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An inside look at design research at Dovetail

25 August 2020
Lucy Denton
Lisa Nguyen

At Dovetail, we believe we’re onto something special in the way we approach research and design. Over the past year, we’ve grown our team substantially and ushered in a new era of customer understanding. Here to provide an inside view into design, research, and everything in between is Senior UX Designer, Lucy Denton.

What can you tell us about Dovetail?

Dovetail’s a Sydney based startup founded a couple of years back. It’s a qualitative research analysis and repository platform, with big goals to grow. Our mission is to help anyone in a product organization make better decisions founded in customer knowledge, whether it’s exploratory interviews, usability tests, product feedback, or any other form of qualitative data collection.

Why the focus on research?

Recently, the researcher has really come into their own. They're viewed as a trusted advisor to other teams and the owner of the customer perspective. The researcher ultimately ensures that products and services are centered around the customer. Not every organization has a researcher, but every organization is conducting research in some form.

Customer knowledge is often scattered, making it incredibly fragmented and hard to find previous research. Dovetail wants to bring all research into a single home where it can be analyzed and served back to the business, making insights accessible to everybody within an organization.

What’s it like to research researchers?

Research varies based on what we’re trying to achieve. If we’re looking to solve knowledge gaps, we may run generative and foundational research to build a strong point of view around our customer needs. If we’re conducting evaluative research, we may test product experiences or hypotheses to meet customer needs. Regardless of the type of research, we take the team along for the research journey.

Having the team involved in research planning gives them a robust understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. By the time we finish the project, they understand the what, the how, and the why of it all. We store all our previous research data in Dovetail, enabling us to have first-hand experience in understanding what our customers go through when using the product. We also encourage the team to assist in our synthesis so that everyone experiences what it’s like to synthesize in Dovetail.

I get to research those who research - whether it’s a researcher, designer, or product manager - and make sure that Dovetail reflects their needs and sets them up for success. We’re focused on understanding different facets of the research ecosystem to prioritize which big product bets we should be investing in next.

I’m grateful to be in a team that advocates for research as a way to help them build the best possible product. I’m empowered to look for ways to impact the way that people research and, ultimately, help them become more efficient.

What’s design like at Dovetail?

Dovetail’s pretty unique when it comes to the view on design because Benjamin, Dovetail's CEO and co-founder, has a UX design background. He and I met when we both worked as designers at Atlassian. It’s common for designers to fight for UX improvements and prioritization of research, but at Dovetail, the whole team understands the value of great UX. We have an inclusive research and design process with pretty much the entire company getting involved in the ritual.

In terms of my process, the first step is understanding the problem we’re trying to solve. This could mean digging through feedback we collect in-product, support emails, asking questions directly on our Slack community, or conducting research. When I have the context I need, I’ll start creating wireframes and iterating towards high fidelity designs. If it’s a brand new experience, sometimes I’ll run ideation workshops with other members of the team.

We have another ritual called design sparring. Design sparring starts with sharing in-progress work for feedback, having a discussion around the work, and then iterating on the designs as a result. If there are things we want to validate, I’ll make a prototype of the experience, and we’ll share it with some customers for light-weight usability testing.

I love the diversity of work in my role as Senior UX Designer. For the generative research project we’re working on to understand the research ecosystem, I get to interview people, analyze the research data, and facilitate design workshops with the team. Then I’ll pivot to lead the design vision side of the project to visualize the product strategy. I try to truly understand our customers’ problems, needs, and other product opportunities—and create solutions with delightful user experiences. I’ll work closely with research, as well as engineering, to implement designs. It’s a creative job, but there are also tried and true processes to follow.

What’s next for Dovetail?

We’re growing the team! We’re particularly looking for engineers because we’ve got more ideas than we have people to build them right now.

As we’ve mentioned, from a research and design perspective, we’re currently working on a considerable product strategy project. We’ve got some ambitious ideas brewing for how we want to improve the product end-to-end. What’s exciting is that it’s all underpinned by the user’s needs rather than just deciding to build X – we’re looking at underlying pain points or jobs to be done.

Too often, the processes and systems behind the research are more broken than they should be. Bringing the stakeholder along for the ride helps give that sense of inclusivity, cementing relationships, and building trust beyond what is ordinarily possible. Dovetail is unique in that researchers and designers build it for themselves. From the junior’s to the CEO, a design ethos and obsession with user experience influences everything. Add that to what is a fantastic period of growth; exciting times ahead.

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