Applying In-Depth Research and Analysis to Achieve Better Outcomes :: UXmatters

This approach to discovering a person’s most fulfilling career is a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach, as the diagram in Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1—Discovering a person’s most fulfilling career
Discovering a person's most fulfilling career

The process of discovering a person’s most fulfilling career comprises the following steps:

  1. Identify the person’s unique blueprint, or authentic self.
  2. Discover the person’s life purpose.
  3. Identify the career that is in alignment with your learnings from steps 1 and 2.

2. Expand the scope of research.

Expand not only the depth, but also the scope of your research to reveal unforeseen data and opportunities that can have a significant impact on outcomes….

In the domains of both UX research and career exploration, you need to expand not only the depth, but also the scope of your research to reveal unforeseen data and opportunities that can have a significant impact on outcomes—whether on product and design strategy or on your career path. To get different, more effective, more innovative results that will stick, you need to think outside the box you’re currently in. If you limit the scope of your research to the current state and, thus, operate within the same box, you’ll get the same types of results.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”—Albert Einstein

In UX research, if you want to create a product that people love and want to use, you need to do exploratory research that goes beyond the scope of the current product. If you just keep exploring how people are using the current product—or what works and doesn’t work with the current product—you’ll stay stuck in the same paradigm and limit the scope and impact of potential solutions. You should instead do exploratory research that goes beyond the use of the current product, as well as beyond the scope of the user needs the current product covers. Exploratory research—such as ethnographic research, field interviews, and shadowing, or observing people in their day-to-day life and context—is great for looking beyond the use of a specific product and the scope of the problem that the product is solving.

When I was at Yahoo!, working alongside the other Search UX researchers, we conducted shadow sessions and contextual inquiries in people’s homes to explore the broader context of information searching—how and when—beyond Internet searches. We observed what triggered an information search and what information sources people were using—both offline and online—to reveal unforeseen opportunities for search-product innovation.

Similarly, in career exploration, when I work with clients to discover the career they’ll love, I guide them in expanding the scope of data collection to include their whole life, not just their current or past work experience. We move beyond their field of work to reveal unforeseen opportunities that may lie outside it. Many career counselors and career explorers make the mistake of analyzing data only from the work context, thinking that other data wouldn’t be relevant to work. As a result, they keep operating from the same paradigm that created their problem in the first place and stay at the same level of thinking that isn’t working for them. No wonder they run in circles or find only temporary solutions that don’t solve the root of the problem.

The answers to finding the career that would be your best fit may lie outside your current work experience, especially if what you’ve done so far in your career has not been satisfying to you or doesn’t engage your interests and strengths. If your job is not the right fit for you, but you won’t find your answers by analyzing what you’re doing now. This is why it is essential that you look at your life more broadly. By broadening the scope of your exploration of your values, passions, and talents to your whole life—outside of work—you’ll find the answers you need. Otherwise, you’ll keep making quick, temporary careers fixes that won’t bring you true satisfaction over the long term.

3. Triangulate data from multiple methods and sources.

By triangulating different data points, methods, and sources, you can ensure both the completeness and accuracy of your findings….

It’s important to know that no one input, method, or source can give us all the data we need—or even enough reliable data. Each method, source, or type of data has its own biases and limitations. By triangulating different data points, methods, and sources, you can ensure both the completeness and accuracy of your findings. Triangulated data not only supports solid recommendations and projections but also convinces stakeholders and clients of the validity and robustness of both your findings and recommendations. The more triangulation that occurs at different levels, the more robust your outcomes will be. Leave no stone unturned, so you can have the highest level of confidence possible in your results.

In UX research, triangulation can happen at different levels—from your overall research strategy to the individual research method you use—for example:

In career exploration, triangulation can happen at different levels—for example, by

  • exploring different facets of a person’s unique blueprint, including values, strengths, personality patterns, and life purpose
  • combining different sources of information to cover the whole Johari Window Model, which is shown in Figure 2, and to ensure you don’t fail to discover any major blind spots. Sources can be either self-discovered and self-reported—that is, known to the self—or other reported, other observed, or from assessments—that is, not known to the self. Others who could share what they’ve observed might be people who know the person—such as family, friends, and coworkers, as well as the career coach.
  • combining different data-gathering approaches for these facets and sources—such as inquiries, coaching questions listening, visualizations, teaching and explaining, and reading
Figure 2—The Johari Window Model
The Johari Window Model

Image source: Communication Theory

4. Use the right tools and approaches to collect accurate data.

Inaccurate data would negatively impact your findings, predictions, and recommendations.

In addition to triangulating, you must ensure that you use the right approach or tool to gather the most accurate data possible. If you triangulate using tools or approaches that give you inaccurate or false data, you’ll lose the benefits of both the method and the triangulation. This inaccurate data would negatively impact your findings, predictions, and recommendations. One pitfall to avoid is choosing a tool just because it’s popular, taking it at face value, and failing to question its accuracy. Another is going too fast and choosing the easy route, without challenging the accuracy and validity of your data.

In UX research, one example of gathering inaccurate data would be doing usability testing with people who do not belong to the target audience for the product you’re testing or with people who are not passionate about the product. In my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work,” I quote Jared Spool, who said:

“Passion on a subject changes how participants invest in usability test tasks. That change can have profound effects on the results and the recommendations produced by the team.”

To get accurate results, you need to recruit participants who are actually involved in the process you’re testing and are passionate about it. This is especially true if you want to test how users respond to specific content or functionality, how they navigate and search for information, or whether certain content is useful and valuable to users. To collect accurate data in usability testing, you also need to have participants perform realistic tasks and task scenarios that are tailored to participants’ real tasks, as I discuss in my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work.”

Otherwise, your recommendations won’t have dramatic impacts on use or sales. Jared Spool gives a striking example: “The design recommendation seemed solid, yet sales had dropped 23% immediately after the changes were made.”

In career exploration, an example is the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) by many career coaches and counselors to help identify a client’s personality type. As much as I believe in the validity of the theory behind the sixteen personality types and that this is a great tool to use in career exploration, the instrument itself has many limitations. When I took my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, I learned that, in about 40% of cases, the type the instrument indicates is not people’s best-fit type. There are also many limitations to using the letters representing types individually—for example, T versus F or S versus N. This is why I don’t use the instrument in my practice, and I don’t use the letters either. Instead, I use the InterStrength CORE Approach™, a holistic approach that my mentor Linda Berens has developed, which triangulates two or three different data points to clarify personality type.

I guide my clients through Linda Berens’s CORE Self-Discovery Process™, which is way more effective and accurate than taking the MTBI assessment alone. For many of my clients, the type we identify through Berens’s process is different and much more accurate than the type the MTBI assessment had identified. This is important because your best-fit personality type has a major impact on the type of work environment and tasks that would be the best fit for you. If the data you collect are inaccurate, the outcomes won’t be fully accurate either.

5. Optimize the accuracy of data collection during interviews.

To optimize the accuracy of the qualitative data that you collect—whether through observation or as self-reported data—just choosing the right approach or tool is not enough. You also need to make the most of your method by collecting data effectively. In particular, you must place thoughtful attention on truly hearing what people are saying and avoid erroneous interpretations or letting your own false assumptions color what you hear. Covering this subject fully would require an entire article in itself.

In UX research, the quality of your listening and observing skills can make a big difference in the accuracy of the data you collect. I talked about this at length in my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work.” One key thing to be aware of is that you should not rely on any assumptions you might make about the meaning of what study participants are saying or doing. Avoiding this requires high-quality listening. It is so easy to read too quickly into what others are saying or doing and projecting our own meaning onto them. This happens a lot in personal and professional relationships because most people have not been taught the art of listening well. So check your assumptions. Here are some tips for accurately collecting data from my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work”:

  • Make objective and precise observations. Reflect what you observe instead of making assumptions.
  • Be aware of your assumptions or projections on the meaning of what the person is saying. You can learn more about this in my article “When Observing Users Is Not Enough.”

In career exploration, the same principle applies when you’re guiding someone through a career exploration. Active listening, getting other people’s worlds, and not projecting or assuming are key to gathering accurate data and helping people see themselves clearly. If you’re making assumptions, check your assumptions with your client to see whether they’re true. For example, you might say, “It sounds like independence in your work is very important to you. Is that true?” The great thing about asking is that your client will generally not only confirm or correct your assumption but extend your understanding by giving you more information. Another way to fully get other people’s worlds—and help them understand their own world—is to ask Why? Use the 5 Whys Method, which some people call the Root-Cause Analysis Tool.

6. Expand the richness of the data you collect by adapting on the fly.

Be willing to adapt your process to the person with whom you’re talking.

When you’re collecting qualitative data about people through live interactions, it’s important to be willing to adapt your process to the person with whom you’re talking. Doing so greatly enriches the data you’ll collect—sometimes in unexpected ways. This is key and is an art more than a science.

In UX research, this adaptation can happen at different levels, as follows:

  • at the study level—As you’re conducting a research study, it can be beneficial to make ad hoc additions or changes to respond to what’s happening during sessions with participants. For a concept research study at Yahoo!, I designed a research plan that included a comics storyboard walkthrough and paper prototyping. During the study, some participants wanted to draw what they imagined the user interface should look like. Adapting in the moment, I added some ad hoc participatory design to the session, which provided very rich findings to the team—much richer than if I had stuck to the original plan and gone by the book.
  • at the session level—Some examples of adaptation include the following:
    • changing a task or skipping it altogether—If, during usability testing, you realize that a participant cannot relate to a task at all, adapt it to that participant.
    • going along with a user’s flow—Disregard the sequence of questions you’ve planned for a user interview. For example, perhaps a user starts talking about a topic you intended to address at the end of your interview. While much depends on the particular situation, I generally recommend letting users talk about the topic rather than telling them you’d prefer to go back to it at some point later on. If a user spontaneously raises a point you wanted to know about, it is golden.
    • allowing unpredictability and flexibility—Don’t follow a test script by the book! Don’t be afraid of going off the beaten path! You might encounter an unexpected, enlightening, or rich insight that can help you have greater impact on the design.
  • at the task level—Adapt to each participant’s context and tailor your tasks, your storytelling, and your examples to that participant’s passions, interests, and needs. For example, if you are researching the usage or usability of a search function and a participant tells you he’s passionate about cars, ask him to search for information about cars.

Similarly, in career exploration, adaptation can take place at different levels:

  • at the whole-process level—With my clients, I follow a step-by-step process that has proven effective throughout my seven years of experience while working with hundreds of clients. Although each step is important and builds on the others, it is important to adapt to what is emerging during the process—for individual clients and what they need or what works for them. For example, after Step 1 or 2, some clients are not yet ready to move onto the following steps. Some inner blocks are being revealed that we need to address first—before we can move onto the following steps. Sometimes, we can address these blocks in just one or two sessions. But at other times, they’re so deep seated that it takes the rest of the process to address them. A release of past wounds or negative beliefs must happen before they’re ready to step into the career of their dreams.
  • at the session level—During the first part of the process, there is a predefined agenda for each session that aligns with homework the client had to do to prepare for the session. However, it is important to adapt to what is emerging in the moment for each client. Sometimes, clients have an expected life challenge or situation that they’re facing that triggers emotions such as grief, fear, or sadness. When these emotions are alive and present, they require attention before a client can be ready to move onto something else. Processing these emotions or situations can take a few minutes or a whole session. Often, being with whatever is emerging allows a client to address, release, or transform some inner blocks, which is exactly what the client needs for the whole process to succeed. It is important to trust that this is what the client needs in the moment.
  • at the activity level—It sometimes happens that certain exercises or activities do not align with what a client needs. If the client is not showing resistance to diving into something important, you should listen and adapt to whatever is in the best interests of the client. There is an art to distinguishing the clients’ growth edge versus what does not align with what the client needs.
  • at the moment level—Another skill requires dancing in the moment, or adapting to what is emerging in the conversation with the client rather than following a strict agenda. This also requires following what is alive in a conversation, where the energy is the strongest.

Conclusion

In both UX research and career exploration, in-depth research and analysis can have profound impacts on outcomes, revealing unforeseen opportunities and solutions.

However, in UX research, rapid studies often overlook opportunities to create optimal solutions because they remain within the same scope or at the same level of thinking that created the problem in the first place. Plus, they often result in solutions that don’t get to the root of the problem, so fail to solve the problem over the long term, and require multiple revisions of a process in the future. This can be costly in time, energy, and money and cause headaches for both the people who use our products and services and the businesses who employ us.

Whether in UX research or career exploration, spending the extra time, energy, and money it takes to truly solve a problem is usually worthwhile. Truly solving a problem requires the right strategy, method, and tools, as well as the accurate collection and triangulation of data.

You can uncover insights that enable you to solve a problem effectively and achieve significant results. Plus, you can save time, energy, and money down the road. If you’re a UX researcher, your insights can lead to significant impacts on product and design strategy and innovation. If your goal is career exploration, you can identify a career or work environment that is the best fit for you.

All of this might not be new to you if you’re working in the field of UX research. However, have you ever thought about applying the principles of in-depth UX research and analysis to your own career? If not, this is time to start! Ensure that your career is on the right path and that you are fully leveraging your talents, interests, values, and your unique blueprint, to maximize your career satisfaction and success—whether within the field of User Experience or beyond it. 

To learn more about Isabelle Peyrichoux’s career-exploration process, check out the following content online.

And read her articles on UXmatters.

Bibliography

Berens, Linda. “The Leading Edge of Psychological Type.” Whitepaper, 2002–2013. Retrieved May 12, 2020.

Berens, Linda. Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments, 4.0. West Hollywood, CA: Radiance House, 2010.

Berens, Linda. Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Interaction Styles, 2.0. Huntington Beach, CA: Telos Publications, 2008.

Berens, Linda, and Dario Nardi. The Sixteen Personality Types: Descriptions for Self-Discovery. Huntington Beach, CA: Telos Publications, 1999.

Peyrichoux, Isabelle. “3 Keys to Discovering the Career You Absolutely Love.” Webinar, Dominican University of California, September 10, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2020.

Peyrichoux, Isabelle. “Type and Career Calling: Using Type, Temperament, Interaction Style to Transform Careers, Lives, and the Planet, One Person at a Time.” A forthcoming talk at APTi Conference 2021.

Peyrichoux, Isabelle. “When Observing Users Is Not Enough: 10 Guidelines for Getting More Out of Users’ Verbal Comments.” UXmatters, April 9, 2007. Retrieved May 12, 2020.

Peyrichoux, Isabelle. “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work: Seven Guidelines for Grounding Usability Testing in Participants’ Real Lives.” UXmatters, September 8, 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2020.

Spool, Jared M. “Interview-Based Tasks: Learning from Leonardo DiCaprio.” User Interface Engineering, March 7, 2006. Retrieved June 8, 2008.

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