Google Maps: Rapid research to understand how people navigate


TL;DR I conduct biweekly studies to learn more about how people explore and navigate the world. Since July 2018, I have led research for 18 topics using generative, iterative, and evaluative methods.

My role

On the Rapid Research team for Google Maps I plug into different product verticals to figure out the quickest and best way to answer a research question.

I study how people interact with existing features that millions of people use across the world today such as Location Sharing, Reviews and Photos, and Maps for Android Auto. I also do more exploratory research, studying people and their contexts to gain a clearer picture about new problem spaces.

Date: July 2018 - present (contract via Xpand)

Methodologies: surveys, remote testing, interviews, usability testing, cafe studies, design sprint facilitation, workshops, literature reviews

Impact

The best part of doing quick & frequent research is being able to empower users and engage other multidisciplinary teams to solve problems together. I have:

  • Listened to 60 participants since joining in July 2018 (not including thousands of survey respondents!)
  • Advocated for users through collaboration with product managers, engineers, designers, and researchers.

Process

I typically work in two-week sprints depending on the methodology and scope of the project.

During a project kickoff, I collaborate with UXR, UXD, PM, and ENG to discuss the research goals, and what methodologies are most suitable. I then lead and execute the research, while continuing to collaborate with my team.

Examples of research projects I have led include

  • Iterative research to help improve existing features or new concepts
  • Exploratory research to learn about a new context and archetype
  • Half-yearly, longitudinal survey analysis to track happiness across multiple cities
  • Facilitating a design sprint to help a team define a problem + explore a new direction

Iterative usability testing

  • Week 1: Scope study, design script, conduct study with 6 ppts
  • Week 2: Debrief with stakeholders, report findings, send out study insights, answer any questions related to study
  • After: Repeat when necessary

Happiness tracking survey analysis

  • Week 1: Review past surveys, clean + anlayse data, code qualitative responses
  • Week 2: Visualise + report findings, identify durable insights and new insights.
  • After: Repeat every 6 months

Exploring a new context

  • Week 1: Synthesise existing research, identify research gaps + questions
  • Week 2: Design scripts, pilot screeners and interviews, iterate
  • Week 3: Run interviews, analyse, report
  • After: Identify next research opportunities

Takeaways

⏰ Communicate in a timely way

Reduce the possibility of confusion by involving stakeholders at the right time. This will also improve how the research is received, and its impact on the team and product. Only involving stakeholders during kickoff and handover is not enough.

  • Send out scripts and reports for early feedback
  • Create a group chat on the day of the study to update stakeholder
  • Schedule a debrief immediately after the study day so everyone has a fresh memory

🤝 Make it a team effort

Involve a whole team in research will create long term in gains in building empathy in the team. It can also reduce your workload, so it's killing two birds with one stone. It's more fun to work in a team and have multiple perspectives anyway

  • Encourage UXD, PM, and ENG to observe sessions and note-take. It will save you time on transcribing and it will give them a first-hand perspective of a user interacting with what they are working on.
  • Note-taking can also exist in the format of a synthesis workshop. Invite stakeholders to a workshop where everyone codes the data for 1 session, then analyse the data together.

✏️ Be succinct

For quick research, stakeholders generally want bite-sized, actionable insights that are easy to digest. Well communicated insights will save time by reducing any confusion about research.

Visualisation of a slide with a short sentence, priority and user quote. An example of how I might communicate a finding. I like to think about: what happened and why anyone should care.

Side fun

I got the chance to represent Google at uxRESEARCH Sydney on a panel about life as a UX researcher in October 2018 with two of my colleagues Jess and Ilias.