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Advocating and Evangelizing User Experience

Lessons from Ishita Guptan's talk on championing a user-driven culture.


Ishita Guptan, speaker at Neuron's Beer & UX event

In November 2021, the Beer and UX community was joined by Ishita Guptan, Senior Product and Customer Strategist at Credit Sesame with over 8 years of experience working in the FinTech sector. At Credit Sesame, Ishita helped shift the company from a product-focused company to more of a customer-focused company, building a research and strategy practice from the ground up.

UX strategy methods and outcomes

Ishita started her presentation discussing the importance of meeting people in their own headspace, and not coming to the table with a predetermined set of ideas. She describes UX as an “Iterative yet rewarding process.” She outlined methods for developing a UX strategy, such as:

  • Competitive analysis

  • Concept research

  • Usability testing

  • Surveys

  • Qualitative research (actually talking to your user)

  • Syntheses & feedback (it’s never a straight line)


Then Ishita went on to talk about the outcomes of UX strategy, which she said could take the form of any/all of the following:

  • Insights reports

  • Journey maps

  • Uncovering of latent needs (especially in the financial services space, there is a lot of judgement and it is important that users are able to make well informed decisions)

  • Segments and personas (if done correctly this can transform a business, but can again be an iterative process)

  • Messaging and communication (it isn’t just about building a good product, it’s about how you communicate the value proposition to your clients)


Ishita stressed that this is all an “iterative process” which needs to be embraced. She emphasized the need to be open to feedback and constantly learning.

Diagram describing a UX design methodology
Ishita shared an experience design process diagram, created by her teammate Chris Centers.


Investing in long-term UX strategy

Ishita spoke about time horizons for UX initiatives within an organization, and broke this down into 3 distinct categories: Core, Adjacent and Disruptive.


Core

3–6 month strategy: Optimizing existing products for existing users, executing on current offerings.


Adjacent

2–3 month strategy: What can we do to expand current business, with new products, new markets or new users? Find an identifiable opportunity gap.


Disruptive

5+ year strategy: Finding breakthroughs and inventing products for markets that don’t exist yet. Experiment and invent your own opportunity gap.

Taking this kind of holistic approach helps teams see the forest from the trees, and think beyond the most pressing issues of the day. With this approach, product teams can tailor research and discovery initiatives for the near and long term.


A diagram of the user research sphere of influence
The user research sphere of influence provides a framework for understanding users.

Emphathizing with users


The next topic Ishita tackled was conducting user research and testing, with tactics to get the most out of the process:


Tailor by user state

Evaluate your current users. Are they enrolled, hesitant, or have one foot out the door? Can you customize the experience to meet users in their headspace?


Emotional connection

Incorporate visuals that drive an emotional connection and messaging that matches their mindset and intent of users, to build a deeper connection with the users.


Brand positioning

How do you want your users to feel? What state of mind do you want them to be in? You can determine how your users feel if you do your research correctly.


Focused value props

Test several key value prop combinations for each user state to gain a better understanding of what benefits drive which kind of behaviors.


Layering on behavior economics tactics

Layer on and test tactics on websites at key points during the enrollment funnel.


Expand brand presence in meaningful ways

Make sure to get into the client’s headspace, when engaging with different social platforms to hone strategic direction.



Participants of a UX user test sitting at their computers

Getting the most out of user testing

Next, Ishita drilled down into the approach to conducting user tests. She said for the best data driven results it is important to “Create a comfort zone for your user” and to do so you should:


Select the best cohort

Make sure you are attempting to solve a specific problem, and use this as your guide to selecting test users. Are you losing a specific segment of customers? You can’t talk to everyone, that would be futile. A smaller group that represents the larger user base can be more effective than a wide user pool.


Be sympathetic, yet neutral

Don’t constantly validate everything they say. Especially in the financial services people are often struggling and talking about financial hardships, try to remain neutral.


Dig deeper

Ask follow up questions, especially if you end up getting very short answers.


Avoid making fuzzy leaps of faith

Avoid leading questions, to prevent from skewing the data.


Avoid conversational roadblocks

The user might just be in it for the gift card they get at the end of the day. Let them know that feedback can be positive or negative, without consequence.



A group of colleagues in a meeting


Bringing people on board #TeamUX

In the second half of the talk Ishita focused on how to bring people on board #TeamUX. These were her initial suggestions:


Document recommendations

At credit Sesame Ishita had no single source of truth or an established place to store her research. She spoke about the importance of building a solid foundation for storing her research and making that accessible to everyone.

Ishita suggested creating a robust repository reference for when you run out of inspiration, and make this accessible to cross-functional teams to empower them to conduct their own research. No matter how minute the recommendation is capture every single recommendation you make, and track their status.


Democratize the UX process itself

  • Invite your non-UX colleagues to the table, and build a case for the involvement of others. What do they stand to gain? Make them a champion of the process if possible, and make sure to empower other internal designers.

  • Establish guidelines and boundaries.

  • Conduct training sessions, imparting your knowledge to empower people to ask questions.

  • Invite silent observers to research sessions.

  • Don’t get territorial!

Make your users relatable

  • Capture powerful anecdotes from users. This is very useful especially if relaying feedback to other stakeholders. Even play audio snippets to make the research more emotive.

  • Create and share highlight reels of user feedback

  • Visual evidence of a user’s struggle can turn the tide in your favor

  • Figure out ways to hone your storytelling capabilities. What narratives can you craft from your research?

  • Personas if leveraged correctly can bring goals, dreams and fears to life.



Diagram identifying 5 ways to advocate for user experiences
Diagram identifying 5 ways to advocate for user experience.


Managing stubborn stakeholders

Ishita described strategies for dealing with this tricky topic:


Get on the same page first

  • What is their vested interest?

  • Why might the person not like your ideas?

  • How does your recommendation impact their day to day operations?

Don’t devolve into chaos

  • Use data and examples to see an alternative picture

  • Capture the upside and downside of not following a recommendation

  • What KPIs need to be met?

Define project roles early on

Ishita reminded us to always be educating and explaining, by letting clients know that there is an open door policy, this may even open your eyes to roadblocks you weren’t aware of.


Host regular 1:1 sessions

Set an agenda, be open, and be receptive.


Defining what success looks like

Lastly, Ishita went on to pose some questions and concepts teams can use to establish a clearer idea of their goals:

  • What is the change you want to see user research bring about?

  • What will success look like if we incorporate UX teams from the start?

  • What key decisions were made in the past without UX support that may have backfired?

  • How long did it take to recover?

  • How can it be avoided again?

  • Create prioritization matrices to channel focus

  • Focus on the outcomes i.e what you will do with the insights gained from the user research, not the outputs of the user research activities.


Key takeaways

  1. Give users the best shot to provide concrete feedback.

  2. Build a longer table, not a taller wall, let people see how you do your job, thus empowering colleagues to take on some of the work.

  3. Document every recommendation.

  4. Always educate and explain.

  5. Focus on outcomes over outputs.


Watch Ishita’s presentation for more insights



Beer and UX is a Meetup group with more than 2,500 members. Hosted by Neuron, this community of design enthusiasts meets regularly to hear from industry professionals, debate, and collaborate.

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