The relationship between your content designer and user researcher is critical to the success of a digital project

The relationship between your content designer and user researcher is critical to the success of a digital project

5 minute read

The relationship between your content designer and user researcher is critical to the success of a digital project

5 minute read

The relationship between your content designer and user researcher is critical to the success of a digital project

Adam Spencer

Senior user researcher, Lagom Strategy

I conduct user research for UK government and public sector digital services and will often work as part of a multidisciplinary service team. When this is the case, I have three very important relationships to maintain with:

The obvious one is with the user. For those minutes spent in an interview, workshop or testing session - I am their confidant. It is my duty to represent them and ensure that their needs are heard.

The second relationship is with product management - the client, the service owners and delivery managers. The ones that need to be informed by research so that their digital dreadnought of a ship continues to sail in the right direction.

My third, but ultimately critical alliance is with design. If the service team were a band, research and design symbolise that dynamic between the bassist and drummer. They elevate the performance by listening and working together.

Why is this partnership so valuable? It made sense for me to plot this out across the timeline of a typical development sprint.

Before the user research

From the very start, we’re collaborating. A good content designer will champion user needs and begin translating these into meaningful content. Our shared interest is to craft an optimal experience for the user. 

Content prototypes will get developed and we’ll demo them together. I’ll have a good idea of what we want to ask our participants, but the content designer will have their own curiosities that need exploring.

We’ll thread together a comprehensive set of questions. We’ll have assumptions to validate - and be completely refuted! But establish some more research goals and there will be unknowns that we need to gauge.

A good content designer will be thinking about the bigger picture of the digital service and I’ll be ensuring that our research goals are achievable. By working together, we’re ambitious, yet pragmatic.

During the user research

The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) describes user research as a “team sport”. 

For those unaware of GDS, they are a unit of the UK Government tasked with leading the digital transformation of its public services. 

And I agree with their collaborative approach. I may facilitate research activities, but the entire service team should make a contribution.

I’ll encourage everyone to sit in research sessions (in person or virtually). There’s so much more richness by having them observe the user’s interactions as it happens. 

I’m grateful to the content designers that I’ve worked with in recent projects as they’ve always made the effort to participate in research. I think it’s critical. 

Not only is it a live acid test of their work, but they’ll often seize the opportunity to ask their own pertinent questions and complement our research outputs.

I’d also say they are the most fit person to respond to user feedback. Especially when they’ve witnessed it happen. 

They’ll know exactly where to make tweaks or for more complicated challenges, they can start to map out where we should concentrate future work on.

After the user research

When I work in sprints, I’ll update the service team with my research findings by running a debrief session. They can take stock of the research and then make informed decisions.

I’m fortunate to have worked with very fair and open-minded product owners in the past. They appreciate user research and respond in the right way. However, there can always be situations where business needs conflict with user needs. 

This is when user research and content design must join forces. As I’ve said before, a good content designer will champion user needs. It’s far more powerful and vital to have multiple voices advocating for the user in these conflicting times.

Service assessments

GDS set important standards that our digital services must adhere to. We follow their best practice at all times, and key milestones for our team will be facing the thorough scrutiny of their service assessments.

For the most part of these assessments, you’ll be politely interrogated by a panel of assessors with specific questions relevant to your discipline. Research, content, interaction design, tech and product management will all participate.

There’s a natural intertwining between research and design. But when the content designer can confidently respond to a question directed at the user researcher - that’s a pretty good indicator that the dynamic exists in your team.

There have also been times when a piece of content or interaction design has had an unfair grilling, but I’ve been able to intercept with user feedback to validate the choices made. 

I think that coherence and harmonised effort is invaluable to a project’s success.

This started as an opinion piece on why our two roles form an important dyad within service design. However, it’s clearly also a researcher’s ode to content design and I hope you can relate to or even learn from my experience.

I conduct user research for UK government and public sector digital services and will often work as part of a multidisciplinary service team. When this is the case, I have three very important relationships to maintain with:

The obvious one is with the user. For those minutes spent in an interview, workshop or testing session - I am their confidant. It is my duty to represent them and ensure that their needs are heard.

The second relationship is with product management - the client, the service owners and delivery managers. The ones that need to be informed by research so that their digital dreadnought of a ship continues to sail in the right direction.

My third, but ultimately critical alliance is with design. If the service team were a band, research and design symbolise that dynamic between the bassist and drummer. They elevate the performance by listening and working together.

Why is this partnership so valuable? It made sense for me to plot this out across the timeline of a typical development sprint.

Before the user research

From the very start, we’re collaborating. A good content designer will champion user needs and begin translating these into meaningful content. Our shared interest is to craft an optimal experience for the user. 

Content prototypes will get developed and we’ll demo them together. I’ll have a good idea of what we want to ask our participants, but the content designer will have their own curiosities that need exploring.

We’ll thread together a comprehensive set of questions. We’ll have assumptions to validate - and be completely refuted! But establish some more research goals and there will be unknowns that we need to gauge.

A good content designer will be thinking about the bigger picture of the digital service and I’ll be ensuring that our research goals are achievable. By working together, we’re ambitious, yet pragmatic.

During the user research

The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) describes user research as a “team sport”. 

For those unaware of GDS, they are a unit of the UK Government tasked with leading the digital transformation of its public services. 

And I agree with their collaborative approach. I may facilitate research activities, but the entire service team should make a contribution.

I’ll encourage everyone to sit in research sessions (in person or virtually). There’s so much more richness by having them observe the user’s interactions as it happens. 

I’m grateful to the content designers that I’ve worked with in recent projects as they’ve always made the effort to participate in research. I think it’s critical. 

Not only is it a live acid test of their work, but they’ll often seize the opportunity to ask their own pertinent questions and complement our research outputs.

I’d also say they are the most fit person to respond to user feedback. Especially when they’ve witnessed it happen. 

They’ll know exactly where to make tweaks or for more complicated challenges, they can start to map out where we should concentrate future work on.

After the user research

When I work in sprints, I’ll update the service team with my research findings by running a debrief session. They can take stock of the research and then make informed decisions.

I’m fortunate to have worked with very fair and open-minded product owners in the past. They appreciate user research and respond in the right way. However, there can always be situations where business needs conflict with user needs. 

This is when user research and content design must join forces. As I’ve said before, a good content designer will champion user needs. It’s far more powerful and vital to have multiple voices advocating for the user in these conflicting times.

Service assessments

GDS set important standards that our digital services must adhere to. We follow their best practice at all times, and key milestones for our team will be facing the thorough scrutiny of their service assessments.

For the most part of these assessments, you’ll be politely interrogated by a panel of assessors with specific questions relevant to your discipline. Research, content, interaction design, tech and product management will all participate.

There’s a natural intertwining between research and design. But when the content designer can confidently respond to a question directed at the user researcher - that’s a pretty good indicator that the dynamic exists in your team.

There have also been times when a piece of content or interaction design has had an unfair grilling, but I’ve been able to intercept with user feedback to validate the choices made. 

I think that coherence and harmonised effort is invaluable to a project’s success.

This started as an opinion piece on why our two roles form an important dyad within service design. However, it’s clearly also a researcher’s ode to content design and I hope you can relate to or even learn from my experience.

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March 9, 2017

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Lightning fast content design 101

Find what your users want from you without leaving your kitchen table.

March 9, 2017

6:52 am

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About the author

Adam Spencer

Adam is a senior user researcher at Lagom Strategy. He has particular expertise in immersive and qualitative methods, meeting and observing users in their own environments – in offices, schools, hospitals, and homes.

Adam has led research for many of our clients, including UKRI and Skills for Care, for whom he has delivered user research through discovery, alpha, beta and live phases. He has a Master's degree in User Experience Design.

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