My guest today is ‘Lade Tawak, an experienced UX Researcher for many top brands including Google.
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On Episode 241, I’m interviewing ‘Lade Tawak, experienced UX researcher for many large companies, including Google, but first a word from our sponsor.
This episode is brought to you by HubUX. HubUX is a productivity tool for qualitative research. It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team. Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research. The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace. So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUX. If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUX.com
Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is ‘Lade Tawak, an experienced UX researcher consultant for many of the top brands, including Google. ‘Lade, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.
Hi, Jamin. Thank you for having me.
I’d like to start out with, before we get into the meat of our conversation, with providing our listeners some context of who you are, where you’re based, and how you wound up in user-experience research.
I’m based in Lagos, Nigeria. There’s not a lot of UX researchers here. So, I was studying psychology in the University of Lagos. And, as a student, I had a lot of time on my hands. My school is based in a major city where there is a tech hub, and the tech hub was really close to my school. So I used to just go there and go for all the meetups I could find because I had nothing else to do. And so, I discovered a usable, which was UX Lagos at the time. It was a design meetup that happened every month. And so, I just attended. I had tried software… front-end development. So, I learned HTML and CSS and a little bit of Java Script on Code Academy ‘cause I really wanted to work in tech. That was my major goal. So, I didn’t really enjoy that. So, really, I enjoyed the meetups, topics, and everything. And so, an opportunity came up in the company where the meetup was posted for a UX researcher, their first UX researcher, and they wanted somebody with a psychology background. And so, I sent in my CV, had an interview and Viola!
If only it was magical. There’s a lot to that. User-experience meetups are becoming more and more common. It’s interesting to see how they’re playing out globally. Of course, yourself in Nigeria is really interesting. Are you seeing meetups as something that has it been around for a long time inside of our industry or is it more of a new phenomenon?
So, I can’t say for all of the world but, as far as I can tell, there were a lot of meetups in these parts. There was about five years old, and in that time, a lot more have come up for designers, for mostly developers, I think. I think most of the meetups for developers or entrepreneurs, business owners. And there was not like a lot being done about designers and other people who are involved in tech and creating products and selling those products. But now there are a lot more meetups: digital marketing meetups, content meetups. Also, I started this… It’s not really huge; it’s like a small quarterly meetup. So, more meetups as the industry here grows and more roles come up. People started to pay attention to other things involved. More meetups are coming up and people are meeting people offline ‘cause most of the… The biggest challenge that I have faced here is that there are not a lot of people for me to look to for guidance or advice. Most of the help I get is from International Slack community and on Twitter and basically online. So not more of that present here.
And on that topic, what is you Twitter handle?
I think I’ll just have to spell it.
I tell you what. We will link to your Twitter handle inside of the show notes. I know there is a lot of people who are going to want to connect with you. So, this is interesting: that blur between physical vs. virtual. I recently was at Google’s campus in conjunction with the AMA, moderating a panel out of San Francisco. And in that panel, you make a lot of human connections, in person. And then it’s interesting how you see that evolution in a digital framework, those relationships really blossom. I think that meetups play an important role. The problem with meetups, especially if you’re not in a major metropolitan area, is you have very small or non-existent communities. So tapping into those and finding those individuals can be really hard, but that’s where if you put the effort in just starting it. Eventually, you will build that community. You have to have patience.
I definitely agree with that ‘cause I remember when I first started going to usable about two months after it had started, we were barely 20 people. But now usable meetup, our averages are like 80 people per meetup, and it’s on a workday in a very traffic-ridden city. So that’s a lot of people. And I’m pretty sure if it was… And this is feedback that we get ‘cause now I’m part of the organizers of usable, yeah! And the feedback we get often is, “Oh, this class is on Thursday; I can’t come ‘cause I work on the island and I live on the mainland. Lagos has an island part and a mainland part, and there is so much traffic and people don’t like to do that journey. So it was for my little UX-researcher hangout that I just started and it’s every quarter. The first meetup we were about six people and last we were about 15 people and this is all this year. So, as people become more aware and people become more interested, the numbers increase; people show up more and then it keeps growing that way. But then again there’s the concern of where you live, which is why I really love online spaces because, if there were no international Slack groups, I wouldn’t have made a lot of the connections I have made so far.
Yeah, activity inside of Slack for your specific discipline is really, really important whether it’s market research or UX. It used to be the case that we relied on message boards as a way for us to be able to connect. And that still is being used today, but the majority of the conversations are now happening whether it’s Google groups or Slack communities. I remember a couple research operations, Slack community, and then a Bay Area user-experience Slack. And it’s interesting how there’s so much activity there whether it’s needs or mentorship or… Recently, we had crowdsourced basically among the group of the 100 most common user-experience terms and then we created a definition against those terms, which is a foundational piece of work when you think about that because that’s something that we can then more broadly start pushing in just the way that we talk about our disciplines. So, let’s talk a little bit about user-experience research and some context for yourself. My background is in primary market research. User-experience research as a job function when I started my career really didn’t exist, not in its current framework anyway. (It’s ‘cause I’m old.) But you’ve really seen over the last, I want to say, six to seven years a massive investment in organizations against the user-experience researcher job function. And that job function sits outside of market research, which again I think is really interesting. So it’d be helpful for us, the audience, myself included, if you would spend just a little bit of time talking about what the role is of user-experience researchers in a modern brand.
So, I think I would mostly refer to Jared’s goals on UX maturity, and then that’s in terms of the goal that the UX researcher fills and it depends on the awareness that they have, the company has, about what UX research really is because for some people UX research is just the ability to test it, or it’s just service. And they don’t think about the other things that exist: ethnography, field research, diary studies, and all those other things. And I’m going to mostly speak from my perspective, being here in Nigeria. I can’t say for other places. When I first started, most people, and myself included, understood UX research as feasibility studies, interviews, and focus groups mostly. That’s what most people did. And then, as I connected with people in other Slack groups (I mean like 25 Slack groups), as I connected with all these people, I started to learn more and started to see beyond those three. And in my first job from when I started by the time I had finished… When I started, I only knew three methods, but by the time I finished ‘cause of all these other groups, I was working with about five or six different methods. And then moving to another company, being able to do more field work was a different perspective… After that, it really just depends on in terms of the role, there’s a huge requirement where you as a researcher have to be the driving force in terms of what you do because most people actually in this side are just starting to have an understanding of what user research is and why it’s important and why they should do it and when they should do it. So, usually, it’s very hard to find mentorship; so, it’s really up to you to push for the breadth that you would like to work with. And in terms of where UX research sits in team, different companies have different product teams. In some of the Slack groups, this conversation has come up so many times. And some people say some companies have UX researchers sitting with different product teams but you can only do that if you have enough researchers. If you have ten products and you have only one researcher, you have to have the researcher center servicing the other teams.
So, in my first job, it was kind of a consultancy that had an incubator and an accelerator. So, I was on the design team that was servicing the startups in the incubator and the accelerator as well as the external client and for any project that the company was collaborating with other people to create. So, that was one structure. And then, it was the same way in my next full-time job where my design team combined brand design/product design/UX design. There were about 12 or 13 of us servicing all the product teams. It depends on, again, the company and their existing structure. But most of the companies I know here put UX… There’s not always a UX-research role; usually the designer does it, and it’s usually discussed in an interview. But we usually are situated in a central team that services kind of like an internal, low-transit team that services the rest of the other teams. It’s very rare that you have a researcher product of a team. I don’t think that would exist here as far as I know.
And that’s centric to maybe the geography or the types of companies? Really all the large companies that are in the technology field at this point have dedicated user-experience researchers in-house, usually sitting next to product. I’m really interested, though, in this evolution of your tools in your tool box, user-experience researcher tools that you developed or learned about and then developed through the connections you made in Slack channels. Can you describe one of your favorite ones, tools or skills that you acquired and then have been using?
Definitely, ethnography, field research. As I was just starting out then, I was still trying to find my footing. So, because it was easy for me to transition from doing psychology research to doing UX research ‘cause the methods are pretty in some ways similar and in terms of how do you facilitate a session or possibly the focus group because we had all the practical sessions in school. We’d do practice sessions like practice-group, focus-group sessions. So, those things were easily able to translate. I guess that’s why it was easy for me to hold on to those three first: the interview, focus group and [unclear]. It was a very easy transition, and those ones were the ones that the people I worked with were familiar with. And so, it was easy to start with that. As an somebody who was just started out newly in the whole field, not just my job, it was difficult for me to see where and how to introduce new methods.
So, it was only later on that I was able to do that. But the one I’m most excited about is ethnography, and this I was able to really explore on a different job. I went to a different country, Kenya, to do field research for the financial services company I was working for at the time. It was a very interesting product because I was leading the whole thing from planning to analysis. And it involved the people in the Kenya office and the Nigerian office. It was very interesting again because when we got there, we realized that we hadn’t planned for a translator for when we went to the outskirts of town because Swahili is spoken more in those areas than in the central business district. Our research was only in the business district. Because we were talking to banks and shop communication companies, we didn’t have the language problem until we went outside. Thankfully, we had people on the team who spoke Swahili and so they served as translators just for the session.
That’s such a terrifying situation where you’re actually in the field. The client wants to move from a metropolitan into rural areas; and then you have this whole cultural/language transition that also occurs. There’s so much effort that goes into the actual operations of research. And having to pull those audibles… It’s actually a big part of, I think, a successful researcher is their ability to be crafty and nimble while they’re actually in-field to make sure they get the right people with the points of view that are important.
I agree with that. I feel a lot of times you plan research and you dot all your i’s and you cross all your t’s. And then there’s always something that just surprises you that you didn’t remember to plan for or that just comes up in the middle of everything, and then you have to just be really quick and think of something to do. It happens all the time. Or you find that you recruited the wrong participant in the middle of the session.
That’s hilarious. I’ve seen that so many times. One time I was doing a project with… these were in-depth interviews. And one project was for a (I’m trying to think how I can say it without disclosing too much) but it’s basically in the medical field. This physician, who had been vetted and was an expert in this particular field, came in and did the interview, and everything was great. I’m not kidding. It was like eight hours later. So, that was a morning; this is the evening session. And it was the same guy came in for a different project but inside of a different field of study. And I was just terrified. How did this happen? You got to figure it out. Unfortunately, we had double recruited. It was not my favorite moment. Anyway, you’re a recent grad. I think you graduated in 2018. So congratulations on that.
Thank you. But Nigeria being Nigeria, people in the academic staff of the university go on strike, and then you’re in school longer than you should be. But I actually finished my exams 2017; I’m in class of 2017, but then we graduated 2018.
Well, at least you have a legitimate reason. I think in the U.S., it’s prolonged just because of the beer consumption. But that might be a more fun, different podcast. Diversity in design, specifically, is this growing movement. We’re seeing diversity across the board whether it’s startup founders or board of directors or C-level executives or management or etc., etc. We know that diversity is important. What are some advantages from your perspective that diversity gives organizations?
I think that it definitely gives you, in terms of just even perspective, how do people experience the world. And I think if you’re doing a product if your products even if you’re offering a service… The people who are using your product or service are very diverse. So your team should reflect that because then you miss things if you don’t do that. I was recently watching a TED Talk by… I can’t remember her name now, but she has a condition. I don’t know if this is correct, but I think it’s called dwarfism. And she was talking about how she can’t access anything. She needs help when she travels and uses airports because nobody designed airports for people that experience this. And even accessible bathrooms are not designed for people with her condition. So, it’s very easy to say you can walk in people’s shoes, but you really 100% can’t. You always need somebody with that perspective because it’s very different to have a limited experience than to watch somebody’s limited experience or to hear about somebody’s limited experience. It’s very different from actually being there and living that life. So having people diverse, culturally, I believe, in many different ways helps you create product that actually works for everybody. Also, there was a time about two years ago where Apple released their health thing on their apps but it didn’t track cycles. And women use… How do you have a health thing that doesn’t track menstrual cycles? Which is like people who… I don’t know… It goes beyond having those in the room. Do they actually have a voice when they’re in the room? So, I imagine maybe there was somebody there who could have said something but maybe they thought that they couldn’t say something. It goes beyond having people in the room. Do they know that they can voice, they can use their voices? Or are they just in the room because to show “Oh, let’s just put them in the room so people won’t say we don’t have diversity.”
How interesting. It’s almost like an authentic seat at the table as opposed to more of a ceremonial seat at the table. I hate jumping on this bandwagon, but I feel like it’s just as important point. Let me clarify what my point is there. It’s been an obvious hole inside of corporate America and at a global level as well that now, all of a sudden, we’re seeking or the industries are seeking people to fill these roles to offer the diverse perspectives. And they’re actually having challenges finding the right populations that can create the level of diversity. One of the things I found that’s really interesting is successful companies, that is, ones that are putting real effort towards this, they’re actually recruiting up-chain; so, they’re investing at the college level and even in some cases at the high school level so they can get good socioeconomic diversity funneled through the educational system so that when they do graduate there is a pool of people that they can subsequently hire as opposed to it being more of an afterthought of, “Wow, I need a salesperson right now or I need a product person right now.” And these are the first 100 applicants and just combing through the sea of the non-diverse segments, which I represent.
Another thing that just came to mind now was here in Nigeria, a lot of banks don’t have wheelchair ramps. If you had somebody who is in a wheelchair working in your bank, you would know that, “Oh, we should design our bank branches with wheelchair ramps.” One example of how you see people in wheelchairs every day but you don’t think, “Oh, maybe they also use the bank.” Or you have somebody who works in the bank. Then you see that, “Oh, yeah, we should have this. Why don’t we have this?”
I have a good friend of mine, Marc Malabanan; he’s paralyzed from the waist down. He’s a programmer for Decipher, which is a survey platform. Anyway, I remember we moved the company into a new building, and it was compliant with the building codes but actually the overall accessibility was just not designed or optimal for people in wheelchairs. So, because of that relationship, there was just no question about it: things had to be designed in a way that… It’s like my co-founder, Matt; he goes “What if it was your kid?” That was literally his question. He comes out of the whole accessibility side of things. Anyway, it’s a longer story. Designing workspaces for blind people is one of his last startups. It is interesting how you could forget about… It’s almost like it’s not intentional; it’s just the way we’re wired as humans. If we’re not encountering that challenge, our assertion is that challenge doesn’t exist. We forget about it. That’s where I think the strength of diversity is: If you can connect your product to everybody, not just the people that look like you, then you are offer much a broader, whole product to the marketplace. The benefit of that is, obviously, breadth and reach. It’s more meaningful, and it’s hitting a wider audience, which is a great competitive moat if you want to think of it from a financial perspective. All right, in 2018 (We’re just going to kick this horse a little bit more. Sorry about my colloquialism.) 2018, you wrote a Medium article titled “Creating a Community for Women in Design,” and then you introduced SheDesigns. Tell us a little bit about SheDesigns and what the problem was and what you’re hoping to solve there.
Usable actually is what led me to SheDesigns. I noticed that at the Meetups we have sometimes 100 people, sometimes 80, and then in the whole crowd have maybe five women, six. I don’t think there aren’t women. Maybe because of the timing; maybe they’re not sure where we are. I didn’t know what do. And so, I started to talk to a couple of people that I knew. Is it that there are not enough women? If that is the issue, how can we get more women? And then if we don’t know where they are – How can we find them? Is it that there are women but that they don’t feel like they’re experienced enough to come out and talk or meet people or whatever? What really is the issue? So I put out a Tweet asking for women designers in Nigeria. I did a couple of user research. I had conversations with—not all of them, of course—with about 10-15 of them. And then, I had another kind of focus group in the beginning of last year. So the format that went out in 2017, like the middle of 2017.
On January 20, 2018, I had a focus group; about four people came. From there, we drew up what SheDesigns would be about and what the core of the group would be. I didn’t want to just join another Meetup ‘cause there are lots of Meetups. I wanted it to actually be valuable beyond just… Meetups are valuable definitely ‘cause I got my start from going to Meetups. But I wanted it to be more and actually provide value. What’s the difference between this and any other Meetup? And so, we did our first event in May of that year. We decided that the goals for SheDesigns would be three-fold: one is to train women on the various aspects of design; so, we’re looking beyond visual design, UX, research, content (everything that goes into creating product). Because of that, we started to think of maybe including products management but that’s like something that we’re thinking about. But for now, we’ll go with visual design, UX design, research, and content. And then that’s one.
The second one is for people to collaborate. So, we wanted to create a space for women designers to collaborate, create things, work on projects, and all of that. And then the third one was to help women to develop their “soft skills”: things like public speaking to encourage more women to speak publicly about the work they are doing; all those kinds of things so that we have well-rounded designers ‘cause a lot of designers can create but they can’t talk about their work; they can’t speak in public, so just to cover all the bases.
So it’s functioning as an, obviously, opportunity awareness but then, subsequently, growth in terms of mentorship and training. Are there many workshops at a paid level locally?
In general, I don’t know of that many paid workshops. This is the whole reason we started doing workshops. Some are paid; some are free. But for SheDesigns, we tried to do a course based off of the ideal HCT framework. We’ve done it like three times now; we’ve tried to do it three times. Each time we learned something new. So, the first time, the issue was that it was too long; it was supposed to run for six weeks. And it was too long. People were jumping off; attention span wasn’t there. And then the second time it was that people had other jobs; they had full-time jobs. So they didn’t have time to commit. Then the third time… Yeah, people weren’t following the schedule ‘cause again we’re trying to check-in call, do weekly calls, do weekly check-ins, send emails while people were responding. So we were back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to actually make it work so that it’s beneficial to everybody ‘cause we put a lot of time and effort into it, and it wasn’t getting the desired results.
And another thing I’m thinking of that we’re trying to do is something I’ve noticed about designers, in general, is that most people don’t really know how to collaborate. They don’t know how to work with other people, especially developers. So, designers are in their little corner and then developers in their own corner. So what we’re trying to do a collaboration with organizations and teach code so that we can sort of simulate a real work environment. So you’re not just designing in your corner; you’re working with other people on a team, which is why our challenges are usually team-based because we want to put people to be able to collaborate and to be able to work with other people on creating so that they’re not just… Because when you’re working, you’re probably not just going to sit down by yourself and come up with something. You’re probably going to work with somebody else. We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible, as reflective of real life as possible.
I think that’s a really important point. You’ve got to not just cultivate or develop these skills of research but you also have to successfully figure out and navigate the personal interactions: the how you and when you engage with people so that projects are ultimately successful because we can do the absolute, most brilliant research in the world, but if we haven’t built the relationships and figured out how to collaborate with our customers internally, then it really doesn’t matter. That ability is probably as big or bigger than the other side of the equation but you really have to have both. My last question, which has turned into one of my favorites: What is your personal motto?
I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me because I don’t think I have a personal motto ‘cause whatever I’m thinking depends on the context I’m in and where my life is at in that particular moment. But I think in terms of work… I would say my personal motto in terms of work is, “Do great work. Do interesting things. And then talk about it,” ‘cause I don’t believe in the whole silent genius working away and everybody acts like you’re a genius just because you’re such a genius. I feel like you have to talk about what you do and show people that you actually know. So it’s not just talk, but do great work, and then talk about it.
And then socialize it.
Exactly. That’s for work. I think my general life motto is just “Have fun.” Life can be long and life can be short. But whatever it is, “Have fun”.
Perfect. My guest today has been ‘Lade Tawak, UX researcher extraordinaire. Very honored to have you on the podcast today, ‘Lade. Thank you so much for joining me.
So glad to have done this. Thank you.
Everyone else, if you found value in this episode, please take time: screen capture, share it on social media. If you tag us, we’d greatly appreciate it. We hope you have a fantastic rest of your day.
This episode is brought to you by HubUX. HubUX is a productivity tool for qualitative research. It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team. Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research. The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace. So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUX. If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUX.com Have a great rest of your day!