Leadership & Research OpsEstablish and grow a user research practice

  • 6,000% increase in research performed each year.
  • $27,000 saved per usability lab.
Problem definition

Fortune 250 company Interactive Marketing department was lacking user insights to inform digital products.

Agile teams needed affordable information and user input mechanisms for discovery and delivery phases of work to create digital products of use to and usable by end users.


From one research study to a team

In only three years, trained up and led a team of two to perform 111 free or inexpensive studies (50+ performed by me) compared to only six outsourced usability labs in the previous 10 years.

Presented about my experience at UXPA MN October 11, 2018: So, you decided to have a baby start a research program.

Studies performed

  • Qualitative research (usability labs, interviews, click tests, tree tests, card sorts, surveys)
  • Quantitative research (data analysis, top tasks, analytics, surveys)
  • Competitive review
  • Heuristics review

Key findings

  • Customers feel valued when their input is requested.
  • Stakeholder approval of the research plan and test materials eliminates spin and ensures results are embraced.
  • Not everyone can or wants to perform user research.

Research methods and process

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  • Lean process that documented conversations into a research plan document (for stakeholder engagement and buy-in) that practically wrote the test and provided the framework for the results document.
  • Learned how to submit all testing materials for compliance review (for FINRA filing) and worked with legal to create an NDA. Proved permission to perform research as many thought, “You can’t talk to users.”
  • Procured tools such as Optimal Workshop for click, tree and card sort tests, and Qualtrics, an advanced survey and participant management tool.
  • Determined logistics including test equipment to record sessions via a laptop (from any location) and WebEx for moderated testing (remote and in-person), secure data storage and HTML email template for online distribution via specific user research email box.


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  • Data pulls to determine target participant groups.
  • Privacy and data requests to pull client and advisor lists from other parts of the business to meet specific recruitment targets by demographics, website usage (separate analytics pulls) and more.
  • Pre-recruited various audiences (yes, they volunteered) to join feedback teams available to perform tests for free on a monthly basis Worked with various vendors to purchase audiences, when desired.
  • Guerilla recruitment.


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  • Trained two team members in all processes.
  • Established peer review for key deliverables (plan, test and results) to improve results and disseminate knowledge.

Report results

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  • Maintained report templates for adaptable reporting of various qualitative and quantitative test methodologies.
  • Presented results to teams and published results on Confluence, to user research Slack channel and in email newsletter.

Increase use of research

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  • Made team accessible by establishing office hours for drop-in conversations.
  • Created discovery research template with questions and related free research activities available to all roles.
  • Offered and suggested research assistance to designers during design reviews, Slack messages and eavesdropping.
  • Presented user research capabilities and results in small and large groups.
  • Spurred research work through discussions with agile teams about work planned and in progress.


melanie at melanieclarke dot com