Patrick Quattlebaum – Founder & CEO – Harmonic Design

Question – What sort of inspiration do you get from filmmaking?

You can break it into a couple of different categories.

First there’s the a product of that work and the stories that are told through film. I look at as designer, so when you were designing something, say a service, it is all these moments that have to connect together.

You need to have continuity.

If they’re designing a service for someone going from a telephone call to interacting with a screen to go into a physical location, you want all of that to flow beautifully and connect. Great stories do that. Even if they’re using techniques that aren’t linear and you can still follow the story and connect with it.

Even the smallest film requires a lot of different talent and all the things that go into it have to coordinate together to pull something off and to make something together. It’s inspiration for when I’m working with organizations and I’m often working with the people who own the call center, the people who own a website, the people own a physical location, legal, HR, all those different departments and trying to get all of them who are experts in what they do to make something that they couldn’t make on their own together.

And you just have to remember that you’re, you’re one person trying to affect something that’s much bigger than yourself. And approaching your work with craft and hoping that you can be one of the people that’s helping bring people together to make something rather than being kind of only interested in what you want to accomplish. 


Stephen Taylor – Head of Design Research at Harmonic Design

Question – When we think about understanding the world, we think about reading as an example as something that can help us. Why is reading important to you?

I’d say reading is important because it’s difficult — and difficult in a way that is very close to the difficulties we run into in research. And reading is amazing training for research.

When you read something difficult — and now I’m going to differentiate between literature or serious works of philosophy, or anthropology or sociology; when you’re reading something that is really gnarly, it differs from pop fiction in that pop fiction is always working inside the mental frameworks that you use every single day. You can take it in effortlessly,  you can relax and it just flows into your head and you’re entertained. It confirms everything that you know and all the things that you think are important. That’s why we read pop fiction.

If you read literature or you read philosophy — especially philosophy, in fact, I’m going to privilege philosophy in this response. Reading philosophy, if you’re doing it right, you will hit patches where you splatter against the wall of what you’re prepared to understand and you have to figure out some way to go through a painful state known as perplexity. It is a kind of profound disorientation that is so thorough, you can’t even say what it is that’s bothering you.

You can’t even state the question that you’re trying to answer. All you can do with a perplexity is to try looking it from multiple angles till you find that magic angle that suddenly hands you a new way of looking at the problem. And when that happens, often you’ll notice that this magic angle that hands you the solution to your design problem also hands you a new way for you as an individual to see the world as a whole. You are personally transformed by this difficult act of understanding.

So, this is something I always tell my teams when we’re analysing some research. Invariably, if the research is really good, somewhere toward the middle of analysis people start getting really grouchy. They get insomnia. Some people experience depression. And I always tell them “I know this feels like total shit, but I’m having a Pavlovian reaction. Because when it hurts this much, you’re on to something! So what we have to do is trust each other.

We have to redouble our efforts to respect one another. When one of says, ‘I’ve got it!’ and they start saying something that sounds like nonsense, just stay with it and listen extra carefully because they may be giving you a path out of limbo into a new kind of clarity that’s not just going to give you new angles for seeing a problem that will produce completely non-obvious solutions, but it might very well give you insights that will help you see your life differently and open up new paths to understanding.

So this is what it is about reading and what it is about design research that makes me passionate about both.


Arielle Coambes – Product Insights @ Mailchimp

Question – What does elasticity mean to you as connected to zooming in and out of research data, observations and insights?

What comes to mind for me is the wide lens that a user researcher needs to approach problems bases with. So I think the elasticity starting with an aerial view and user research means starting with the core assumptions and hypotheses that we have about user needs and user goals.

The reason that software development specifically requires user research is because if we start with the end, if we start with the comp, like what we put in front of the user, and not with their goal or their need, we’re not approaching a comp with a hypothesis.

And that’s where user research can really help the software development process define what goal we have or what goal the user has we’re trying to help with. So that’s the super aerial view. We’re defining those needs. And then zooming down when we’re talking all the way to the level of experimentation, that’s like the most pointed we can get when we’re talking UI in between user need and experimentation in a whole software development process.

Experimentation is the ground level, because we’re talking about what is the smallest change we can make to further that user goal. Experimentation can be tiny changes and can also be page architecture or the order in which you experience pages or changing the value prop entirely.

We can’t just throw little pinprick changes in the app and expect to reach a greater goal.

We have to know what the greater goal is.


Gregg Bernstein – Senior Director of User Research at Vox Media

Question – How do we condense something down into an easily consumed narrative?

Condensing findings or insights down to a narrative is something I do often in my work.

There are some tricks of the trade.

One is that you have to know the subject matter. If you’re a researcher, you should know what you research so you can understand it. The more you’re immersed in your subject matter, the more you know, the more easily you can recognise what’s baseline behaviour versus something that is a notable.

But you also have to know who you’re sharing your findings with and how they like to consume information and that’s a research project unto itself.

I share in multiple slack channels, which means slack is just an endless stream of information. So how can I make my findings pithy enough to be notable, but also where they are not going to be distracting.

It means I need to be thoughtful with my words choice. It’s really a matter of knowing my audience, knowing my subject matter, knowing what is notable, and then writing it in a way where I can easily convey the information.


Sally Cohen – Senior Director, User Experience at ADP

Question – Why do you think people are resistant to user research?

So people always talk about how long it takes to do research and they’re typically referring to the discovery part of it. I think that that’s a bit of a ruse and a cover for why people are resistant.

There is this notion of knowledge being power.

The person who interacts with that end user acquires knowledge that perhaps the rest of the organisation doesn’t have. And that could feel a little threatening. Particularly when those in the organisation believe they’re the ones that own the client relationship.

They don’t want to see that power with the researcher and don’t want the researcher knowing stuff they may not know or that may even contradict what they believe. And there’s a real fear behind that. Probably a fear that the stakeholders aren’t even aware of. But if they were to break it down, I really think that they’re afraid of what’s going to be found out and it’s going to feel threatening to them.

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