The People in Your UX Neighbourhood

echidnas on floor doing card sorting exercise

People of a certain vintage will remember the old Sesame Street song, “The People in Your Neighbourhood.” Good ol’ Bob would sing about the helpful and supportive people that you meet each day. But Bob only sang about half of the “people.”

The greatest thing about user experience research is the opportunity to meet, interact, and learn from different people over a variety of topics. The worst thing? Sometimes you get some personalities that obstruct your efforts, derail conversations, and push -- either intentionally or unintentionally -- personal agendas. This is the other half of people that Bob did not include in his song. 

With years of project discoveries and user research under our belt we’ve seen a few things. So I’d like to share my experiences on how to deal with seven personality types, how to mitigate risk, and successfully get to the point. 

Before we get into the individual personality types, let’s start with how you create a foundation upon which successful interaction can be built. Having data, identifying a primary audience, and aligning to a primary goal are integral first steps in any discovery/UX process. They give you objective touchstones upon which subjectivity can be vetted. But that’s another post. So who are you going to meet?

The Biggest Paycheque/Title in the Room 

This issue can be a huge challenge in internal discussions. Participants will often defer to the highest-ranking employee in the room, worried about repercussions. This is a huge problem because sometimes management isn’t aware of the real issues -- and if we don’t hear the real problems, we can’t fix them.

One example? We worked with a client where management thought everything was great. However, the front-line staff had to use personal equipment, which made a 10 minute task take two days -- and management had no idea. Getting the right people (the people on the front lines) in a room is valuable -- but only if they feel free to speak.

Solution

Hold a management-only session, ensure that other focus groups are safe spaces to allow for honest discussions. Ensure anonymity by explaining how you will be making the results as generic/neutral as possible. 

The Defender 

This is often a key stakeholder or project champion. They’re the ones who want to sit in every session to observe -- but often fall into a pattern of explaining why feedback is “wrong.”

The thing is, a wrong can be a right. For example, something can exist on a site and someone may not be able to find it (or know it exists). Both realities can be true. The user experience is akin to this session from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“But the plans were on display…”/“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”/“That’s the display department.”/“With a flashlight.”/“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”/“So had the stairs.”/“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”/“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

Solution

If you can’t keep the defender out of the sessions, establish ground rules. Observation, not participation. They can be there as a resource, but only if the facilitator requests feedback. And explain how what we’re trying to do is bridge the gap between something that may exist and the users’ inability to find it. 

The Know-It-All 

You know the type… they want to chime in on everything. They think they have the answer. The thing is, they often do know a lot about things, but you’ve got to make them shut up. They can dominate discussions and prevent others from having the space to share other -- and often extremely valuable -- perspectives. 

(Psst... I’ll self-identify as being part of this group. And I’m trying to get better).

Solution

You really have to control the flow of discussions. Using tactics like post-it notes on whiteboards allows everyone to participate -- and then you can walk through the notes and get clarification. You can also direct questions to people, trying to spread the wealth of opportunities around the participants. 

The Church Mouse

Some people just don’t like talking in group settings for whatever reason. They may not feel their feedback is particularly valuable, they may not feel adequately informed, or they may just be shy or have social anxieties. But often they provide incredible value to the discussion -- you just have to make space for them.

Solution

The aforementioned solutions to quell the Know-It-All can work to amplify the input of the Church Mouse. You can also send out some pre-work through surveys and feedback forms to get perspectives before you even start the sessions. This gives them another opportunity to share feedback in a more comfortable manner.

The Crusader

They have one issue, one passion, and no other cares. At every point in the session, they will assert that their audience, cause, department, or section is the most important to the organization.

Solution

This is where you need to use the aforementioned primary goal and primary audience definition. Reinforce the idea that a website is but one tool in a much larger toolbox and that there are other methods and media designed to support secondary and tertiary audiences and goals. 

It’s also not easy. But it can be done.

The Checked Out

We’ve all seen the types -- they don’t care, they don’t want to be there, and they don’t see the value in the process. The problem is that you can’t just ignore them or say, “You didn’t contribute,” as they can be a primary stakeholder, approver, or audience.

Then there are people who feel “this has all been done before.” They’ve been asked for their opinion and seen nothing come of it. Perhaps they don’t believe they can make a difference anyways. 

Or, from a UX perspective, they may just be there to cash a cheque. They may give feedback like, “I don’t like that green. It’s not the colour of broccoli; it’s not the colour of money. I don’t like it.”* And they can demotivate other participants.

Solution

This one really comes down to the skill of the facilitation (and patience). You have to address their concerns, relate to them on a personal level and build trust, and align them to the primary goals by giving them tangible evidence of how their needs can still be met -- even if their content is not on the home page.

Again, this one isn’t easy and requires experience. It can be frustrating, but you can’t let it derail you.

*actual quote from a discovery session.

The Psychic

This one may be the most frequent. Every organization -- especially their marketing departments -- have a strong belief that they understand their customers needs. “We know what our customers want. No need to ask them.”

But while that may be true in general, there are often huge gaps in that understanding. Sometimes customers are forced to interact in a way that’s best for the company, but doesn’t align with what they actually want. And there may be pain points of which organizations aren’t aware.

Solution

Ask your customers!

Seriously, that’s the easy answer. From a UX perspective, it’s important to show the value of this type of research, understanding the benefits to project alignment and minimizing rework.

Data, not opinion, is important here. That’s why I don’t like marketing-developed personas that are based on stereotypes, but embrace personas that are based on longitudinal data. That’s where you get the truth.

Simply put, investing in research, understanding user needs, and setting a project up for success up front results in faster development, less rework, and greater overall satisfaction. So getting buy-in up front helps reduce the impact of well-intentioned “advocacy.”

We’d love to hear from you as to who you meet in your user research efforts. There are a few more personality types I didn’t include, but we’re always happy to hear from others as to how they manage their efforts. Let us know at [email protected]

People You Meet in UX

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Questions Answered

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How can I deal with different personalities in a discovery?

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