This interview is part of an on-going serie we are conducting with UX researchers. The goal is to shed light upon this role: its diversity, practices and the people moving it forward.
Audrey is Product Design Director at OpenClassrooms. She is known for her work on research repositories, design systems, atomic design and her overall contribution to the product community. She joined OpenClassrooms in 2020 and has documented on her Medium's articles her onboarding process during Covid, how she manages her team and established a research repository.
I chatted with Audrey in July 2023 to talk about how she built her UXR expertise, her approach to passing on knowledge and her new project: product systems.
How to kickstart an ambitious research practice?
Audrey started her career as a print designer, creating flyers, catalogs etc. She then transitioned to digital and worked for several agencies where she developed her expertise in design systems.
When she joined OpenClassrooms, it was the first time she was responsible for a whole team.
She started by structuring the department in 3 teams: product design, user research and content design. No team member was dedicated to UXR yet so she offered the most experienced product designer in UXR to own this subject and become full time researcher.
They chose as a 5 year goal that UXR will need to have an impact on the product strategy and used this vision to build their roadmap, including a repository and a user panel.
She grew the team from 6 to up to 20 people. As the team grew, she created a new hierarchy level by hiring team managers for the product design and content design teams. She acted as the team manager for the user research team herself. This is how she came to build a focus on user research.
After her initial audit, her first priority was to work on the design system. She then moved onto building up the research practice. It was already present within the team but focused on evaluative studies. Her goal was to make the practice more exhaustive by implementing generative research and by enhancing its impact on the product roadmap and the overall strategy.
A year after her arrival, she started working on establishing OpenClassrooms’ research repository.
They built it slowly, starting with a Notion table with links to studies’ results and analyses.
The mechanics of a design system and a repository are similar, especially when it leverages systemic thinking (atomic design / atomic research)
Soon, Audrey and her lead User Researcher realized they needed a tool that not only connects to experiment results but also aggregates raw data, user feedback, and analyzed insights.
They implemented Enjoy HQ and are now looking for ways to implement AI-based processes in their repository.
Depending on the UX maturity of your organization, a repository can be useless or a necessary step to move forward.
A repository is not a one size fits all magic solution. Don’t implement it only to do by the book; there are prerequisites and you have to wait for the right time.
Design system to research system to product system
Now that they have implemented a repository, Audrey wishes to enhance its relevance and impact by working on taxonomy. Applied to a repository, it consists of naming, categorizing and classifying elements of user research. This creates structure, eases the understanding, sharing and usage of insights.
For example, here are some examples of taxonomy elements at OpenClassrooms:
- categories of users they can work with are: student, job seeker, apprentice etc
- stages of the user journey include: onboarding, application stage etc
- funding sources: self-paid, employer-paid
When these tags are applied to research facts and insights, they create a more precise and visual organization of user knowledge. It also allows filtering the content of the repository based on different dimensions (ex: "I want to see all the insights regarding Job-seeker during their onboarding process").
She identifies a next step: creating what she calls a product system, where all of the company’s product related data is centralized. It goes beyond the repository because its purpose is to be used across the whole company and requires to align different teams' vocabulary.
A product system will allow us to create a common language that all teams share.
AI for UXR
Her team has already started implementing AI within UX research and content design processes.
An application of AI for research is the pre-analysis of user feedback. It helps fasten the process while not yet enabling to automate it fully. The AI can be asked to tag feedbacks with an existing list of tags or create a list of tags from the feedbacks. It can then give a percentage of feedbacks related to each tag. An important step in this process is to work on the definition of the tags and make sure they are used correctly by the AI.
She is still cautious with this usage, noticing a lot of discrepancies.
For content design, applications include translation, proofreading and text suggestions. Text suggestions are managed by first creating guidelines for the AI to follow.
Audrey would like to go one step further by implementing AI in their repository to automate some of the tasks mentioned previously.
Merging User Research & Content Design
In the context of the post-covid digital slowdown, OpenClassrooms, like many other tech companies, had to undergo restructuring. Audrey decided to merge the content design and research teams. Although this is uncommon, it felt natural at Openclassrooms as those two disciplines have a lot to share!
This was an opportunity to encourage teams across the company to conduct research/create content themselves with the assistance and support of the newly founded research/content team. Both of these activities, content design and UX research are championed by only a few team members but shared across the whole company. They then both require a structure to support other stakeholders to embrace the practice and progress in their processes.
If I was given enough budget to recruit 10 researchers, that’s not what I would do with it. I would focus on evangelizing user research, especially beyond the product team.
Their goal is to increase the user centricity of the whole company: having more people talking to users, making decisions based on users, define and analyze users goals at the same level as business KPIs.
Platform experience vs overall experience
Going beyond the product team will allow them to transition from working on the platform’s user experience to working on the overall experience.
They use service design techniques to study as many touch points as possible: coaches, emails, SMS in addition to the website and app.
It leads them to collaborate more with the marketing team, learning team and student success team, focusing their actions on qualitative research to enrich the user understanding and impact the roadmap.
Writing for the community
I don’t force myself to write articles, there are just subjects I find really interesting and it convinces me other people will like to read about it. I try to be precise and concrete so that others can replicate what I share.
The content I share creates a virtuous cycle both by creating more visibility for recruitment and by promoting transparency about our processes. Candidates know what to expect.
I’ve always loved sharing my knowledge and findings so OpenClassrooms feels like a dream job because we share the same values and mission to empower and train people.