The ‘weight’ of insight

I want to acknowledge something I’ve experienced that definitely feels like a ‘thing’ when conducting research.

I’m thinking about is as a ‘weight of insight’.

Let me explain.

I’ve been doing lots of research recently with people who are living with some sort of mental health issue.

I’ve heard some incredibly harrowing and personal stories about their lived experiences of trying to get support from mental health services.

They’ve shared these altruistically in an effort to ensure that things that have happened to them don’t happen to other people in the future.

As a researcher you act as a messenger, carrying insights between service users and the people who have the power to make things better.

The weight of insight isn’t just about the amount of insights you’ve learned, it’s the pressure of wanting to do them justice, communicating them effectively so that they have the same impact upon your stakeholders as they had on you when you heard them for the first time.

‘Weight’ feels like an overly negative term but it definitely feels like something that you carry and this can come with a cost, particularly when you’re researching emotional topics such as mental health.

Ironically the empathy that makes you a good researcher and helped you to extract the insight in the first place can also be the thing that increases the impact of the insight upon you.

Sharing this weight really helps.

Conducting research in teams ensures that it’s a shared experience that both shares the knowledge and the weight of insights.

Conversations after research sessions to debrief and decompress are also a really simple and beneficial thing you can do that helps.

Another way of reducing this weight is to ensure that your stakeholders watch the research first hand so that they hear the insights from the source.

Remote research has made this easier than ever allowing stakeholders to participate from anywhere using tools they will probably already have access to.

Good safeguarding practices also help to reduce the weight of insight, ensuring that you preempt the impact of what you might learn and how you can protect the people involved.

Questions are the answer

Ben Holliday’s UXBristol talk about ‘Asking Design Questions‘ really resonated with me.

As a consultant, you can often feel like you are supposed to have all of the answers.

I think it’s more about having all of the questions.

Every challenge presents a problem to solve.

You can’t understand the problem without asking good questions.

They are fundamentally important throughout the entire process.

You need to question your brief in order to understand it properly such as…

  • Why are you doing this?
  • Why are you doing this now?
  • What do you think are the reasons behind the problem you are seeing?
  • What is the cost of the problem to the organisation today?

Successful early meetings are grounded on asking questions such as…

  • What problem are you really trying to solve?
  • How will we know if we have succeeded?
  • Who should we involve?
  • What should we know at the end that we do not know today?

Questions, questions, questions.

Our research starts with identifying the big questions that are on our clients minds such as…

  • Why has our conversion rate dropped?
  • Do people understand and value our proposition?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of choosing a university course?
  • Why do people choose our competitors over us?

We explore the business context of our work by interviewing senior stakeholders and asking questions such as…

  • What are you trying to achieve as an organisation?
  • How does this piece of work contribute towards your vision?
  • What is the impact of this problem?
  • What do you want to get from this project?

Questions, questions, questions.

We explore these within our research with people by asking them questions such as…

  • When did you book your last holiday?
  • What are you looking for in a new car?
  • How do you go about choosing a new savings account?
  • How do you find out about planned changes to your local area?

Once we’ve completed our research we’re still asking questions such as…

  • What have we learned?
  • How can we communicate our learnings in the most effective way to the people who need to hear them the most?
  • How can we apply what we have learnt to improve what we are working on?
  • Which problems should we tackle first?

Questions, questions, questions.

When our work comes to an end we’re still asking questions such as…

  • What went well?
  • What would we do differently next time?
  • What have we learned?
  • Which of our initial assumptions and hypotheses proved to be true?

But it’s not just the project team who are asking questions.

Our customers are full of questions that they need answers to before they can complete their everyday tasks such as…

  • Is it good quality?
  • Do I like the look of it?
  • Do I trust them?
  • Can I return it if I don’t like it?

The best products and services second guess (and then answer) the questions of the people who use them.

What’s the most important question you need to answer to improve your own project, career, product or service?

Questions are the answer.

What ‘experience baggage’ are your customers carrying?

I recently finally cancelled my Abobe Lightroom subscription after years of putting it off.

I’ve been paying £9.99 a month for it ever since and not really using it.

Every month I saw the money leave my account and kicked myself for not cancelling it.

The problem was I knew just how difficult they were going to make it to leave and I just couldn’t muster the energy to do it.

I put it off because I expected it to be difficult, annoying and frustrating.

I must have looked at a reminder to cancel it on my to do list every day for years.

When I finally cancelled it I was amazed that it only took me a minute to do and was absolutely no hassle whatsoever.

My preconceptions of how hard it was going to be were unfounded but had cost me at least two years worth of subscription fees.

These preconceptions (both good and bad) are built from hundreds of previous experiences that we then bring with us to everything we subsequently do.

I’ve been thinking about this as ‘experience baggage’.

Woman looking at her phone pulling a suitcase
What ‘experience baggage’ are your customers arriving with? (Illustration from storyset.com)

This experience baggage moulds our preconceptions, anxieties and expectations of what an experience will be like and as such influences our behaviour.

As such it’s a critical thing for designers to understand and try and mitigate in our work.

By conducting user research you can identify the experience baggage your customers and potential customers are arriving with when they use your products and services.

Armed with this knowledge and insight you can then deliberately provide experiences that serve to dispel customers preconceptions that will surprise and delight them instead.

Now that I know it’s easy to unsubscribe from Lightroom for example, I’m more likely to re-subscribe in the future.

That’s the sweet spot of experience design, creating something that is both good for the customer and good for the business.

So consider what ‘experience baggage’ your users are arriving with and what you can do at all of your touch points to encourage them to leave it at the door.