Design Leader Insights - Jennifer Blatz on UX Research Across Various Applications

January 16, 2023


Alex Smith: Hi Jen, thanks so much for joining the show today.

Jennifer Blatz: Hi, Alex. Thank you. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, for sure. And to get started, can you give the audience a little bit of context and your journey in UX research?

Jennifer Blatz: Sure. So my journey started in journalism actually, print design, so designing newspapers and magazines. And then it evolved to designing for a marketing department at a law firm. And while I was there, I learned about user experience. And I was like, whoa, this is really cool. I'm totally in. So I learned all I could about it. And started out more of a visual designer, which was kind of a seamless transition as a graphic designer or art director in print, to become a visual designer. And then as I did more visual design, I started to learn about user experience, and the deliverables and the kinds of things you can do in UX, which is beyond just mocking up pages, or sites or whatnot, and really got excited about that. And then learning about the research that you could conduct to help inform your design.So I've kind of evolved across the spectrum, I guess you would say, well, I started with visual design, then UX design. And now I'm currently lead or principal UX researcher in the financial space.

Alex Smith: Like what type of applications have you had, or been able to research for?

Jennifer Blatz: Sure. So I've worked on security, internet security companies that monitor another company's internet. I've worked in health care, pet health care. So working on medical records, and scheduling and inventory in animal hospitals, I've worked in the mortgage space, I've worked in the investment space, and servicing loans or paying off loans, like in the auto loan space. So sometimes my users will be external, like, consumer, you know, customers, a lot of times my users would be internal within the company. So my users were like employees, or people who were using it within the company, which makes recruiting really easy to find your users because their employees, and generally you can look in a database and find them. So I've worked anywhere from b2b, b2c, enterprise, customer facing, all kinds of applications, really. 

Alex Smith: You know, maybe the research doesn't inform how to do this, but how do you kind of like, research for all age groups, and then drive that towards a product experience that's, I guess, applicable to all of them?

Jennifer Blatz: Yeah, that's a great question. I think what really, what you really need to be mindful and intent-ful about is testing with multiple age groups. Don't just test with people who are like you on your product team. Because that's the part of the problem that we get some of the products that we do that don't translate or don't feel adaptable to other people outside of certain age groups or demographics, is they don't test with different, you know, demographics, for example, like, a person in their 70s is not raised digitally native, they didn't grow up with a cell phone in their hands, they didn't grow up searching in the internet to do high school work, right? So what is their mental model? How do they tackle problems? What are their concerns when it comes to some of that technology and understanding those concerns, and therefore addressing those concerns in your experience? So I think the key is to yes, there's always seems to be a desired audience or a large audience that your product caters to, and it should, right? Not every product caters to every age group or location, or demographic. And that's okay, you should understand where your product provides the most value. But if you do have a broader experience, say shopping online, which can be done from anyone from, you know, a teenager to somebody in their 90s, you have to understand that those differences and those expectations and those comfort levels and moving forward, understand how somebody who's older, what are the questions that they have about a product or an experience to move forward and to make that sale successful? And making sure that your interface addresses those.

Alex Smith: I personally think that there's not enough researchers, I think there needs to be more because, you know, it's so powerful to turning these insights into, you know, product experiences and how much it improves the experience. So what advice would you have for either new researchers entering the field today or designers who are thinking about hey, this actually sounds like, maybe research is up my alley?

Jennifer Blatz: I would say get experience. Education is great. Researchers come from all sorts of backgrounds. I know people from library science, biology, I came from journalism and design. You know, psychology, clinical testing, market research, teachers, know loads of teachers who have converted. So it's all kinds of disciplines feed into user experience research. But I would say ultimately, what a company wants to see in a researcher is that you can do the job. And for you to do the job, you need to show experience that you have done the job. And so I even I, when I was transitioning, transitioning into user experience, even I did side projects to help me beef up my skills, and to get skills on building personas or conducting interviews or competitive analysis or heuristic evaluation, some of these core skills that researchers often do, I took on side projects unpaid, so I could build out those skills. It's not fun. Yeah it sucks, but I needed to show that I can do the work. And that would be my number one recommendation. Yes, degrees are great. Advanced degrees are fantastic. But an employer, especially in technology, they want to see that you can do the work. And you need to show that.

Alex Smith: And Jen, question here about you know, where research is and should be in the design or product organization? Where does that team sit? Or is there no one right way to do it?

Jennifer Blatz: Sure, I've seen research fall within the marketing department, I've seen it fall within the product department. I feel like sometimes research is lower on the totem pole than design. And I feel like I'd like to see it a little bit higher. You see the three legged stool of product, design and technology, I'd like to see a four legged stool where research is there at the you know, that proverbial seat at the table, right? Because I think that research, when it gets ahead of a lot of those product decisions, it can actually guide the roadmap and guide product in a stronger direction.

Alex Smith: Yeah.

Jennifer Blatz: And we have to get ahead of it, not just evaluating concept tests, and do conducting usability test for the end of all these decisions. So I also have seen research be in a consultant forum where like, hey, we need this thing done. Pop over here for three weeks, or embedded within a team. And, and devoted to that product team or pod aware squad, whatever it might be called, and really invested in that area and not going around to other pods like on a, you know, a service basis. And I personally find that being embedded in a pod, in the trenches with the team all the time, understanding that context, how the decisions are made, when assumptions are surfaced, what the deadlines and pressures are, so that you can really empathize with the team is going through that, to me is the best model for a researcher is like to be part of that family not just swinging for the holidays when they need somebody to make the turkey. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, I think that speaks a lot to like, actually getting that research to be utilized, right? Like, if you're in the trenches with that team, they see that you understand the product roadmap and why, why things are taking a certain timeline.

Jennifer Blatz: Yeah, absolutely. So much of my job as a researcher is building relationships and building confidence. So that when I do bring findings to the table, and it may not be positive, or what was expected, that knowing that I'm coming with the best intent to show what we're learning, and how we might need to pivot to move forward, forward, rather than coming and raining on someone's parade.So being embedded gives you the opportunity to build that trust and that relationship, which is really vital when it comes to user research and the insights being trusted and acted upon

Alex Smith: What resources would you point researchers or designers toward, anything to shout out?

Jennifer Blatz: Oh, sure. There's loads of great books, I won't go into all the books, I will mention that I am a co-founder and president of an online group called UX Research and Strategy, you can find us on LinkedIn. We have several like social media campaigns where we're educating people about different terms and methodologies and whatnot. We also have a monthly free meetup. So you can come and learn about topics and come and meet other aspiring or established UX people so that you can be with your tribe and meet your like kind. And so that to me, I'm gonna guess I'm a little biased, but that's it. I consider that a great resource because it's applicable to all levels. And I know a load of designers who like you said earlier Alex, are interested in learning a bit more about research, maybe they have to do the research because they don't have a dedicated researcher or the researcher is who's on the team is working on other things. So they want to do research and they want to do it right. And they want to do it with confidence and rigor and the approach that they're not, you know, tainting the study. And so the UX research and strategy group I think is a great resource to learn from others and to learn from the community, different approaches to conducting research.

Alex Smith: And Jen, thanks so much for being on the show today.

Jennifer Blatz: Thank you for having me, Alex. This is great.