What do you observe?

How can user research inform innovation? Thoughts on our panel discussion at the MITX DesignTech Summit.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of discussing this topic with a group of leaders who are putting this very question to the test inside their own organizations – at the MBTA, Toast, Akamai, Fidelity, and Mad*Pow. I was honored to moderate the lively panel at the MITX 2019 DesignTech Summit: The Business of Design, held at the Innovation and Design Building in Boston. MITX is the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange, an organization that aims to bring together area professionals who are helping to shape technology’s role in customer experience. The day-long conference was focused on how design leaders can, and do, rise to the new strategic challenges that organizations are placing on them, often due to the intense spotlight on design as a fundamental differentiator and value generation engine.  

Our 45-minute long panel was asked to explore the topic, “Utilizing User Research to Inform Innovation.” The impressive and diverse panelists each have extensive experience in leading these kind of initiatives. Our conversation dove into the topic of how a rigorous and carefully crafted qualitative customer/user research strategy could deeply inform a business’s understanding of market drivers and customer motivations. We explored how to successfully operationalize and democratize this work to enable an organization to do it well and continuously, transforming the culture into a learning one, and thereby enabling the business to be more intentionally resilient in the face of constant disruption.  

I was thrilled with how much the panelists were willing to share about their own experiences in various organizations doing this work, and how they are continually engaging with their respective leadership teams now and driving more strategic conversations. Key takeaways for me included:

  • Organizations that embrace learning and experimentation at a cultural level, where user and customer research is the SOP to inform and drive innovation, face new problems of managing access and distribution of insights at scale.
  • Designers and researchers tend to showcase research output (Journey maps, personas, etc.), which unfortunately can provide a false sense that these artifacts have high value and can be done quickly and easily. In fact, the true value to a business of this work is generated during discovery, synthesis, and decision making process itself and can be distributed in real-time. The artifacts are only to serve as the leave-behind documentation of the end state of that work.
  • The best leaders disperse their researchers bimodally and end up with a multiplier effect: they are tasked with both performing research to inform business decisions, as well as teaching and coaching others within the organization about how to appropriately perform their own research.  

We received great feedback about the quality of this discussion from a number of people afterwards, including Amy Quigley, President of MITX, and members of the Summit Advisory Board.

I was incredibly inspired by the depth of our topic and I think it is worth digging into further. I have been thinking about how we can continue to have this conversation beyond that stage and space. Stay tuned…

Cheers,
Lisa

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