Design Leader Insights - Gloria Osardu, PhD on the Pillars of Success for Researchers

June 8, 2023


Alex Smith: Design leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a user experience consultancy focused on creating simple and intuitive digital experiences. Hi, Gloria. Thanks so much for joining the show today.

Gloria Osardu, PhD: Yeah Alex, thanks for having me. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, of course. And to get started, can you give the audience some background context in your journey in UX research?

Gloria Osardu, PhD: Yes, sure. My journey into UX research has been convoluted. When I started, I started in software engineering, so building and programming, designing games and code. And then I, it was around the time that, you know, industrial revolution of like the web, internet technology. And so I started to explore what it would mean for other industries to embrace technology, just like gaming industries. So today to look into health IT, healthcare industry, in general. So let's explore banking, and some of those industries that were ripe for transformation.So whilst I was getting that additional training in grad school, I started to do more of like fellowships and getting to sit with product teams to see how they build. So that was like a dual path, where still academia looking at, you know, studies human behavior, but getting that practical experience and working with product teams, design teams to really build for the human experience. So throughout time, I have worked in industries like SaaS, FinTech, banking. And what I'm doing right now is I lead research teams, researchers, ops folks, and insights folks to really look at the human experience and products in the way that we think about what to build, and how we build it. I'm currently at Gusto, as the Global Head of Research and Insights, and my team's look at big, you know, business problems or customer problems, and how we can really tease out those insights from research studies, index research or even triangulating insights from all our collection points, to understand and de-risk the decisions that we make, as we are building for our users. So that's where I am today. But I started off as a researcher, trying to figure out how humans interact with technology. And now I lead research and insight teams.

Alex Smith: That's awesome. That's, that's a super cool journey. And I definitely have a bunch of questions. I think my first one is around collaboration, with research, I think sometimes, researchers are seen as off in a lab doing their own thing like how do you encourage the team to collaborate with product design or other stakeholders throughout the research process?

Gloria Osardu, PhD: That's a good question. And I think that research as a function has been going to use identity crisis, right? I always empower my teams to really seek out, initiate, nurture those trusting relationships with others. It's easy, because if you look at our history, as researchers or product, design researchers or customer experience researchers, we really started off in kind of engineering where we came in to do a usability test, and tested things that were already built. And slowly, we moved into really helping with design strategy, how to design, let's go through the design process. And so we have shifted from this, like, isolated come in, like contractor feel of coming and help us like triage or mitigate the risks that we see into being part of a design process. And now you see a lot of teams in design orgs, and so it's not lost on me that the feeling of okay, we are waiting for something to happen or for us to be called upon to come and do our one thing or to just like create a deck or report. I think one of the questions I have that seems difficult, that's such a big company is like, what to research? Like, you know, there's business needs, there's customer needs, those aren't always aligned. And then there's product prioritization. There's engineering prioritization. So how do you kind of like triage, hey, this is what we're doing now, here's why? I think the first step or the thing that I do is to elevate all the conversation into what is the business North Star? Because I sincerely believe that no business is set up to ignore the customer experience. And so anytime I have this conversation and we elevate the conversation from engineering versus, you know, customer strategy versus design, to what are our business goals, or that top thing that the business cares about, it really helps us think through what we want and what we want research to do, to really help us get to the same bottom line or baseline. And in that case, you eliminate like competing factors, or you eliminate the way that folks see how their KPIs are set up. For example, with Gusto, As the Head of Research and Insights, I don't just focus on researchers or research teams delivering insights, I have three main pillars. And I think that has worked well for me in the last 10 years where we have a customer empathy program, like anyone that works at Gusto should be enabled and empowered to go on this journey, a collective company wide journey to have customer empathy, which means engaging in activities, getting all the resources and the playbooks and the templates that will help you understand the customer experience by listening to them, by shadowing them, by listening to recordings, however your journey takes you, you should be able to do that. And then the second pillar is to present all the operational overhead like we know reset doesn't come easily to folks. But it's also expensive in terms of bandwidth and cost. So what are the things that we can do to grant access to give the right tooling to train? And then lastly, we focus on you know, high risk, high strategy user research that our dedicated research teams are best equipped to lead. And this does three things. The first is it helps everybody understand that customer empathy and getting to eradicating like customer pain or building a customer experience is everyone's problem. Right? We are all on this journey. And so when those conversations about, like, who needs research, what are my priorities? Or we fall to the baseline. Or does it improve the customer experience? Does it help with our profits? Or does it really streamline the processes that we're currently going through?

Alex Smith: I have a question about strategy, which is another area that business you're involved in? How should UX research or design folks think about strategy? Like how can they influence strategy?

Gloria Osardu, PhD: So when we think about strategy, we usually reserve that for like, the bizdev team, or the contracts team or the team that is responsible for marketing or revenue sales. But I think that researchers or the research org, or research leaders have to take a step back and think about the various ways that we can drive strategy. Streamline and stuff. Businesses can run better if we streamline the way that we identify problems, streamline the way that we attack them, or addressed them or solve them. The second is driving strategy by helping increase profits, right? Companies really think about two ways whether increasing profit by getting more money to sales and revenue, or saving a lot in the bank. And so if researchers or the research org can think about ways to save company money, increase cash reserves, or help companies meet their goals, or sales goals or revenue goals. That is something that can help drive strategy because I didn't know if the companies are set up to exist as companies make money, but also solve customer problems. And then the last way that I think we are inching closer to is to really solve problems around people.

Alex Smith: Gloria, what advice do you have for new researchers that might be entering the field today?

Gloria Osardu, PhD: Start early and often to initiate conversations, initiate, nurture and build relationships. I think we've been far off I said it you know that conversation of trying to figure out what design goals are, but we need to look bigger, we need to look at the business goals and really expand our offerings, which we have a lot to offer to the business strategy. So nurture those relationships. Someone on marketing, someone on customer support, someone on an ERG group, someone in the people team, nurture those relationships, if with nothing at all understand how their slice of the pie, you know, spreads out to the overarching company goals. So look at what you're doing and how that affects, you know, the overarching goals.

Alex Smith: Yeah, yeah. No, I love that advice. And Gloria, thanks so much for coming on the series today.

Gloria Osardu, PhD: Oh, yeah, Alex any time. This was fantastic. Thanks for inviting me.