Jennifer Englert

INTERVIEWER

Jennifer’s joining me on the phone from [PARC, a Xerox company, in Webster,] New York. Hi, Jennifer. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

So, I work at PARC and I’m in the Process Analytics group. And my job is to understand how people do their work and live their lives and translate that into new and innovative products.

INTERVIEWER

And your specific research method is co-design. Can you tell us a bit about that?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

A typical user experience research often includes things like surveys and focus groups, but we find that those methods don’t dive really deep inside about actual user needs. So we combine methods like ethnography, which, I think, you’ll be covering in a different podcast, along with interviewing, I mean, interviewing, observations. And we also use some visual methods where we have participants create things to help us understand their needs. And that’s what we refer to as "co-design.”

INTERVIEWER

So, can we talk a bit more about the visual things that you create? What kind of things do you mean?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

We’ve done things, everything from diaries to collages. Sometimes we have people drawing network diagrams, which show us who they interact with for certain types of tasks or work. And we’ve had people draw influence diagrams. Sometimes we even have people create three-dimensional models of products or they might create paper prototypes where they’re writing down what they would like to see in a software product. So there is a broad range and it depends on what we’re trying to understand.

JENNIFER ENGLERT

So, one of the studies we did was informing the design of a learning system. It was a mobile learning system. So we had brought students in of the age that would actually be using the system and gave them some paper screens, some of which were blank and some had specific types of concepts represented in them. And we asked the students to create their ideal learning system. And once they created that, they put the screens together in the ways that they thought would be helpful. We asked them to explain why they did what they did. So, they described the elements they put in there and told us why they put them there and how they thought they would use them. So, this type of exercise is really uncovering needs and requirements that we wouldn’t even think to ask about in an interview. They have to think through their work and integrate their experience and knowledge of what they do as they create this new prototype. And then when we ask them to explain their reasoning, that’s where we get the data. It’s that explanation. Because we don’t necessarily use these tools that they create as actual design input. It’s more about understanding the needs and requirements that lie beneath them.

INTERVIEWER

And do you find that they describe their problems or their needs differently when they have a visual aid as compared to if they were just to be interviewed about it?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Definitely. So, if we ask them to create something, it requires them to really integrate their thoughts and experiences, and that’s very different from asking a single question. So if you asked me, you know, “What would you like to see in a potential product?” They’ll come up with ideas, but it won’t necessarily be grounded in their experience. So asking them to actually create something requires them to really think about their experience and their knowledge of what they do. And that creation kind of integrates that and brings the conversation to a different level than just a traditional interview.

INTERVIEWER

And aside from the visual element, do you use things like diaries as well to get people to reflect on their experiences?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Yes. We use diaries in a bit of a different way. We find that people can’t necessarily talk about all aspects of their work, because they don’t keep track of it every day. So we did a study trying to understand why people still print. And you can ask people, you know, “What did you print over the last week?” And they might remember a couple of different instances where they printed, but if you give them a diary and ask them to really chart and keep track of every time they print, what did they print, why did they print it and what did they do with it, you get much more clearer information about their actual behavior. And this way we get that data, but we also have a richer conversation, because the participant has become more aware of their printing habits. And you can do this for all kinds of different tasks and behaviors that you wanted to learn about, especially when people aren’t necessarily gonna remember what they’ve done over the last week or two.

INTERVIEWER

And what’s the process of working out which approach you’re going to take? If you want to find out about x, y or z, how do you then decide a diary’s gonna be the best thing to do, or, “We’ll get somebody in to create a collage,” or, “We’ll get somebody in to make a visual representation?” What’s the process for deciding on that?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Well, that’s actually the hardest part of the entire process, is determining both which technique to use and also what questions to embed in the technique. So the Future of Work collage that we did, we asked people to create a collage showing their current work situation and their ideal work situation. And in hindsight that seems quite simple, but it took a very long time to think about all the different possible questions we could ask to get a nice, coherent view of work and how it’s being affected by current technology. So it does take some time, some brainstorming and you integrate both, you know, the study questions together with what you’re hoping to find out and what you think you can learn from the people that you’re talking with.

And when you put all that together along with your knowledge of how the techniques work, it, kind of, comes out with an idea. Oftentimes we actually create brand new tools. So, we did a study recently trying to understand patients’ experience of the healthcare system, and we wanted to create a representation of the healthcare ecosystem for the patients’ perspective. And we ended up asking them to create an influence diagram showing what they thought influenced their health. And that was really a nice way to have them integrate their experience of that ecosystem. And that was, kind of, a new tool that we created just for that study.

 

INTERVIEWER

And what kind of things were they saying?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Well, they put themselves in the center, usually. We had circles and a piece of paper, and we asked them to label one of them as themselves and then the rest of them were all blank. So they basically came up with things like their family relationships, their doctors, their diet. And these were people with specific chronic conditions. So, they had this condition in mind as they were creating it. So, they would have particular types of medication and some of the, kind of, processes that they have to use to get diagnosis information or to get help with treatments. So they brought in the things that they thought were the most important in their experience of this condition and wrote them on the circles. And then the way they placed them also was very informative, because it helped us understand what they thought was related and what wasn’t. And that’s really just the starting point of the conversation.

INTERVIEWER

In an example like that, where you’re presumably looking for one solution, but you’ve got multiple people with, presumably, multiple different conditions joining the study, how do you go about looking for trends within that?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

You do see patterns. And it’s hard to say in general, you know, exactly what patterns would always arise, but we do find similarities across the participants. But sometimes the differences are also just as informative. This particular study was an exploratory study and we were out there to really learn a breadth of information and create a representation of a broad set of experiences. So we weren’t necessarily trying to focus in to one particular product. We were trying to understand the broader ecosystem of how patients experience the healthcare system. And this type of study will inform lots of different activities within the company, all the way from specific products up to strategy and road-mapping.

INTERVIEWER

Once you’ve completed that part of a co-design study, how do you then move on to relaying that information to a designer or a developer or somebody else within the company?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Well, we try to have our business partners and research partners involved in the study from the beginning. So we have them brainstorm with us about the study questions, we may actually ask them to shadow us as we’re conducting the study itself. And afterwards, we’ll bring in the insights that came from the field and do some brainstorming sessions with our business partners, because you really have to understand both the business requirements and the user requirements in order for a new product to take shape. So it’s that conversation that happens within the business partners and the user experience researchers together that allows all the factors to be put into play, as you’re putting something new together.

JENNIFER ENGLERT

I see my job as being a translator between multiple groups of people within and outside the company. Often what we do to avoid the Henry Ford conundrum is, we focus on the functional needs of users rather than, kind of, the tasks that they’re trying to accomplish today. So, for example, with Henry Ford, instead of looking at, “Well, we need a better horse,” the functional need was, “We need to get from one place to another.” So we abstract it up a bit and that opens up the opportunity for lots of different solutions to fill that need.

INTERVIEWER

And what sort of methods do you use to make sure you come back with relevant insight from one of these studies? Thinking from a business perspective, why should I invest in a co-design rather than another form of research? Or, is there any risk of it failing to produce anything?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

So, in order to make sure that these studies are relevant, we do some preparation to begin with. We create what we call “a conceptual framework” and that is, basically, documenting what we already know, or what we already think we know, as well as the questions that we and the business groups are asking. And that then helps us be prepared to be surprised, because if you go out without any idea what your questions are, it’s harder to understand what’s interesting in the field. So, the conceptual framework helps you be prepared to see what’s interesting, it helps you know what your questions are to begin with, and it also helps you realize that what you’re seeing is different than what you thought you’d see. So, those frameworks are really helpful in making sure we’re finding relevant information.

INTERVIEWER

I know that for one of your studies, one of your recent studies, you had a graphic artist doing portraits of the subjects who were in the study at the time. Can you talk about that and how you decided that that would be a good idea, and what the benefits of that were?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Right. So, whenever you represent something visually, again, the benefit of it is that it integrates information in ways that conversation doesn’t necessarily do. So, when we had the graphic artist involved with our study, we had her creating sketches of the conversation, I guess, you could say. So, it was integrating the conversation into a visual that represented some of the underlying themes that were occurring in the conversation. And it just helps you see the conversation differently. It summarizes it and it, kind of, focuses it onto things that were interesting in ways that a verbal write-up won’t necessarily do.

INTERVIEWER

Sure. And that kind of process where you end up with a qualitative and quite artistic takeaway, do you ever feel like you’re having to justify yourself against more quantitative and number-driven pieces of research?

JENNIFER ENGLERT

Well, they’re used for different things and we often use these techniques to complement each other. So, the quantitative and the qualitative often complement each other. The visual, the graphic design that we did was really meant to create empathy with our business groups and to help them connect to their potential customers. So, that’s very different from understanding the trends of, you know, what customers might be doing, from a quantitative perspective. So they’re really used for different reasons and the qualitative results from doing these visual methods also, again, are uncovering context-specific information that a quantitative study isn’t necessarily gonna give you. So, the qualitative studies that we’re doing help us answer the question “why.” Why are people doing what they’re doing? It helps us see needs that they wouldn’t even express verbally. And that, you know, can then complement or explain, sometimes, the trends that we’re seeing in quantitative data.

INTERVIEWER

Thank you so much for having the time to speak to me today.