Interview with User Researcher Lynne Polischuik

March 13, 2018

This is the first of a series of interviews with user researchers we’ll be featuring on the CrowdSync blog. We’re huge fans of the user research world, because talking to users is the only way to know what you need to build. The researchers we’ll be interviewing in this series are the best in the game, bringing world-class research skills to the table and uncovering incredibly important insights for the companies and products they represent.

Let’s get started!

Lynne Polischuik, User Researcher at Automattic

lynne polischuik headshot

Lynne is a user researcher and product designer based in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. Prior to joining the Automattic team she did research all over the place, from film festivals to forestry camps. Lynne loves talking to people, whether it’s about the sports they watch or what they know about health insurance. In her spare time, Lynne mostly hangs out with Zooey, her 10 year old Boston Terrier. She watches cooking shows the way most people watch sports, and is a little obsessed with ‘The West Wing’. Lynne also volunteers with a homeless shelter and mission in Vancouver’s downtown east side, and loves to escape the city when she can to enjoy the beauty that is British Columbia.

Lynne works for Automattic.

Walk us through how you do research at your company. How often, what do sessions consist of?

We do a lot of what I like to call “hybrid” sessions, that are part contextual interview, part usability test. Right now we are doing mostly remote research, but my hope is that we can do a couple of campaigns of on-site studies later this year.

These sessions are usually about an hour, and often we start with a short interview to help us better understand our participant’s context, and then have them look at a prototype or mockup and walk us through some scenarios and tasks.

Sometimes the prototype is simply some static screens or images we can use as a talking point, sometimes it is something fully clickable and we ask participants to attempt completion of specific tasks. It varies.

I’m trying to get our product teams doing more formative research, which would be exploratory and not based around evaluating a specific product concept or feature.

When did your user research practice at your company start? How has it changed?

I just joined Automattic at the beginning of January, so right now I’m still doing a lot of work coaching, getting teams aligned on when and how they conduct research, and the best ways to do so.

Up to this point I think they had mostly done a lot of evaluative research, like usability testing of prototypes or product concepts, but I’m trying to get the team doing more contextual interviews and having more of a dialogue with our customers beyond how they use our product. More talking to and learning about customer needs very early in the design process.

I am actually Automattic’s very first user research hire, so I’m hoping I can demonstrate the value we provide and can add more researchers to the team over time. That said, so many of the product designers at Automattic are already very strong researchers themselves, so it’s not as though I am working single handedly at this.

What have been some of the most surprising findings and outcomes from your research?

I think this is still somewhat to be determined :)

I think some of the product designers I am working with have been surprised at the richness of data even a few one-on-one sessions with customers can generate. A recent study uncovered some really unexpected issues with our sign up process. One designer said he had learned more in a week of talking to users than he had in a year of staring at quant data from our funnels. So I think right now the most surprising element for our team is just how effective user research can actually be.

How do you recruit users for your sessions?

This really depends on the type of study and the type of data we need to obtain.

If we are looking to speak to existing customers already using our product, we might make a request to our data team for a list of user contact information, and then send out an invitation to participate in our study via MailChimp. We give the data team parameters to filter with (ie. by certain plan/subscription type, or length of active subscription, etc) but we also usually create a short screener survey for folks to complete that helps us to refine further and select the best possible participants for the study.

If we are looking for non-Wordpress users or folks who aren’t customers, it’s a little more tricky. We’ll also create a screener survey and application to participate, and this gets distributed via the teams’ social media channels and network, or via various Facebook groups.

In the past I’ve also used Craigslist to recruit users, and sometimes turn to actual recruitment agencies who have panels of potential participants we can reach out to.

Lately we have been researching various chambers of commerce and business associations that we can partner with to do outreach for studies on small business owners. As people complete and submit our screener applications, we try to reach out by phone to the most qualified participants and vet them for further participation in the study. This extra step of doing a 5-7 minute phone pre-screen we find helps reduce no-shows to our sessions and also helps us ensure the participants who join the study are articulate and genuine.

What tips can you give to other researchers to get the most out of their user research?

I think it’s important to realize that recruiting is just as important as the research itself. If you aren’t talking to the right people, your study data isn’t going to be useful and the exercise will be wasted.

I think a lot of people see recruiting as annoying busy work, but it’s really not. We have recently hired a “research wrangler” whose sole purpose is to schedule and coordinate our research participants. It takes a lot of the overhead of setting up and running studies off of our designers, so they are more inclined to conduct research more frequently–and also more excited about doing it.

Another tip would be having a clear research question (or questions) before you talk to people. Erika Hall, author of “Just Enough Research”, recently said “If you don’t have a clear research question in mind before you talk to representative users/customers you’ll end up sitting on a pile of anecdotes and soaking in confirmation bias.” This is so, so true. A lot of folks seem to think just talking to customers here and there is enough, but unless you have a concentrated effort with a clear objective, you just end up with a lot of anecdotal data you can’t really apply to anything.

I suppose a final tip would be to just do research, as frequently as possible. People often ask me how they and their teams can get better at research, and my first piece of advice is just to do as much of it as possible. The more time you spend talking to folks the easier it gets, and the more you can train yourself on what to listen for and how to read people. Interpreting data is to a large extent intuition-based, and you can only improve your intuition by getting out there and using it.

You can follow Lynne on Twitter at @lynneux.

Are you a user researcher? Do you want to be featured in an interview on our blog? We’d love to hear from you. Hit us up here!

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