Crafting Insightful Research Reports and Leveraging their Insights | by Pedro Canhenha | Mar, 2023

There’s a variety of books and publications on the topic of Research. This is a topic which can go in so many different directions and take on so many different nuances, however and for the sake of this article my goal is to focus on the importance played by Interviews and Contextual Inquiries when it comes to shaping and influencing Product Design initiatives. Erica Hall published the seminal “Just Enough Research” in 2013, which has become a de facto reference for many Designers and Researchers who work in Product Design. Research IS now widely acknowledged as a discipline that makes all the difference when it comes to delivering impactful and resonant product solutions to market. Essentially, because it has the power to uncover details of an Ecosystem in which a possible solution exists, and in particular, uncover essential layers of information on the individuals (and eventually characters) that make that ecosystem something viscerally real. Making the abstract characters into something realistic and possessed of motivations, habits and expectations, allows for everyone on a Product Design journey to truly understand if the possible solutions that are being devised are in reality sensical or not. It all eventually distills itself to a singular realization: will users want to adopt and use a particular solution. In this Product Design journey however, Interviews and Contextual Inquiries play a significant role in informing the participants of the journey on the nuances that are related by the interviewees (across lead and supporting roles they may play in that same ecosystem). For Product Design team members, it’s important to consume this data but also, to create documentation that succinctly showcases what has been observed, parsed and synthesized from the study that has been performed. A report/document that is demonstrative of the patterns that are observed and recorded during this process, with insights that can and should inform the direction of that journey. This article document things to keep in mind when tackling these types of research endeavors, across all three phases: planning, execution, delivery.

1.Planning. During this phase, the team is deciding on what needs to be uncovered. And this in itself, should be a result of information that has been gathered from multiple sources, including Subject Matter Experts, Market Analysis, Customer Support Data (if possible), Reviews, Trend Analysis, Metrics, essentially anything that can provide further light into the situation or context that is about to be studied. Below are a few things to keep in mind before embarking on the journey of doing Interviews or Contextual Inquiries.
1.1. Intent and Scope of the study — as the title indicates, what is the objective of the study. What is it that the team wants to get clarification on and what is the limit of the study itself (in terms of what is going to be inquired, but also how many people are going to be interviewed or observed and also the timeline for the study itself).
1.2. Clarifying who is being interviewed and/or observed — alignment on the individuals/professionals who are going to be interviewed is part of the DNA of the study. Each and every product journey has a series of characters who are the baseline for the existence of a particular solution. Understanding who they are, allows for the study to be that much more relevant and pertinent, not to mention it allows for the foundational aspect of understanding the terrain in which something will exist to be further tracked.
1.3. Defining the Criteria for the Interviewees — making sure there are consistent screeners which will be used to recruit panelists/interviewees is fundamental. These screeners, much like a job advertisement, filter the type of individual/professional that is being targeted for the study. Making sure these screeners are succinct but also clearly state the selection criteria is always of the utmost importance, since they allow for the pertinent candidates to be recruited.
1.4. Interview Scripts — creating Interview Scripts that function as an engaging conversational piece while also capturing relevant information is of enormous importance. Keeping in mind that a rapport has to be built with the interviewees/panelists or in the case of contextual inquiries, that understanding the reasoning for behaviors is based on non biased questions, is always of the utmost importance. And on that note, being consistent in tone is also something to thrive for. Being succinct and substantial in the questions, demonstrating interest but also getting to the point in these scripts is something to abide by when crafting them.

2.Execution. Performing interviews or contextual inquiries can be a challenge. A good interviewer has to thrive for a mix of professionalism, engagement, preparation and attention. A good interviewer is able to not only listen to what the other person is verbally stating, but should also observe the tone being used, the physical comfort/discomfort, and adjust to these factors accordingly. However here’s quite a few things to keep in mind during this phase.
2.1. Be Consistent — Adhere to the interview script(s) that has been created. Patterns will only emerge if the same rules are applied for every interviewee. Even if additional questions do come up due to the specificity of a particular interviewee/panelist, the script should always be the relevant baseline by which the conversation occurs. Changing the rules while performing a study, makes that much more difficult to identify patterns across the different interviewees (the same going for contextual inquiries).
2.2. Record everything and take notes — this of course goes without saying. Being able to revisit what the interviewees have stated, synthesize the content from the conversations, highlight word clouds that emerge from multiple conversations/observations allows for everyone on the Product Design journey to fully understand the patterns (or A pattern or even the sporadic nature of some comments). Note takers should always be present in the sessions, much like in any workshop, since there’s a need for a person to create and sustain the engagement, and one to document it.
2.3. Synthesizing — this is always a challenging aspect to these endeavors. Capturing and documenting studies is solely a part of the journey, the rest of it includes parsing through the notes, also the recordings that were captured, and understanding what the common threads are between all the responses provided by the interviewees/panelists. The goal is to document those common threads, and the divergent ones as well, always making sure to provide the context surrounding both of these situations (which includes demographics, years of professional experience, geographical location, education, current and past employers, all the information that provides a perspective on who said what and provide context as to why that has happened).

3.Delivery. Once the data has been parsed through and organized, the time comes to deliver a report which not only brings forth the summarization of all those findings, but also places a hierarchy of what can be established as key findings and supporting ones. Here’s a few recommendations on what to keep in mind when defining this part of the deliverable.
3.1. Thoroughness — be thorough in detailing the purpose and scope of the study, its timeline, participants (who and why were these interviewees selected), research process applied, and what informed the pertinence of the findings, and their categorization. Also provide quotes and video highlights, which demonstrates what the interviewees/panelists have to say about the topics, from their own prism. Another important component to this report is contextualization. Which means, within the large canvas which includes the sponsoring organization, where do the interviewees and their organizations lie, with complimentary information regarding the position of additional competitors (direct and indirect), and if possible documenting the impact of trends (economic, societal, demographic, to name but a few).
3.2. Highlights and Storytelling — the report should be able to serve multiple purposes. If someone wants to quickly browse through the data and get a sense for key findings, they should be able to quickly locate it. The same way, for those who want to understand the journey which occurred, alongside detailed views into certain topics, including quotes, video playlists, details on what the interviewees stated, all of that should be included in the report. Different users will take away different value from a report such as this, but ultimately the report itself should be able to tell a story of what was its intent, who was the target of the interviews/observations, what were the key findings and patterns from all the conversations, alongside the ones that were more episodical and still deemed relevant. And as a part of this storytelling, some reports can clearly indicate both recommendations and possible next steps, based on the patterns and key findings observed, or let those speak for themselves. More often than not, these reports are a jumpstart to an entire process that comes after, a process that typically takes the shape of a Design Sprint or Innovation Sprint.
3.3. Clarity — on the heels of the previous point, this is one aspect that should always be reinforced. The goal for these reports is to provide something actionable for the Product Design teams, and for any Stakeholder that consumes it. These are illustrative of the insights of particular segments of participants in a specific moment in time, and therefore the language used should at all times be substantial, specific, sincere and clear. Removing as much ambivalence as possible from these reports enables the teams that consume them to better understand what drives behaviors, outcomes and of course opportunities.

Reality Check. In order to best leverage Research endeavors such as Interviews and Contextual Inquiries, it’s important that these journeys are clearly understood by everyone embarking on it. Changing the rules when a study is being performed, eventually sabotages its intent and undermines the identification of the behaviors and patterns that are at the core of what is trying to be uncovered. Flexibility is important of course, but should always be a conscious step, one that adds value to the study, not one that questions (or critically flaws) its intent (and if it does, that means the team failed to understand the data sources during the planning phase). These studies and their output, have the power to unveil opportunities for Innovation cycles to occur, or reinforce paths that have started being plotted, based on all the sources of information originally mentioned in the beginning of the article. They are more often than not catalysts, and not simply stagnant documents representative of something that has already occurred.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Steve Jobs:

“Ideas without action aren’t ideas. They’re regrets.”

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings