A few months ago, our Internal Communications team at Dropbox was getting ready to launch a new intranet for employees. As a UX writer, I worked closely with them to make sure the user experience (UX) copy was clear and that the navigation felt effortless.
But we knew we had to do some user research before launching it. Design research is the heart of UX, and it’s a philosophy upon which Dropbox Design is built. We wanted to be sure we were applying our design principles and best practices to internal tools as well as to the external Dropbox product.
The information in the new intranet was highly confidential, which meant we were somewhat limited in our research scope. We needed real insights from real Dropbox employees; remote testing with people who didn’t work for Dropbox wasn’t a viable option.
A new approach
I suggested we run a research session based on a style our Design Research team uses. With the help of Senior Design Researcher Paige Bennett, we pulled together a 2-hour session that I facilitated. We were able to gain insights quickly and put suggestions to use right away. And it was extra-exciting to me, because as a writer, I don’t usually run research sessions. I learned a lot about facilitating research, and I’m excited to do more in the future.
Whether you’re looking to learn from internal or external people, the process is the same. Here, I’ll walk you through it, so you can do something similar — no matter who you are or what your day-to-day role is.
The problem: You need research, but you’re not a researcher
If you’re at a company or on a team where you get to work directly with design researchers, consider yourself lucky. You already know the benefits of having research insights at your fingertips. You can work closely with your research partner to create a better experience in your product.
But not every team is lucky enough to have a dedicated researcher, and not every company has the resources to staff a Design Research team. Sometimes user testing is up to the designers, writers, marketers, or anyone who can squeeze it in.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options for basic, online user testing, like UserTesting.com and UsabilityHub.com. But the insights gained from unmoderated or remote testing can sometimes be limited.
For one thing, designers and writers sometimes get concerned that their prototype isn’t polished enough to test. It’s easier to explain a rough concept in person. Also, you can ask follow-up questions more easily in a moderated session than you can during a remote or unmoderated test. Sometimes, only live user testing will do.
The solution: We call it Real World Wednesdays
Real World Wednesdays (RWW) is a rapid, speed-dating style research session. You can do it with internal employees, external people, or both. It’s a great way to test mocks, works-in-progress, and half-baked concepts with users. Plus, it saves time, and it’s a fun way to get real, live, valuable, high-quality feedback.
John Saito mentioned it briefly in his blog post, How to stay scrappy. I’ll walk you through how to do it in more detail, so you can create your own live, in-person user testing with real humans.
From Paper to the real world
Real World Wednesday developed from a speed-dating concept proposed by Aruna Balakrishnan, Design Research Manager at Dropbox. The idea was fleshed-out and introduced to the team by Mira Rao, Senior Design Researcher, and Leona Dondi, Design Researcher, on the Dropbox Paper team. The designers and researchers on Paper wanted a way to quickly and iteratively test mocks, so they started doing fast, lightweight research sessions every other Wednesday. Our Design team practices No Meeting Wednesdays, and a lot of us have found we can use the unstructured time in creative ways.
“Real World” meant they’d be getting feedback from real people. They’d also be getting feedback earlier and often, since sessions ran bi-weekly. It was frequent, scrappy, and sometimes kind of messy. It turned out to be a great way to check in with users and let real people be part of the design process.
Once RWW proved its success with the Paper team, they started hearing from other teams who wanted to do something similar. So the sessions expanded, other teams joined, and more people started participating. Some of our teams in other cities even created their own versions, with unique twists that suit their needs.
How does it work?
We usually compare it to speed dating or speed networking. For an hour and a half, five participants give feedback to five different research groups. You can adjust the numbers to suit your own research style, but we’ve found five gives us diverse feedback with a manageable number of participants.
We gather in one of our collaborative spaces (a giant, open meeting room) and sit at five tables. There’s one participant (the “user”) and two “researchers” at each table. Each user talks with a pair of researchers for 15 minutes, then they move on to the next table. We repeat this four more times to fill out the hour and a half.
After we’ve thanked the users and they go home, we debrief with the other researchers. Afterward, we synthesize their input with our product teams and iterate on our projects.
So that’s a total of five “users,” 10 “researchers,” and one or more facilitators. The setup looks something like this: