Myths & Misunderstandings About UX – MR Realities Podcast

Summary: Michaela Mora, founder, and president of Relevant Insights discusses UX topics, including, its meaning, history, and role in market research on the MR Realities podcast with Kevin Gray and David McCaughan, two veterans of the market research industry.

34 minute video. By author Michaela Mora on July 20, 2020
Topics: Podcast, Customer Experience, Market Research, UX Research

There are many myths and misunderstandings about UX polluting the design and research fields. So when an invitation to discuss UX topics on the MR Realities Podcast with Kevin Gray and Dave McCaughan, two well-known veterans in the research and marketing fields, came I was thrilled. Give it a listen (34 minutes) or read the transcript below.

00:00:00 – Dave McCaughan

Hello and welcome back to MR Realities. Market Research Realities is a podcast that my good friend, Kevin Gray, up in Tokyo, and I, David McCaughan here in steamy Bangkok, put together where we talk to some of the world’s leading experts in market research, insights, and areas around that. So, Kevin, do you want to introduce today’s guest?

00:00:22 – Kevin Gray

Yeah. Michaela Mora who’s from the Dallas Fort Worth area, at least, today, originally from Cuba. Yeah. Quite an interesting background. We could cover more than 40 minutes, but since you personally are not the topic today, UX is our topic. But to start off, could you just very, very briefly, give us some background, you know, who you are, where you came from, what you do so forth?

00:00:50 – Michaela Mora

Sure. My name is Michaela Mora. I am the founder and president of Relevant Insights. It is a market research and user research agency located in the Dallas area, in Texas. And my goal has always been to help clients make effective and profitable decisions based on both qualitative and quantitative research. After I got my degree in Psychology, I went into the market research field in which I have been now for more than 30 years in different market research roles in both the agency and the client side, like Blockbuster and in three different countries, Cuba, Sweden, and the US, with more periods of formal education in market research, marketing, PR, advertising, and lately in the area of user research from an interaction design perspective.

I started Relevant Insights, at the end of 2007, just at the door of the great recession, and have been in business now for 13 years.

00:01:55 – Kevin Gray

Yeah, same with me. Yeah, yeah, I guess, we have something going for us, it’s that we survived. I enjoy reading these articles saying that, you know, that the companies that were founded during the great depression are still with us, and those who were founded during boom times are no longer. So, it sounds like, among the three of us, we have about a hundred years collective experience, not to date ourselves too much, but anyway, UX, if I’m an ordinary, you know, business guy, could you tell me what that is? It sounds like a flying saucer to me.

What is UX?

00:02:32 – Michaela Mora

Well, UX stands for user experience, which covers all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. This is different from a user interface, which is important to the experience, but not the same. So, you may have a beautiful, elegant, but totally useless interface, which can generate a bad experience. This is also different from usability, which is an attribute of the user interface. This is about whether the systems are easy to learn, efficient to use, easy to use.

UX goes beyond the interface and its usability. It is the result of the total combination of the technology, the content, the interaction, the aesthetics that people experience from all touchpoints. And in fact, user experience happens every time a customer interacts with a product or services while choosing the product or service, acquiring it, learning to use it, actually using it, or fixing the product or service, if there is a repair needed, upgrading it, and even canceling a service or disposing of a product. All that is part of the user experience.

UX vs CX. Some History

00:03:55 – Kevin Gray

So, how would it differ from CX or from customer satisfaction?

00:04:01 – Michaela Mora

Well, it has to do with the history of both terms. So, the term user experience started being used in 1993 by Don Norman at Apple, when they figured that the experience of using the Apple computers was weak, in his own words.

And he was referring to the experience of when you first discover the product, when you use it in the store, when you buy it when you try to fit it in the car to bring it home when you open the box and try to put all the parts together. So, they were looking at all the touchpoints between the user and the product, including when, when they talked about the products. So, they even created the user experience architect department at Apple. Don Norman is one of the cofounders of the Norman Nielsen group, which does both research and training in the field and has contributed to its expansion. To be fully transparent, I have personally done a lot of training with them and have a master’s certification with a focus on user research and interaction design from their program.

But the field has roots in the science of human factors, which started in ergonomics, which studies the interaction of humans and elements of a system, and systems can be any working system designed to support human performance. So, you will find applications in engineering, healthcare, workplace design, education, and others. And it also intersects with Psychology.

And it’s said that Bell Labs was one of the pioneers of the field when they hire a psychologist to design the telephone systems in 1945 and produced the first touchtone keypads. So, the field has gone through several growth spurts driven by technology that has changed how people buy and use products. So, one of them was the first arrival of personal computers and many new software applications in the eighties. And the internet. It was the second one, the big one, with the web explosion in the nineties and the 2000s.

So, in many categories you had and still have to buy first, then discover how the product would work, if it is easy or not to use but in e-commerce, at least part of the experience happens before people buy. The website experience has often a huge impact on buying Decisions and becomes part of the whole product experience. And so, in contrast with, for example, the mainframe computers, with personal computers and software, the buyers and the users started to be the same, which created an incentive to produce better user interfaces.

So, in 2001, a group of developers got together and wrote the Agile Manifesto, which has been forgotten and misinterpreted by many now, but it was meant to provide principles to get away from the waterfall product development model, which works in sequential phases without feedback from users until the final product was launched. So, you spend years developing a product, you launched it, and then discovered that people had problems using it.

Agile in this context was about being flexible and making changes based on user feedback before finalizing the product in order to meet the user’s needs. Unfortunately, now agile has become synonymous with faster, cheaper product development, often ignoring the users, but I digress.

So, the digital revolution really led to an interest in the field, but mostly from those who were involved in product design and development, which is why you see the UX acronym attached to many designers and developer job titles. Unfortunately, since these groups don’t really have training in research, the quality of user research, despite being essential to UX, has suffered greatly and is sometimes totally absent in UX.

The difference is mainly… There is a large debate about the difference between UX and CX are different, are they the same, should it be the same? The difference comes from their history, how they originated the UX comes from the human factors and product development. While CX is just another modern name for the old voice of the customer, customer satisfaction programs. And they are used by different teams depending on the company. Some live in a kind of quantum physics parallel universe. They don’t talk to each other. They live in their own little worlds.  The UX people often are closer to product development and design and the CX people are closer to marketing, sales, and operations.

CX is seen in the context of customer acquisition and retention and tries to measure satisfaction and loyalty, and the NPS. And at a very, very high level, it includes product satisfaction, but it doesn’t get into the actual product use many times. So, this is where you find many market researchers while UX is often associated with behaviors related to product use and design, and this is where you find the designers and the product managers and the developers.

But for me, they are lenses to look at users. Your users are your customers, your customers are your users. People don’t really separate in their minds, their product experience with experiences they have with their brand messages and the customer service, and all that. That is why people may decide to stop using your product because the company or brand doesn’t align with their personal values and purpose.

Products and services have both functional and emotional benefits, and functional benefits are related to what the product actually does and how it allows you to get the job done. Say, a car allows you to move from point A to point B, but the emotional benefit goes beyond the functional and speaks to how using the product makes you feel. A luxury car can make you feel special at another level beyond the functional features.

So, functional and emotional benefits often play together, but they may weigh differently on your experience depending on the touchpoint in the experience. You can easily contact customer service, not get your problems solved, and be treated so well that you don’t mind the problem went unsolved for a moment.

You can also be enamored with your product, how your product works, and you will forgive a company, the occasional missteps. At the same time, there are instances in which it takes a tweet with the wrong message for people to dump your products. So, the separation of the terms is an artifact of the origin history, but the fact is that consumers and users are the same. I always suggest thinking of these terms as different lenses to look at the same object. Sorry for the long answer.

00:11:28 – Kevin Gray

No, no, no, no. Brilliant. That was an excellent summary. So, do you find that the type of industry, or perhaps a different culture, national culture has much of an influence on this?

Industries Focused on UX

00:11:46 – Michaela Mora

I think it has to do mainly with the industry more than anything. The UX area has grown, expanded more in the digital realm because that’s where product development, that’s where the Agile Manifesto for example originated, and that’s what more interest got into it, right? They think also that this area, people in this area, think this is new. This is not new. This has been happening for a long time, even in the physical world, but the physical world moves slower because of the cost, the fixed costs that are included in this. So, you see that more in software development and e-commerce, that’s where you have seen the explosion.

00:12:49 – Dave McCaughan

When you talk about user experience and why it sort of developed, I was interested in what you were saying about agility and the way sometimes agility gets misused or misreferenced. How do you think that has all affected the… or give us some examples of how these things have affected market research and what goes on in the market research world?

Good & Bad User Experiences

00:13:19 – Michaela Mora

Well, I think the market research world has been a little bit disconnected from this just because structurally, many times market research has been more associated with marketing. And even when they are involved, for example, in new product testing, it’s at a very high-level appeal. And some when they do it, many times is using quantitative methods. But now, lately you hear there is a lot of interest in, for example, qualitative research because of interest in the experience, it has been expanding from the digital to the physical, and more are realizing, okay, we need to really, you get a lot of insight by watching people. So, it’s a lot of interest again in ethnography and digital ethnography. They are the same principles because, you know, you have to think of user experience is beyond the actual product use.

When the interaction, wherever that is, meets the needs of the customer without much effort, the customer will have a good user experience. There is also an element of joy in the interaction. A joy to own, or to use a product or service will also lead to a good user experience. That’s kind of hard to capture in surveys. So, the qualitative research methods lend themselves better to actually observe what is really happening, how people are really using products, how they interacting, and how they’re interacting with other areas beyond the product, with the company, with the customer service, with all the different touchpoints that the company has.

You can have good user experiences, for example, happen when people can accomplish essentially what they need to do or what is important to them, when they easily figure out how to use the product, when they have easy access to it, through whatever technology is available when they have fun. And when they find it appealing, when they received the information that allows them to enjoy the product, to understand how it works, helps them to make the right decisions, think in term of, you know, manuals and tutorials and Q&A here but beyond the product and service, when they are able to connect with a company, providing the product or service, and get their questions answered or problems solved.

On the other hand, a bad user experience is often present when customers don’t know how to use the system to do what they must do, causing them stress and frustration. And when they don’t know where to start, how to use the different features that are available, they leave them confused. Also when they look at a boring and unappealing presentation of products and services, which is why packaging is so important, but especially when they feel forced to engage with features that are irrelevant to what they are trying to accomplish, making the whole process inefficient. So, they may spend time, too much time and effort trying to do something, and they can’t do things in the most logical way for them forcing them to do in the way designers have decided how things should work. And finally, when they feel treated in a condescending or disrespectful manner, which goes beyond the product and service and touches how the company communicates with customers.

Many of those things, we in market research, we touch some of those areas with customer satisfaction surveys and in some general attitudes and usage research, but really you have to go deeper and get into the actual observing people, what they do and how they react. And we have been slow in that area because there has been monopolized by designers and developers. They have been forced to do it because, in product development companies, they say, now you will have to, you know, you have to talk to your users essentially, and they do it.

They don’t have any really training in research. So, you can hear the questions. If you go to those Facebook groups, when they discuss this, the questions they ask, you usually realize that people don’t know research, but they are trying to do the best they can because there’s no real formal education in this area.

UX in Market Research

00:17:54 – Dave McCaughan

I was going to say, I find that really interesting, you know, I can’t help, as you were talking about that, thinking about the user experience of, from a user’s point of view of actually being part of the market research process. So, you know, I find it really interesting because, I do this as a side interest, the way in which research companies try to understand who is using or who is filling out this survey, or who is participating in research. And the user experience is usually awful, in itself. My little bugbear at the moment, there’s one particular panel company that I’ve purposely joined the panel five years ago. Last week I have so far, applied to, they send me these notices, you know, about, you can complete a survey today.

I have probably responded like over 200 times in the last five years and only once have I ever actually completed the survey ‘cause they keep on cutting you off now, you know, normal people, of course, would not return. I’m doing it because it’s like a hobby of mine now to find out what it takes to complete a survey. So, I’m interested in what you’re thinking. You know, if you could just talk a little bit more about the actual user experience of doing market research itself as if from the user’s experience, you know. Do you think market research companies actually do think about user experience?

00:19:37 – Michaela Mora

They try, but I think there are two elements here. One is the actual questionnaire design, right? And which unfortunately in our industry with the do-it-yourself trends, there’s a lot of people who really don’t have the foundations in research writing surveys. And so, you see a lot of bad surveys written by people who don’t know how to do it. There are forces related to budget. And when a company has not done research in a while or ever if they decide to do one, they want to do everything in one, they wanted to ask all the questions that for 30 years they have kept in the vault, and now is the time to ask them. And so, they come with this long list of questions. It is very hard, and I have been in that position many times, to come back to a client, say, okay, this survey is taking now 30 minutes, we need to cut. It is really painful, and some clients really resist and resist and resist because they don’t want to spend the money to think, maybe to do it in two waves. Now, we do this set. The next time we do the other set because they have deadlines they have to meet and their budget.

Then there is the other technology area that has to do with the actual survey tools. I have evaluated many survey tools, if you go to my website, you will see, I have the little Online Survey Tool Review Center, which for a while I was, I was trying, it’s just time-consuming, but I have reviewed many survey tools, and those survey tools, they are developed by programmers and designers. They’re not necessarily researchers.

So, we have the same issue with developing tools to do research. They are not necessarily developed by researchers and you’ll be amazed by their amount of features. You can see where the companies put their money. They develop very cool features that nobody uses. They are totally irrelevant, but they are really cool. And then there are other things like so basic that they need like randomization, please “keep the none of the above at the bottom and the other, at the bottom.” No, you cannot do that. Either you randomize all or nothing and things like that, right? and then you realize those people who develop these tools really don’t know research.

If you go, for example, there is a lot of technology development in the qualitative field, a lot of data capture tools to capture video and particularly for ethnography So, there are many, many tools, very good ones, very good interfaces for the user. So, the user can really … you can specify what you want and you can capture the data, but the headache comes afterward when the researcher has to sit with that data, and then you have to spend hours and hours to put it together in a way that is usable for analysis. And when you look at that, you realize that those people don’t know anything about database development and design and how you do data analysis, even if it’s qualitative, because there is this idea that because it’s qualitative, it can come in any format. So, you get, you know, you do 30 interviews, and all of them come in one spreadsheet, one after the other. It’s like how am I going to do this? At least put it in one, one spreadsheet per person. No, it’s just, it’s awful in the back end.

And I have talked to a couple of those developers and they know, they try, but it’s just, you need to have researchers really involved in the design process, and that they should be using the same methodology that this used for developing other products, any product, either for the technology…

For questionnaire development, unfortunately, clients don’t have the money or the time to, they are not willing, to pay for actual good questionnaire development. Except for some academic institutions and government institutions, for example, they have been doing a lot of, well, not now, but for years,  that is called cognitive interviewing, which is, you use that methodology of asking questions about the questions, just to make sure that your questions are understood, and that are you asking the right questions, so, you are measuring whatever you say you’re measuring, right?

The only place I have seen that’s been practiced on a consistent basis is in the Census. But the Census, you know, they have millions so they can do it, they have to do a lot of testing before they use one word. They do tons of testing. And so, if I’m going to tell a client, okay, we have this survey, we need to test it with a few, we have to pre-test with users. I have to pay those people. I have to recruit these people. I have to spend time doing that, and the clients don’t want to pay for that. And so that’s…, It’s a catch 22. If you want quality, you need to pay for it.

Since the advent of all the online survey tools, it became this notion that because there is the tool out there it is kind of going to be doing it, everything for you. I have been in meetings where people don’t know anything about…I mean they are PR and marketing people. And it was someone telling me, it was a bid meeting, and she was questioning why it would cost that much. “Is it not just copying and pasting in SurveyMonkey?” It is like, I almost had a heart attack because I didn’t know how to respond to that.

00:25:39 – Kevin Gray

Yes, that’s too much… I feel like a lot of times…

00:25:43 – Dave McCaughan

That’s usually a conversation that stops at that point, right? Because how do you respond to that?

00:25:50 – Kevin Gray

Yeah, you can’t, you can’t do much. And in some respects I feel, you know, things are kind of marching in reverse, because when I started out in marketing research, more than 30 years ago, the product development was that was a core part of it. And you would do focus groups, you would do of course, the U&A surveys, and then product tests, and then you would revisit, and sometimes too, you know, groups or surveys, particularly groups on, you know, competitor products and all that. The issue was particularly, back in the eighties, fieldwork and everything, it just took so much time. And of course I, I should have mentioned the volumetrics in many cases, you know,  we had BASIS and other types of, a few competitors to BASIS that was used actually to make a volumetric forecast for certain types of products.

Then customer satisfaction started to emerge, I think probably a big time in the, in the early eighties. And that sort of, but as you’d mentioned earlier, it was kind of a lot of that lacked focus and really was not, was not done very well. Some were, some weren’t, some was focused, you know, on, on an actual, you know, the product itself or, you know with a banking experience, you know, with things that you like and whatnot, but it’s kind of like we seem to be going through a lot of the same stuff over and over again. And we now have more tech and different types of products happening.

I’m just curious where you think UX is heading from now in the next few years?

Future of UX

00:27:54 – Michaela Mora

I think that UX will keep growing. We are in an experience economy, but the experience is not about product experience, only.

Companies need to think of all the messages they are sending out explicitly and implicitly as part of the experience. At this moment with so much social unrest in the middle of a pandemic around the world, being broadcast through so many channels, users, customers, potential customers are watching how companies are responding, how the products and services reflect diversity and discrimination, how their internal company culture and purpose intersect with the customer mental models, which are their expectations, their frame of reference.

It is being predicted, their user experience will be a key-value driver and differentiator in the future economy, not only to acquire and retain customers but also to acquire and retain talent, human capital. Again, the employee experience bleeds over the customer experience all the time in the products and services companies design and the way they communicate with customers in their advertising or through customer service, or through the diversity of the suppliers they give business to. It is all part of the user experience. We just need to think of different users as stakeholders, which is why there are some proponents of calling it HX, which is the human experience.

Unfortunately, if we don’t have more trained researchers dedicated to UX, the field may lose value to companies because over time, the decisions won’t be as effective for their business. So, my hope is that more companies invest in research professionals and vendors that can increase the level of professionalism of the field.

00:29:43 – Kevin Gray

Ok, Dave, we have just a few minutes left. Do you have any further questions?

Wrap Up

00:29:48 – Dave McCaughan

Yeah, the guests I quiz, normally I asked all our guests a specific question. I’m going to switch it today. Maybe you could just give us an idea of when you think back to all the, yeah all those years of great fieldwork that you’ve done, what’s an example of a UX experience that you think was particularly bad or particularly good?

00:30:14 – Michaela Mora

Do you mean in terms of a company or a product or service?

00:30:18 – Dave McCaughan

Yes, yes. Yes.

00:30:21 – Michaela Mora

Well, they are, unfortunately, there are, there are many, there are many up there. One I can refer to, it has to do with, it gives you a good example of how whatever communication with the company also permeates the user experience with the product. And it is about customer service experience.

A customer gets the wrong product. They call the company. The company doesn’t respond, and the customer has to go to Twitter and complain. And then the partner, this is a promotion they got through a partner, right? And so, the partner is the one who responds. And just through that effect, two days later, the headquarters called the customer and offer them the free product. So, why will you have to go through all that and ignore what is really happening, which is that you didn’t meet, you know, the promise? And, it was, all really was rooted in the black fine print. You know, those little texts that give you the conditions. That was really very confusing, very, very confusing.

 If they have done some type of concept testing on that particular text, they will have solved and understood, what exactly are you saying? how people are interpreting this, you would have avoided the whole problem. You get bad PR, you got a partner angry, you end up having to get the highest management in the company involved for just handling one customer, right? And that customer still has a bad taste in her mouth because of this.

00:32:27 – Dave McCaughan

Yes. Yeah, because of the experience itself, the resolution may be okay, they got a free something, but it doesn’t help you to get over it, doesn’t it?

00:32:35 – Michaela Mora

And that’s why we say the customer experience, the user experience, it goes beyond the actual product. It touches, every time you are touched by the company for something, then you are having an experience.

00:32:48 – Dave McCaughan

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really interesting to me. I always go back to those… I worked, once I was in charge of doing the advertising for a very large hotel chain, global hotel chain, and I tried to explain to the client that when you send out those little surveys, you know, like two days afterward, sort of like, thanks for staying it at X hotel, can you answer the survey. There’s nothing on there that actually says, “but I don’t actually want to answer the survey.” That’s the most annoying part of the experience for me, the damn survey.

00:33:28 – Michaela Mora

But we need the feedback, Dave.

00:33:31 – Dave McCaughan

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s been really interesting. Kevin.

00:33:37 – Kevin Gray

Yeah. Thanks so much. I wish we had another 40 minutes, but unfortunately, we don’t, but really we appreciate your insights. And I think our listeners will too. There’s a lot of, a lot of riches in there, and your experience comes through very clearly. You know, there are just a lot of very practical things that I think marketing researchers are frequently missing. And you touched on part of that with the confusion of agile over with speed and cost which is not at all what it meant. But, but anyway, thanks again so much.

00:34:16 – Michaela Mora

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it.