User Research enables Design with Shivani Aurora
Designwise Episode 1
"Research is an extraordinary process that enables functioning and an understanding between the people and the creators. It allows us to rehearse it and, in the process, also helps us to deploy it".
Research is a medium to understand the evolving needs of the people. Brands must focus on research to win minds and market share, well not just that! There is more to it, experienced creatives are actively using user research to shift perceptions and encourage empathy. The hope is to increase the understanding of people to address their true needs.
Our first episode of "designwise" is a real, raw, and honest design conversation with Shivani. From the experience of being a designer for over twelve years, She tells us about, how do designers advocate the need for user research? How does user research address business needs? and why should we all adopt user research as a groundwork for every design process? Let's Listen!
"Being a product designer my work definitely fits inside those digital screens but every action is so much more related to those real-world emotions and what exactly user experience is and It sounds really cliché, but the ability to impact other people's lives and make it easier is so much more gratifying and I truly love it".
— Shivani Aurora.
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Priyanka: Welcome to QED42's podcast Designwise, I'm your host, Priyanka Jeph, and I'm a design writer at QED42. This is the first episode of our podcast and our guest today, Shivani Aurora, who's a product designer at Workday as of now, has led various aspects of design, starting from research, strategy, interaction to visual design and today she'll be talking to us in detail about user research and how to apply research to business needs. We'll also talk about the need for user research, for a good digital experience and what it means to her as a designer. It is a pleasure and I'm really excited to create the very first designwise podcast with Shivani, Hi! Shivani, Welcome to Designwise.
Priyanka: I'm absolutely looking forward to this conversation because, you know, we go a long way since 2005 and also because I loved our pre-recording conversations about how important design is, the value of user research in the process of design, and I'm sure our audiences are going to learn a lot from you. So having said that, how are you?
Shivani: Thank you so much, Priyanka. I am doing very well. I hope you are doing well, too.
Priyanka: I'm good as well. So, ya, let's begin with your experience with design. How has it been with you over all these years?
Shivani: Yes, sure, I can give you a little quick introduction about myself, so I am a product designer working at a company called Workday in California. Before that, I was working at a design agency in San Francisco for last three years. I would say an experience, I think, which was very varied because I was working for different clients, different company sizes, but equally rewarding. And before that, I was doing my masters in digital media editing, which I did a year-long fellowship at Microsoft as a civic tech fellow. Again, a very interesting experience. I think I think that's pretty much been my recent stint.
Priyanka: That has been a very interesting journey, what, what I would like to know more is how design has added value to all these yours and what does it mean to you?
Shivani: A big question I feel, though, well design, I feel to me is having like an incredible power that I think can touch and impact, people's lives in so many different ways. Right. And I feel my role or anybody's role as a designer today is so much more important than ever before because every aspect of our lives today is so deeply connected digitally. I mean, what other way to see the impact and the power than this unfortunate pandemic that we are experiencing right now? I feel my mom, who has never, ever used an app for shopping, is now ordering groceries online. She's having literally Zoom Sessions and she's celebrating birthdays virtually, which I feel all of these moments for somebody like her or anybody her age could be really defeating and tiring you know if that digital experience or interaction is hard for someone and beat her or anybody of any other age or experience, I feel like, at least for me as being a product designer, like my work definitely fits inside those digital screens, but every action that it affords is so much more related to these real world emotions. And what is that user experience is at that point in time? And I mean, it sounds really cliche, but just the ability to impact people's lives and make it easier, I feel is so much more gratifying and I truly love it.
Priyanka: This is so seamlessly explained the point,
Priyanka: That design has a huge impact on humans and it's a gratifying experience for designers themselves to create products like that. What I would like to know more is how do you add those aspects of design in the products that you create?
Shivani: I think one of the things that I feel differentiates you as a good designer is you've got to have that passion to really wanting to understand what users want, like understand what their motivations are and what are they looking for when they're trying to complete a task or anything, for that matter. And for me personally, I feel like my design process is deeply rooted and connected with user research. And it's something that I call my superpower because I feel that is something that keeps me connected to thinking about what is it that users want and then build a meaningful experience around it. So throughout my process, like it's not just including research in that specific stage, maybe early on or later in the stage, but it's really working around. That needs of the user throughout the process is something that connects me to that human experience and real emotion of that user. And what, what does it create at the end of the day and how has it impacted them is what is how I think about it?
Priyanka: I absolutely agree. We do this for the people at the end-user, as it said. But it's a known fact that not every company invests in research as much as they should. How do you think designers can help advocate the need for it? Do you really, you know, do they really need to advocate the need for it?
Shivani: Yeah, I mean, that's that's a sad fact. But I mean, I live in the Bay Area, the tech, tech giant space. But I still have had my experiences where companies still think that you know, research would be a waste of time and money or maybe that it should be done just at a specific stage and not throughout the process. And I feel as a designer, as much time we spend designing and spending time on screens creating these experiences, I think it's equally important to also evangelize within our organizations on what we do and why we do own it. It sounds simple, but I think it's amazing how many people do not know what exact role do we play. And, and for research specifically, I feel like, you know, as designers, we are the voice of the users. So to convince the stakeholders on the impact that this research can really have is something that can really be helpful. And so I think it really depends at the end of the day, like who your audience is and who are you trying to convince. But I mean, it can be as simple as like just creating a presentation with, you know, real-world examples of case studies or show what you did in your previous company and how, how it impacted the business or get them a true story or,or.
Shivani: I mean, I've I've also done this like where you have super low budget constraints. And, you know, if you end-user, is somebody like your friends do fit into that user base. I have also connected like free coffee sessions where I, I just did like some impromptu research sessions and. Showed that of how that would create a true value and how it would actually impact the business at the end of the day. I think you just need to be creative and adapt. But what you should not do, I think, is just not compromise and not reach out to the end-user, is what I would say. So it just depends on how you bridge that gap by thinking about how this new experience we're designing and how we are going to not just fulfil the goal of the end-user, but also how it'll impact the business need at the end of the day.
Priyanka: Exactly that exactly what I was going to come to from the experiences you've had, how do you think we can explain the need of user research to the stakeholders, the decision-makers, while also addressing the business needs?
Shivani: Yeah, I think my experience, like working in an agency, was in a different way. You're like all you could do is, of course, convince you cannot always impact the end decision what the client would take. But the one thing that has worked for me being in an agency or an in-house company, that you still are trying to convince the business stakeholders. The one thing that I found is see there, there are two kinds of audiences here. Again, like if I'm thinking just about the business stakeholders, what they are concerned, you have to understand what their language is, what their motivations is. And this is, again, understanding your audience, which is the business leaders of this case, and they want to be convinced about, OK, how is this going to impact subscription and say they want you to increase the subscription by 10 per cent and this is what they care about.
Shivani: But if you as a designer said that as a goal, I think it starts on a very wrong note. You know, you can just force a subscription screen on the landing page and. Yes, and the experience will not be great, but it will increase the subscription by 10 per cent. Right. But it will not create a great user experience.
Shivani: So I think the one way that I have been looking at it is first identifying what is.
Shivani: The UX outcome that I'm looking at, so say, yes, I'm going to create a subscription experience on the landing page, but maybe I need to think about how will it actually impact the customer's experience? And I think I can give an example of how I think about it. So there is a company here called Everlane, which is really concerned, and they make these products which really impact how the climate change is happening. And I'm imagining so if I'm designing for a company like Everlane, I might think and propose when I'm giving this sign up screen that, hey, every sign up that you do, but not just going to send you deals, but will also tell you how every product that we make or how we are impacting or doing something good for the climate change and we might send you updates. So in a way, I'm like, OK, I'm concerned about climate change. Yes, I will sign up and let's see if the company is actually doing something because everybody says we're doing stuff, but you don't really know what's happening or how much you're donating and what you're actually doing. So I would be convinced to actually sign up here. And if I actually find that they're actually doing a great job, I might be the word of mouth spread this and at the end of the day, there will be more people coming in and shopping at your site because they believe in the value that you're creating. So I feel this would be an example of how I am creating a value outcome, a UX outcome by giving this messaging. But at the end of the day, it's actually going to bring in more users, which will increase the subscription, which is what the business is more concerned about. So I think I would just say that as designers, we need to keep the focus on what the user wants, but be able to connect the dots between that improved user experience and how it will help us attain a better business result.
Shivani: And time and again, I think I definitely have found this really valuable in my experience, and this is something that I would suggest.
Priyanka: Absolutely. Shivani Absolutely. User research is what makes the product. What it is going further, Do you think designers can play an active role as researchers or it should be a separate practice in itself?
Shivani: Yeah, and I think this is an experience that is very close to my heart because the last company I was talking about, I've seen first hand how you know we used to work as two different teams of researchers and designers. And and even if you're not in a model there, I think generally you find that researchers and designers are different in ratio. A researcher might work on a project and move on to the other one.
Shivani: But by the time you start acting on those research insights, the researcher might be working on something else. But I feel.
Shivani: As equal, equally important, it is for us to have that collaborative environment with engineers or product managers, which we often do in the process, but it is equally important to bring those researchers back in the process because, you know, when they're actually conducting those say user interviews, where they're listening to the users, there are so many nuances around it. Like there's so much there's so much context when they're actually having that conversation with the user that is really valuable. And sometimes if you just fix fixate your ideas on what the research report or those like 10 liners are telling you, you might miss out something. I mean, you wouldn't always. But you may. So just bringing those researchers back in the process and say, hey, you know what? Just look at the process or I mean, even if the work is in progress. Just ask them to take a look at your work and I'm sure you'll get insights or they might give you feedback on stuff that you might have missed out.
Shivani: And I've always found that really valuable. The other thing I always do, again, I think that relationship is really important, that as designers, we could also be a little bit proactive. So, you know, when the researchers are conducting these sessions, what you could do is just listen to those recordings or maybe it doesn't have to be lively. Like you could just sit and go live and that would be awesome. But if not, you can just go back and listen to the recording sessions.
Shivani: I think those those listening to those uses first hand, I have always found it to be extremely valuable. It paints a bigger picture than you can imagine, and it's always helpful.
Shivani: And I think, again, even if you don't have a research team, I would say you can start with something like, you know, just go out and talk to people who are talking to the customer care like customer care team whos is actually talking to the users. I mean, there's so much insights you have there. I feel like even if you don't have research dedicated researchers in the team, they'd be the one researcher like to do those tasks, look into the data, try and dig in what's happening to see what users are saying, go out in the field and just talk to them and you will be surprised how much you just learn from those simple processes. And the key is just to like you know make sure that your complete design process is revolving around the users. And I think that is that is that is the only biggest advice I think I will give at this point.
Priyanka: Having said that, our audiences are going to learn a lot from you, what you just said, you know, and user research is extremely important as designers, you know, designers ought to do it. They need to step up and take the initiatives to interact, you know, go a step ahead and do it by themselves. So, you know, why don't we sum this up with more about user research? Why don't you tell us about qualitative and quantitative research and standard framework?
Shivani: I think yeah. I mean, maybe I can talk about like a standard framework that you can always think about or little things that you can keep in mind. And it could be as simple as, you know, we all know about. there are like two sorts of qualitative and quantitative research. And a simple mantra for me is to remember, it is like if you're trying to identify the what behind a thing this is when you do quantitative research, things like logging into data, looking at analytics or doing an online survey, but if you're trying to understand the why, that's where qualitative research comes in.
Shivani: So, you know, it could be things like doing micro surveys or conducting those one on one interviews or going in the field and doing ethnographic research. And I'll give you a quick example here, which I always find super fascinating. So my team was actually working for a group, a product which was meant for blind users, and it was not really designed in the process early on. This is a story which goes back way, way back in time there.
Shivani: This research process was not as much of all, but the team still decided to just go out and understand more of what this user is and how do they interact with this device. And it was a very interesting fact that they noticed, which was the speed at which a blind user interacted with that device. Just going through the menu was super fast. And just that little note was something that you would have observed only if you saw the user being in front of them, like being in their natural surroundings, seeing how they use it, because they wouldn't have ever explained it to you, even in one on one interviews that how fast they go through the menu because this is so natural to them. But that little detail is something that led for the design team to think, OK, what can be an experience that could help them navigate through that device faster and meaningfully? So I feel going to those details understanding like what are those moments? What are you trying to achieve and how can you do it? is like there are multiple methods, but you have to really think of what you're trying to achieve and what is the best way to achieve. So there are tons of processes and framework that you could follow. But just keep in mind what your end goal is and what will be most beneficial to the product you're creating or the experience that you're creating.
Priyanka: Thank you, Shivani. It was great to speak with you and regard this being so far away. This was a very inspiring conversation. And for me especially and, you know, our audiences are also going to learn a lot from it for sure. Thank you for being a part of designwise.
Shivani: Thank you. It was an honour talking to you. Thank you so much.
Priyanka: So, that was the conversation with Shivani, which was extremely heartfelt and came through her experience in design for over 12 years. Thank you for listening to us, this was Priyanka Jeph in designwise from QED42.