How We Started Doing More Research at Viget

"We should be doing more research."

Six months ago, this was a sentiment that the UX team at Viget seemed to be expressing more and more.

This isn’t to say we don’t do a lot of research. We do. But sometimes... we don’t. Sometimes we ship stuff with assumptions baked in because for whatever reason, we didn’t have the time or the budget or the buy-in for research. It’s something that happens often enough to make us feel uneasy. Professionally inauthentic, even:

#UX Without User Research Is Not UX — Nielsen Norman Group (@NNgroup) August 11, 2014

The Research SIG

In the spirit of continual improvement, a few UX and Data & Analytics folks formed the Research Special Interest Group (SIG), an informal working group with the initial stated goal of “doing more research at Viget.”

As we began asking the question, “so why don’t we do more research?” we quickly realized that the problem goes deeper than the will or ability of the UX team. To make a difference, we would need to change the way projects get sold, staffed, and planned, and that would require the awareness and cooperation of the entire company.

In our first six months, the Research SIG approached this problem from several directions:

  • Educating teammates: We talked to colleagues about how to better incorporate research into the entire project cycle, from sales to support. We held Lunch & Learn sessions with the PM and Strategy teams to talk about the importance of research and reviewed a number of tools and methods available to us.
  • Streamlining processes: We created a Research Plan template and started a Research Knowledge Base to make research efforts more consistent and reproducible.
  • Parachuting into projects: To help smooth staffing challenges, we announced our availability as research mercenaries who could “parachute” into projects to help lead research activities.
  • Learning and sharing: We conducted an independent eye tracking study to expand our portfolio of skills and keep research at top of mind at Viget.

From Conversation to Culture

This week, the Research SIG had a six-month retrospective meeting. We agreed that we’ve made progress inserting research into the larger conversation at Viget, but the long goal is embedding a research mentality into the company culture.

How do we get there? By including teammates in data collection activities, not just sending a link to the finished report. By making a stronger case for the value of research by sharing our successes. By building a dedicated presence for research efforts on similar to Code at Viget. And by ramping up efforts to educate teammates about the why, what, and how of research activities.

Looking ahead to 2016, the Research SIG is taking on a few new members and planning a monthly series of internal talks on research topics. We’re ready to have more hard conversations about why research doesn’t get done and work towards becoming a company that can approach Mike Monteiro's ideal:

Pro tip: Stop asking permission to do research on projects. Just do it. Bake the cost into design, which research is. — Mike Monteiro (@monteiro) March 9, 2015

Changing an entire company's mindset and processes around research may be easier said than done, but we’re optimistic that 2016 will be a good year for research at Viget.

Curt is a researcher, designer, theorist, explorer, writer, and speaker with the title of User Experience Designer. He works in Viget's Falls Church, VA office for clients like POLITICO, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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