Podcast Episodes

Episode 5: Identify Your Audiences (w/ Erika Hall)

March 15, 2022 | 51:01 | Erika Hall

Corey and Deane talk about Bleachers, music producers, and how understanding your audience increases sales (and helps create a website that fulfills the users’ expectations).

Then, Erika Hall, author of Just Enough Research, joins the podcast to talk about research and interviewing the people who will visit your site — how to frame your interviews, how to incentivize your interviewees, and the difference between researching assumptions versus learning about user behaviors.

The Web Project Guide podcast is sponsored by Blend Interactive, a web strategy, design, and development firm dedicated to guiding teams through complicated web and content problems, from content strategy and design to CMS implementation and support.

Show Notes and Further Discussion:


Corey: (00:13)
Hello, this is The Web Project Guide Podcast and this is Episode five, Identify Your Audiences. I'm Corey Vilhauer, Director of Strategy at Blend Interactive and co-author of The Web Project Guide. Later on, we'll talk to Erika Hall, Director of Strategy at Mule Design Studio and author of both Conversational Design and Just Enough Research, about understanding the who behind your website. But first I'm joined by the other Web Project Guide co-anchor Deane Barker, Senior Director of Content Management Research at Optimizely. Hello, Deane.

Deane: (00:42)
Hi, and I'm going to point something out so you can't edit it now. You didn't refer to me as a co-author, you refer to me as a co-anchor which makes it seem like we're doing a newscast.

Corey: (00:52)
Well, I guess we're going to keep that one in because I don't care.

Deane: (00:55)
You can't take it out.

Corey: (00:56)
Yeah, I can't take it out. Deane, for the past four weeks have been trying to get me to listen to this band.

Deane: (01:04)

Corey: (01:05)

Deane: (01:06)
So it's Jack Antonoff. It's like the band is just a thin rapper around Jack Antonoff, who is like a musical legend. He's like a producer. He's written a bunch of Taylor Swift songs. Every time he wants to make music by himself, he thin wraps a band around him called Bleachers. And as near as I can tell, it's just Jack Antonoff and he wants to jam with at that time. And I had never even heard of them, and then they played Saturday night live and I thought they were really good. And then I went on Spotify and I [inaudible 00:01:33] two on Spotify and they're just fantastic. And Jack Antonoff, is such like a heavy hitter in the music industry. He can get all these people to like, sing with him, like Bruce Springsteen's on one of his tracks for no particular reason. And you listened to them and you were underwhelmed. I'm having trouble forgive me for that.

Corey: (01:48)
Well, it's... I can't get why people... I get why people like it. It just wasn't like necessarily in my wheelhouse, the reason this is relevant, I actually have a point why I brought this up. I had watched a documentary from 2013 called Sound City. I don't know if you're familiar with Sound City.

Deane: (02:05)
I've seen the documentary advertised, I haven't watched it.

Corey: (02:08)
Yeah. So it's like Dave Gro went out and did this documentary about this LA Studio. And there's a story from a guy named Keith Olson, who was like a producer at Sound City Forever. He is actually the guy who brought in a lot of the digital aspects of sound city and was working in that space. But he worked with a guy named Rick Springfield and Keith essentially said, when working with Rick, he said, "Hey, listen, you're not good at guitar or as good at guitar," as some of these other people. So I'm going to bring other people to play guitar on these songs. What people want from you is this, like you're the front person. You're going to be up there singing the song. You don't need to worry about all this other stuff. That's what the people want.

Corey: (02:54)
And I thought it was really interesting, this idea producers and I believe that Jack Antonoff is all in on this as well. The role that they play, not just in like getting the music recorded, but making recommendations that are tied to like, this is very specifically what the public wants from you. You can write some really cool artistic song that is really angular and has all these weird notes going everywhere, but the public isn't necessarily going to embrace that. It's not going to be what specifically they want, and you're not going to be successful with it. What's interesting about it is that I think we look at websites sometimes or we feel like it, because we want our work to be worth something. We will go into it thinking that there's an art, there isn't.

Corey: (03:43)
You just need to make something that people will use. You have to think about the audiences who are going to be using the website and you have to build something towards them, regardless of whether or not the artistic vision that you might have dreamed is there. And so that was my really long way of coming around to this specific chapter in the book, which is about like understanding the people who use websites.

Deane: (04:01)
Yeah. So I'm going to monologue for a bit now.

Corey: (04:03)

Deane: (04:03)
My brother bought me Storyteller for Christmas, Dave Grohl's autobiography. And I just got through the section where they recorded it in Sound City. So that's where I remember from.

Corey: (04:12)

Deane: (04:14)
Let me talk about this episode and next episode together, because as far as your history and my history go, they're combined. There's a guy whose name is David Gemmell, and we would be talking to him next episode. He wrote a book that was hugely influential on our content strategy over the years. David Gemmell was a consultant to nonprofits and associations. And in fact, he just got done. He did like eight years as the Executive Director of the entomology, the bug scientist foundation. He wrote about a process called Audiences and Outcomes, where you needed to identify your audiences and identify your outcomes. The idea of audiences was shocking to me when I read this 12 years ago or something. I didn't want to think about audiences because, screw those people, I'm building websites for me and the idea of actually thinking to myself who is actually coming to this website was weirdly jarring and intrusive.

Deane: (05:10)
It's like, I don't want those people to ruin my vibe. I got this thing going here and this is awesome for me. And that right there, is the beginnings of the web in a nutshell. We built websites for ourselves. We did not care who was coming to visit or what their needs were, and so the idea of putting yourself in a user's shoes was very new to me. When I read David's book, I'm embarrassed to say that you should have been thinking this all along. I've tried to distill content down. Like I teach this university course on content management, and there's always the question that comes up which is, what's content? What's data? Right?

Deane: (05:41)
Example I always see use is that, when you buy a tank of gas and you swipe your credit card to the gas pump. That's data. That's just a store record of something that happened, whereas content is an attempt to affect human behavior. Why else do we publish content to affect human behavior, either to cause them to take a particular action by a particular product or to change their opinion if we're having just a site that like influences them about something we want to change their opinion. But fundamentally, content is about changing human behavior. And you can't change human behavior unless you have some understanding of the humans that are coming and the mode that they're in when they come to your web property.

Deane: (06:20)
Researching your users is like the most basic thing. In fact, when I used to... When I worked at Blend, I did the sales for Blend and I always have my pitch about our process. And I would always say, the most basic thing you have to do is identify the people who are going to come to your website, identify the humans. The reason why we publish content to affect humans, and if you don't know who the humans are, you're nowhere.

Corey: (06:41)
One of the reasons I'm really excited to talk to Erika on this episode is, it's like such a type of thing. Of course, you talk to people, but it's so much harder than that because you have to source people, you have to figure out what questions to ask, how far to go, how deep do you go? And it can't take a lot of time. And so that's Erika's whole pitch is around the idea of, this can be done easily. You don't have to have a team from 18 people doing a giant research of a thousand people.

Deane: (07:09)
You don't have to have a lot of infrastructure, but I maintain it's harder than you think. I do a lot of like user and customer interviews and like my job at Optimizely. I talk to a lot of our customers. We just get a customer on the phone. You need to have a plan to talk to them because you'll blank. You'll just go totally blank. And then you'll have this like spectacular list of questions in your head and then you'll realize you have half answered most of them and you got to have a plan.

Deane: (07:33)
You at least have to be somewhat prepared for the conversation or else it's just a waste of everyone's time. And I imagine that's something Erika will talk about and Erika also published a book called, Just Enough Research that is sitting upstairs, that is on my reading list. I move books from behind me. You can't see those I'm on zoom right now. And there're like a thousand books on the book shelf behind me. And I move books from downstairs to upstairs when they're in the deck circle to be read. And so Erika wrote that book and actually I tweeted a picture of it this morning with my cat.

Corey: (08:02)
Is there a place where the books go after it's in the upstairs queue? Do you have the two books that are on books stand or the bed stand?

Deane: (08:10)
So it's funny. No, they go through there and then I read them and then they come back down and I'm going to move the camera. If you're listening to this, can't see the camera.

Corey: (08:18)
I'll explain it.

Deane: (08:18)
That little stack of books there?

Corey: (08:19)
A pile of books next to what looks like an electronic drum kit.

Deane: (08:22)
Yeah, it's a drum set. That's whole another story there, but that little pile of books was waiting to be reviewed in good reads. Once I put a review of them in good reads, then I have a script that exports them and turns them into a web pitch. So I catalog on my book or reads on my website. So there's a process and then they go back in the shelf.

Corey: (08:38)
You're such a nerd.

Deane: (08:38)
No seriously. And when the book gets by on the shelf, they're like traumatized. They're like, dude, you don't even know what I've seen. I've been places you wouldn't believe he touched. And he turned my pages. It was so violating.

Corey: (08:49)
We're going to interview Erika, but first, this episode of The Web Project Guide Podcast is brought to you by Blend Interactive, Web Strategy Design and Development Firm, dedicated to building great websites. Blend has been guiding teams through complicated web and content projects for nearly 17 years and we're always looking for our next big project. So visit us at blendinteractive.com. All right, let's welcome our guest Erika Hall. Hi Erika.

Erika: (09:18)
Hi. It's great to be here in Cyberspace with you.

Corey: (09:22)
Thanks, welcome. Yeah, the best... The great part about recording a podcast with video on, you all don't get to see the fact that Erika has this beautiful Space Station background. That is real, which is...

Deane: (09:33)
Maintain space 2001. It's what people thought Space Stations look like in the 1970s.

Erika: (09:41)
So it's very comforting to me.

Deane: (09:44)
I think it's hilarious, like space 2000. That was a show, right? Space 2001. I don't know. Something like that. Anyway, I think it's hilarious now that we're 21 years after 2001 and I have never got a space.

Corey: (09:54)
Erika, let's talk about research.

Erika: (09:57)
In space.

Corey: (09:59)
The suck about research in space. A lot of the audience of both the book that Deane and I wrote and this podcast is it's a... We're looking at people who don't have full-time research teams. They don't have full-time staff, even to really work on Web Projects. This is a thing that's just rolling in and being dropped on their desk. When you're kicking off a project, before you even begin interviewing people or begin learning about habits, how do you figure out who even needs to be interviewed in the first place?

Erika: (10:36)
That's a great question. So the very most important first step is to really understand what business you're in. And this is true of everybody and every business trying to accomplish anything. It's like, know your goal. This is even true for individuals in life. Like be the clearer you are about what you want to accomplish and what success looks like. The easier it is to make choices and decisions that get you there. And so always, no matter what type of organization we're working with, that's always the first step. And often, that leads to some really interesting new questions and findings.

Erika: (11:24)
When you just get everybody around the table and say, "What does success look like? What are the barriers to our success? What do we know? And what do we think we know and how confident are we?" And just even having that conversation, just level setting will reveal some really important things that are key to the success of everything you do after that. And to make sure you have a group discussion, because everyone involved in making any decision based on anything you learn, needs to have that same understanding.

Deane: (12:04)
So something I was talking to Corey about earlier, I feel like there's two steps. First is, to profile make some decisions about who you think your user is and then interview those users about their needs. And what I'm wondering is in your experience, how many people are interviewing users, like the number two thing, and you realize they screwed up number one and they're talking to the wrong people. How do you make sure if you realize that you've got your audience wrong?

Erika: (12:32)
All the time, because there's a bias called the availability bias, which you use whatever is closest to hand, not what is most relevant or most useful. Like this is true of concepts, it's true of tools, it's true of recruiting. I talk about recruiting lot and because it's something... It's one of those things that people want to really get past so they can get to talking to people. And there is this idea of, well, as long as we're talking to somebody, it doesn't matter who, and it is so important to make sure you're talking to the right people. And to understand that, is so fundamental because if you talk to the wrong people, maybe you don't even realize those are the wrong people. Maybe you've just wasted all this time. And often again, so much of this is just having a conversation with your team, because research is a collaborative group activity as much as doing the work as a collaborative group activity.

Erika: (13:40)
And just say who, because once you ask the question like, well, what do we need to know? And who do we need to talk to, to learn more about to answer that question. And maybe it's inconvenient to get those people because often, the people that you have the most unknowns about, are going to be the people you don't interact with maybe as much or are harder to find and that's why less about them. So first, you need that clarity of, oh wow, we don't know much about these people and we don't know to find these people.

Erika: (14:16)
And going through that exercise itself, a form of research because if you've identified a certain set of folks as really important to your business, knowing how to find them and compel them to talk to you about research, that's a sales process. And that will also help you understand what you need to know to make your product or service more relevant to them. So participating in recruiting, and this is why I always encourage people to do their own pre profiling and go through the recruiting themselves, that teaches you. That in and of itself is a form of discovery that teaches you so much about your users or customers.

Corey: (15:03)
You say that it's a sales process, which I think is really interesting because sometimes it literally is. You have to pay people to get their opinion. I think there's this idea that, when we've worked with smaller clients, they're just like, "Well, we're going to go reach out to these 15 people that we have on the email list. And we have about three days to contact them. Can you interview them afterwards?" And it's like, "No, you're going to have to reach out." You're going to have to give some incentive. You're asking people for their time. Nobody wants to talk to their bank about why the website is good or bad.

Erika: (15:33)

Corey: (15:33)
It's just not necessarily an item on your to-do list for the week. What can you give to convince people who are outside of that demographic, who might... How do you get them to participate?

Erika: (15:44)
Give them money. Like seriously, because the most important thing, and it doesn't even have to be like that much. There's an art and science into how much of an incentive you need to give to reach certain people and depending on what your study entails, but a really important thing about an incentive is it removes bias, right? You don't want to talk to the people who love you. You don't want to talk to the people who hate you. You want to talk to the people who are relatively indifferent to you but everybody likes money. And seriously, it doesn't even, like a lot of times when I'm recruiting, there are certain benchmarks we use for the offer of how much to talk to us, for general audiences. Maybe we're saying, "Oh, we're going to talk to you for half an hour."

Erika: (16:38)
Maybe you could start at like $25. Right? And people... Let me tell you, I've done a lot of research studies in the past couple years and I've talked to some very affluent people who are totally willing to have a conversation for like a $25 gift card or for $25. And there is some, and it's really easy now. There are a lot of platforms. I work with [inaudible 00:17:11] and I love them and they have a great... Instead of platform that also helps you adjust for like local economies and stuff. But it's like, don't cheap out on that because you're just undermining your own research. Figure out your budget and if you talk to... If you use incentives to get like a really good 10 people, say you offer 10 people $25. Was that $250?

Corey: (17:44)

Erika: (17:46)
Right. Come on. That's nothing. I actually wrote a post that's about like doing the least, and it's like, okay, just talk to 10 people, offer them like $25 to have a 20 minute conversation in which all you ask them is walk me through your day yesterday. If you do that, will cost you like 25 bucks in incentives. And then however much time to create the call to action and put it out wherever, you will learn so much just from asking that question and spending 250 bucks. It's like, how much do you want people to spend on your product? It's like, I hate it when people cheap out on incentives in this visceral, like why should we pay people for their time? It's rude and bad.

Deane: (18:38)
So let's talk about how research requires vulnerability, because I think there are situations where people launch into research, hoping to confirm what they want to believe. And I think if you're not willing to be told you're wrong, don't bother doing research. I guess I've been in situations where during discovery with a client, we realized that like their business model was just flawed. They were critical problems in their business model, the business model work out, or they had to switch. They had to pivot hard. How often does that happen? And then how often is research like killing someone's dream?

Erika: (19:20)
Yeah. So my advice to everyone who has a business is you want to be proven wrong quickly as possible. Like kill the dream before you've made a big investment in it. And this is what a lot of early stage companies, they make a mistake because they have an assumption and they want to protect their feelings. And I totally understand this because in life we are very rarely rewarded for admitting our own ignorance. So you are absolutely right about being vulnerable, because if you and your whole team and your whole company can't admit in front of each other, we have an area of ignorance. You cannot learn. Unless you admit that you don't know, you can't learn. And this is... And your capacity to learn is directly proportional to your willingness and ability to admit that you just don't know things.

Erika: (20:20)
And I think this is one of the reasons why people like to have very narrow and ask very narrow questions, because it's like, well, we know everything but this one tiny thing. And that's why it's like, look at that quote attributed to Socrates. The only thing I know is I know nothing. Like if you start every day with a willingness to be proven wrong, you can learn so much and learning is a huge competitive advantage. But if you're protecting yourself and guarding what you already know, then you're not going to learn and somebody else is going to be open to learning a thing and then be a better competitor.

Deane: (21:03)
I maintain that in this industry, we're always learning but the amount of things we need to learn is expanding faster than we can learn them. So every day we are both the smartest and dumbest we've ever been. Right? Every day we have the most knowledge and we are also missing the most knowledge that we ever have in our life. And I think there's a great deal of humility to being able to admit. I don't trust people who refuse to say, "I don't know."

Erika: (21:29)

Deane: (21:29)
One of the most frustrating personality traits I find is when you ask somebody a question, they clearly don't know, but they don't want to say they don't know. So they're just tap dancing around it.

Erika: (21:40)
Yeah. But again, that comes from being punished in life or admitting you don't know, because even in school, you're supposed to have the quote unquote right answer. And you're taught implicitly often that there is a right answer, that everybody else knows the right answer and it's your job to match that answer. And it's rare that it's the answer that you have today, it is going to be different than the answer tomorrow. But that's how science works. Right? And I could go for like three hours on how bad science journalism reinforces the idea.

Deane: (22:21)
Publication bias.

Erika: (22:22)
Oh my gosh. And yeah. And there was just even a story about some kid who lost his limbs because he ate bad rice, and then it started out. It was just bad science journalism and he actually had this like bacterial infection or something that was totally unrelated to the bad takeout and we were all like freaking out about rice. Yeah.

Corey: (22:43)
I like the idea that when you first said that it sounded like the bad science journalism is what caused his him to lose his limbs.

Erika: (22:53)
No, it just caused everybody to have a two day freak out about like takeout rice.

Deane: (22:59)
Right. Is there a hope... We talk about publication bias, which is that, scientific studies that didn't figure anything out, rarely get published. Right? They only get published if they have like a conclusion. And the fact is most of studies are inconclusive. You wouldn't know that from reading science journalism. But let's talk about research. You hope that you do research and it very clearly leads you down a path. Is there value for research that is inconclusive? Nobody wants research to be inconclusive because it feels like a waste, but what is inconclusive research teach us?

Erika: (23:31)
Well, I think there's a key distinction between research, like for design and business in industry and like pure academic research, because you're asking questions and it's so important how you frame what you want to know, because you ask a question so that you can use the answer. And so, a lot of times inconclusive research in industry, means the question was badly formed. Yeah. And it's related to how lawyers ask questions, where they only ask the question you know the answer to, and it's not like that confirmation bias thing, like I say, never use the word, validate.

Erika: (24:18)
Just eliminate that word from your vocabulary because that means all confirmation bias all the time. But what you're trying to do in asking and answering questions in the design process is reduce uncertainty and increase confidence and reduce risk. So anything you learn should increase your confidence and reduce risk and that's success. It's not... Again, you've got to let go of the idea that you're going to find the answer and answer. This is why I use a Hitch Checker's Guide to the galaxy so much in my talks because Douglas Adams, made fun of the idea that humans want a definitive concrete answer, right?

Deane: (25:02)

Erika: (25:04)
42. It's great, and that's what people are working with. You get a definitive answer and you're like, "But what does it mean?"

Deane: (25:12)
When we talk about research, we're biased to research to answer a question, right? I have a question and I want to do this research, but is there a value and is there a practice around just continuing research to learn what questions you should be answering? Because you just said something earlier, which I thought was wonderful. Offer somebody $25 to tell you what they did yesterday. I work for a software company and I think if I were to do that to a very power heavy user or of our software, I would learn a shocking amount. And I am going to do that Erika, I'm going to do that after this. Is there a formal practice? Is there a name for that? Like, I don't have a question, just help me figure out what question I should ask.

Erika: (26:05)
Well, you could call that generative of research because you're like doing it to generate ideas.

Deane: (26:11)
That's a very high [inaudible 00:26:16] title by the way. I'm very impressed with that.

Erika: (26:19)
I know.

Deane: (26:19)
Did you just pull out a thin air?

Erika: (26:20)
No, it's an actual word.

Deane: (26:23)
You could have really impressed me by saying you just made it up. That was great.

Erika: (26:25)
I didn't make up. Yeah. That's like the first stage is, oh, we're we're trying to understand what we don't know. We're just trying to learn about the world and that's really so important. And again, that's so tempting to skip right past that to, "I have this one specific question." But you'll find when you ask very open-ended questions like that, you will get your specific questions answered and you will get all the context around it because it's so easy to get in software companies. This tunnel vision and think like, because what you're working on your product, your service is the only thing in your professional universe. You have a hard time thinking about the person out in the world who might use your stuff on the daily, but to them it's a tiny particle in their overall world and you have to know what their world is like to fit in.

Erika: (27:22)
So that's so powerful. And another way I really encourage people to think about research is stop using that word. I would like ditch that word entirely because I think it's a real stumbling block for people in terms of what it looks like to be successful and call it learning, because that is a word that is not as charged, especially when you think about like time and budgets and things like that because you would never, I hope go to your team and say, "I don't want you to ever learn." Right? And so if you're continuously building, continuously delivering continuously designing whatever, you should be continuously learning in conjunction with that. And that's how we live our lives. Right? If I said to you like you can never Google anything ever again in your life, you have to make all your life decisions, no Google.

Deane: (28:17)
Well I'm unemployed now. So lose my job.

Erika: (28:22)
Right. And we do that, go through the process, we go through a quote unquote research process. Every second of our internet life, we're constantly seeking out knowledge. We're constantly interviewing our friends. Like if you're planning a vacation, like we used to do in the before times, you would do so much research, all the kinds you would do qualitative research, quantitative research, all this stuff. But you tell somebody in a professional setting and all of a sudden you have to justify that, which is bananas to make really important decisions on behalf of potentially millions of people. That's like, "No, we're just going to try it. We're just going to test and iterate." Would you do that with your $2,000 vacation budget? Like, "I'll just go wherever and then if it doesn't work out my vacation next year." Yeah. No one would do that. No one would do that with like purchasing a bicycle or a car or dinner. "Oh my God. Look how much research you do. Okay. What are we going to, where are we going to order from tonight?"

Deane: (29:30)

Erika: (29:31)
Nobody spins the wheel on that.

Deane: (29:33)
I find the big trend, the last five years, a big trend has been to big data and data science. In fact, my Alma mater just created a bachelor's degree in data science. So I've done a lot of reading in data science books. And what I find out about data science books is they are very tilted towards helping you find the answer to a question, but they don't tell you what questions you should be asking. Right? And I keep... I would read one of these books and I would set it aside and say, "Great. I now know how to find the answer to a question that I am still unaware of."

Erika: (30:04)
Yeah. The way I phrase this to potential clients, because this actually touches on a whole line of consulting I do now. Because there is so much data available, organizations have a tremendous amount of data and very little understanding. I actually worked with a client once, who had a lot of like quantitative consultants on retainer and they had one of the best data science consultancies in the country. And I got on the phone with these guys and they were like, because the client would ask would like give them a wishlist of answers to get. And it was so much like deep thought and hit techers guide, because they're like, 'Well, we can get you that answer, but it's not going to do the thing you want it to do." So they would crunch the numbers and do the thing using the bad question.

Erika: (31:07)
And they'd answer a bad question in a very sophisticated way. And then, it'd be... And then there's sadness because it's like, "Wait a second. What do you mean this isn't magic?" And it's like, "No, it's a formula, it's input output." You can't... It's not magic just because it's quantitative. And in fact what happens with quantitative data is going back to like the availability virus bias thing. It's only like where you have instrumentation, right? You can only sense the places where you're picking up that stuff. And so it's even more likely to lead you astray, but at scale. So big data means you can be wrong at scale.

Deane: (31:55)

Erika: (31:56)
But it's so enticing because it feels more objective because it's quantitative and it's not. So that's fun for me. So the that's work that's super fun for me because I love it. It's very satisfying to go into organizations that have all this data and are still fighting and are then confused why they're fighting because they have all this data and then just helping them reframe their questions because a tiny bit of that upfront work, which can't be painful, because it's like you've got to your point, admit you don't know things. And then all of a sudden they understand how to use qualitative and quantitative together to really learn and to really understand, not just to generate an answer or a chart.

Corey: (32:44)
I selfishly want to ask this because this idea of scope, the idea of so much stuff that you can ultimately research it or learn about or discover, it can be incredibly overwhelming. And I think my favorite thing that I've ever pulled out of any of the stuff you've written is this concept of the satisfying click. I end up using this in talks all the time, because it's just like a perfect encapsulation of the feeling you get when you have so much stuff and you're overwhelmed by all of the information that you can gather and should gather and maybe not know when to gather. Can you talk through that concept of the satisfying click and maybe how you came up with it? Or...

Erika: (33:29)
I should totally my book in front of me for this to be like, well, so one of the things that makes people really uncomfortable with the quantity of understanding is that it does involve like human discernment. And again, going back to like making purchases or vacation planning in your own life, you have a feeling inside when you have gotten the information you need to have the confidence to make a decision. We all know that, but we forget it when we've got to perform this in front of our colleagues and coworkers and things. And so, I came up with it because it's just from... It's that idea that it is a sensation inside that you get where you're like, "oh yeah, I get it." It's that insight that Eureka moment, but it comes from... But I don't like using the word intuition because intuition is usually a combination of confirmation bias and experience, which is a form of research.

Erika: (34:40)
And so, the thing that's really uncomfortable is to admit that you have to involve human judgment in these things and you have to learn to listen, but in a critical thinking informed way. So, you get to the point where you're like, "Oh, we have confidence." Like there is such a thing as statistical confidence. But when you're talking about qualitative methods, it really is a judgment. And a lot of times like it... And this is why working together with people is really important. So you're like, "Oh yeah, we understand." Like there's a moment where you feel that click where you're like, "Oh, I get it. We get it." But there's no measurement for that. It's a feeling which sounds squishy.

Erika: (35:27)
But again, everybody knows that in their regular lives. I wouldn't say everybody, it's tough talking about this stuff when we're in such what seems like a particularly fraught era of misinformation and motivated reasoning, it's tough to say, just listen to your gut. And that's why you have to combine it with strive to be proven wrong. Be really clear about what success looks like and work with colleagues with diverse perspectives and look for that feeling.

Deane: (36:08)
Yeah. Let's just gears for a second because I'm fascinated by the idea of someone who does this freelance for a living. So tell me, what do you call yourself? How did you get into this line of work? What does your average project look like?

Erika: (36:26)
Wow. Oh boy, it's really changed. What do I call myself? I call myself a consultant, a design consultant, because that's what I am at my core. And that's ever since I had my first agency job, I started off more on it in house, like in the early days. But then I got my first agency job and I was like, "This is the business. I love it." I love coming in and helping people solve their problems and then getting out and it's amazing cross training. I'm a liberal arts person. I was a Russian major and then a philosophy major and the philosophy stuff I use every single day. So high five teenage me for making that choice that didn't seem right at the time.

Erika: (37:15)
And yeah, so I was always interested in technology. I used a lot of technology in college and I was interested in communication and publishing in this whole constellation of things. And so, the web was really taken off and I'm like, I want to do that and I'm super self-taught. Yeah. Then I got into agency work and learned that and then said, this is what I want to do and then I just start doing all the things. And so I'm not a quote unquote researcher specialist, I identify as a UX designer at all. It's designed, it's consulting. And now we've mule, has been around for 20 years, which is terrifying. And we've really shifted because so many organizations are doing their... They've built up their internal design teams. So a lot more of our work now is consulting with those teams to bring the extra perspective in, because there're ways of thinking about design that are literally impossible to do internally.

Erika: (38:27)
Like there's a lot an internal team can do, but there are still a lot of times where you just need somebody come in from the outside for things like helping reframe the strategy, helping better understand what questions to ask. And so, I do sometimes actual research projects where I'll lead the research, but it's also in conjunction with coaching and teaching internal teams to do that work as well. So, that's a big part of it. So like I was saying, one of my favorite types of project is to work with a team and lead them.

Erika: (39:14)
Doing a project while also assessing their internal capabilities, and so it works on a couple levels, so I tell them how to do their design and research differently. And we also come out of it with actual insights that they can apply. So that's super fun. Yeah. So there's research, there's strategy, it's not... I wouldn't say there's typical because it's like, how can a particular organization use our expertise? And that is very context dependent. And then, I teach a lot of workshops and stuff.

Deane: (39:49)
Do you ever find that your work in your role in an organization makes you unpopular?

Erika: (39:54)
Yeah. That's a hard, annoying, maybe. I don't know, because the organizations we work with, a really key criterion that we've mostly always tried to apply with the projects we take is, is this work critical to the success of the organization in some level? Because sometimes clients have budget and they're like, "Let's try a thing." That project's going to suck. But if a client comes to us and says, "We have to figure this out, because the future of some important aspect of our entire organization or our business depends on this," that will be a good project. And I think the reason that we're not... It doesn't make us unpopular is because a really important part of our work is understanding the perspectives of everybody, like all the stakeholders in the organization and rationalizing that. Because it's really easy to come in and drop some like idealized recommendations on somebody, but any design approach has to be based in how that organization works together.

Erika: (41:14)
And our job has always been by coming in from the outside to identify ways that the internal team can collaborate, that they couldn't see for themselves. So it's like a campsite. We want to leave an organization better than we found it, but a really important part of this is our ability to facilitate collaboration that was maybe hard to do just inside. Like we can convene people. We can come in and say, "Okay, in order to do this, we need these 10 people in a room together." And maybe it had never occurred to them to meet together or talk together, or maybe there was some political barriers to that. And that's our strength. Like we are not smarter than people who work in house but what we can do is, use our ability to ask naive questions and get people together in the same room. And that's usually the most powerful part of design consulting.

Deane: (42:15)
Okay. Here's the most important question, do you ever look at something Mike's doing and say, that's totally wrong?

Erika: (42:25)
Wow. You're trying to make me like unpopular here.

Deane: (42:31)
You don't have to answer that.

Erika: (42:32)
No, but here's here something I will say, I've gotten better about that because we have very complimentary styles. And the thing about complimentary styles is if they're in sync, it's great. And if it's at cross purposes and what I've learned, and this has been personal growth for me is... Because this is just the way I think about things and I welcome people. I always welcome people to hammer on my ideas. And for me, that's really comfortable. That's critical approach. And that does come from studying philosophy and all that stuff where it's like, "Let's hammer on this idea." And negative criticism is more powerful than all of that. But what I've learned is walking up to somebody and saying, "Oh, that thing you're doing is totally wrong. Yeah.

Deane: (43:28)
So I'm envisioning you and Mike in an argument and you yelling, "Mike, I've done the research."

Erika: (43:39)
Yeah. Well, has that... I feel like that must have happened at some point. Well, no again, because like learning is a collaborative multidisciplinary thing. And so, if knowledge is in one person's head that's bad and who cares, that's wrong. Right? So, a key part, I think one of the misunderstandings about this type of design research is that the point is to get new knowledge, but the point is for everybody to have shared understanding. So if one person on your team knows a tremendous amount and then has to convey it to everybody else who wasn't part of that process, that's no better than one person having a really strong personal opinion.

Deane: (44:28)
Thank you for giving a very genuine answer to a very snarky question.

Corey: (44:34)
Erika, do you have anything you want to talk about? What can we pitch for you today? You have a second edition of a book.

Erika: (44:41)
Yeah. It's even enougher. Yeah. The second edition of Just Enough Research because people liked it and in the second edition... In the first edition, I avoided talking about surveys completely because I think those are of despite how easy it is to use tools to run online surveys. I feel that they're a very advanced technique, but then when I went to the second edition, I had to grapple with the fact that people are going to run surveys, because the tools are so easy and that's often I go to and so I had a whole new material. Yeah.

Erika: (45:25)
I went through the whole thing end to end new jokes, new material. But I was really happy with how the surveys chapter came out because I had to explain the quantitative side of things and I was getting really bored writing about statistics and I thought, how can I make this fun for myself? And so, I came up with this whole story about centers with waste packs, that is so bananas and I love it. So I really strongly recommend everybody buy the second edition of just enough research because it's useful and has some bananas material in it.

Deane: (46:11)
Of the places this conversation could go, I never thought we were going to talk about sent with waste pack.

Erika: (46:17)
Right? Yeah. All of a sudden statistics.

Deane: (46:21)
I did the research and that wasn't on the agenda.

Erika: (46:23)
Yeah. Right. It goes [inaudible 00:46:26] yeah.

Corey: (46:27)
Erika, we're going to let you go with that. Thanks for joining us.

Deane: (46:33)
Thank you so much. Lovely conversation.

Corey: (46:35)

Erika: (46:35)

Corey: (46:36)
All right. We're back Erika rules. I just sent an email to Erika that said Erica rules. This is part a little bit after.

Deane: (46:49)
Lovely. What a great conversation that was absolute blast to talk to her.

Corey: (46:53)
I think that one of the things that I like talking about, and this is a thing I actually read an article not too long ago from Bogue, I think who talked about the idea of not using the word research, about making this not feel or not using the word discovery and to use the word research and Erika talking about how research is also a word that has a lot of weight to it and a lot of baggage to it. And so, I think what I actually wrote down was this idea of talking through research as reducing bias, reducing risk, and then improving knowledge, just like the basics of any information gathering.

Deane: (47:30)
She just called it learning. And I love what she said about, and I'm actually going to try this just call up a customer and say, "Take me through your day. Tell me what you did yesterday at work." That to me would be fascinating. I don't even know what I'm going to get from that and that makes it interesting to me. I'm fascinated to find out what will turn out from that? When I talk to Erika about during the interview is very true. I think people are always nervous to talk to their customers because they like to live in this little bubble where they have everything figured down. And then if we talk to the customers, you're going to realize we have no idea what we're doing and they prefer to live in a fantasy then face the reality. Like customers, the reality, and they don't want customers to tell them that they're solving the wrong problem.

Corey: (48:06)
All right. That's our show Deane.

Deane: (48:08)
That was a good show. Erika's fantastic and she wrote a book and everybody should go buy it.

Corey: (48:12)
Absolutely. Thanks very much to our guest Erika Hall, who is author of Just Enough Research, which has just been updated to a second edition. You should check that out.

Deane: (48:21)
If you buy it from the book apart website, you'll get the new edition.

Corey: (48:23)
Perfect. A book apart.com is where you would do that. Again, The Web Project Guide is a product of Blend Interactive, a Web Strategy Design and Development Shop that builds websites and guides teams through complicated web and content problems from content strategy design, to CMS implementation and support. We are dedicated to making great things for the web. And this is one of those things. The Web Project Guide is also a book. You can order the book at webproject.guide, or you can order nationally on Amazon. I still pull the book out every once in a while. I'm amazed that it happened, honestly there it is. It's a real book that...

Deane: (48:59)
Just look on my shoulder. I have two copies there. So yeah, it's a lovely book. Very proud of that book.

Corey: (49:05)
Book. And it's all online. If you don't want to buy a book, you should. We love if you buy books, but if you just want to catch a chapter online, you can do that. It is still free.

Deane: (49:14)
So it's a big book and it's a very heavy book, which has surprising utility to it. You can use it to press Tofu. If you need to press like the moisturized Tofu, you can use it to hold things down. You can use it to prop things up. So it's a big, thick, heavy book. It has a great deal of utility. Oh, also, there's some good information in it.

Corey: (49:36)
Sure. This is episode five of The Web Project Guide, which also corresponds with chapter five of that Giant Tofu Pressing Book, Identify Your Audiences, visit webproject.guide/audiences for even more resources on this topic. If you like this topic, subscribe count next month's episode, where we will be talking to David Gammell.

Deane: (49:55)
That will be a fun episode. We have a long history with David. He's a good friend. I can't wait to talk to him.

Corey: (49:59)
Yeah. We'll talk about the other side of this, which is talking about outcomes and expectations and what users want when they actually go to the site. And also, yes, I am asking you please to subscribe. If you're listening to the first time, we do this every month and while it's a lot of fun, we also like to know that it's going great. So if you want to give us a five star review, you should definitely do that and if you don't want to give us a five star review, then you should just ignore this message altogether because five stars only baby.

Deane: (50:26)
We are narcissists and we require your validation and feedback.

Corey: (50:32)
It does legitimately help other people find the podcast because algorithms are weird and they apparently only want to show good things. But anyway, we'd appreciate that. And with that, we'll be back next month to talk about understanding user expectations. That is all from us and until then go do amazing things. Good luck.