Raffaella Roviglioni is an experienced researcher who has been in the industry for 11 years. She remembers well how research projects for clients were run not too long ago: “In the past, clients would ask us to investigate a certain topic and then almost disappeared until we came back with the insights. At most, there was some collaboration to define the project and recruit participants, but that was it.” Clients rarely participated in the project and saw the value of research exclusively in the results, but not the activity itself.
Accordingly, clients had little understanding of the research process. They saw the final report but only had a vague idea of the exact steps that led to the insights and recommendations.
However, attitudes have shifted since then and there is now a greater interest of clients in the research process. „Over the last years we have seen a significant change. Clients really want to understand how research is conducted and how insights are extracted - they want to be a part of it.“ Raffaella explains.
She sees the reason for this change in the UX maturity of organizations which has evolved significantly in recent years. “This shift also had a large effect on us as an agency. We needed to redesign the process of conducting research in order to involve the client. That was new for us and very interesting.” Raffaella continues.
For their first collaborative project with a client they set up a team of three. Two researchers from Fifth Beat - one senior and one junior - and one stakeholder from the client. Then, they jointly went through the raw data to structure and analyze it using Condens. The real-time collaboration features helped as they discussed which pieces of text to highlight and which tags to apply.
“Our data analysis process is not as extensive as it is in academia, but still with a high level of rigour. The collaborative approach took more time, but it helped the client to understand the thorough work behind it.” Raffaella says.
And the result? The client stakeholders were extremely happy. When they saw the personas and insights they immediately spotted some of the work they did. Raffaella enthusiastically reflects on the effects of the collaborative approach: “Client stakeholders understood the process, knew where the findings came from and recognized their contribution to it.” This created a much deeper understanding and changed how clients related to research findings.
The success of this prototypical project manifested client involvement in Fifth Beat’s approach from then on. Today, they typically structure research projects into three phases:
The close collaboration also has a positive effect on the overall findings. While the Fifth Beat team brings in the analytical methods and fresh perspective, clients contribute with their domain knowledge. „This leads to a very productive mix and new insights, because we are influencing each other positively.“ Raffaella says.
Raffaella even recognized that research had more impact if clients participated. “It used to be difficult for us going to a client organization as external consultants and making them trust the insights we found. We heard objections like ‘Yes, but you talked to just 6 people’ or ‘That’s only your interpretation of the data’.” Engaging clients in the research activity made them feel responsible for the findings and allowed them to explain the reasoning behind the results to colleagues.
The involvement of client stakeholders helped to increase trust in the findings and create advocacy for results of individual projects. With that positive change in place, the team at Fifth Beat wanted to go one step further and solve a second issue they regularly observed: “Mostly, our research for clients was isolated. We delivered a report, which informed this one decision and quite often ended up in a drawer or was forgotten somewhere. Nobody else in the firm knew about it.” Raffaella explains. Findings were used only once, but didn’t build up on each other or were combined with findings from other projects.
As a consequence Fifth Beat introduced a new offering called ‘continuous discovery’. It’s a long-term agreement allowing the agency to work with the client over an extended period of time to regularly contribute with research. Raffaella figuratively describes it as a “stream of ongoing research activities”.
Besides a stronger involvement of clients, continuous research is the second aspect of a new type of client relationship that Fifth Beat aims to establish. The idea is that research findings build upon each other, and data from individual projects is connected to create an integrated body of knowledge. Raffaella sees this happening across the borders of UX data: “Now clients ask any source of insight to be shared. We combine, for instance, analytics data with qualitative findings to see the bigger picture.”
This integration of data helped to answer questions more convincingly and improve the overall reputation of UX research in client organizations. Research is now used to inform decisions with a larger scope than it used to. “While research used to be seen as a tool to answer some minor question, it has now a more fundamental influence in the design process. The impact research has in client organizations has definitely changed.”
When the new approach of collaborative and continuous research emerged, the Fifth Beat team quickly realized they also needed a new tool that supports that. They wanted something simple and collaborative that would save time during data analysis.
Raffaella was responsible for the evaluation of software and compared about half a dozen vendors. “Most of the tools are way too complicated. Their interface is overwhelming and it took us a lot of time just to apply a few tags.” she states and adds “In addition, it feels like these tools are designed solely for in-house research teams, not for an agency.”
Fifth Beat decided for Condens as it offers superior usability and optimally supports with the new demands in client collaboration. Designed for ease of use, it allows to quickly get junior colleagues and clients with no prior experience on board. The ability to connect findings across projects and to build upon each study, all while keeping data of each client separate, specifically caters to the needs of agencies.
In Condens all past research for a client is nicely structured and searchable. Instead of storing static PDFs on some shared drive or local folders, raw data and findings are readily available for every user directly in the browser. This makes it easy to reuse past data to inform decisions.