Interview with User Researcher Craig Strauss

April 17, 2018

This is another in a series of interviews with user researchers we’re 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.

Check out our previous interview with Lynne Polischuik, User Researcher at Automattic.

Craig Strauss, User Researcher at Venmo

craig strauss headshot

Craig is currently a user researcher at Venmo. After graduating from Boston University in 2011 Craig went on to work in the payment space for international government organizations and then tried his hand at financial consulting. Realizing consulting life was not for him he turned to his major passion -- mobile payments. Since joining Venmo in 2015 he has helped cement and build the user research program and process. He often jokes that his number one goal for Venmo and his career is to make cash history.

Craig works for Venmo.

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

Research takes a variety of forms at Venmo. For the most part it involves me going into our database, sending out a screener survey, selecting participants based on specific cohorts we’ve identified for a specific session. Since the research team is small, it requires running the gamut on recruiting, organizing, and running user research sessions. So I’ll be organizing calendars on the back end and following up with users both remote and in-person to confirm session times. It’s pretty fast-paced and I have successfully gotten it down to a science where I can quickly turn around findings.

Once a user session is ready to kick off I prepare a script and layout the hour long time we’ve got planned to speak with them. A majority of our sessions consist of contextual interviews and remote sessions across the U.S. We get a wide variety of folks giving feedback from places you might not be able to quickly arrange travel to and from NYC. While the feedback is exciting, these are gruelling days. We’re talking full days of back-to-back testing and that can take a bit of a toll, but it’s almost always worth it for what we find!

For the sessions themselves, we’ll do anything from concept testing to general usability of prototypes. Depending on what we are testing, we will have low or high fidelity mockups - but that again depends on how far along we are in a specific testing cycle of a product or design.

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

When I first started research, lots of product managers were leading research efforts and I was helping to coordinate. The inevitable problem was that they could not spare the time to focus on research full-time. That required me to step up and go from note-taker and coordinator to a full-time researcher without the formal designation.

So here I was doing user research and decided that this was pretty cool stuff. From there, I took part-time classes at General Assembly, read outside material, attended meetups and read all I could to hone my skills to start pushing user research as a true partner in the development process.

Research has changed and improved for the better. As a dedicated researcher, multiple teams cannot get enough! There is a great demand but only so much time I can provide in a day or week. That means working with product leads and design managers to allocate time and priorities for specific initiatives.

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

I would say the most surprising thing about user research is the generative ideas that come out of our customer’s minds. We always have assumptions and ideas on how a process should or should not work. However those assumptions and ideas end up being juxtaposed with some unique and different scenarios presented by Venmo users. It means there’s always a fascinating tidbit to be found from listening to our customers showing how truly tied into the product they are.

How do you recruit users for your sessions?

Of course I’ll give the typical researcher answer; it depends. Generally speaking I’ll go into our database and pull users who meet specific criteria. Once I’ve narrowed down a specific list of users we’ll reach out via a screener survey and email. Based on any logic of the screen and some light filtering, we’ll get the right amount of folks to recruit for a session.

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

There are great alternatives and ideas out there that can be leveraged. Consider the wider research community – there are tons of folks who have probably already gone through a similar issue. Get in touch with fellow researchers to brainstorm and learn off of their experience. Those anecdotes could end up being your greatest asset. I would definitely give weight to attending research meetups and conferences to expand your human network!

Definitely conduct research as often as possible and as soon as possible during any discovery or exploration phase of a project. There are countless hours and dollars saved by doing research upfront.

Most importantly, let people talk. Awkward pauses are a researcher’s best friend. When people are given enough space and time they will usually answer the question, or at least elaborate on what you’re trying to get at.

You can connect with Craig on LinkedIn.

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!

If you want to help automate your research coordination so you can scale your practice faster, or make any work involving getting people through a process much easier, get started on CrowdSync today!

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