The most popular research tools are currently research repositories, or repos. These structured data libraries house customer insights that companies have gleaned from their user research. They are searchable and the data is shareable across the organization. Such repos fit very well within the formalized research process that user researchers typically follow, and they help companies reduce the time and effort they spend on research over the long run.
The problem is: these repos are the end result of process-oriented research. Traditionally, research resides in a separate department that receives instructions from product managers who need to know more about their customer. Then researchers do their thing: they conduct interviews, organize surveys, and analyze data. Essentially, they gather input using different methods, then draw their conclusions, or insights, from their analysis. They then share these insights with the product managers, who use them in product development. The issue is that research has become a silo within the organization—not unlike a black box. Researchers receive their instructions, conduct their research project, and spit out the results.
According to Andreessen Horowitz, current user-research practices require long, expensive user-research cycles. Research is over tooled, manual, and prone to errors. Depending on the research method, feedback collection can take anywhere from days to months, incurring high costs in the five to six figures. This process, in turn, introduces budgetary constraints. So, in the end, companies conduct critical research projects only one or two times per year—which is way below the frequency at which product teams need them. Andreessen concludes that “the user research industry is ready for a new wave of innovation.”
Research repos are the result of these long, over engineered, discrete research projects. The data in them quickly becomes stale—assuming it wasn’t late in the first place. Unless teams update such repos frequently and at a high degree of granularity, they aren’t useful. Now, here comes the bombshell: even when companies build repos and maintain them meticulously, the companies still don’t use them.
As we gathered real-world data and use cases for our startup, we kept hearing firsthand about the same problems from researchers and product managers. We conducted more than 200 interviews, and the problems we’ve outlined kept popping up in numerous discussions.
“Adoption of our new research repository didn’t go well because our colleagues didn’t want to create a user account,” said a UX researcher at a leading customer-engagement platform. User accounts were free, so all an employee had to do was to provide an email address and create a password, something we all freely do for a meager 10% discount on a nice-looking pullover on Farfetch.
The Design Lead at a petrochemicals company with ten client-facing products and fifteen internal products told us: “We have a lot of insights, but we are not using them…. Business decisions are made based on economics and technology, and insights introduce a new variable that makes everything more complicated.”
The Director of UX Research and Product Design at a company developing virtual presentation and collaboration tools clearly expressed his skepticism about insights repositories: “Repos are like a library, only 5–7% of the content is actually used. Compared to that, significant work must go into structuring the data, otherwise it will be useless. This is a big overhead.”
As different versions of the above snippets continued coming up regularly during our interviews, we decided we needed to look for an alternative research paradigm. An insight is valuable only if it makes an impact on the product. But how can it make an impact if no one looks at it?