Paul Blunden: Hello, I’m welcome to another. In my series of interviews where i’ll be speaking to one of our many of credited UX researchers from around the world.
My name is Paul Blundon. I’m. Founder of UX24/7, and we help product owners, designers and researchers deliver high performing products and services. So let’s meet my guest today. Hello! Shelpi. Thank you very much for giving up your time speed with me today. I know we know each other from a few years back. But can I start by asking you to introduce yourself?
Shilpi Dahele: Hi, and thank you for having me. So i’m Shelpi. As you mentioned, I’m a user researcher. I have been these researcher for over 17 years now, and working in various different sectors, both within agencies, which is where I know you from a Foviance days kind of quite early in my career, and also in client side corporation companies, etc.
Yeah. So that’s kind of who I am in a nutshell.
Paul Blunden: And have you always been in that based in the Uk.
Shilpi Dahele: Yes, born, put up, studied and worked always in the Uk.
Paul Blunden: Can I ask you whether you have any sort of languages? You’re fluent in outside of English.
Shilpi Dahele: so I am Punjabi my background, I would say, i’m semi-fluent in Punjabi and I understand hindi as well, which is universal language within India, although I have never done any user research in those languages. I purely, you know, it is English for me.
Paul Blunden: Okay. And I think if I recall when I first met you were doing quant research, but some I might be slightly mistaken. But I want you to ask, how did you get into UX Research? What was it that attracted you?
Shilpi Dahele: This is going back obviously a very long time. So I’ve always been predominantly a qualitative researcher. I think so. What happened was I did my undergraduate degree in psychology.
like a lot of user researchers typically tend to have that background. And I was in my final year, and I realized, you know, there are a couple of avenues. I could go down, and I was exploring different avenues, and at that time my professor, who I was working with on my thesis.
He was in the cognitive psychology field and I was helping him with one of his i’m guessing it was a Phd project, and he was one that suggested. You know this is the field. This is going back 2003 I think, 2004.
So he was once suggested that, you know there’s this area of psychology called human commuter computer interaction. You know it’s it’s gaining popularity. Have a look in to explore it, because he felt that it was something that I would be quite good at, naturally, because I was helping him a lot with the digital interface of the project that he was working on, and so I had not even heard of. Hci had no idea what it was. So off I went, you know, searching for what it was the courses, etc. And I thought, okay, I’m going to explore this a little bit further.
He strongly recommended it. And in a way, I kind of just followed what he suggested, and I kind of felt that it could be something I could be somewhat good at, because at that time I had looked into other avenues, such as clinical psychology, forensic psychology, and my professor, who was very straightforward and upfront, he said, Look, I don’t think you have the personality to work in forensic psychology, you know you will be seeing and doing things that perhaps you won’t be, you know, feel comfortable doing so.
So I thought, okay, he’s got a point in theory. It sounds like a fascinating area, but in reality will I be able to actually do it in stomach it, and I think the answer was No. So I looked into this Hci field very much by accident.
signed up, you know I applied for a couple of courses ended up getting into Ucl on the Hci Ergonomics course, which again, I know a lot of people have that background. and it really just happened from then from then on, and I think I was quite lucky, because at that time the year that I was studying, which I think was then 2004, 2005. In that year Ux was very much still, quite a new niche area, and there were 2 or 3 agencies that were quite popular, and I think Phobias was definitely one of them, and there were a couple of others. I don’t know if i’m allowed to mention their names, but it was Amberlight as well at the time, and there was a contact there who who came in, I think, to do a talk about Ux and the world of us, etc., and he was actually really brilliant.
He actually set up this platform for new graduates to get work, experience in different agencies and companies that had Ux teams, and I you know, put my name down and manage to get my first ux trainer. I think it was called Ux Consultant trainee consultant role within this advertising agency, and in this big advertising agency that had a very small kind of Ux consultancy focus. And that’s how I got my first role as a trainee.
Yeah, that’s that’s kind of how I got into it. It was kind of by accident, but also based on recommendation from my professor at the time.
Paul Blunden: Is that what would work for you after you’ve been in it now for in 20 years?
Shilpi Dahele: Yeah.
Paul Blunden: Sort of period of time in intervening. Well, what are they like and what are what are your favorite methods?
Shilpi Dahele: Yeah. So a lot of my early career Generally the majority of the work, the projects I did, and the clients that we had a lot of it was usability testing of, you know, digital products or prototypes, and generally in the Ux research field that tends to be the main methodology that we use for various reasons.
But over the years I’ve realized that you know it’s really important to you. Know us a bit of testing. Isn’t. Always the the right correct answer to a specific project, and it often was very much earlier in the in my career.
I am strongly believe that you know understanding the there’s a right methodology. As long as we understand what are the key questions that we need to get answers to and it doesn’t matter what budget you have, what time scales you’re working towards, Who? What’s available in terms of resources? There’s always a solution. There’s always a way to get some insight, some answers, if not all, to your research questions or your project questions. So over the years I’ve been quite lucky to work on projects where I feel I think I excel most is in the Discovery research side of things, especially when you’re working kind of the early stages of a project of a project.
And even if i’m not working in the early stage of the project. It’s quite nice, especially when you, your client or your team, have questions around, you know, context of use and decision making factors. And what do they do next? If someone’s using a product, you know what happens after that. So I think for me the discovery research side of things, especially when I get those kind of Gc. On the questions to answer it’s often something that really you know, excites me.
Not that I don’t like, or, you know, use this testing. I just feel like sometimes, you know, when you get into a project, and you have the time and budget and resources available to really kind of get stuck in and and and give the client or project team answers to. You know. Key questions, you know, really get stuck into extrapolating user needs, etc. I think it’s it’s it’s really fabulous, really valuable. The only downside is that it doesn’t happen often because there are so many constraints some time and Budget being one of them. But when it does happen, I absolutely love it.
Paul Blunden: I think people coming into research now, don’t realize in some ways how much the market or the discipline sort of revolved around usability testing in the nurses, because nobody really didn’t want much more than that. I mean. There was the odd study here and there, but many, nearly everything was usability testing.
Shilpi Dahele: Organisations have matured and got more money. And what have you? You know, People do more discovery research now. So yeah, I I need plenty of research, as you’ve sort of done so much usability testing there so happy when they’re not doing it. But yeah, it’s good.
Paul Blunden: And in terms of the marketing sectors you’ve worked in. I’m. Obviously working agencies which do have a tendency to work across the range. Can you speak a bit about those?
Shilpi Dahele: Yes, so very early in my career. I’m not sure, if you remember. But I was working a lot for gaming and gambling clients, and I think that’s how I got my position within Fabians as well, because I was expert fair and was there for a couple of years, and at that time the team, the head of user research within Bet Fair. And and this is going back again, trying to think of the years, maybe 2,006, 2007, perhaps.
At that time within betfair we had our own usability lab. We had eye-tracking technology, and it was really kind of it was it really advanced compared to you know other companies and organizations, so I feel, you know, quite lucky to have that exposure. But my first few years of my career were predominantly in the gambling and gaming sectors and then in between I’ve done a mix of, you know, entertainment, retail, etc.
But the last couple of years the focus has been around the health sector, especially around femtech and women’s health. So my last couple of projects have been with separate companies, focusing on digital products for women in the Hormonal health space, and I’ve actually absolutely found it fascinating. I think I was talking to some ex colleagues I met a few days ago, and I was just saying, I think I found my calling. This is what excites me, and this is what I feel so passionate about, you know, just working in teams where we’re actually making products for the needs and and and of our, you know, women who have hormonal health issues. So yeah, at the moment I’m really excited about this space that I’ve not got much experience, maybe a couple of years, but it’s really exciting.
Paul Blunden: excellent. And I mean, given that sort of world sector experience. Do you have an opinion on how sort of customer, extent customer, centric. Rather the different sectors are?
Shilpi Dahele: from a women’s health perspective, or any of those sectors. I mean, i’m interested obviously Betfair. I don’t know whether they were an outlier in gaming, but it sounds like they’ve made a huge investment in it so.
But overall is that sector, or compared to you know, women’s health, if you like. Now, how do they compare in terms of customer centricity the setup that they had? You know it was a really big Ux team with designers the Ui design into X designers, as well as quite a big research team, which doesn’t often happen. Sometimes you can be a single researcher in a massive Ux team with other other roles.
So in terms of my understanding of that Se. To now, it’s probably less. I kind of know less now about it. In recent years, where I have worked, for example, if we, if we think about the women’s health, I think there’s certainly a strong desire to be user centric. The intention is there.
The work is being done to try and understand and meet the needs. You know, understand our users listen to our users. Observe what they’re doing as well as you know listening to them. And I think it is quite a tricky situation, because what I’ve noticed, and it’s not specifically in women’s health when the femtech space.
But I have noticed in recent years where companies, perhaps were more user centric in very recent years. There’s this kind of small shift that’s happening where I feel like. Perhaps some companies still have that intention and desire to be as user centric as as they can be. But they are also driven by. you know, delivery and results, revenue results, etc., and sometimes it’s kind of difficult to then find that balance, and in some rare cases you might find that perhaps certain things from a user experience perspective get pushed to the side which isn’t great. But I do think the desire and the passion is there.
So One of the recent projects I’ve worked on. It was I would say extremely, you know, user-centric. You know, the the the the goal was to really understand, and really kind of speak to users in this specific hormonal health space which generally is under research and underdeveloped, and you know, lots of work needs to be done. So we’ve been working on this product that hopefully will be launched later on this year which it has been designed with. You know, women’s needs in mind with a lot of research that has gone into it even prior to you know when I joined the the project team that years of work has gone into gone into this, which actually is a rarity.
But then there are also goals that teams will have, so they will come a point where actually, so we’ve had this product out there, which is great. But you know now we need to, perhaps think about monetization. And I think that’s where sometimes there’s that fine line between. Okay, where does the user experience get compromised? And where do we kind of find that balance between making money and also being as customer focus as as we can and should be.
Paul Blunden: So I was going to ask about the challenges organization, face when doing user research. And it sounds like you’re so describing a situation where they’re having to make a choice between financial performance or doing research. And so do you. Do you think organization organizations see that as a separation? And that is a major challenge?
Shilpi Dahele: I totally think so. And I also think that sometimes. as you know, from a research perspective, some research does take time and some companies work in a certain way, they might work in an agile kind of environment where you work according to sprints, 2 week, 3 weeks, or whatever it is. And sometimes in that timeframe the right research you need to do may not get completed in that timeframe, and that can be a challenge. And it’s about basically finding that harmony between, you know, working in collaboration with. you know, product teams not being that bottleneck, not trying to push back, still trying to deliver insights and recommendations, etc. But you. the challenge really is that is, finding that kind of balance and harmony between Ux research and product teams deliverables
Paul Blunden: interesting, very interesting. And then. perhaps you know where it all has worked you. Maybe I could ask you to talk about a flagship project you’ve been involved in.
Shilpi Dahele: So there’s a couple I just don’t know which one to talk about. Perhaps i’ll talk about the very recent one, because it’s it’s. I literally just finished it a few weeks ago, so like I said to you earlier, I love discovery research. I joined this consumer healthcare company on a 4 month contract and, like I mentioned a lot of research had already been done. They had developed and built this new web app which isn’t live yet, so I can’t mention any details, but it was in a position where, while other decisions had to be made in terms of what market to launch in.
the product was ready to be tested, or, you know. put into the hands of users and just get users to explore. And there were some specific research questions, not just about the overall usability in Ux, which was one of the objectives. But what triggers users to going into the Web app to get the information they need. What information are these women looking for in terms of their hormonal health. what do they do so what actions do they take as a result of seeking information from this web app? What do they do next?
And so that warranted, you know, a really beautiful discovery piece. I had to, you know, limited time. I’d given, you know, 4 week this sort of time frame for the actual research piece itself. So in that in that research what I did was a combination of interviews prior to a diary, study and post Dary City. And then there was a 2 week diary study in between. and it was absolutely brilliant, because in the pre diary study interviews, we were able to understand our users a little bit better.
I can’t take credit for this, but personas had been developed prior to me, joining, so we use that if opportunity to validate. You know the personas that we had team had created. and really kind of understand. What had they done so far to get information about their health from various different resources. Then we gave them the app to use for a period of a couple of weeks, and they were recording their experiences experiences over a diary study. and then we spoke to them. A few days after we stopped them from accessing the web apps. About a week after that that we conducted some follow up interviews because we really wanted to understand. You know now that they haven’t been using this app. You know. What has they experience been like, and what has what have they done? As a result of you know their experience using this web app?
And it was absolutely brilliant because we we glean so much rich in sight, not just kind of quick fixes and quick usability test kind of the opportunities to fix before we launch the app, but also mit ctl. And thinking ahead. You know, what can we do to really elevate that experience? And what is it that customers need that they’re not getting from this app or anywhere else. And so it’s helped really prioritize the roadmap for post launch and kind of the areas to prioritize one.
So i’m really excited about the next stage of this experience, and i’m hoping that, you know we get to do lots of really good Gc: research and post launch. And you know, focusing on the the various different areas that we want to prioritise from a Women’s health perspective.
Paul Blunden: That sounds really an interesting project, and also I love that it’s we have a lot of product owners. They talk to us about. How do we prioritize our roadmap, and it sounds like out of this project. You’ve got some quite clear priorities about. Okay, what next? Where is the value going to be developed.
Shilpi Dahele: I think that’s really important. You touched on it. I think it’s really important to when you have a product owner or a product team that understand user experience and understand, not just Ux, but the value of research. And they have been times in, you know, in in i’m a freelance, as you know, and I’ve worked in various different companies and agencies across different types of projects, and you have some unfortunate times where perhaps that alignment isn’t quite there, and it can be quite frustrating. But in this experience, when you have a product team that really get the value of research that really want to focus on customer needs. It’s really pleasant experience overall. I think that’s really important.
Paul Blunden: interesting. And then so one of the things I’ve been conducting these interviews with people from around the world. We have researchers, as I think you know, all over the world to try and get a bit of a picture on some of the differences between how people behave in different markets, and I wondered whether, over the course of your career, whether doing research in the Uk, you. You’ve sort of recognized any traits or any particular behaviors that that you think c crop up again and again in the Uk.
Shilpi Dahele: This isn’t going to answer your question. But there is something that I did want to say, and I and obviously stop me and tell me that i’m going off tangent or whatever. But I feel like because I’ve been doing this for 17 plus years. Now I’ve noticed in recent years. This is not a user behavior change, but this is just a change within the ux world, as it were. I feel like in my early career. There was this kind of mit ctl, and there were. There were some difficulties, you know, lack of buying within companies and organizations and rent lots of questions about what is Ux, and it’s 5 people really enough to sort of test a product all that that sort of thing in terms of challenges 101.
But there was certainly a desire, I think, to really try and push you. X and Ux was getting a lot of respect, and I’ve noticed over the last couple of years. I don’t know what’s happening. It feels like we’ve kind of gone backwards a little bit. We started off where we’ve had to educate product teams and companies, and then all of a sudden, You know, there’s research jobs popping up everywhere, and you know teams are building their Ux and research team. You know, teams within the organization. and you know there’s more jobs that are people.
But i’m kind of almost noticing it’s actually quite a sad observation I see on linkedin where you see lots of researchers being made redundant, and you know, looking for work, etc. And I think that’s something that I that is really kind of It’s something I’ve been thinking about in the past few months. Where is research with Ux in general? Is it? Is it where it used to be in this that kind of respect still there, for it is that need within organizations for the value of what a Ux team and good researchers can bring to the team is that still there?
And that’s something I have noticed within the U U Uk Market, where I feel like it started off well, and then it got better, and now it’s kind of I don’t know it kind of feels like we’re losing that customer centricity, as it were, within organizations, and I think that’s quite sad, especially when you see the amount of redundancy that happening recently. But from a user behavior perspective I I really struggled with. I really struggled to think of what I’ve noticed, you know, as a kind of key trade or a theme.
Paul Blunden: I think that’s a really interesting. I do, I think, like you. It’s sort of saddened me with the redundancies, of course, there the redundancies in lots of different roles, so we can’t so single out research. But I do wonder whether the that your point about education, the research, still it’s, made it into the way we do products, if you like, in some organization. But it’s still something that’s expendable in a way that you know other roles in the team, aren’t, and it does seem a bit odd that you can sort of decide. Well, we’re not going to build our products that way anymore. We’ll just guess it. It does seem quite sad after 20 years of really a lot of evidence, but I guess you and I have tremendous bias given the roles we’re in. But anyway, that that is a really interesting observation. Thank you for sharing it.
And I wanted to ask. Find a sort of couple of questions. What’s inspiring you at the moment?
Shilpi Dahele: Again, this is the question that I often struggle with. I have recently for a couple of books in in the kind of ux space. So when I was early on in my career. I very much was interested in going to lots of you know, different talks and conferences, and I bought every single Ux books that the book that was out there and then, I think I don’t know whether it was complacency on my end. But as I got more experience, and as I kind of established my way of working on projects, etc. I am I kind of stopped doing all that, and then it’s only in the recent years, and I think what really struck me was one of the contracts I was working on last year, which is another Female Health Company. and I was working with a team of 9 or 10 researchers, who every single one of them was less experienced than me. So I was the most senior in terms of years of experience.
And what really struck me and inspired me was. you kind of feel like? Sometimes you walk into a project and you feel Well, actually i’m the most experienced. So therefore I know the most, which is a really city thing thought to have. But what I actually loved about this team was. They were people in that team who had maybe 3 4 5 years of experience in Ux Research.
They were so confident they were bringing new ways of doing things to the table. So whether it’s how you, you know, capture insights, how you analyze whatever it was. You know how you present. I learned so much now it it really was a kind of a wake up moment for me, you know it’s a few instances of happen like that over the past couple of years, where I feel like you know what you never really do stop learning right? And so I’ve recently bought a you’d be surprised. I bought, think, like a ux researcher, which I just started reading yesterday.
And it’s just like little nuggets of things which sometimes you might forget. Or there’s just a new way of perhaps doing things. And I think for me what inspires me, are you? There’s this new sort of breed of really good quality researchers that perhaps aren’t as experienced, but they’ve got new ideas, and they’ve got new ways of doing things which aren’t right or wrong. It’s just a new way to to think, and it’s made me sort of reflect. Step back a little bit, and think Well, actually, you know let’s try this, and sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t, but I think that’s something that I can’t forget that you know you. You’re never too experienced. You should always be learning. You should always be kind of, you know, taking on you new challenges, new ideas, new ways of working, etc.
Paul Blunden: Yeah, I can agree with you more, very refreshing observation. And finally, then, what’s your biggest learning since you became a researcher?
Shilpi Dahele: I mean, I’ve touched on it already in the previous question something that someone I worked with many, many years ago, because the question a similar question was asked to him. And I’ve kind of always remembered it so from early on in my career. It’s okay to make mistakes.
It’s okay. And I think that’s something I need to remind myself of. And another thing is imposter syndrome is real. And I didn’t really know what that was and how it would manifest in my career. But it sometimes does as well, and I think it’s okay to experience that. And it’s okay to, you know. Approach it with a with a kind of positive mindset, etc. So yeah, it’s okay to make mistakes, because that’s obviously how you learn. And I’ve made a ton load of mistakes over the years working, but it only helps you know. So grow etc.
And yeah. be confident. Believe in yourself. I think you know. I say that to my daughter she’s 4 years old, and i’m constantly trying to send positive affirmations to her. I ask her to repeat. You know I am strong. I am confident I can do anything I put my mind to, and sometimes you forget. Well, actually, you need to do that yourself. And it doesn’t matter whether your research or not being a research is so challenging in some organizations Still, to this day, and I think that’s something that we need to remember.
Paul Blunden: We sure do we? Shilpi thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me spending time talking to me. It’s been really interesting hearing here what you you’ve been describing, and I love the idea of the young researchers, and maybe not so experienced having such new ideas.
I think we’re looking at a world in some ways where some of these research is particularly. We sort of come through in the last 3 or 4 years may not have done face to face in person research they may have only ever done it remotely. And of course they don’t come with any of those prejudices that we have from kit bags and big rooms and mirrors, and all the rest of it really good observation about that.
And I think everybody’s going to be really interesting. What you got to say, and thanks for spending the time with me.
Paul Blunden: I hope you found that as interesting as I did. It was great to hear from Shilpi about well, how she got into ux research, but also, I think, her thoughts on what was going on in the market right now. I thought the case study as well about her project that had led to sort of prioritizing the product roadmap. I thought that was really fascinating. We come across that problem all the time, and I’m, i’m sure you’ve seen it yourselves.
Anyway. Thank you for watching. My name is Paul Blunden and I’m. I’m founder of UX24/7. We help product owners, researchers and designers deliver high performing products and services. And if you want to find out more about what we do, please visit our website. That’s ux247.com.
Or find me on LinkedIn message me there. I’m happy to have a chat, and of course subscribe to this channel, and there’ll be more interviews coming along soon.
Thanks very much for watching.