Quality Bits

UX Research with Greta Ruskiene

May 15, 2023 Lina Zubyte Season 1 Episode 19
UX Research with Greta Ruskiene
Quality Bits
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Quality Bits
UX Research with Greta Ruskiene
May 15, 2023 Season 1 Episode 19
Lina Zubyte

User experience (UX) research is a field that can help us prevent issues before they take place. Greta Ruskiene knows this first-hand: she used to work as a QA and made a career shift to UX with time.

In this episode, we discuss UX research, the art of question-asking, and how frequently, even when we truly believe we know our users, we may not.

Find Greta on:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/greta-ru%C5%A1kien%C4%97-53183a55/

Mentions and resources:

If you liked this episode, you may enjoy this one:
Creating Valuable Products with Andrea Sipos

Follow Quality Bits host Lina Zubyte on:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/buggylina
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/linazubyte/
- Website: https://qualitybits.tech/

Follow Quality Bits on your favorite listening platform and Twitter: https://twitter.com/qualitybitstech to stay updated with future content.

If you like this podcast and would like to support its making, feel free to buy me a coffee:

Thank you for listening! 

Show Notes Transcript

User experience (UX) research is a field that can help us prevent issues before they take place. Greta Ruskiene knows this first-hand: she used to work as a QA and made a career shift to UX with time.

In this episode, we discuss UX research, the art of question-asking, and how frequently, even when we truly believe we know our users, we may not.

Find Greta on:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/greta-ru%C5%A1kien%C4%97-53183a55/

Mentions and resources:

If you liked this episode, you may enjoy this one:
Creating Valuable Products with Andrea Sipos

Follow Quality Bits host Lina Zubyte on:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/buggylina
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/linazubyte/
- Website: https://qualitybits.tech/

Follow Quality Bits on your favorite listening platform and Twitter: https://twitter.com/qualitybitstech to stay updated with future content.

If you like this podcast and would like to support its making, feel free to buy me a coffee:

Thank you for listening! 

Lina Zubyte 00:06
Hi, welcome to Quality Bits. A podcast about building high quality products and teams. I'm your host, Lina Zubyte. In this episode my guest is Greta Ruskiene. Greta has a really interesting story. She started as a QA and then step by step she realized that you can actually prevent issues, not only detect them and she chose to become a UX researcher. We talk about UX research, why it matters how to do it correctly, the art of question asking and many other topics. Enjoy this conversation.

Hello, Greta. Welcome to Quality Bits.

Greta Ruskiene 01:05
Hello. Thank you for having me.

Lina Zubyte 01:08
Could you shortly introduce yourselves to the listeners here?

Greta Ruskiene 01:13
Hello. I'm Greta Ruskiene. I work in IT for more than ten years now. I have bioinformatics background and I started my career as a quality assurance specialist. Now I'm working as a UI/UX designer at Bentley Systems, and it's a little bit curious because I started my career at Bentley Systems and then left and now I'm back again, but in a different role. Also, I'm a mom of two and I have quite a big interest pets. that. So we had lots of them. And yeah, that's me.

Lina Zubyte 01:51
What kind of pets do you have?

Greta Ruskiene 01:53
So we have a dog, that's our oldest, but also we have a cat. We have three guinea pigs and one rabbit. So that's like six pets.

Lina Zubyte 02:07
Wow. That's quite a bit. Guinea pigs... like literally guinea pigs, right?

Greta Ruskiene 02:13
Yes. Yes. Literal guinea pigs. And actually, they live in couples, usually. So usually two girls. But we managed to buy one that was pregnant. So now we have three girls. Fortunately.

Lina Zubyte 02:29
Actually, having guinea pigs and being a UX researcher is a little bit connected, right?

Greta Ruskiene 02:36
No, not really. My users are not guinea pigs.

Lina Zubyte 02:41
Oh, that's nice. You have this human aspect that you're not calling the users guinea pigs. So what is your story of getting into UX research? What sparked your thought process to change from QA to UX research?

Greta Ruskiene 02:57
So yeah, something about like six or seven years ago I met Jekaterina Romanovskaja. A UX designer at that time at Bentley Systems. And I was like, Oh my God, I just want to be her because her work is so meaningful, so important. And I felt like she's doing the impact. I also had a chance to work with her on one project, and I was mesmerized at this connection between her and product manager. And I just thought that this is what I want to be when I grow up. So that was my kind of inspiration. And then I had multiple job changes from manual QA to automation QA, then to quality leadership, like building this nice process for the whole team to make sure that we assure quality in every step, starting from requirements to automation.

And then I decided that just I need to somehow get into this UX field because I learned a lot by myself. I actually started talking in conferences about UX testing for QAs, and I was just like, I want to do it daily, not just like preach others and do some initiatives and leave. I wanted to be my primary work, right? So I decided to join Women Go Tech program. And fortunately, my mentor was another Bentley employee at some point - Emilija Valentiejute - my next role model, basically, and she helped me to understand what I really want because all UX programs are like 50/50 UI/UX, and I was not a big fan of UI and I'm still not.

And at that point she gave me one very good advice that if you want to go to research, you don't need to make your portfolio very visual, like focused on UI. You need to focus on research, you need to focus on your methodologies and so on. And that was one of the best career advices I got because that kind of helped me to get my first job. And the reason why I was hired: my manager at that point said that it was my portfolio because it showed the process and that was the role they were looking for. So basically two girls from Bentley Systems inspired me and actually helped me to get into this place where I am now.

Lina Zubyte 05:39
I really like how you learned from role models that you saw. And my question would be: we very often talk about UI, UX design, research. What are the differences between these terms?

Greta Ruskiene 05:56
So UI is everything you can see and User eXperience is something like an umbrella that joins everything. So basically it's... UX is overall experience of the person using product, for example, websites or computer application, and it's mostly focused on how easy and pleasing it is to use. So it's kind of subjective, but at the same point, it's something that brings you joy, that brings you satisfaction, that helps you to achieve your results in a pleasing way. And I find it very mesmerizing.

Lina Zubyte 06:36
And what are some of the benefits of UX research? Not every company does it. Why should they do it?

Greta Ruskiene 06:45
Not every company does it, but there's one thing I say that: you can always skip the research phase, especially if you have unlimited budget. Then you can skip it and just redo it and redo it. Redo it again. And actually there's research by Paul C. Nutt. So he did 20 years of research on decision making process, and he found that over half of decisions made by corporate leaders failed. So what does that mean? That we still need to listen to our users unless we have unlimited budget and we can allow ourselves to fail. And the idea of research is failing fast.

So you discover something and you can change your course rather than doing something from the beginning to the end, just to see afterwards that nobody is using it. So research and discovery kind of helps you to fail fast, make decisions faster, understand user better. Also bring visibility to all team and even to corporate leaders. The ways how our products are being implemented or how we plan them are not always correct. And that's like more sound worse than some PM or designer saying that: I don't think that's a good decision. But if I would say that half of our users we interviewed said they will never use it and other half said they will use it because they just have the product, right? So both of those responses would be very bad, but some of the users would avoid it. That means that even companies can choose different partners versus us. If they don't like our product, they don't like our workflows and so on.

Lina Zubyte 08:42
Actually, this makes me think of white saviour: people often going to Africa to volunteer or do something good. And there's one example that I've heard about, which is: they wanted to build a playground for local kids to play in so that they would generate electricity by playing in it. However, nobody spoke to the kids. So what happened is they build this playground, they invested lots of money, but actually kids did not want to play there. So it was like a waste of all the project. People thinking that they know better, what the local community knows without even living there.

Greta Ruskiene 09:22
Yeah, that's like one of the common biases that we assume, for example, that kids want to play, right? So in some countries they just don't have time to play because they have so many other things to do. Yeah, and also it's like similar thing - sunk cost fallacy that multiple companies are multiple decisions went to: so you start something, you invest lots of money, lots of time and it's very hard to stop it right? Once it starts turning, you are not able to stop it.

Lina Zubyte 09:56
Yeah, exactly. Biases are everywhere. And I'm thinking of all the examples of tech projects we've seen. For example, Apple Watch was something that did not work on darker skin tones, and that was because the development team just didn't think of that. It wasn't that they were somehow negatively thinking of other races or darker skin tones. That's just: they didn't test on it. So when we work on a certain product, we often are attached to the idea of how it should work. So it's not only what it is or what our users are, but also how it should work. How could we involve team members to get to know the users more?

Greta Ruskiene 10:39
Very good question. So we have this thing called Holy Trinity, so we recommend that every discovery team would consist of Product Manager, UX designer and dev lead or developer, because actually doing research on your own is also a very good thing, but seeing those results and those interviews are very crucial for developers, for QA team members, for product managers, because we have lots of situations where things are thinking to one direction, but we can discover quite opposite things. And if those people participate in interviews, it's so much easier for them to accept this decision, right? Rather than if I would go and say that our research shows that users don't want it and they would start asking questions and just doubting the idea that we ask them correctly and so on. So that's why we have this like perfect team of three and sometimes even more people just to see those results by their eyes. And so we would be able to make informed decisions.

Lina Zubyte 11:53
I also have seen some of the All Hands meetings or company wide meetings where they would present it. And it's always so interesting to hear what the users are actually saying and how they're using it. And sometimes it's very different than we think they are.

Greta Ruskiene 12:10
Yes, that's the idea of whole research, right? Because by definition, discovery means that you don't know the answer before we start. And we perform discovery to separate good ideas from bad ideas. And those results are usually surprising because we don't usually pick initiatives that are like smaller, kind of clear. We pick initiatives that are quite big, that have multiple unknowns, and these are the best cases for our discovery initiatives.

Lina Zubyte 12:44
And what are some of the most surprising stories you've seen where the initial product UX decisions were maybe the opposite of what the users wanted or not initially thought?

Greta Ruskiene 12:56
I believe that almost all the researches I did show surprising results and that's why this job is so fantastic. So for example, in my previous company we had very interesting case with an odontology management system. So we were working with one other odontology clinic that wanted to make the system to help their employees to have live data at all times and so on to make notes and blah blah, blah. There were lots of features, but once we interviewed the administrators and doctors, the main question was, Can we print it? We tried to explain that once you print it, it's becomes outdated, the same second you print it, right? Because it's not live data anymore, right?

Because anyone can change it online and it will be no results. So we offered multiple alternatives like using it on tablets, adding notes, and so on. And their only request was ability to print. And if we don't print functionality they said they will not use it and they will make sure that nobody uses it. So yeah, we had to compromise and we did the print button after all. Even though the managers were not happy, even though we planned it differently. But that was like what our end users need. And they explained us that they like to write notes, that then they transfer them to online version. But it's easier for the doctor to make notes on paper. And yeah, we cannot control these kinds of cases.

And also recently we had very interesting findings and I was so happy that I had my developer and PM in the room because those findings that we had were quite opposite of what we planned. So we planned to enhance this functionality and it appeared that users are using it way differently. So since we're working with MicroStation, some of our users had more background in AutoCAD and they were like, No, I'm not going to use their functionality. I will just do it simply without connections and anything. And only after that maybe I will connect everything in some quirky way. And we were mesmerized because we saw, I think, during five interviews, five different ways to do this action. But none of them was the scenario we planned.

So I was a little bit nervous because I thought like, okay, PMs will not agree with this decision and will not change their course. But luckily I had most awesome PM Scott and developer Steve and they instantly agreed to change the course and we are now actually working on way opposite functionality. So we plan to enhance the functionality we have. Now we decided to leave functionality as is and help users to achieve their goals easier by having templates, by having possibility to suggest which parts of the application should connect and so on. So that was actually a very big relief for me having these people in the room.

Lina Zubyte 16:21
That's really nice and it's a good example of having data to show to stakeholders on the situation, right? That it's not just your opinion, it's not just what you thought of, it's actually what the users are saying.

Greta Ruskiene 16:35
Yes. And I think that very important part was that developer and PM were able to ask questions at that time because they were able to assure themselves that this functionality should work differently and they were able to hear it from the first person, and both of them said that it was one of the best experiences they had in product discovery. So I'm very happy.

Lina Zubyte 17:02
When I think of the UX research or the interviews I have witnessed and seen, very often I was dumbfounded by the way they were conducted. Because they are so subtle. Usually the asking of the questions is an art itself, so the UX researcher doesn't ask directly, but more like asks, okay, how would you do this? But they're not giving the solution. What is your experience on this question asking?

Greta Ruskiene 17:33
I think that's one of the hardest things in discovery. I actually recently did this presentation for our community in our company because now everyone wants to discover, right? But sometimes we get into cases where discovery is not being used in the best way. So we try to explain our colleagues that even though you are participating in the interview, you cannot sell your ideas to clients, even though you think you have a solution. But that might be not the solution our users are looking for. And from the moment you set that solution, it gets into user's head and they're thinking like, Yeah, maybe, maybe that's what I want.

Even though they would naturally never think about that idea. So we try to avoid these situations and also we try to avoid educating our users on how our product currently works. Because as I mentioned, we had this research recently where users use our products quite the opposite as we planned, but that's okay because they use it the way they think it's the best to use the product and we shouldn't tell them that, for example, do five extra steps and it will be better. And they are like, No. We have to be subtle also with presenting the possible solutions or prototype.

So we shouldn't inform users that this is how our product will look like. We should ask them, Is this how you imagine it? Can you explain us what you're doing now? What is the result you are expecting after clicking this button and so on? Yeah, I think it's art in itself, but I'm very lucky again to be in Bentley because our management of UX and our directors prepared very nice material and also templates for conducting interviews. And I think we have a very good mindset in our company, both in UX team and PMs and also in development team that we usually avoid these situations of guiding user or planting our ideas to user's head and we just allow them to freely speak because engineering applications - so it's very complicated domain. They have lots of comments, they like some things, they dislike some things, but so far all interviews were very positive. They are very happy to help. And yeah, it's a delight to work with our users.

Lina Zubyte 20:18
It's actually a bit of a slippery slope the way we communicate, because if I'm participating in UX interview and then at the end, as you said, someone educates me on how to use it, then I may be like, I don't know, like sort of thanks, but also like I have like a bitter sweet taste in my mouth. And I'm like, Oh, okay, I didn't know. And this no guidance, no teaching aspect I think is so important also to make users speak up to tell what they actually think.

Greta Ruskiene 20:51
Yeah, yeah. And actually we try to perform as many things to make our users comfortable. So first of all, we try to keep them informed about the process beforehand, so we send out emails where we' inform them what's like the piece of the interview, how long it will be. Also, we always inform them that they're not being tested in any way. It's product that's being tested and we are trying to understand how it's the best for users to use it rather than share our ideas. And also we try to keep the amount of spectators from our company size to a minimum.

So as I mentioned, ideally it's three: UX designer, PM and developer because the more people you have in the room, the more attention user gets naturally. Because if you join alone to the interview and you have ten people watching you, for example, you instantly feel like, okay, I'm being tested here, right? So yeah, we also encourage users not to take their managers to interview because some managers from the companies want to join interviews as well. And I think that it's harder to express your opinion once you have your manager on your shoulder like watching you. Are you using the product correctly and are you saying only good things and so on?

And yeah, again, we have so many biases. Like even in some cultures we have extreme responses or neutral responses just because they feel like they have to be nice with us, right? Because we are spending our time and talking with them. So we have lots of things to do and lots of empathy to share, to make them feel welcome and assure that they are being heard.

About group thinking, for example, so we have to select the best research methods that help us to communicate with group of people. So for example, if we have five users from the same company, so we have several ideas what we want to do so we can, for example, send surveys. So they would reply individually or we can have interviews, but then we interview them one by one to avoid group thinking, to avoid hearing only the loudest voice in the room. Or we can have workshops but make sure that they are quiet. So for example, using sticky notes or using some whiteboards that everyone could express their opinion and preferably anonymously from other team members. As I mentioned before, this odontology clinic we we had - so once we had administrators interview, we actually did this thing with sticky notes because we noticed that they're having tension from their management listening to what they're saying. So they were not very open to express their opinion, especially the bad one.

Lina Zubyte 24:05
That's such a common thing. I've seen also some leadership meetings with, for example, the CEO or someone ask. So what are your thoughts on that? And there's like 20 people and people are not going to speak up unless they feel safe in this hierarchical kind of structure. So the survey could be much better way to collect the results.

Greta Ruskiene 24:30
I totally agree. And I even always encourage having anonymous retro meetings because that's another thing. Like people make huge mistake. Like they say, Oh, we're doing a retro and everyone should express their opinion like good, bad and ugly. Right? And usually people don't want to say bad things, especially in their name. You would never like to say that my colleague is underperforming and just say, Hi, it's me, Greta, saying that you are underperforming. Right? So I think that feedback should be either face to face or anonymous if we are gathering it from multiple people.

Lina Zubyte 25:14
I'm also wondering, have you done the internal interviews? Because sometimes companies say, okay, we will do the UX research with our employees. Sometimes when I hear this, I feel like, yeah, but the developer using the product, who have developed some parts of it, for example, may be very different than the user. What are the differences when it's an internal person participating in the interview versus the user?

Greta Ruskiene 25:41
So yeah, usually when someone says that I can represent the user, we just repeat: you are not the user and that's it. But actually not all discovery methods involve our clients. For example, we have multiple indirect discovery methods. So for example, customer feedback, right? So we can gather it from support channels, we can gather it from emails with complaints or whatever we receive. Then we have user analytics. So probably companies use clicks and mouse flow or other where we can see heatmaps and so on without actually interacting with user. Also, we can do competitor analysis, which is again not a direct method of communicating with user, but we can just explore what our competitors are offering and just think about that's things we want to offer as well to be competitive in that location or market or something like that.

Also, sometimes we do internal discovery with our colleagues or consultants, but usually this discovery is not trying to get direct user feedback, but rather than trying to understand, for example, which companies represent the piping segment the best, right? So we gather some people in the room, we try to uncover which companies have problems with certain functionality, so we could later on target those companies and their employees to get into the details. So it's not trying to get user feedback, but rather than to get closer to the user.

But it's not like supplementary: internal discovery and customer interviews. Also, there are very nice methods to discover, for example, spectating how our colleagues communicate with the users and how they solve their problems, because that's another part of discovery. So for example, if we want to understand some complex workflow like schemas and so on, we usually ask our colleagues to explain those first to us rather than going directly to customer and having no idea what they're talking about and having no context. So some of the first stages of discovery always start inside the company.

Lina Zubyte 28:15
There's quite a lot to learn about UX research. What tips would you give for someone wanting to start to learn more about UX research? Where is the starting point?

Greta Ruskiene 28:27
So first of all, I would like to advertise this amazing Women Go Tech program. So I participated in it and I highly recommend participating in it. And this year I'm going to be mentoring our girls in this program and helping them to get into UI and UX field. So I'm very excited about that. And I think that's one of the most important things to have a strong mentor, to have a strong role model, to have someone who can advise you on how to shift your portfolio, what's to learn? How to look for a job? And all those tips and tricks that once you get into this UX field especially, it's very tough market.

So compared with QA, I would say that QA market is easier to get in rather than UI/UX. Because it's kind of biased field because people still evaluate you according to your art, whether you like it or not or whether it's usable or not. And that's like a thing of opinion. So I think that it's very hard to get into UX field by ourselves. There is also, I think WIX opened up the consultation slots for designers. There are lots of local meetups, so UX Salon. Also, Vinted has very nice meetups. So it's Lithuania. So so maybe it's not so global and globally accessible.

But yeah, we have lots of very nice content. So talking about online content, there are amazing figma conferences because I think that Figma is the hottest tool in the market at the moment. And if you're trying to join UX field, you still need to learn how to design at least basic things. Figma is perfect for that. So it's a very powerful tool. It's free. They have amazing lessons, they have very nice tutorials. They organize the conferences every year. They even have Figma Awards for the plugins. So if you need any task to be completed, there's probably Figma plugin for that.

Also, there are HFI conferences there. Also, part of them are free. There is also a Zeplin conference also free. I would also recommend trying Condens UX research repository, just understand how to structure their research and so on. At least try them or view tutorial in order just to get familiar with these research repositories, because that's a very common question that you're going to be asked in interviews. Also, I had this very good course of Google UI design, so it's not free, but I highly recommend it and it's very long, it's very detailed and it will help you to build your portfolio, do your first research and will basically prepare you for the job market. And again, it's featuring Figma. So that's very good combination.

Lina Zubyte 31:51
I really love that you mentioned mentoring and it's almost like coming full circle because you started being interested in UX research because of role models. You had role models supporting you and now you are a role model to someone else, so you're motivating them to join in and you'll be able to share your knowledge.

Greta Ruskiene 32:14
I really hope so that I will be helpful. I'm not just like trying to teach someone. I always try to learn as well. I attend multiple conferences and multiple meetups during the year and that's one of the things that I think built our community: helping each other, inviting their friends and colleagues to the meetups and just trying to get to know people and meeting people and helping. I think it's very meaningful.

Lina Zubyte 32:46
On this note, to wrap up this conversation and topics we've touched on here, what is the one piece of advice you would give for building high quality products and teams?

Greta Ruskiene 32:59
My key advice is listen to the user and don't guard the user from UX designers, don't guard user from developers. Allow them to communicate. Because what I seen in the past months that both sides benefit from this connection. So we benefit because we learn about user more and the users benefit especially from the development involvement, because we had so many of those aha moments when users ask a question and developer just says it's just you have to do this or you have to enter this key in or you have to perform some operation and users are just not happy because they participated, but because we had this developer in the room that guided them and helped them to do their daily tasks easier and just gave, I don't know, hope, something like that.

And that was one of the best things for me. And actually doing research kind of energizes me because previously in QA field I felt like kind of bringing up the problem. So you always feel bad and in UX research you usually feel like discovering something and bringing something good. So it's very positive experience after every interview for me.

Lina Zubyte 34:33
Great. It sounds like you're preventing problems before they happen, right?

Greta Ruskiene 34:37
I really hope so.

Lina Zubyte 34:39
Thank you so much for your time, Greta.

Greta Ruskiene 34:42
Thank you.

Lina Zubyte 34:44
That's it for today's episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you'd like to learn more, check out the episode notes. Please share this episode with your friends if you liked it. And until the next time, do not forget to keep on caring about and building those high quality products and teams. Bye.