Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

The Research Thing: EPIC Redux/State of UR

This week I was back in London to join The Research Thing for their redux of last October’s EPIC conference which was held in Chicago.

The event was sponsored by Foolproof, who provided the location, UXPA UK who provided the pizza and Zebra People who sponsor TRT.

First up Tom Hoy and Iman Munrie Bilal from Stripe Partners gave us an overview of their talk ‘Grounded Models: The Future of Sensemaking in a World of Generative AI’.

In the past year the number of tools available to researchers that use AI has grown massively and while some look useful (and we might be wary of others), it’s something we can’t help but be aware of.

Tom and Iman talked us through a project they worked on looking at the capability of NLPs.

Even when given 1000s of items of data they found that the results of the AI weren’t that useful, but when they started to give a human context to the data they were able to use the machine learning to predict which images would get particular results.

They showed that UX Researchers are well placed to work with AI to create data sets like this, which can make a real difference for business.

Next up Stuart Henshall and Dina Dastur Mehta from Convo Research introduced a video from their colleague Vidya Ganesh called ‘Sangharsh: Negotiating Friction Arising from Patriarchy – Not Just in India!’.

This fast paced talk looked at the use of smart phones for three women in India. I was fascinated that while they use their phones for learning and to give independence as we might in the Western world, there were many extra layers involved. Companies wanting to work in this area must first speak not just to the woman, but the gatekeeper. This is often her husband, but it could be a mother-in-law or other extended family members.

These women are likely to have two accounts on platforms, a family account and a personal account where very different content might be shared.

Gender and religion are massive subjects in India and any company coming into this area without a good understanding of them are likely to have an issue.

Then lastly, after a break for more pizza and networking, we came back together for a panel discussion.

Simon Roberts from Stripe Partners moderated the session which included Anna Wojnarowska from Google, Dr Tingting Zhao from GOV.UK GDS, Dr Kevin Mercer, from Go Figure UX Research and Ben Clarfelt from Zebra People.

Everyone agreed that 2023 wasn’t the best year for UX Researchers with concerns about ChatGPT, massive layoffs and a lot of discussion around whether we should be doing tactical/strategic/practical research.

Asked if they thought 2024 would be any better got a mixed response. Tingting was cautiously optimistic but suggested we would need to adapt, while Ben reported seeing a big rise in Research jobs being posted already this year.

With new technologies like AI appearing Anna suggested that there were lots of opportunities available and as Kevin said we all need to be more flexible about the jobs we take and the work we do.

Tinging reported that GDS, while having an established research practice, is working on expanding the types of research they do and types of data they work with.

Ben was asked how researchers can stand out and show their super powers. He said we need to report more on the process we took and the value we created. It’s all about storytelling. Being able to talk round the commercial value of the project you worked on using business language will really help you too.

‘Product Designer’ seems to be the newest role out there, a mixture of research, design and UI. Which led to a question around democratisation in research – can any one do research with a little training? The answer, as with so many research questions, it depends. A small business with only a couple of people might need everyone to chip in, while does anyone in a bigger organisation really have time?

It was a great discussion which definitely made me feel more optimistic for the year ahead, but then as Kevin said, it can’t really be much worse.

Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to put this event together. It gave a really nice flavour of what EPIC was like and if I could just convince work to pay me to attend the next one, I’d very much like to join them for the full experience in LA this year.

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