zack Naylor 18:53
Yeah, we actually hear that a lot. I mean, I think that’s why if you’re part of any slack group that does research or discuss this stuff, it’s like every week, there’s a handful of people, how do you recruit people? Or what panel provider do you use? Or? Or how do you organize and manage this stuff, it just comes up all the time.

Bethany Stolle 19:09
And it gets really expensive to do it well. And you know, a lot of teams are kind of a low budget, no frills operation in order to do the research and keep moving forward. Right now, I’m tinkering around with the idea of like, could we build some sort of advisory board or kind of a group that we know will get consistent feedback from for a quarter and set up a regular cadence of meeting and checking in with them or one or two days per month that we do some quick studies of whatever sorts to try to operationalize. I’ve been wanting to do that for four years. So that might talk about the challenge.

Unknown Speaker 19:43

Bethany Stolle 19:43
setting up some sort of like continuous learning program, trying to figure out how you can sort of operationalize some of the more difficult or painful parts of recruiting in person management piece. I think that can be a big pain.

Zack Naylor 19:57
Yeah, for sure. Well, I guess just to go back and summarize a couple things. The one thing I feel like I heard you say, immediately in answer to that question is try to create like templates, tools and processes to make your work as repeatable as, as possible to gain that traction right out of the gate. And then the second one is make sure you have a good reliable source of getting that information. So your participants, it actually made me think I love analogies, and anybody who knows me pretty well, so knows I like to backpack and hike. What it made me think of is that anytime I go on a bigger trail, so not like a state park or something, make sure I’m going to campsites that have a water source. And it just reminded me of that. So it’s like, make sure you’re going somewhere where you’ve got a source, you can stay alive, because there is a research without doing without talking to people without being able to get in touch with them. Right. And that is it’s a huge pain point, I think, I think it’s wise advice to say, start thinking about that from the minute you walk through the door, how you know how that’s happening either today, or how it needs to happen in the future.

Bethany Stolle 20:53
Yeah, and I would say the third piece is takes time for synthesis. I think we often it’s easy to focus on all of the logistics and the setup and the planning, and then you’re really excited to run the study. And then it’s easy to sort of lose momentum or for that energy to dissipate when you actually need to start working with the data. And I think it’s particularly challenging right now, when many, many teams are working in distributed ways. I still love gathering around, you know, giant foam core boards with stickies and printouts of transcripts and sticking stuff on the wall and regrouping and the conversations that happen around, you know, data from your interviews, it’s hard to recreate that in, you know, mural mural, or Miro or whatever tools like, you know, I’ve used a really suppressed price for quite a while. And I have been figuring out some new workflows now that are more oriented toward like getting a transcript out of the interview, immediately bringing that into ArrayList and then doing some workshopping sessions, where we actually like, collectively over, you know, zoom, or teams work through the interviews and kind of talk through the stories and do some tagging, in real time, collaboratively, I’m still trying to figure out what is a good process for that. But my concern is synthesis can often become here, the things that I heard, like kind of a quick gut reaction, I processed it really briefly after the interview. And then we don’t work more deeply with understanding what are the particularities from that study? And then what are the themes across and then doing the interpretive move? That translates, then, you know, therefore, what do we do with this?

Zack Naylor 22:34
Yeah, this is I’m really, really happy that you brought this up, it’s not gonna be any surprise to you, because you know that I’m really passionate about this. But this whole idea of spending more time figuring out what you learned, rather than just reacting to some of the surface level stuff that you heard, I would talk more about that because, you know, this is one of the things that I’ve seen a bit of a trend going away from like, and you kind of set yourself like, speed over accuracy. In the research. You mentioned that earlier. And this is one of the things I feel like I’ve started to see trend in the wrong direction, where we just sort of jump to insights faster than we should because we didn’t spend enough time with the data. I mean, how do you how do you overcome that? And how do you really do the synthesis properly?

Bethany Stolle 23:14
To be really Frank, it’s something that I’m struggling with right now, because I’m in a design team of one. So I have designed and research responsibilities, thankfully have some really great colleagues that are running some studies, we’re figuring out some trying to carve out more time to do you know, 234 hour workshop blocks, I’ve done some projects with other organizations as well, where I do like a workshop, they, you know, go out and do some research. And then we come back together for another workshop, the zoom fatigue is real, I should validate whether this is actually true. But I had heard a thing where like your mirror neurons don’t trigger or fire and the same way via when mediated by a screen. So we’re spending a ton of time on screens, even with video chat face to face with people, but you don’t get that same kind of you know, energy and your brain isn’t firing in the same way. And I think that’s hard when you’re doing deep work. So this is hard. All of the things that you’re talking about earlier about, like, essentially compassion, fatigue, or burnout, that impasse can feel especially right now gets amplified when you’re trying to dig into these stories that you’ve heard from your research a great except I do get concerned that we’re trying to trade off speed, faster results, as opposed to better or higher quality synthesis. I remember I got really annoyed a year two projects. I was like, there was a project that kind of got kicked off. And then when presenting findings. It’s like the data doesn’t really show this. And I think what happened is you know, a person involved just kind of cherry picked the things that they liked that they heard that from people or that kind of affirmed the direction they were planning to go. I went to Twitter As one does data without research, research without synthesis is, it’s not research. So I think it’s something that especially people who are, you know, researchers, practitioners really need to continue to reinforce and build that muscle on the team, especially with people who, you know, the people who do research, quote, unquote, who may not be trained as deeply in research methods, helping them understand that like to do to respect our participants, frankly, we need to listen to more than just the highlights that we want to take out of it to make a proof, you know, prove what we want to do to the organization, and be open to the possibility that we’re not right to be challenged by the things that we hear. But that also requires a lot of self awareness. And like personal work.

Zack Naylor 25:47
Absolutely. It’s like really profound what you just shared there, because it also ties back to something you said earlier, where you people have got to be ready and willing to want to change, I think, not only as an organization, but personally, one of the things at least that I took away from what you just said, that’s really important is you have to be you have to walk into this being very ready to be wrong. And that’s not something a lot of people like, you know, it doesn’t matter what position you have in the world, you don’t ever like to feel wrong, you don’t ever want to be corrected, it’s not necessarily a great feeling, the better you are at that the better you can interpret or synthesize research, right? I really appreciate you sharing that steroids story that you had to I’m kind of curious, are there any tips you could share there? When did you feel that when did you feel this research, we didn’t spend enough time digging into the data here,

Bethany Stolle 26:34
I also can be a little snarky about it. Because I wasn’t really involved. I was working on some other projects. So I wasn’t involved in that particular one. So I really hadn’t seen much until it was the like, here’s the deck that we’re going to share with our outcomes and recommendations with other stakeholders. And when I saw that, I just I asked a few questions about like, Oh, well, where did you hear this? Or who, you know, who surface these issues? I didn’t get good answers. So I knew that that was probably the case of like selective interpretation. I think your point about like, we have to be open to change is really difficult because it’s twofold. I think there’s both the I have to be open when I’m in the research mode. Like in the moment with participants, I have to be open to learning something new, I might be wrong. So there’s this like taking it all in. And then you also have to translate that into what how do I make sense of this? And what do we do about it, and then strongly advocating for that in the organization to do the right thing by your users, by your participants. And so you have to sort of be open to probably just working through there right now. It’s something I struggle with, but like, open till I’m probably wrong. So how did I then say, No, I know this is the right direction. Mm hmm. Does that make sense?

Zack Naylor 27:49
Yes. But expand on that last point a little bit more. I know, this is the right direction, like, because I think I think that’s easy enough to say. And I think you’ll probably easy enough to understand for for anybody listening to but I just want to, because I know that you’ve done this right? And that’s why I’m that’s why I’m probing on this. Is it just a feeling? You know, is there anything that you’ve identified to say, this is how you know, because it’s hard. I think this is one of the hardest parts of research,

Bethany Stolle 28:12
there’s a sense of like, you need to have the confidence when you’re translating what you learned from this research into advocating for some, you know, point of view and your product or some strategic direction. But prior to that, you’re like, you have to be blank slate. Yeah, and absorbing everything and like, Oh, I know nothing. And then I know some things for me, I think that really comes the confidence of that comes through, again, working with the data marinating in those stories. I mean, when I was at ac 40, like we had to actually transcribe our interview recordings ourselves, which is like, you know, three or four hours every hour of interview. Now, I don’t always do that. I’m rarely do that. But I’ll run it through otter, but still working in, you know, kind of beyond my initial notes. And I think collective sense making is really valuable, making sure that I’m not doing this emphasis on my own. I also think finding ways to bring in other people as part of the synthesis who have different perspectives. So whether it’s within the organization, different perspectives from my own, because they represent different roles in the company, or, you know, I’ve worked with an endowment on a big project. And we ended up training, it was, you know, looking at young adults, and we trained some young adults to do the research with us. And they were from, you know, we had like LGBTQ young adults and people of color who were part of the census process, and people across different generations. So when we were doing synthesis, even people who hadn’t been part of the interviews were there in the synthesis process. And we had these different perspectives, geographic location, ethnicity, different ages, different, you know, sexual orientations and gender identities. And so that helped us have different lenses to reflect on the stories that we’re hearing and collectively make sense of them. So it’s not, you know, a whole bunch of suburban white ladies like me interpreting someone else’s very different lived experience.

Zack Naylor 30:08
Such a great suggestion. Again, as part of my job in hosting, this is kind of boiling things down. It’s a team sport, you have a buddy to do this, you know, almost in anything else. The old saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go together. And I think that that’s really, really just an awesome suggestion. Because it’s almost like I might get myself into trouble saying this. It’s almost like truth is relative with regard to interpretating, like research results, right? facts are people said these things, but your interpretation of them that that truth is relative to each person, I think combining that for with you to with different perspectives really helps you get to a better comprehensive understanding, it’s not to say that your understanding of it is wrong. But to round out that perspective.

Bethany Stolle 30:50
And yeah, so if it is a team sport, like look at who is on the team, and who is not on the team, and what does that mean about the interpretive work that you’re doing? Hmm,

Zack Naylor 30:59
that’s an awesome suggestion, something that’s been in the back of my mind, you said it way early on, I’ve been waiting to come back to it. But you kind of said, speed to results, getting insights that we share that nobody does anything with, we don’t ever come back to talk to me about that challenge. This is not something unique to you, I have seen it myself. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard to try and solve it. But I’m curious, just like, talk to me a little bit more about that. And you’re experienced, both having seen it happen, but then maybe any success stories of how you’ve gotten out of that rut?

Bethany Stolle 31:30
Yeah, I think a couple things that helped me, when I get very frustrated that, you know, we don’t seem to be taking action on the research that I’ve done. One is thinking about the time horizon with an organization that I had done a couple of big generative research projects for because they were looking at shifting markets and kind of changing the focus on who they served. So I had done one project, and we started going down that path. And then I did a follow up project, because we needed to think a little bit more about like the channels that we use to reach to reach that new audience directly. And then I left the organization. And so I didn’t actually get to like necessarily be part of the implementation of that. And it felt like some of the key things that we learned were maybe satisfied or dismissed. But now I kind of look back at the work that’s happening there still today. And some of the pieces that we put in place with some of the findings that we have from that research are still relevant, and they have become kind of foundation to the work that they’re doing in these, you know, relatively new markets. for them. I think one helpful thing for me to remember is that it might not happen immediately. And that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Sure, even though I think designers like we get a little bit antsy, because we’re working on stuff that’s in the future. And it feels like forever from when we worked on a project sometimes until it’s out in the world, it just might take longer for certain things to become realized. I also think like we need honest conversations about if we are prepared to act on the research and the findings from the research that we want to do. There was another project that I’d worked on where it was kind of generative exploratory, this could potentially lead to an entirely new product line that we could start to build. So we went out and did research. And we did research internationally and a couple of sequential projects. But ultimately, like we learned some really great things that can have influence across the team. But we weren’t ready to commit to a big new product. To me, I was frustrated, because I felt like it was a waste of time and disrespectful towards the people who were very open with us about their experiences. And I think if we’re not prepared to take action on research, we need to question what harm might we be doing? how might that actually be disrespectful to the people? We’re inviting into the process of us?

Zack Naylor 33:48
Yeah, if that’s something that I feel like to maybe not necessarily with researchers, but definitely, we’re not directly involved in the research, they kind of take for granted. You know, there’s, there’s people here we’re dealing with, and we should respect that one way or the other. It’s also flipside of that same coin. I think it’s really useful advice to say, Just be patient understand your place in the world. I think in his latest season that we’ve had on the show, a lot of people have said some similar things. But one of the things you said maybe reminded me of a conversation I had with Jane Portman, she now she’s started her own company a couple times. She was the first successful UX and research consultant even prior to that, and one of the things she said that she just feels like people need to know about business is just like understand your place in all of this, you know, you are helping people make decisions. But it’s very easy for us to say, Well, here’s what we think you should do, and expect immediate results. But to understand everything that has to go along with that to bring that to life is it’s harder, I think for folks in our industry to see. So I think that that’s just really useful advice.

Bethany Stolle 34:44
Yeah. And I think part of it too, is I’ve generally been in house. I mean, I’ve done consulting, but even when I’ve worked as a contractor I’ve worked basically embedded with in house teams. It’s a very different feel than doing agency work. I’ve had the benefits. of seeing the things I’ve worked on, get out into the wild. So I think that’s given me probably a little more patience at times. And I’ve also had, you know, a longer tenure at some of the places, the first job that I had granted is publishing. But then I shifted into doing some product design work and design research, I was there for a decade, just about a decade, and then, you know, five years with an edtech company just started on this new venture. So it’s been, you know, nine months or something like that. I think one of the challenges is I see a lot of UX people shift jobs pretty quickly, one and a half to three years a lot of times seems like a typical term with an organization. And so I wonder where that might also contribute to some of the frustration some of the turn, or even for other people in the organization who maybe stick around longer, maybe they don’t have as much patience, or tolerance for people coming, you know, coming in to say, like, here’s what we need to do, it takes time and depth to understand the needs of an organization.

Zack Naylor 36:00
Absolutely. And this is something that I just constantly beat the drum on where I say, until you’ve understood someone’s role, their goals, and what they know, why should they ever listen to anything, you have to say, it’s a bit of a Western societal problem to where, you know, like, you’ve probably heard this before, where most people just wait for their turn to speak not actually, until the other person is, you know, until they’re done listening, that’s very systemic to even as people who claim to be empaths, and researchers, right, like we still fall victim to that.

Bethany Stolle 36:31
I also think this is one of my own challenges, I tend to be more empathetic toward people I don’t know, like, in the context of a research project, like I, you know, really hone in on those empathy skills and feel a strong sense of passion for advocating for their experiences within the organization. And I don’t always extend that empathy or that kind of grace and kindness to my colleagues, because I might see them at times as the obstacle to doing the things that I think are right for our users.

Zack Naylor 37:03
Very, very self aware of you to say that, and honestly very important, I think, again, something that gets echoed I think on our show a lot. And it bears repeating every single episode if we have to, which is you know, treats you the people you work with, in for with as much respect and listening, and you know, even grace and so I think you use the term as you do the people, you make things for your customers. And we’ll all get along a lot better doing that, I think. But here’s one thing I want to say, I know we’re coming up close to the end of our time. But if I were to, if I were to say, Oh man, I got temporary amnesia, I completely forgot everything we talked about. And I asked you, can you just tell me the most important thing that I ought to take away from our conversation? What do you think that would be?

Bethany Stolle 37:44
I’m going to kind of riff on what a lot of Viviane Castillo has been working on. I think the one of the most important tasks right now for us professionals, is to do the work ourselves to be more humane, more developed more formed people, so that we can bring that to our industry, we can bring that to our field, we can bring that to the people we work with, and the people we work for, however, you want to define who you work for, if it’s your, you know, users and clients or your colleagues. But I think one of the most important things especially given like the pandemic, the political climate, here in the United States, and globally, we are in an immense time of pressure. It’s important to do, you know, to do good work, and to do good research. But if we are not taking care of ourselves as humans, and reflecting on our practice as well, then I think we won’t be sustainable. That perspective of doing research, doing design research will be lost. Yeah, I’m just rambling on. But I think I would say one of the most important things we can do, it’s not about setting up a process. It’s not about creating templates. It’s not about what tools that you’re using, or how you approach synthesis. It’s about how do you make sure that you are doing the self care and the self awareness to be a full human in the workplace, and you bring that to the work that you do? Perfect,

Zack Naylor 39:10
I love it. You know, I’ve said this, perhaps in a different way. But I’ve said one time, imagine if everybody just got 1% better themselves, what that adds up to in the world. Don’t worry about anybody else. But just you know, that 1% for yourself, and that can have an enormous impact. So I love that advice. I really appreciate it being respectful of your time. And I know we got to wrap up here, but I’m curious, is there anything that you want to share with folks that we didn’t already talk about on the show today? Yeah,

Bethany Stolle 39:35
I mean, not really going to plug my own stuff, because we’re just all surviving right now. You know, on the note of what I was just saying, one of the most valuable communities that I’ve found lately is not designed Twitter. I really appreciate Vivian Castillo has kind of gathered this humanity centered community. And so there’s been a masterclass through that community and kind of a breath of fresh air for someone who’s feeling fatigued? Right now? And thinking about how do we shift from, you know extractive research practices to thinking about research as care? What does it mean when product design? When like designers and researchers are often aligned with product and tech? What would it look like to be more aligned with human services kind of mindsets? How can we do the self work and self care to be able to do our jobs better and more respectfully, how can we kind of get past the semantic pissing matches that often happen in design, Twitter and elevate different voices, new voices, three women of color who are gathering this community, and it’s been one of the most life giving places in the world for me in a long time. So I would say check out humanity centered HMNTY cntr D. So drop the vowels, because they’re building a community and some master classes and resources to kind of further the conversation beyond processes and tactics and techniques that potentially keep us in maybe a mid state, Junior to mid state of maturity, and moving us to be more humane designers. Perfect.