Cutting out research overall is the worst thing you can do as a publisher if you ask Mindy Yuen, User Experience Design Lead at Hearst Digital Newspapers.
Because research is critical if you want to create a better user experience, both in terms of design and content. And when it comes to native advertising.
In this Q&A, Mindy Yuen elaborates on the importance of user research and gives her best tips on how to do it — and how not to do it.
You can have a beautiful vehicle – the media and the design – but if the content sucks, you get nowhere. And vice versa.
Why should publishers engage in user experience to create better content?
“Traditionally user experience has been used for the product (the digital product, the website, the app, etc., ed.) and design. But understanding where product and design collide with content is super interesting.
The product, design and content go hand in hand. The product and design is nothing without content. It’s just a casing surrounding the content.
And without the product and design, the content ends up being very traditional and we need to figure out how to transform the storytelling into a digital world.
If you have the content right and the storytelling right and the product right – you can get success. You can have a beautiful vehicle – the media and the design – but if the content sucks, you get nowhere. And vice versa.
In my job now, when we conduct qualitative research, half of the conversation with users is about behaviours when it comes to the product and half of the conversation applies to content. What does the audience want? What do they care about?”
The qualitative research alone is not enough to guide an entire strategy. It’s all about working together.
Most publishers already have a lot of quantitative data, why do we need the qualitative research as well?
“We can’t rely on only data and analytics, we need the qualitative research as well is we want to find out what best resonates with the readers.
What is the context? What do they care about? What do they do while reading the news? Do they read on mobile, their desktop, or the physical paper? Where are they when they consume the news, etc.
But when you have the qualitative research, it’s extremely important to team up with the data team too who monitors traffic, click rates and sees it from an analytical point of view.
The qualitative research alone is not enough to guide an entire strategy. It’s all about working together. Pairing the analytics with the qualitative data makes the insights and findings so much stronger.”
The important learning is to put yourself in the shoes of the users and find out how to make a better user experience for them.
What do you do with the data you get?
“When we have gathered data, we take it back to the office and dissect it. We go through the transcripts of the studies and look after reoccurring themes and you create your archetypes,
Once you find those themes, you can start finding stories that will resonate with them – both in terms of editorial and sponsored content.
This process is the hardest, though. Because you will never get a direct answer, you have to interpret the data. This way, the archetypes and the data informs both product, design and content.
You find out if they want to feel smart quickly with ten stories in ten lines, or if they want in-depth articles. Do they skim, do they skip, are they used to scroll, etc.
And when it comes to content perhaps you find that your users care about motherhood or family. Or that they care more about being mentally healthy than being physically fit.
The important learning is to put yourself in the shoes of the users and find out how to make a better user experience for them. Both in terms of design and content.”
You shouldn’t ask “do you like this, do you like that?”. Because they don’t know.
What are the best methods out there to learn more about the users?
“There are various different methods. Both extensive and expensive methods like ethnographic studies and shadowing where you sit in people’s home and observe their behaviour.
How do they read the newspaper in the morning? How do they read it at night? What are their day-to-day habits?
If you don’t have the time or the money to do that, the next best thing will be user testing or in-depth user interviews. The essential thing here is that it needs to be a conversation. You shouldn’t ask “do you like this, do you like that?”. Because they don’t know.
It’s all about asking why because you need to figure out what triggers them. For example, this could be a conversation with a user:
‘Why do you use Facebook?’ — ‘To keep in touch with friends and family.’
‘Why?’ —‘Because I’m busy.’
‘Why?’ — ‘Because I work too much.’
‘Why?’ — ‘Because I care about my career.’
‘Why?’ — ‘I want to make my parents proud.’
‘Why?’ — ‘Because I love them’
And there you have it: they care about family.”
As a creator of native advertising, you need to follow the archetypes as well.
Where does native advertising fit into all this?
“Whoever is creating native advertising should listen to those insights as well, because you want to have a holistic product, a holistic digital media.
You don’t want sponsored content just plotted into the product where it doesn’t fit. So as a creator of native advertising, you need to follow the archetypes as well.
Because backed by the same insights, everything works together holistically, so you get a product that is more valuable to both buyers and users. It’s all about the holistic experience, and that is how you get traffic and audience.”
I want to stress that cutting out research overall is the worst thing you can do.
What are the biggest mistakes when doing qualitative user research?
“First of all, I want to stress that cutting out research overall is the worst thing you can do. As a publisher, you should definitely invest in research one way or another.
Secondly, the biggest mistake when it comes to the actual user research is doing at your office.
The context is important when conducting user research and you need the users in their natural habitat. If you invite them to your big, cool offices, they might be nervous and just say what they think you want them to say. They’ll give nothing but good feedback, and you can’t use that.
If you meet up with people at a coffee shop or you visit them in their home, somewhere that’s a little more low key, they are more willing to be truthful about their feedback.
A third common mistake would be asking questions about the product itself, like ‘What do you hate most about this site’, because it’s easy to lead users in one direction. Or ‘what type of feature do you like’, because the reader never knows.”