Ep. 509 – HMRP Monday Edition: Marcos Moldes, Qualitative UX Research Lead at Pinterest, on why Creating a Five Year Vision Plan is the key to Future Success

This episode is in collaboration with QUAL360 North America. 

Our guest today is Marcos Moldes, Qualitative UX Research Lead at Pinterest. 

We are thrilled to have you on the show. 

QUAL360 North America:

  • Date: March 8-9, 2022
  • Location: Washington D.C. — Gallup World Headquarter

Find Marcos Online:

Find Jamin Online:

  • Email: jamin@happymr.instawp.xyz 

Find Us Online: 


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Jamin Brazil: Today is February 21st, 2022. Happy Monday. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host. Support for the Happy Market Research Podcast and the following message comes from Michigan State’s Marketing Research Program and HubUX. I’ve done hundreds of interviews with today’s top minds in market research. Many of them trace their roots to Michigan State’s Marketing Research Program. Are you looking for a higher-paying job, to expand your professional network, and to achieve your full potential in the world of market research? Today the program has tracks for both full-time students and working professionals. They also provide career support, assisting students to win today’s most sought-after jobs. In fact, over 80% of Michigan State’s marketing research students have accepted job offers six months prior to graduating. If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s program at broad. msu. edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. This is episode 509, and according to Billboard’s music charts, “Blinding Lights” by Canadian pop star The Weeknd has become the number-one song of all time. For today’s episode, we have an interview with the qualitative UX research lead at Pinterest. But before we jump into that, I’d like to announce that we may be changing the name of our podcast. Currently it is the Happy Market Research Podcast, but with much consideration and feedback from our listeners, AKA you, we’ve decided to change the name probably to the Happy Market Research Mafia. Now, I’m kind of kidding. It’s a little bit of jest. But for years we have had two stickers. One is a new-school shark sticker who’s listening to the podcast, carrying a surfboard. I love that sticker. The other is a black-and-white secret agent cartoony-looking dude. Whenever we’re at industry conferences, I ask my guests and friends which one they prefer, and of course they get to take that one. Almost categorically they like the secret agent. We did a little probing with some of our listeners as to why they prefer the secret agent. And interestingly enough, the sticker’s imagery conveys membership, exclusivity, and a little danger, all wrapped up in fun. For those of us in the agency side of the research world, we rarely do research on our own brands. And I think this is a big mistake. My teaser for you today is to think about your brand. What imagery does it convey to your target customer? And if you don’t know, ask them. As the late philosopher Alan Watts used to say, an eyeball can’t see itself. For philosophers, this references the ego. For marketers, this references the brand. Only through the use of external tools like mirrors and pictures can an eyeball see itself. Similarly we leverage surveys, in-depth interviews, and a host of other methodologies so that customers can reflect our image back to us. It is vital that in today’s ever-changing world that we are regularly using these instruments to hear from our customers, to understand what they care about and what they think about us as brands. And we as agencies actually are exactly that. We are a brand. So with that, I would like to challenge you to maybe conduct a little bit of research. It doesn’t have to be scientific. It could probably be a conversation with just a handful of customers about what they think about your brand. Get their feedback. The results might surprise you. Here’s our interview. I hope you enjoy it. Hey, everybody. Our guest is Marcos Moldes, qualitative UX research lead at Pinterest. I am thrilled to be able to sit down with you, sir, and chat about QUAL360 North America’s upcoming event. The title is “Empowering Insights Through Emotions.” There’s probably not ever been a more important topic than emotions today. I feel like it’s like trending, trending, trending. It’s all about creating – yes, it’s about creating moments. And your topic is co-creating the future, which I’m already in love with that whole framework because why don’t we do more co-creation instead of these single kind of “I’m going to go this direction?” And then using strategic foresight as a qualitative co-creation provocation. So give us a little sneak peek into the talk.


Marcos Moldes: Without giving too much away, recently at Pinterest I worked on a piece of work where we were really interested in thinking about five years out, so not the sort of here-and-now. And as we all know, inevitably when you ask someone in a research interview “what do you want to do a year from now,” most people don’t know what they’re doing next Tuesday, let alone a year from now, let alone five years from now. Who knows? And so I wanted to be very mindful about setting people up for success in exploring what the future might hold. So we worked with a strategic foresight strategist to create four sort of distinct worlds based on some emerging weak signals we see in the marketplace today, and use these to sort of say, “So five years from now, the world looks like this.” And gave them enough sort of context for what being in that world feels like to have them think about what would you want that to look like? What would need to be true? Which of these worlds resonates with you and why? So that we could start having a conversation where participants were sort of forced to make trade-off decisions. So one world had some – or rather, every world had positives and negatives. And so it was around seeing where – what were the trade-offs people were willing to make for what purpose? So I love co-creation. I think who better to tell you sort of how to design than the folks who you’re sort of – have in mind? They’re the experts of their lives. So that’s sort of briefly what the talk will be about.


Jamin Brazil: I love that. I’m super excited to dive into this topic with you. So you created five scenarios. Metaverse one of the scenarios?


Marcos Moldes: It was actually, yes. So while it was – we talked about it as a sort of AR. So the world’s now primarily in AR, and what does that look like for you and what does that look like for your business? Another one was actually, the world has gone totally the opposite and has gone a bit old-school. What does this mean for you? And it was interesting because one participant, she was like “I choose none of them.” And it was – we had to sort of – OK, I understand that none of these sound great or that they aren’t necessarily ideal, but dive into the feeling there. And that’s where we really taught – it was interesting because the whole idea was just to provoke a response from people. So I didn’t mind that she – classically a qual participant will be like “I choose none.” It’s just a chance for me to say, “Say more about that. What’s scary about them? What’s off-putting about them? What’s missing from these worlds?” So even in the case where someone was like “I don’t see myself here,” OK, well then tell me why. Tell me why you don’t see yourself here. And so even the absence of wanting to be in one of these worlds was really helpful to understand what she was feeling, what she was thinking.


Jamin Brazil: That’s really interesting. Quantitative data of course, it provides us really the “what.” And then qualitative data really uncovers that human – the “why” and allows you to dig super deep. I think it’s fascinating that you started with the framework of world-building, and then kind of air-dropped the participants into that. Did you do that in a one-on-one context or was it in a focus group?


Marcos Moldes: It was in a focus group in the case of this specific project. We didn’t have – we were going for sort of casting a wider net. And what we did with this focus group actually was three rounds with the same people over the course of three weeks. So we introduced the future worlds in the first conversation, and we sort of kept coming back to them as we brought co-designed stimulus back to the participants every other week to say, “OK. So Janet, not her real name, you picked X world. Is this what you have in mind?” And she was able to sort of say “no, it looked a bit different” or “it’s missing some sort of key functionality.” The idea was to sort of use it to provoke thinking and then to sort of inspire our designs that we would then bring back to them for more feedback.


Jamin Brazil: It’s really interesting how you said sometimes you would just get the negative. It is actually a lot like creating a statue. And I forget which famous sculptor said it, but the gist of it was the quote was, “The figure is in the stone. My job is to cut away all the things that are in the way of that image.” And that’s in a lot of methodology it sounds like for this specific approach to understanding these what-if scenarios.


Marcos Moldes: So I’m an anthropologist sort of by training. And I’ll never forget one of my sort of mentors always said sometimes absence is just as important as presence. So what someone’s not talking about or what someone is choosing to not acknowledge can tell you just as much as to the thing that they’re happily willing to sort of chirp on about for hours and hours and hours. And so I know there’s that thing that is floating around LinkedIn, like if you – Thomas Edison had asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said brighter candles. And I don’t know how much I buy that to be honest. I think people have a very good sense what they need at a sort of more emotional level. So if you can get people to talk about their feelings or what triggers an emotion or an affect or what triggers a specific response to stimulus, that can sort of get you beyond the “what color should the button be, what color should the case be” to that “what needs to be true?” Five years from now, what is it that you want your business to look like, and what would that unlock for you or what would that feel? We were talking to business owners in the case of the study, just keeping it vague for NDA purposes. But I like to sort of approach research as someone who sets up the conditions for conversation and then gets out of the way and lets the participant drive. Because I find at least that they can bring you to really cool and interesting places. And it’s our job as researchers to stay on-track, but also give them room to show us what they want to – let them show us what they want to show us.


Jamin Brazil: You got to let it breathe.


Marcos Moldes: And we can – yes. You kind of have to let a participant cook a little bit in their thinking. And so, I’d love to sort of play with anything that can help to sort of provoke a response, and then let’s unpack that response together in a way that feels respectful and safe, of course.


Jamin Brazil: No, that makes perfect sense. What really stands out to me, and you referenced the Thomas Edison quote. I think Henry Ford had a – there was a similar one, right, about a faster horse versus a car.


Marcos Moldes: Right.


Jamin Brazil: But really to understand the customer in a lot of ways I think in a modern framework, we need to be the customer. We need to –


Marcos Moldes: Totally.


Jamin Brazil: We really need to be able to viscerally connect with the pain that they’re trying to solve when they’re using our products or services and that subsequent journey, and why we’re better than the competitive set and how they’re solving those problems now. So I think a lot of times in research, we put too much burden on the participant to know what the answer is, in your example with the lightbulb.


Marcos Moldes: 100%.


Jamin Brazil: But they just – they’re not built that way. Humans aren’t built that way. We’re not rational beings. We’re emotional beings. It’s our job, right, as researchers and innovators to bring that innovation, that lightbulb view into the market.


Marcos Moldes: Exactly. And I think it’s our job to hear from our participants or hear from our consumers or our customers. What’s missing for you that would make your life easier or that would make your life categorically better in the sense of “I’ll feel happier, I’ll feel more balanced, I’ll feel more rested,” whatever that may be? And take that away and use that to help iterate and sort of help to design a solution that isn’t rooted in “what color do you want the button to be” or “Susan wants a brighter candle.” No, Susan wants to be able to read at night. OK, let’s take that and design the solution that will meet those needs for sure.


Jamin Brazil: Exactly. That’s exactly right. That’s so interesting. I can’t wait for this talk. I can’t wait to hear. Are you going to be able to talk about the specific worlds?


Marcos Moldes: Yes. I got permission, so still sort of putting stuff together. But pretty excited to sort of bring all this to Washington in March.


Jamin Brazil: I did some research, or sorry, I did a podcast rather with a researcher at – want to say it was Google, but I’d have to check my show notes. And this is right after COVID hit, so it’s like April 19.


Marcos Moldes: Oh, God.


Jamin Brazil: And they were talking – I know. And they were talking about the need for companies to have a very strong view on five-year scenarios that are just off-the-wall, not right from current reality, but have some layer of plausibility, which usually is – it’s almost like creating a movie. But if they don’t have that, then they don’t have a roadmap or a script to follow when or if that particular event takes place. And then they’re basically just floundering.


Marcos Moldes: This is the thing I really love about bringing foresight to the table. I think the worlds might – that we used, they may not be true. Who knows? After living the last two years we’ve all lived, the key takeaway at least for me was we have no idea what’s coming. But you’re at least able to look to the landscape and say, “Here’s some stuff that we think five years from now could be a thing.” Least I’m able to say or have a point of view as to how you’re going to react. So how are you going to react if privacy legislation completely changes? How are you going to react if Facebook builds this VR world that we’re all now going to be buying NFT land? I barely understand what any of that means. I think having some sort of five-year vision that is rooted in at least some kind of reality or some kind of strategy will at least get you thinking about what possibilities exist and find your place within them.


Jamin Brazil: And there’s a lot of humility we as brands need to have when we’re entering into this, because as you just pointed out so perfectly, Eminem just bought an NFT for – I think it was around half a million dollars, over $500,000, an NFT. And that whole market is being valued at astronomical rates right now. It’s targeted to be over a trillion – the Metaverse over a trillion dollars by 2025. So yes, we’ve really got to be thinking about our world and the evolution of the world regardless of sort of those biases. And it’s so interesting. So shifting gears a little bit, what do you see as the biggest issue that’s facing consumer insights today?


Marcos Moldes: I think the shift to online, and that’s probably such a cliched answer. But I’m a bit concerned that stakeholders have gotten used to fast, online, cheap when it comes to research. It’s like “let’s just get four people on Zoom calls and call it a day.” And call me old-school, but there’s something to be said for the in-home and the in-field, that there’s a richness there and a richness to the data and the experience that I think is so helpful. The thing that I’m concerned about for consumer insights in this world of purely online is there’s little room for spontaneity and there’s little room for play. And to me, those are really the cornerstones of innovation.


Jamin Brazil: Oh my gosh, it is so – such an important point that you’re making right now. And this is the problem with brands in a lot of ways, is we’re reduced to an annual budget and we have to figure out the allocation of that budget. And we need to have a portion of it that’s sequestered for, as you articulated, discovery, play, fun. We need to be able to operate outside of a – here’s my business problem. Just because you have a scalpel doesn’t mean you should perform surgery. And anybody can perform a survey, right? That’s not hard to get into any free survey application or paid and create one, launch it, and then get some data, right? But you and I both know that that’s not the insight.


Marcos Moldes: No, not at all. And I think particularly when I just think about how performative Zoom or just web conferencing has become, everyone now knows how to be “on” quote – I’m doing air-quotes. There’s no camera. What am I doing? That sort of quote-unquote “on” persona that we all bring.


Jamin Brazil: Totally works.


Marcos Moldes: Like I’m going to be my best self from the waist up, but I’ll be in sweatpants below. And frankly, it’s in the sweatpants below where humans get interesting.


Jamin Brazil: That’s right.


Marcos Moldes: It’s in the weird contradictions where someone says, “The most important thing in my life is to get fit.” But then you see the piles of pizza boxes in the kitchen. You’re like – those beautiful contradictions are very hard to capture and see and explore and understand through a webcam. It’s by going out and sort of engaging people and meeting people where they are that we begin to see the multiple tensions that people sort of live, and the contradictions that they’re not even aware of that are a very big part of their lives.


Jamin Brazil: So well-said. Last question. What is your personal motto?


Marcos Moldes: So I thought about coming up with a different one because I feel like mine’s a bit weird. But I’ll be honest and say, “be the extra you want to see in the world.”


Jamin Brazil: Our guest has been Marcos Moldes, qualitative UX research lead at Pinterest. Sir, thank you very much for joining me on the podcast.


Marcos Moldes: Thanks so much. It’s been fun.


Jamin Brazil: Absolute honor. Everybody, I hope you will join me on-site in Washington, D. C. The stars align for us all to look at each other in real-life eyes. Have a great rest of your day.