Inside UX Research With Scotiabank Digital Factory

By BrainStation February 18, 2020

Corbet Fawcett, the Director, UX Research at Scotiabank Digital Factory, recently led at a talk at the BrainStation Toronto campus on lightweight user research methods and their importance to overall user experience (UX) design.

We caught up with Corbet to find out more about the UX research process and what makes a good Researcher. 

BrainStation: What is the mission of Scotiabank Digital Factory? What problem were you looking to solve?

Corbet Fawcett

Fawcett: If you joined us for one of our Town Halls you’d hear our leaders talk about “reinventing relationships with our customers, shareholders, and employees.” We’re focused on everyday personal banking, but specifically the digital version of that – banking via your phone or laptop or tablet. Our challenge is to create digital experiences that are just as reliable, convenient, and accessible as in-person banking. 

You have a background in technical writing and content development. How important do you think that background has been to your current position and your professional development as a whole? 

Oh, I’d definitely say it was critical. Writing is a pivotal skill for success. It’s more than having a good vocabulary and putting words together – it’s understanding how to communicate, how to persuade, how to inform, how to craft a story that’s powerful. 

It’s one of the key tools we use when crafting experiences. The right words are as powerful as other design elements. Even just a few words can motivate, encourage, delight, or advise. They can transform transactional moments into memorable moments. 

Writing is also a powerful medium for sharing insights with stakeholders and customers, and it’s invaluable for creating a presence in the broader world, for becoming a thought leader.

What design trends do you see coming?

There’s always a lot of chatter about trends. We hear a lot about technologies like AI and autonomous vehicles and augmented reality and so on. But in terms of things that will impact UX design and research? I think we’ll see big changes around virtual assistants because voice interaction is becoming important and means a different kind of design. 

I think service design will continue to grow as a level that more and more companies consider. It will challenge us to think beyond the boundaries of apps and sites and physical products and think about experiences at a higher level. I also think design for accessibility has been gaining focus but will take a big jump forward in the next couple of years. 

How does Scotiabank Digital Factory stay ahead of the curve?

The bank does a lot to help us stay current. For example, we have this great Digital Discovery Zone that regularly brings in speakers to talk about emerging trends and other topics. 

At the Digital Factory, we’ve grown our service design practice a lot in the past year; it’s exciting to see it gain steam. And accessibility and inclusivity have been a pillar of our design practice since the very beginning but it’s something we continue to build on. For example, our Accessibility team is creating our first Empathy Lab in 2020. It’s a big project, but it’s a new way of connecting with customers and understanding their needs so I’m really excited to see how it develops.

How do you see Scotiabank’s customer journey changing in the future? What do you foresee for the banking industry as a whole?

There are a lot of new Fintechs and these are changing the shape of things for a lot of customers. People have more options for how to manage their money, track their spending, plan for goals. There are also more threats, which are making topics like security and trust vitally important to more and more people. Put these trends together and the shape of banking is changing. Banks will need to offer different services and be just as intensely customer-focused as the next new startup. 

You recently led a talk on campus about “lightweight” user research methods. What does this refer to and why is it important?

Sure. This is something I’m pretty passionate about. It’s a really useful approach. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of time for a lot of research. Or maybe time isn’t the issue, maybe the problem is that there’s little or no budget. When that’s true it can be tempting to skip research entirely, but that leaves you with high risks. Research answers questions that, unanswered, might result in products or features that customers don’t want, don’t use, or can’t use. So there’s a pretty high risk to skipping research.

But here’s the thing – there’s almost always something you can do with the time and resources you have. This is where lightweight research helps.

I define this type of research as anything you can turn around in one to three days, using minimal resources and just the people you have easy access to. We’re talking about micro-studies. They’re very tactical. You generally aim to answer a single question, or at most two or three. 

When I spoke at BrainStation we covered a number of options, including polls, surveys, coffee shop intercepts, and so on. We talked about the importance of understanding the limitations of each method, and how you can combine methods. 

In an ideal world maybe you’d take weeks to do comprehensive research, but if your team just needs to answer one critical question by next week? Lightweight research methods get you there quickly and arm your teams with more knowledge than they started with.

What would you say are the most important elements of the UX research process?

Good question, and I think there’s more than one answer. 

One area that’s important is helping teams understand what type of research they need, and when to do it. 

Another aspect is designing research that delivers actionable results. I like treating research like a design challenge. If you came to me asking for a study I’d probably ask you things like, “What decisions are you trying to make? What observations would help you make that decision?” Knowing that helps us craft a study that results in those insights. We’re essentially imagining an actionable result and then reverse engineering to figure out how to get the types of insights we need.

And then there’s a third, incredibly important element: Creating investment in research. That’s all about making research a partnership, a collaboration between UX Researchers, Designers, and product teams. Research is a tool to help other teams make decisions, so it’s not something that can happen in a silo. Creating strong partnerships is essential.

UX research

What is the most challenging aspect of that UX research process? 

A challenge for research, in general, is that you can’t make people act on insights. You can’t make people be invested. You can’t change people. That’s why we treat research as a partnership with our teams. We invite them to join us in the planning, the sessions, and the synthesis so that they become just as invested in the results. 

It’s worked well for us, and we’re lucky to work with a lot of interested and engaged people.

What does the team structure at Design Factory look like? How many Researchers are on your team?

We’ve actually just grown. For the past year there have been just three of us, but we’re excited to be welcoming a fourth person this month. We support a lot of teams so we’re pretty busy, but many of the teams we work with include Designers who are passionate about research, so we have extra support on some projects. 

Another change in the past few months is an awesome team-up with another group. We’re now paired with the Digital Factory’s Customer Advocacy team. The advocacy team helps run beta programs, supports a customer community, and manages our digital NPS program. We’re essentially sister teams; we both try to deliver customer feedback and insights to design and product teams. This promises to make 2020 extra interesting as we find ways to collaborate and create an end-to-end insights practice.

When it comes to hiring, are you looking for specific skills Or overall fit? 

Yes! By which I mean both. I don’t worry too much about specific tools – those are relatively easy to pick up. So, for example, it doesn’t matter to me whether someone prefers Sketch, Figma, or Adobe XD. What matters is that they use one of those because it’s a sign that they’re comfortable visualizing concepts. If they’ve learned one program they’ll pick up another no problem – what’s important is the underlying skill of visual communication. 

But there are non-digital skills that I definitely look for. Things like moderation, establishing rapport, and rapid ideation. These are really important. I look for people who’d done a range of things. If I’m hiring for research I’m looking for people who’ve used a range of methods. I’m looking for creative problem solvers who can flex and brainstorm approaches to any new challenge. 

And fit? Team fit is tricky. It’s not something you can create or train for, so it’s a big thing I look for in interviews. 

What traits do you think make a great Designer these days?  

That’s an interesting question. There are good Designers and there are great designers. The same is true for researchers.

The good ones are very customer-focused, who really consider and advocate for customers. They also wear a business lens and try to understand how their projects create value for the organization as well as their customers. They’re creative and always explore more than one way of solving a problem, whether that’s a design problem or a research challenge. They embody a positive attitude towards collaboration and towards taking and using feedback. Those are the traits of a good Designer or Researcher.

But exceptional Designers and Researchers? They go to another level. I think a number of things make a difference. One is ownership, a deep investment in every aspect of anything they work on, and a vision they advocate for and even co-create with the business and customers. 

More than that, truly great Designers and Researchers go beyond the job. They value and actively create a culture of design and customer focus. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some exceptional Designers and Researchers, and that’s one thing I’ve seen in all of them.

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