#150 - The Future of UX Research with Judd Antin, Dave Hora, and Christiana Lackner

#150 - The Future of UX Research with Judd Antin, Dave Hora, and Christiana Lackner

Judd Antin [00:00:00]:
If I'm talking to a researcher and they're like, well, but where do I start? I often say, start with your boss and then learn what keeps them up at night. Honestly, the best way to earn influence is to scratch people's itches. You know what I mean? So, like, how do you prioritize? Like, don't prioritize if you're going to do fewer things better, don't. I would say, don't make your own prioritization. That's the other thing I would say, is, like, there needs to be a prioritization that the whole product, team, or business has about which problems are the most important to solve.

Erin May [00:00:36]:
Hey, this is Erin May.

Carol Guest [00:00:37]:
And this is Carol guest.

Erin May [00:00:39]:
And this is awkward silences. Awkward silences is brought to you by user interviews, the fastest way to recruit targeted, high quality participants for any kind of research. All right, super excited to get this episode in front of everyone. We've got Judd, we've got Christiana, we've got Dave. Really awesome thought leaders in the space of user research, you know, grappling with the past and what got us here, a lot of optimism for the future, and I'm confident everyone's going to get.

Carol Guest [00:01:14]:
A lot out of this episode.

Erin May [00:01:15]:
What'd you like, Carol?

Carol Guest [00:01:16]:
Yeah, I love this episode. As Erin said, lots of heavy hitters and just a deep conversation about what's been changing in UXR, the need for more agility, more embeddedness, and just optimism as the field changes. So, yeah, I think we're gonna love it.

Erin May [00:01:30]:
All right, check it out. Hello, everybody, and welcome back to awkward silences. Today we're here with not one, not two, but three fabulous guests, and we're very excited to have all of you here. We've got Jud Anton, the founder and principal at Judd, Anton Consulting, Dave Hora, founder at Dave's research company, and Christiana Lachner, head of UXR construction at Autodesk. Today we're going to talk about the future of UXR, which is, of course, a very big topic. But we have some great minds here with divergent and interesting opinions that you're still fleshing out in real time, I think, and very excited to jump into this topic. So before we do that, maybe we could start with some intros. So, Cristiano, you're to my right.

Erin May [00:02:18]:
Let's start with you.

Christiana Lackner [00:02:20]:
Perfect. Sounds good. Yeah. Hi, everyone. Christiana, see a little background about me? I've been in UX research roles for about ten years now. A few different contexts, big companies, design consultancies, and startups, mostly enterprise software, which I think is important to note. And then in addition to doing product research work, I've done, you know, best practices development within R and D organizations, established research operations functions, and I really love building partnerships with other customer facing teams like customer support, customer success and sales. Great.

Erin May [00:02:52]:
Nice and efficient. Let's move on to Dave. Let's hear a little bit about you.

Dave Hora [00:02:55]:
Okay. Hello, I'm Dave Hora. I am currently independently consulting out of Porto, Portugal and started my career in research. Around 2011 I moved to San Francisco, worked as a contract designer. It didn't work very well, but they offered me a job doing research and after that I did six stints as the first researcher inside an organization. I think the two best known ones that I worked at were Plangrid and Instacart. And so now I help companies primarily who don't have a research practice, product strategy and research projects, as well as upskilling their team.

Erin May [00:03:33]:
Wonderful. Great.

Judd Antin [00:03:34]:
And Judd, hi, thanks for having me. I'm Jud. I worked in in UX for almost 15 years at Yahoo and Meta and Airbnb and most of that time was in research roles. But I've also had the chance to apply those skills in design roles and general manager roles. I left the internal gig about 18 months ago and now I am an executive coach primarily for UX indesign folks, helping them do the parts of leadership no one talks about. And I'm also a UX consultant, an independent UX consultant. And to be here talking about this with you. Thanks for having me.

Erin May [00:04:07]:
Fantastic. Thanks everyone for joining.

Carol Guest [00:04:10]:
Wow, such a deep background in UXR across the board here. So yeah, very excited to dig in. We're going to spend most of the day focusing on the future, but we did want to sort of set some context on where we are today. So we're going to have everyone go around and do one word describing your general sentiment on where UXR is right now. And then we'll go around and elaborate a bit more. So I'll do opposite order. We'll start with Jen.

Judd Antin [00:04:32]:
I'm going to use two words. I'll say anxiously optimistic. You want me to elaborate on that? I'm sorry, would you like.

Erin May [00:04:40]:
I was thinking we could even hyphenate that potentially and consider it, but we'll allow it. Yes.

Carol Guest [00:04:47]:
Okay. I was going to say let's do the one word first or two words and then we'll go back around.

Christiana Lackner [00:04:52]:
Sounds good.

Carol Guest [00:04:52]:
So let's jump over to Dave.

Dave Hora [00:04:54]:
Okay. My word will be rescaffolding nice word.

Carol Guest [00:04:59]:
Nice word. Getting some nods here.

Christiana Lackner [00:05:01]:
Okay, Christiana, I'm also going to sneak in an extra word and say in transition.

Judd Antin [00:05:06]:
Got it.

Carol Guest [00:05:06]:
All right, so some shared themes here. Yeah, let's share more about why. So we'll do the same order. So we'll start with jet.

Judd Antin [00:05:12]:
Yeah, I mean, I think anybody can see that anxiety is somewhat high right now in the industry, just for a lot of reasons. It's been a tough few years, a lot of layoffs, a lot of restructuring, a lot of folks who are worried about what the future looks like. I say anxiously optimistic, partly because I think I'm definitely an optimist, hopefully not a foolish optimist. I think a realistic optimist. I don't think things are ever as good or as bad as they seem. And so I think in this moment there is a lot of anxiety about the future, but that actually, as I hope we talk about a lot today, the future is actually pretty bright if we can harness this moment and move forward with some new approaches and skills. So I think that that's why I said anxiously optimistic.

Christiana Lackner [00:05:53]:

Erin May [00:05:54]:
Excellent. Dave, fun to you.

Dave Hora [00:05:57]:
I said rescaffolding because it feels in some ways like the bottom rungs of the ladder that used to make up the research career have sort of fallen away. The bread and butter pathways by which people came into our industry and the skills and activities that they used to do when they were getting ramped up are more and more taken into product teams or taken over by products and services. It doesn't mean that product teams doing this work are necessarily doing it particularly well, but they are doing it, and that sort of blocks the path that a lot of researchers take in. So what I think we're looking for is for the people who want to help their teams make better decisions, work in a more evidence driven and efficient way, or effective way, I should say. What's the entry path for them back in? And I don't know, and that's why we are rescaffolding.

Carol Guest [00:06:48]:
Will you say more about that? Some of the activities that used to exist at the more entry level roles that have now been taken into product teams, what are some examples of that?

Dave Hora [00:06:57]:
I think it used to be particularly difficult even to arrange a visit or a conversation with a user. Call it median time to insights or at least median time to evidence is dramatically lower now. And it's within a product team's power to email the people who use their product, arrange a call and talk to them. And this used to be a real moat for researchers, whether or not it should or it should have been, it was.

Erin May [00:07:31]:
Yeah. And I think you've seen that in recent years, the sort of fear of letting go of some of that control, perhaps some for good reasons, to your point, and some maybe holding on to something that isn't actually the most powerful part of the job, the most important and strategic part of the job. So we'll get into all of that. Christiana?

Christiana Lackner [00:07:50]:
Yeah, so I said in transition, I'm also an optimist. Judd. An idealist, maybe naively so, but yeah, I think in the same vein, the transition is towards new sets of skills and activities that maybe weren't the kind of like core wheelhouse of researchers before. Those skills and activities have been democratized. That word is used a lot, but there are other things that researchers can do to play a core role in gathering insights, but then, more importantly, translating insights into product decisions that are going to have impact. And I think that's the new set of skills and expectations that researchers should have for themselves, that stakeholders should have for their researchers, more in the vein of a thought partner rather than this service provider who's going to go and find information for you and then hand it over and have other people make decisions.

Carol Guest [00:08:36]:
So just to say a little bit more about that, actually, can you explain more what you mean? What are some of the skills that have now been democratized versus the ones that are more newer or more core to Uxr?

Christiana Lackner [00:08:45]:
Yeah, I mean, Dave mentioned some of them. So just getting customers on the phone, right, getting them into interviews. I think things like usability testing, gathering those kinds of insights. There's so many tools out there now that make that so much faster and kind of guide the process so that people who don't have an expertise that they've developed over many years can get in and get that kind of stuff quickly. I think the skills that we're moving towards are facilitation, you know, creating models and frameworks to guide decision making over time. Not just like, I have this one question about this specific thing that we're trying to launch, but, like, bigger picture, where is this all leading to? How is this fitting in with the market, our customers, that kind of thing?

Erin May [00:09:24]:
Yeah. So a lot of enablement and empowerment. Yeah. Judd.

Judd Antin [00:09:28]:
I really agree with that, too. I think two thoughts. Listening to Dave and Christiana say smart things is that one is like, I don't know if the argument about democratization is as strong as it used to be now that AI is here, but I always thought it's a little bit silly because the genie's not going back in the bottle, you know what I mean? Exactly. As Christina put so well, it's like these tools are now available and like Dave was saying, there's no more moat. You know, we don't have to feel threatened by that, but we do have to shift. And the other thing that occurred to me and maybe we're sort of dating ourselves as a panel, but like, and I don't know the answer to what percentage of our industry has only been in it for the good times because it's been a good long run, hasn't it? Like of growth and development and sort of maturing in a particular model of what, what UXR was, where we had the tools roughly we had and design was growing as important within at least in tech and other places. And then insights, functions were growing and develop and researchers within them, which is so wonderful. But if that's the only world you've ever known, I would imagine in this moment of technological, societal, industry upheaval it can feel particularly scary.

Judd Antin [00:10:40]:
Maybe even though when you look at it on any horizon, industries go through evolutions all the time. It's probably a healthy and good thing.

Erin May [00:10:48]:

Christiana Lackner [00:10:48]:

Erin May [00:10:48]:
So it's not an argument of value judgment, it simply is. And we need to move forward because those things aren't changing. And some of us have been through some cycles of bull markets and bear markets and whatnot and this is part of that. And I'm hearing themes of change and flux and optimism, cautious optimism, so we can carry those forward into the rest of the conversation. Jud, you mentioned AI quickly in passing and I know our audience is thinking about AI. Do you want to just say a tiny bit more about that and how that fits into the democratization question?

Judd Antin [00:11:21]:
Yeah, I think everybody's thinking about AI. I understand like I'm not as bullish as some others are because in my experience the marketing is like three to five years ahead of the technology's actual capabilities. So the hype cycle is strong right now. I think that the reality of Genai is affecting everyones jobs. And im not kidding. I think the motivation for a fair amount of restructuring and layoffs and cost cutting and efficiency right now is just buying Nvidia chips, especially for big companies or smaller companies that are having to purchase model building services from others. I think AI is changing our industry but for researchers I feel way less worried that its going to steal our jobs. I think we, you know the thing, just as we've been talking about there are things that AI can do, which used to be the unique purview of researchers, but thinking of it as like an always on research assistant, I think it can make us so much more efficient if we learn to use those tools, which we should absolutely learn to do.

Judd Antin [00:12:23]:
But that's different from saying like, well, we're all going to be out of a job because now we have like AI's interviewing other AI's and that's all we need to do, research. That sounds like hype, not actual valuable insight development to me.

Erin May [00:12:36]:
Yeah, for sure. And to your point, knowing when are we holding onto the old world unnecessarily, or are we just putting a critical lens on what is actually inevitable and what's just hype? Right?

Judd Antin [00:12:46]:

Erin May [00:12:47]:
Yeah. All right, so that's our context, setting backward looking part of things. Let's move forward. Let's talk about the future. And Dave, maybe we could start with you. What are some of the ways you see that UXR needs to evolve to stay relevant, impactful, meaningful, given some of this context that we've been talking about.

Dave Hora [00:13:06]:
For a long time? I think the way that research used to work was in a project based cycle. And there would be a question and we would do a research project and we would answer that question because the time that it takes to ship product and that we can get new things out the door and learn from them is decreasing rapidly. The amount of time it takes to get insights should be decreasing with it. But what we haven't done is broken out of that project mindset and thought more about research as maintaining, let's say, sort of like an enduring view or a scan over a product area and then learning in the course of that development? At which point should we be learning different things? How can we weave in effective decision making and anticipate what those decisions are going to be throughout the course of the, let's call it initiative, or even just like the scope of a quarter instead of project by project. So I think at a high level, like, I see this unbundling of the project model, and we've gone all the way to the other side of that spectrum with hard cadence, continuous discovery, where a team may speak to four users every week, they may not be learning everything that they need to know, or they may not be learning, they may not be conscientious about what to learn or how. I think sometimes we find that with teams that have eschewed any form of research, coaching or researcher on board, but we're moving somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, unbundling from projects and being more intentional than just blind cadence discovery.

Erin May [00:14:40]:
Interesting. So, old world, everything is project based. Then we moved the pendulum to a continuous world. And now you're saying the pendulum is kind of moving a little bit more in between.

Dave Hora [00:14:52]:
Yes, and depending on where you look and which teams you work with, the pendulum is at various different places. So some small startups are doing heavy, rapid, always on experimentation. Other teams are still and will continue to do research projects on a pretty long time cycle because their development works on a pretty long time cycle. But in general, yeah, I think we're moving towards where research fits in is learning to be a much more intentional and almost orchestrative partner to the product development process.

Carol Guest [00:15:25]:
And des, when you say moving to the middle of the spectrum, do you imagine. I can imagine a few ways this might work. One, some companies have some continuous discovery going, some big projects, some medium sized project. It's sort of a matter of choosing the right method for what the company needs, or it might be actually consistently we're seeing medium sized projects. I'm not sure what that looks like, but how do you imagine this playing out?

Dave Hora [00:15:48]:
I imagine it playing out. It depends on what the different teams in the company are and how they're working, the cadence at which they're doing user facing experiments or shipping large new features. And a lot of the big discovery work is decreasing because the, like the novel ground of putting software in places where pen and paper used to exist is largely broken. We don't have a lot of these kinds of projects anymore. So for a fast growth team who's trying to do iterative experiments, maybe something cadenced is right. For a team with a clear objective and a number of experiments, that could be any amount of time. Maybe they need to look ahead and think, when we do this, we're going to need to talk to eight people or ten people and see how this works. Or maybe this is just analytics.

Dave Hora [00:16:35]:
We have good evidence, good context here. And for teams that are performing business as usual sort of maintenance, there's also the question of maintaining usability coverage on the platform and making sure that we don't lose sight of what is happening there. But I think all of that's to say it depends on the composition of the teams and the nature of the product surface they're working with. I think that's how we need to customize the way that research will fit there.

Erin May [00:17:03]:
Yeah, maybe a little bit of what I hear you saying too, Dave, is that there have been trends in the project versus continuous, the different methods folks are using. Right. And that maybe we're moving more to a world where research as a function can help people pick the right tools and the right processes versus these sort of trends that become prevalent as UXR has evolved in its maturity.

Dave Hora [00:17:27]:
One size does not fit all.

Erin May [00:17:28]:
That's right. It depends. Alternate title for this podcast.

Christiana Lackner [00:17:32]:
By the way, context is everything.

Erin May [00:17:36]:
Christiana, could we hear from you on some of your thinking in terms of how research needs to evolve?

Christiana Lackner [00:17:41]:
Yeah, yeah. As I was hearing Dave talk, I was thinking, oh, a quarter timeline, that's so short. But I think that points to what he was saying about it depends. It's all about the context. Where is the product in its development cycle? What's the scale and the scope of the product surface that you're working on? How interconnected is it? The stuff that I work on at Autodesk is very large scale and very interconnected. And so the time horizons are a bit longer in terms of figuring out how all these things fit together. The other thing that came to mind is to do the kind of work that Dave was describing. I think we have to move away from the consultative model, even if we're a centralized function.

Christiana Lackner [00:18:17]:
I think researchers have to be more embedded in product areas and have an understanding of their domain so that they can understand the problems that are popping up, understand the questions that are popping up, and then quickly decide what's the right method to answer the questions that the team has right now. Yeah. And be able to partner in that way over time. So I think that's something, you know, we've played with different models, I think, from a design perspective and from a research perspective, but in my experience, really felt like embedding researchers so that they have relationships with their stakeholders and domain expertise is pretty important.

Carol Guest [00:18:48]:
Yeah, it seems like a piece of what you're saying is both Dave and Christiana is around sort of like, agility of the UXR function to be able to direct teams to the right method, to the right type of project based on the need. And what I'm hearing from you, Christiana, is a consultative model is not as agile. Does that resonate? Like, it has to be often a bigger project or there might be a specific method that feels more appropriate in that model. Is that right?

Christiana Lackner [00:19:11]:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think the part of that that makes it challenging is the onboarding and the ramp up. Right. Especially if products are complex and the domain is like, very specific. It takes a while for a researcher to wrap their head around it and again, be that kind of thought partner to the PM, as opposed to just saying, okay, here's what I learned. Now you go and make a decision, right. That's not as valuable to a product manager or designer as being a thought partner.

Erin May [00:19:34]:
I think that's an interesting distinction, too, because on the one hand, maybe someone like me would think embedded and think, oh, tactical, you're doing usability tests as part of an embedded member of a product team. But that's not what I hear you saying. What I hear you saying is you have to have the context. You got to know what's going on on the ground versus, I don't know, setting up some frameworks and saying, have fun with this. Good luck. Right. So, yeah, being part of that context as it evolves, but not necessarily leading every research effort yourself as a researcher.

Christiana Lackner [00:20:02]:
Totally, yeah. I mean, I don't think that is excluded from the realm of methods to use, but I think maybe for the kind of usability evaluative research, the researcher might be able to guide the team where it's not really necessary. Like, we can make some assumptions and go with them and then test after we launch. And that's another decision point that I find researchers are able to kind of make with some clear rationale, whereas designers or PM's maybe get caught up in like, oh, I'm afraid to launch this thing, or, I feel like it's too risky to launch this thing. And again, having the context of the product and the problem space and the customers and the users helps make those decisions more efficiently.

Erin May [00:20:37]:
Judd, let's hear from you. What are some of your thoughts on how we need to evolve as a research practice?

Judd Antin [00:20:43]:
Yeah, I mean, it's a great question for us, and I would say maybe it's hard for a lot of researchers to hear that. What if it turns out the way we need to evolve is sort of away from the unique focus on our research practice and our value as primary collectors of data? I think we, as maybe more than other disciplines, researchers in particular, tend to be navel gazey, just really interested in focusing on our own methodologies and how we can communicate those methodologies better. But that's why I think it might be shocking for some to realize that in this model, it's actually not that that is required primarily to evolve the discipline. It's actually one thing I often say to researchers is, think of yourself not as a researcher, but a product person, a business person who happens to be a researcher. But then most researchers don't do that. One of my favorite sets of interview questions is a researcher will give lovely case studies on a variety of things he's done with a lot of detail. And I'll say something like, can you give me an example of an app that you really love right now? You think it's really beautifully designed, and tell me why. They just don't have an answer, you know what I mean? Because they're not thinking like a designer.

Judd Antin [00:21:56]:
Then what about questions like, how does that make money? How do you make your money? How does that make it more efficient for your company to make its money? I think researchers, if there are two big shifts that we could make, the first would be away from a unique focus on our research practice. Obviously, that still has to be a part of it, and towards thinking about the business a lot more. A lot of people are talking about this now. We need to be more, much more fluent in the languages of business. How products get made, how money gets made, what it costs to make that money. Are we listening to shareholder calls and understanding the okrs really, really carefully? And then the second shift I think we need to make, which we're all talking about in different ways, is towards continuous engagement with our colleagues. And that can be true whether you're internal or external. Maybe you're working as a consultant or an independent person like Dave and I are.

Judd Antin [00:22:49]:
It's still a way of saying like, we have spent the last ten or 15 years in a reactive mode. I think overly reactive people ask us for work or projects, we do them. We think of ourselves as providing influence or insights for someone else's decision making process. And that sucks. And that's not the future, right? Especially in an AI enabled world where we don't have unique access to the data collection anymore. The value that researchers bring has to be more in the constant partner in decision making that is as much about business and product as it is about users and insights. Not one more than the other, not like abandoned users, but both. And I think that doesn't feel great to a lot of researchers who have spent the last ten or 15 years thinking the user was the thing.

Judd Antin [00:23:35]:
And if we build it, they will come. Just like if we're just user focused enough, then business success will follow. And I don't know if I've ever seen evidence that that has been a successful strategy.

Erin May [00:23:47]:
I'll hazard an analogy from the journalism world that I once came from, which is you've got your editors and publishers, right? And there's the business people over here and the creators of the product over here, and there's a wall in between. And you do your thing and I'll do my thing. And so researchers will be the voice of the customer, the user, the ethics folks, whatever. And you over there worry about the business and somehow it'll all work out. And it feels like generally the community says researchers, you gotta put the business hat on. You gotta understand the business also, not instead. So it feels like that's where you are now. Are there any risks of that? Any concerns, strategies to maintain that user hat while moving in this sort of business forward product forward direction too?

Judd Antin [00:24:33]:
Yeah, I mean, I think that we should be careful not to frame it as a zero sum game. Like you're either user focused or business focused. And I know you're not suggesting, but I think that's where we're at is that the word I often use is matchmaker at the intersection of what the business needs and what users want. And so the strategy, I think, is when we're much more fluent in how the business works, it's making that the explicit motivation for our work. Honestly, the sort of general user understanding style of research. It's not that we don't need user understanding, it's that I feel like often it is too vague and taken for granted that, yeah, user understanding is enough for this to be worth our time. It's not. Maybe it never was, but I don't think it is anymore.

Judd Antin [00:25:25]:
It has to be user understanding in service of a really specific business problem which we can now articulate and help make a decision about because we understand how it works. We're not naive. We're not just advocating for users. We're advocating for users in a way that will also lead to business success.

Erin May [00:25:42]:
Yeah. Yeah. Awkward interruption this episode of Awkward Silences, like every episode of Awkward Silences, is brought to you by user interviews.

Carol Guest [00:25:51]:
We know that finding participants for research is hard. User interviews is the fastest way to recruit targeted, high quality participants for any kind of research. We're not a testing platform. Instead, we're fully focused on making sure you can get just in time in for your product development, business strategy, marketing and more.

Erin May [00:26:08]:
Go to userinterviews.com awkward to get your first three participants free. This could be a good thing to throw in our show, some resources for folks to kind of level up on the business side of things. But are there any that come to mind for anyone that you recommend or that have been useful to you?

Christiana Lackner [00:26:25]:
First thing I'd say actually is like, I'm thinking about knowing your users as a researcher. Right? Like knowing what your PM cares about, knowing what your designer cares about. So go to your PM and understand what they're looking at and what they're thinking about in terms of the business constraints that they have, that's going to be very context specific, which is probably the most helpful in terms of business understanding.

Erin May [00:26:45]:

Dave Hora [00:26:46]:
I think the analogy holds really nicely that the product team is your user and the business, or at least like the CEO or whoever's paying salaries, is your customer. And understanding it from that lens is a nice research problem. And there's a lot of interesting stories, business stories, that show you just how different the world is. Let's say, like the business level world. Right now I'm reading a book called barbarians at the gate about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. And it's a very clear look at all of the people in all of the boardrooms and what was happening at these points in time. And I'm not saying that you should read these books, but recognizing that there is a world that's happening that has different language, mindsets, norms, and activities that we normally have no exposure to. You can ask the people in your company, or you can look for places to learn how this stuff works outside of that as well.

Judd Antin [00:27:43]:
You got to get that book.

Erin May [00:27:44]:
Yeah, go ahead. No, I was just going to say reminding me of the new Jerry Seinfeld pop Tart movie. It's a boardroom consumer package. Good drama. Sorry, Judd, what were you gonna say?

Judd Antin [00:27:56]:
Oh, just I think, like, in addition to learning about RJR Nabisco, I feel like. I feel like, you know, most people, like, if you work, I mean, very practically, like, if you work at a public company, go read the last shareholder letter, listen to the call. It's gonna sound like another language at first. Like, that often happens. I often hear that feedback. There's a lot of lingo, and often the press releases. The tech press does a pretty good job of telling you what to care about and situating it in a broader competitive landscape. So reading that is like a thing all researchers should do would say in a private company, those similar documents often exist on a company intranet, like just the annual report on how the business is doing and what the goals are and things like that.

Judd Antin [00:28:40]:
And then the other thing I would say, whenever anybody wants to learn anything, my first suggestion is YouTube. And I'm not kidding. If you just go on YouTube and you search financial literacy, or maybe that's not right, the search term, but YouTube. I tell that my kid's twelve and a lot of people are like, YouTube? It's full of trash. I'm like, well, it has a lot of trash, but it's also one of the most educational places on the planet for almost anything you want to learn. So that's a good source for any researcher who wants to come up to speed quickly on some of the terminology and the way that we talk about certain industries, the trends, stuff like that.

Erin May [00:29:15]:
Yeah, and I'm confident our researchers can separate the wheat from the chaff in the YouTube archives. So great tip. All right, great. Maybe we could talk a little bit about the future of research, how it should evolve in the context of different folks, different job titles, user roles within companies. So, for example, about half of our audience is researchers or aspiring researchers. We've got a lot of PM's designers, people who do research, listening as well. We've got junior level folks, senior level folks, and everything in between. And then we've got some founders and executives and things like that as well.

Erin May [00:29:49]:
So we don't need to cover all of those. But how might people in different roles think about their opportunity, their role, their responsibility in shaping the future of research? Whoever wants to start? You're deep in thought, Christiana. I can tell. Has it shaped your perspective, being former in house and now being consultants? Dave and Judd have a different perspective on, on this.

Dave Hora [00:30:16]:
That was a many barreled question when I was thinking about which angle to attack it with. Something that Christiana said earlier. She said something about models, like researchers building models. And one of the things that a good team does is have a shared understanding of both their user space and their product surface and what they're trying to accomplish. Some things that I have seen lately, let's say. Hold on. Sorry. I used to think that product manager should and would always do this.

Dave Hora [00:30:45]:
Lately, I don't think that's necessarily the case. Product managers are getting very overworked right now, and they're just asked to perform their jobs without necessarily having the time to help the larger team think critically about what is the surface area we're working in, what are the risks in front of us? How do we navigate that? And I think that the first value shift up from gathering evidence for researchers is to moving to this place of instilling it into shared understanding. Good decisions come from teams that all see, or roughly see the same kind of picture, speak the same language, and understand what they're trying to do. So I see that as, let's say, what used to be a formerly unwritten expectation of product management. They can't quite do it now because there's not enough time to do it. It's something that good researchers do, I should say experienced researchers do. Once they come to see what teams need, then it's a really interesting place that I would say is unclaimed ground. Just like making sure that the team has a good operating model of who their users are, what they need, and how they're solving them.

Christiana Lackner [00:31:53]:
Great, I'll pick up on that thread and say a lot of our work, everyone's work, is getting on the same page and understanding who our customers are, what their needs are. I think anyone can help do that. Maybe research has the mindset and the time and the space to do that and to lead that process. So I'd say to people who get to work with researchers, lucky you, leverage them to play that role. But anyone can do that work of building models, getting people on the same page so that you can make good decisions.

Judd Antin [00:32:24]:
Yeah, I think a lot of folks are looking at, well, I think this question implies something true, which is not uniquely up to leaders or very senior people to shift. I think everyone needs to shift, in particular for folks who are earlier in their career. I think in addition to building these skills, like becoming fluent in the business and leveraging AI tools, really focusing on those relationships is key. Learning to say no, the average researcher I know has between, especially internal researchers is like, well, right now I'm working on between twelve and 18 projects at the same time. And I'm exaggerating, but only a little bit. I think most researchers that I know are pulled in so many different directions because maybe there's a few of them now at their company and so their butter spread over too much bread and so learning to say no, but doing it for the right reasons, like this, not that we can do anything, just not everything is something that everybody has a responsibility for doing. And I think if you do it, nobody likes to hear no. So you don't want to alienate PM's or designers or engineers who are coming to you or clients.

Judd Antin [00:33:29]:
But it's the way you say no. I'm not saying no, it's more like a yes. And it's like, I'd love to do that. What should I not do instead? Or let's talk about the real problem. Because as any researcher knows, that usually the first thing you're asked when you're asked for the first research question delivered to you is usually not the real research question. It's probably so what an experienced researcher does is get to the heart of that matter through the relationship. That's something everyone can do. If I'm talking to a researcher and they're like, but where do I start? I often say start with your boss and then learn what keeps them up at night.

Judd Antin [00:34:07]:
Honestly, the best way to earn influence is to scratch people's itches. You know what I mean? So how do you prioritize? Like don't prioritize if you're going to do fewer things better, don't. I would say don't make your own prioritization. That's the other thing I would say is like there needs to be a prioritization that the whole product, team or business has about which problems are the most important to solve. By the way, to Dave and Christiana's points, if that framework doesn't exist, what a beautiful thing for a researcher to deliver. Now you're a leader right now because what you're doing is providing the scaffold, right? Just like to use Dave's words, like you're providing the scaffold that we can all use and it is usually not by making something from new, from whole cloth. You're just like putting and resewing. You're providing the language for something everyone's saying and you're willing to make a prioritization call and say this.

Judd Antin [00:35:01]:
Not that those are things that you can do honestly to varying degrees. Whatever context you're in and whatever level of seniority you're in, I think those are things that will help us make this shift in our industry away from the reactive data collection first mode towards really business centric relationship first AI enabled, all that stuff.

Dave Hora [00:35:21]:

Carol Guest [00:35:22]:
Building on that, we've talked about how thought partnership with the product manager product team is really critical and moving away from a consultative model to a more embedded model for someone who is currently that IC who's split across 18 projects. Any thoughts on how they advocate for shifting to that model or sort of help make that transition?

Judd Antin [00:35:42]:
How many projects are you doing right now, Christiana?

Christiana Lackner [00:35:44]:
Oh me personally?

Judd Antin [00:35:46]:
Too many. Is that the only answer?

Christiana Lackner [00:35:48]:
Yeah. Yeah. I definitely feel like I'm splitting my time. I like the itch scratching metaphor, I guess. I think maybe that's the way to go is to figure out what the business cares about right now. If you're that researcher that's being spread too thin and kind of like saying yes to everything, like talk to your boss, talk to one of the PM's you work with, figure out what is the itch that they have. What is like the big question that's keeping them up at night and focus on answering that question and then you can show, you know, if I'm able to focus as a researcher on the one important question I can really help.

Dave Hora [00:36:20]:
Something that I found when I was in house just starting out and trying to make research work in various places. I had a number of requests that I could have worked on and inevitably, I think the lesson that I learned was that the best request to work on was the one with somebody else who cared about what I was doing and thought that the research could already provide the answer versus people who I was pushed to or assigned to or who maybe felt that they wanted an answer but were reluctant to think that I was the one. Or our process through research could provide that answer. So where you have a strong relationship or a person who is excited about your work is a really, really lovely place to play, both in terms of impact and just enjoying the work that youre doing.

Judd Antin [00:37:03]:
Yeah. And Dave, I bet those are the same people who will be willing to be consistently engaged with you and your research process throughout. Right. Not just beginning and end, but. Right. And isn't that better? I feel like that's better.

Dave Hora [00:37:18]:
I feel like that's better.

Erin May [00:37:19]:
And most likely to turn your insights into impact. Right. There's passion there. They're ready to go on some project. If only they could just de risk a decision, build a little more confidence in a direction and you're helping them do that. And now we're seeing great results. Right?

Judd Antin [00:37:35]:
Yeah. The dream, this is also something that maybe this is where there is some responsibility for research leadership because, like, things like setting expectations for what a full plate looks like and then changing the model from, you know, I think if we're so scared that our discipline is going away that we feel we have to say yes to everything, that's a bad place to be, or that we're so afraid that if we don't do it, then the PM's just going to go like, ask AI again, a bad place to be. Like, we need to reevaluate if where the real value that we're adding is. And so I think leadership can really help, you know, by setting expectations about what a full plate looks like by supporting researchers in doing all this stuff that we're all talking about as we make choices and use our contextual knowledge and our sort of relationships at work to make good choices about what's going to matter and what's not. Like, we get supported in saying no and understand that, like, you know, we can all speak the same language around. The reason we're doing that is not because we're tired or lazy. It's because we want to put all our effort towards the most important problems. And that's what we should all be doing and we should all be supporting each other in that.

Erin May [00:38:41]:

Christiana Lackner [00:38:42]:
And enjoy the work in the meantime. Someone said it. Dave said it. Right. Like it shouldn't feel like a slog. We got into this because we love doing it. We love talking to customers and understanding users.

Erin May [00:38:50]:
So yeah, I suppose an optimistic view here too is there's some cover for saying no when there are leaner resources and you have the ability maybe to prioritize in a way where you're talking about before, just reactive mode where you're there to take asks and there's a queue and you prioritize a little bit more of an opportunity maybe to be strategic and proactive in some of that. So, class half full.

Judd Antin [00:39:14]:
Well said.

Erin May [00:39:15]:

Carol Guest [00:39:15]:
The only thing I'd add here from the product side, I'm on the product side, product manager myself. I think in product we pride ourselves on, one, we have to say no a lot, and two, love a good prioritization framework. That's most of our job. So when a researcher comes back to me with this is how I'm thinking about prioritization, I love it.

Judd Antin [00:39:32]:

Carol Guest [00:39:32]:
It helps me be like, oh, you're thinking about the world the same way I am. We can sort of talk about priorities together and really shines a light on places. Me, I haven't been clear. So yeah, I think it can be really well received as well.

Judd Antin [00:39:43]:
Love it. One other quick point I wanted to add on the prioritization is I feel like a lot of researchers often want to feel there's an implicit prioritization towards the higher altitude strategic work because that's what important senior people do. Right. And I just think that's B's. I think there's so much value to be gleaned in that for sure, but also in the sort of low level micro work where we are just making products better, easier to understand, streamlining funnels, reducing churn. And one of the reasons that's true, well, number one, that stuff is often stuff that our partners are working on already. Number two, it makes the argument for our value like much clearer. Like a lot of researchers lament how hard it is to like, let's say, put a dollar value behind our work, but it's never more direct than it is when you just, you solved the key turnpoint in the conversion funnel for this part of the product.

Judd Antin [00:40:35]:
And then we did an experiment and we drove x million more sign ups or dollars or whatever it was. You never demonstrate your value better, more carefully, more specifically than that. So that is work that is worth doing and prioritizing, not just the strategic work, in my opinion.

Erin May [00:40:51]:
Yeah. Great. So maybe we could bring things down to earth, not that we haven't already, but even more so. And talk about some practical tips that you might have to drive a good way of thinking about UXR relevance and impact in the future.

Judd Antin [00:41:06]:

Erin May [00:41:07]:
Any tips we have. Let's start with you, Dave.

Dave Hora [00:41:14]:
Practical tips for future proofing your work.

Erin May [00:41:17]:
That's right.

Dave Hora [00:41:18]:
This is, Judd has said relationships already. We've talked about this, but I think that the most important thing is you understand the people that you're primarily working with, what they're trying to do and what they think they're trying to do, which are not necessarily the same things. If we think about how research is going to be shifting, if we think about how data collection as a base level skill is becoming easier, researchers should be able to zoom out a little bit and take a more systemic view of what is the product team operating on in terms of the insight they have, what are the questions that are going to be coming up, and how can I anticipate and help the team get better at moving through the process of making good product decisions with good user insight? Let's see. That's still a little bit high level, but being able to see there and then recognize that there may be a usability question, a churn question, a strategic launch initiative, like an MVP framing, recognizing these things is the first step to figuring out what you can do and how you should be involved, and then proactively suggesting that for the teams that you're working with.

Erin May [00:42:35]:

Christiana Lackner [00:42:36]:
Yeah. A couple things I think understand the planning process that your organization is going through. Roadmap planning and piggyback onto that. Right. Like, that's the opportunity to understand what your teams are thinking about and how far in the future they're thinking or not. And that's your opportunity to get them to think, what do we need to know a couple of quarters from now so that we can be making decisions efficiently? The other thing is more of a feeling. If you feel like you're off doing research on your own and your stakeholders are not involved, you're probably off track. So reconnect with whoever your stakeholders are and maybe stop.

Christiana Lackner [00:43:16]:
Right? Like if they don't have time for being involved, probably not the right set of stakeholders. Yeah. Say it's okay to stop and move on.

Erin May [00:43:24]:
Yeah. That's a great gut check. All right. So far we have the makings of a two p framework. We've got people, we've got plans. What do you got, jed? It's okay. Two P's and something else.

Judd Antin [00:43:38]:
I think we've said it. I think if the question is how do we sort of quote unquote future proof ourselves, I think we've been talking about it. It's becoming fluent in the business. It's focusing on relationships and process. And I think it's becoming, adopting and understanding the pros and cons of new tools at our disposal, especially AI tools. And if researchers are like, well, but what should I do with AI? I think there's new tools out there. There's new companies that are offering research specific tools all the time. A lot of them are more hype than substance, but some of them are really good.

Judd Antin [00:44:08]:
AI can be really good at doing some tasks around summarization. And I'll tell you the number one thing I use this technology for, which I think when researchers, when I say researchers need to be prompt engineers, everybody needs to be a prompt engineer. It's because. So I pay for mid journey, right? You have to, which is image generation. And I do it because I will never be hiring an illustrator. And I know that I can now use AI tools to create exactly the images I need to convey the insight I'm trying to convey in a way that makes it much more powerful than it was possible before. Like, you know, you're searching on Google Images, you're looking for open source things or things you can cite just that, you know, some random clip art that'll make the point for you. But now I can generate exactly the image that's going to make the point that changes minds at my company.

Judd Antin [00:44:58]:
And that's a thing you have to learn to do, because prompt is actually kind of hard. And so that's just one concrete example of how I think we can stay up on some of these small and large skills that, I don't know. Future proof is the right word, but basically keep us current, keep us moving, help us keep doing more with less, and stay up with the environment.

Carol Guest [00:45:18]:
We could talk about this. I wish we had another hour for this topic. Dave, was I cutting you off? Were you going to say something?

Dave Hora [00:45:24]:
I was just going to add, Judd, your question of the word future proof is a nice little piece here, because as we frame what we're trying to do, it's really continually adapting our practice to the continually changing environment of the business organization. So future proofing, if we look at it as like, battening down the hatches and tightening up. Our hold on what we've already got is the opposite of what we need to be doing.

Erin May [00:45:50]:

Judd Antin [00:45:51]:
Well said.

Erin May [00:45:51]:
What's a good alternative? Is it heading in the right direction? Moving with the.

Dave Hora [00:45:56]:
Yeah, Dave said.

Judd Antin [00:45:58]:
You said it. Rescaffing.

Erin May [00:45:59]:
Yeah, I like that.

Judd Antin [00:46:01]:
What was your word? What was your first word?

Dave Hora [00:46:02]:
That was my first word. Rescaffolding.

Judd Antin [00:46:04]:
Yeah. I'm saying he started us on the.

Erin May [00:46:06]:
Right track, bringing it back full circle. Yeah.

Carol Guest [00:46:09]:
There's a theme here from moving from, you know, like a position of fear toward being, toward agility, continual adaption.

Dave Hora [00:46:17]:

Carol Guest [00:46:17]:
All this adaptation, I should say we're just about wrapping up our time together. So some closing thoughts. So what are you most excited about when you think about the next few years in UXR? Let's start with Christiana.

Christiana Lackner [00:46:30]:
Most excited about for the next couple of years? Yeah. I think working through this transition or this rescaffling, I think we're, you know, all of us are thinking about and experimenting with new roles and activities that we can bring to the organization, and I'm excited to see how that evolves and how we shift our position and have impact ultimately. Right. Business impact, but also user impact.

Carol Guest [00:46:54]:
What about Dave?

Dave Hora [00:46:56]:
I like the frame thinking about how we shift our position. I think that the way that research engages with teams and its role, let's say, like, orchestrating the larger flow and sequence of product work and product initiatives, is a very interesting place to explore. And I hope we can do that, and I hope it repositions us as a thought partner like Christiana has been saying at a different level, while also maintaining the momentum and the value that we've delivered for so long before.

Erin May [00:47:26]:
Love it.

Judd Antin [00:47:27]:
And, Jeff, I love what Christiana and Dave said. Maybe I'll put the even more foolishly optimistic bent on it, which is just like, if this is a generational shift in technology, like that period of time that we're going through right now, that's a real upheaval for people who are professional learners. What an exciting time to be alive. You know what I mean? And if we reframe it that way and think like, yeah, exactly. As we've all been saying for the last few minutes, like, you know, this is not the end. This is the beginning, you know, of a really interesting new era. Sure, the promise of AI has not revealed itself yet, but it's common. It's not about research, but we are people who know how to learn and adapt and build.

Judd Antin [00:48:08]:
And so that makes me feel optimistic about what's happening, what's going to happen in the next few years.

Erin May [00:48:12]:
Yeah, love that. What I read the other day, something about just learning to love the problem, learn to love the problem, learn to love the change again, that's optimistic. Obviously it's a hard time for a lot of people, but the change is inevitable and there's a lot of learning to do. Hopefully some bright stuff on the other side.

Judd Antin [00:48:29]:

Erin May [00:48:30]:
Awesome. Well, where can folks find you all online? Is there a website you'd like to plug or a book or anything along those lines?

Christiana Lackner [00:48:38]:
For me, LinkedIn is the best, probably. Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn.

Dave Hora [00:48:42]:
I'm on LinkedIn as well, and my business website is davesresearch.com. i've got some articles and resources there and I'm writing a weekly newsletter as well.

Erin May [00:48:54]:

Judd Antin [00:48:55]:
I love Dave's weekly newsletter.

Erin May [00:48:57]:
It's very good.

Judd Antin [00:48:58]:
Yeah, so I'm also on LinkedIn. You can find my site@juddanton.com and I also do a lot of writing on topics relevant to these@onebigthought.com excellent.

Erin May [00:49:11]:
We will load up the show notes with lots of great resources. Thank you to our wonderful three guests. Loved hearing all of your thoughts and ideas, and I'm sure that our audience will too. Thanks.

Judd Antin [00:49:24]:
Thank you for having me.

Dave Hora [00:49:25]:
Thank you for having us.

Judd Antin [00:49:26]:
Bye bye.

Erin May [00:49:34]:
Thanks for listening to awkward silences brought to you by user interviews theme music by fragile gang hi there, awkward silences Listener thanks for listening. If you like what you heard, we always appreciate a rating or review on your podcast app of choice.

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Episode Video

Creators and Guests

Carol Guest
Carol Guest
Senior Director of Product at User Interviews
Erin May
Erin May
Senior VP of Marketing & Growth at User Interviews
Christiana Lackner
Christiana Lackner
Head of User Experience Research at Autodesk
Dave Hora
Dave Hora
Founder at Dave's Research Company
Judd Antin
Judd Antin
Founder & Principal at Judd Antin Consulting