Teaching The Value of UX Research in Ten Minutes (with Chocolate)
When I began teaching UX and Product Design years ago, I wanted to start the first class off with a fun activity. Something engaging the class could participate in that would get us all off on the right foot, (a.k.a, get them to like me, and follow me blindly into the deep world of design) and quickly help them understand the impact of just a little bit of UX research. There’s lots of existing workshops I could have used, but as Frank Chimero would say, I like to do things the “long, hard, stupid way”, so I made my own. I call it “The Chocolate Bar Exercise” (very inspiring) and I’ve used it in workshops for students, startups and Fortune 500 companies with some pleasantly powerful results.
Tl;DR — making assumptions about the kind of chocolate people like is just as harmful as making assumptions about customer behaviour, preferences and the features to build next. Make a wrong assumption with chocolate and I could ruin a day or worse — I could kill someone with an allergy. Make a wrong choice in product and you could cost your company millions, but with a little bit of research we can drastically improve the success rate of our product, or in this case, our chocolate bar disbursement.
Here’s how to run the workshop
What you’ll need:
- A group of at least 8 people (smaller can work, but the data isn’t as impactful — you’ll see why in a second)
- A different chocolate bar for everyone. Full or mini sized depending on your budget. You can throw candy in the mix too, like a bag of skittles, or a package of Liquorice Allsorts for the old souls in the crowd.
- 10 minutes of time.
What to do:
- Start by handing out a chocolate bar to each person, telling them not to eat it or trade it. They’ll give you a look of disappointment or intrigue, depending on how hungry they are. Easy enough.
- Once you’ve handed out all of the chocolate bars, ask everyone to put their hand up if they got their favourite one or one they’d happily eat. In my experience, success for this initial stage is generally around 5–10%.
- Now ask them to get up out of their seats, walk around and talk to the rest of the group and trade chocolate bars until they have something more to their liking. Give them a few minutes to ditch those Coffee Crisps.
- Once they’ve traded, have them sit back down in their seats and by a show of hands let you know who has their favourite now.
- In my experience, the number of people with their favourite chocolate bar will be closer to 90%.
- Stand back and congratulate them for doing their first round of user research. Clap, clap, clap.
How to Explain What The Heck Just Happened
The moment you reveal that they just did some UX research is a magical one. You’ll see looks of confusion, and then a slow expression change from confusion to epiphany once they realize what just happened. Then you all nod together like you’re all in on the same awesome scheme, and you’ve learned the secret to life. Now you can start to explain why your original approach sucked.
Problem 1: You Didn’t Care
Before you walked into that workshop, you didn’t bother to ask anyone about their chocolate preferences, allergies, diabetes, or any other constraints that might make chocolate a terrible choice for them. You had chocolate on-hand (aka a product or feature) and you tried to literally shove it down their throats.
Problem 2: You Made Sweeping Assumptions
I like chocolate, so everyone else must love chocolate, right? Wrong. Choosing the wrong chocolate could at the very least disappoint someone who’s just not that into Big Turk (who is?) but in the worst case, you could seriously harm someone with a severe peanut allergy. Choosing features or products based on assumptions is dangerous, and could end up costing your company millions of dollars, or loyal customers, or both.
A Little Bit of Research Goes a Long Way
With those eight people, in ten minutes you were able to increase the likelihood that a customer would be satisfied by about 80%. Ten minutes of discussion, and listening to what other people want. Ten minutes of being vulnerable and admitting to yourself that you actually don’t have all the answers, and that getting hands-on with your people can bring about big change in your organization.
Chocolate For Change (working title)
For any of you who are still (STILL) struggling to get buy-in from your organization when it comes to UX research, bring some of the naysayers into a room and ply them with chocolate. I’ve found that it creates an environment where people are far more open to discussion around the necessity of research, and more importantly, an environment where teams are more willing to find ways of building research into everything they do.
Good luck! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have about running this inside your company, and don’t forget to lend a clapping hand so others can find this too.