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This is episode #014 of Custom Made and I’m joined again by James Utley, Design Architect here at Dialexa, and we are talking with our guest this week, John Hicks - Sr. User Experience Researcher at font design company Monotype.

John is a designer, researcher, and educator living in Houston, Texas. As a visual communication designer, John has spent the last 15 years designing for brands such as Mars foods, Dr. Pepper, Pizza Inn, Metro PCS, Samsung and more.

In a past life, John moonlighted as an art director for various design agencies, followed by a brief stint at the University of North Texas where he taught undergraduate communication design. Since 2011, his professional efforts have been focused on design research.

Following designer and educator Victor Papanek’s lead, John believes in taking a human-centered approach to design in order to champion the needs of users and to create meaningful experiences for them.

His combined design and research experience provides John with a unique skill set that allows him to critically examine and solve design problems with solutions that are not only evidence-based but also aesthetically pleasing.

In his current role, he is a Sr. UX researcher for Monotype where he fights the good fight to bring exceptional experiences to the MyFonts platform.

On this weeks episode, we are talking with John about the politics of user research to inform the building of new products or developing new features for existing products.

I think everyone recognizes, at least in theory, the importance of user research to launching successful products. Just assuming what users want is a risky thing and research helps mitigate that risk. Hearing from users first hand creates alignment and empathy for the users need.

But user research is still the area of product development that gets squeezed, or in some cases ignored, and so we wanted to discuss how to navigate this challenge. During our discussion, we break down the barriers we have each experienced with organizations doing user research.

These include:

  • Concerns about the investment of time vs getting into the design and build of the new product
  • Fear of negative feedback (or product failure)
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Product teams assuming they already know what is best
  • Fear of promising too much to the user

And we give our thoughts on how to overcome these barriers by:

  • Understanding your user research options
  • Accepting that it is ok to fail, or get negative feedback about a feature or even product. In fact, all types of feedback should be welcome
  • Not looking for solutions just insights, no empty promises to users
  • Clearly communicating the user research process and expectations to get buy-in from across your product stakeholders and from the upper levels of your organization

Throughout our conversation both James & John mention a number of great resources, here are some quick links to help you check them out:

You can catch John's full Custom Made episode here:


Here are some of the memorable moments from John's episode of Custom Made:

If you prefer to listen on the go, you can get all episodes of Custom Made on these platforms and many more. Do subscribe on your favorite platform to catch each episode as it is released, and let me know any feedback, questions, and recommendations on twitter @dougplatts.

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I hope you enjoy this episode!

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