What is the best way to gain a realistic insight into a new growing professional field? Right – you ask an expert who works in this profession. That’s exactly what Dominic, our Head of Research, did.
Kira Tschierschke works as a freelance user researcher and brand strategist and gives us insights into the field. She gives us a closer look at the challenges you have to contend with as a user researcher, which research method she prefers, and how she evaluates the general UX maturity in companies. We discuss this and more with Kira in the following interview.
Note: The interview was conducted in German and translated into English.
Dominic: Hi Kira! Please introduce yourself and say a few words about what you are doing.
Kira: I’m Kira. I am a user researcher and brand strategist in the area of user experience strategy and research, as a freelancer. I’m currently working on a project that involves looking at different service offerings for an insurance company’s customers and digitally adding value.
Dominic: How did you get there? Especially, how did you get to the research section?
Kira: I come from brand strategy and brand strategy has a lot to do with research because you first have to understand what the core of a brand is and what of it already exists in the company. I always proceeded according to the “midwife principle”. The values and the culture are already present in the company, as a midwife I simply help to bring this “brand child” into the world. This is how I came into contact with research methods very early in my career.
When I moved to fluidmobile, a studio for app development in Karlsruhe, in 2014, I was one of the first non-developers there and virtually had the users in my luggage. There I used my well-known toolset from the brand strategy to better involve the users in the development process.
Dominic: What were the tools you used there?
Kira: Mainly methods of qualitative research, because in my work as a brand strategist I have already used in-depth interviews or workshops and moderated focus groups to integrate the customers and employees of companies into the brand-building process.
Dominic: My next question would have been, what do you like better qualitatively or quantitatively – it seems that you have already answered that.
Kira: I think both methods have their absolute right to exist and I think it’s most exciting to mix both fields and use the so-called mixed methods. If, for example, I start with Qualitative Research first and then query what I found out there again quantitatively to see whether it is scalable. But I can also go about it the other way round and first get a rough quantitative overview and then dive deeper into it with qualitative research.
I have the feeling that the further I am in the project, the better I can proceed quantitatively. Especially with software products, when it comes to rolling out products or observing the adoption of different features, a quantitative approach makes more sense in any case. Then an A/B test is usually more practical than conducting individual interviews with each user.
Dominic: You said earlier that you were the first researcher to join fluidmobile. What challenges did you face back then?
Kira: When I joined fluidmobile, I wasn’t even aware that I was a user researcher. I actually came to this position to supervise and be responsible for the communicative strategic orientation of fluidmobile. That’s why I have always been in the conception and strategy role in the projects and have proceeded with the same methodologies that I have already used in the brand strategy. I wasn’t even aware at the time that the term “user research” existed. For me, however, this is also the exciting thing about user research: You can use methods from different areas such as sociology or ethnology for research.
I would say, there were no real challenges regarding research. At fluidmobile my colleagues’ understanding of research was relatively clear – precisely because we put a clear focus on user experience. But in client projects, I had to repeatedly argue the added value and the necessity of research to our clients.
For clients, research is often associated with expenses and the benefits are not clear. Then I had to make it clear that research enables us to find out much earlier in which direction we should go or what we should rather not do.
Then I had to make it clear that research enables us to find out much earlier in which direction we should go or what we should rather not do.
An approach that saves costs in the long term. This persuasion is something I have in every project – not only with fluidmobile.
Dominic: Is there an example that you would like to share where the added value of user research really became clear?
Kira: Yes, in my last project we came back from the exploration phase where we did ethnographic interviews with the company’s clients and identified different needs in the synthesis. Personas were then developed from this and we went into the ideation with jobs-to-be-done building on it. Building on these needs, we designed two prototypes, both research-based.
Based on the research we have assumed that there is a hypothesis that customers want to be informed about the current status of the process at any time. On the other hand, there was the hypothesis that clients would prefer to give this away and not be informed until the process is complete. Both hypotheses were research-based.
We then developed a prototype that was based on the hypothesis that users wanted to be informed at all times and so we went into research very early on, specifically in the click dummy prototype phase. Directly in the first usability test we did, this prototype was literally shredded by the users. There’s no other way to put it.
The test persons reported back to us: “I’m not interested in what the internal work process is like, I have the feeling that I’m doing the work of the company”.
The antithesis we had established was therefore absolutely confirmed. So we were able to put this really promising idea in the drawer at a very early stage and concentrate on other ideas and were thus much faster and closer to the customer’s added value.
Dominic: Please tell me your most favorite tool for your job.
Kira: That’s a terribly difficult question because it depends very much on the method used… I’d almost say I couldn’t do my job without “direct communication”. So it’s not a software tool at all, but rather that I talk directly with the respondents – or with the other team members – and go into an exchange. Therefore, I am not thinking directly of a tool for recording or saving research, but rather of the actual implementation of qualitative research.
Dominic: And what about the methods? Do you have a research method that you prefer?
Kira: That depends very much on what is to be found out in the respective project. Ultimately, each method is simply a tool. When I think about bringing a picture to the wall, I have different ways to do it and if I say I always use hammer and nail, then maybe this procedure isn’t helpful for every wall and every picture. Sometimes a Tesa Powerstrip might be enough.
It’s not about hammering a nail into the wall, it’s about hanging the picture. The same goes for research methods.
But what I like to do personally are ethnographic interviews or simply in-depth interviews. This gives me the feeling that I can take the test persons to where the real needs lie. Another method that I like to use is usability testing, which is specifically about a problem.
Basically it can be said that I much prefer to use moderated rather than unmoderated tests because I like to work directly with the test persons.
Dominic: You moved from Karlsruhe to Hamburg, have you noticed any differences, is research done differently in the North than in the South of Germany?
Kira: Not really. On the contrary! I work in different cities, I work together with different customers who are based in Hamburg, Berlin or America. The exciting thing is that the main features are very similar. I think it is very dependent on the UX maturity of a company. So what role does user experience play in a company? The more established user research is, the better the understanding of what user research does and can achieve.
The more established user research is, the better the understanding of what user research does and can achieve.
Companies that have never had anything to do with user research before, sometimes find it difficult to classify what research really can do.
Dominic: How can you tell how strongly user research is already anchored in a company?
Kira: On the one hand, I take a look at what research has already been done so far, and whether and which methods have been used at all.
For example, many companies have so far only carried out quantitative evaluations and not so many qualitative studies. You will notice this relatively quickly when discussing the sample size and whether there is an understanding of the way qualitative research is used. But above all, I believe it is the endurance of open thinking and impartiality in the data collection phase through to the synthesis phase that shows whether a company has already had a lot of contact with research. In companies that haven’t had much experience yet, I often notice a lot of uncertainty. A desire to immediately think in terms of solutions – but of course also accompanied by anticipation of the results. Usually, after just a few interviews, people are asked what was found out. At the same time, employees in these companies, even if all the interviews were conducted, often have the feeling that we don’t know anything yet. Then they are very surprised when after the synthesis it becomes clear how many insights could be generated.
With team members and companies who have been involved in research on a number of occasions, you simply notice a certain calm and routine in enduring the uncertainty and the so-called researcher mindset until the research process is completed.
Dominic: You’ve been a researcher for quite some time, how has research changed in this time and where is the journey going?
Kira: What strikes me is that research is becoming more and more anchored in projects and is also becoming more important – I’m very pleased about that.
Nevertheless, I think we need to make significant progress. There are always projects that only start based on hypotheses. It is often the case with such projects that a usability test is carried out at the end of the project shortly before the launch, simply so that a test was made. Unfortunately, the potential of research is then lost and in the worst case, it even feels counterproductive for the team if ideas have to be rethrown shortly before the end. At this point, I hope that the understanding of the power of research will change if it is used early in the process and continuously pursued.
At this point, I hope that the understanding of the power of research will change if it is used early in the process and continuously pursued.
I also hope that user research will not only take place in digital product development but in every product development. Even if a trade fair or celebration is being planned, potential participants might be able to discuss their needs and expectations beforehand. Often at such events, only carry out a quantitative survey to gather some feedback after the event.
I would simply like the topic of user experience to be further thought through. Ultimately, we are surrounded by experiences that shape our interaction with companies. Here I would like to bring together my background from the brand strategy with user research.
Dominic: Imagine you could abolish a certain business practice in companies, what would that be?
Kira: Companies, or rather employees of a company, should not deduce so much from themselves about others. I experience it again and again that no matter how much research has been done, in the end, the beliefs prevailing in the company get through again. The own thinking is regarded as the status quo and the needs of the customers, which were uncovered by the research, are forgotten again. Unfortunately, we can never achieve real empathy like this.
Thanks, Kira for the interview!