I was lucky enough to interview LeanUX NYC speaker, Tomer Sharon, currently Senior UX Researcher at Google, and an alum of last year’s AgileUXNYC conference. Tomer is the author of “It’s Our Research“
What is your current role, and how did you come to your current role?
I am a senior UX Researcher in Google Search. My main areas of research are core search results, voice search, identifying user information needs before they are being fully expressed (including Google Now), and more.
I lead a team of researchers in an effort to uncover product/feature opportunities for Google based on people’s daily information needs. I’ve been doing UX research under different titles since 1999 when I worked in Israel. I relocated to the US in 2007 because I wanted to work in a large company that positively affects the lives of as many people as possible and that has a large group of people from the UX tribe I belong to.
How do you think Lean Startup has influenced your practice of product design and user research?
I remember the exact day, time, and place it started for me. I was invited to speak at Adaptive Path’s MX conference in 2011 in San Francisco. Janice Fraser, who co-founded Adaptive Path and developed her career around working with startups on their designs, was speaking there. This was the first time I have heard about the lean startup approach, Eric Ries, and Steve Blank. I was intrigued. I interviewed Janice, who introduced me to more Lean Startup thought leaders whom I also interviewed (Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Johanna Kollmann, Lane Halley, Jeff Gothelf, Trevor Owens, Laura Klein). I started noticing that people in my team at Google were using terms they learned from lean startups. So I became even more interested. I started looking for and developing ways to make my UX research more lean, nimble, and collaborative. I learned that people I work with want to both do more of this type of research and act more on research results. That makes me happy.
What do you see as trends or best practices in product design in 2013?
The first trend I see is that companies and organizations will become more responsive and empathetic to their customers. I say that because I see how more and more organizations now understand the power of directly engaging with their customers over social media channels as well as the behavioral shift caused by the customer development and lean startup movements. This shift will continue pulling organizations out of their buildings and into their customer’s world.
The second trend I see booming in 2013 and beyond is a change in interaction with computers, specifically the growth of voice interaction. I predict that the more effortless voice interaction becomes, the more people adopt it for more and more uses. Then we will finally live in Star Trek.
What do you hope to learn for yourself by speaking at the LeanUX NYC conference?
One of the most prevalent mistakes I see in identifying people’s needs is the assumption that attitude predicts action. Just because someone says they need a certain product feature does not necessarily indicate that they would need or use it. What I’d like to learn is how prevalent this perception is among LeanUX NYC conference attendees. The issue fascinates me.
If you had a few key tactics to help UX designers interested in convincing stakeholders on the value of research, what would it be?
The key is making research stakeholders feel that research is theirs as much as you feel it’s yours. To make that happen, one needs to empathize with their stakeholders. We UX people are very good at developing empathy toward end users of our products. We fight for them and represent them in internal meetings, yet we fail miserably at walking a mile in the shoes of the very people we work with on a daily basis – the engineers, product managers, and executives. UX design and research are not the most important things on the face of Earth. I know for a fact that some UX people believe the sun is shining from their behinds. It doesn’t.
Do you think the move away from big, upfront ux research to more lightweight, iterative ux research a good thing?
I don’t think there’s a move away from big, upfront UX research. Nobody ever wanted it. There’s definitely an understanding that lightweight, iterative research is effective, but that has nothing to do with upfront research that has a goal of understanding and maybe uncovering user needs.
I look at it from a different perspective. On one hand, big, upfront research carries tremendous value for anyone trying to build a new thing. When Eric Ries talks about perfectly executing the wrong plan, such research is exactly the thing that can prevent that from happening.
On the other hand, I know who I’m working with. People can’t wait for us researchers and ethnographers to complete those perfect, blue-sky research projects. They don’t have the time and patience. Therefore, they don’t do them, don’t ask for them, and if they do, they almost never wait for the results.
I am more pragmatic. I believe in continuous learning when it comes to generative research. I also believe in a combination of research techniques to answer the same questions. My approach is to run nimble studies such as ones that use experience sampling (asking a group of people the same question over and over, over the course of a few days), combined with weekly customer visits and interviews, which I call Field Fridays. This is how I believe research turns into digestible learning nuggets that people and organizations can learn from.
Will Evans is Executive Producer for the LeanUX NYC conference and the Director of User Experience Design and Research at The Library Corporation as well as TLCLabs, the enterprise innovation lab. At TLC, Will is responsible for working across the organization to create extraordinary user experiences and new product innovations.