UXR Fireside Chat : Gwenael Ahoomey

Loïs Gauthier
November 28, 2023

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.

Gwenael is a senior UX researcher at Deezer. He has been working in the digital industry for more than 10 years, worked on an entrepreneurship project for 2 years before specializing in user experience research in 2017.

I chatted with Gwenael about his entrepreneurship adventure, how it led him to UX, collateral insights and some of their product launches processes at Deezer.

An entrepreneurship failure led him to UX Research

Gwenael started his career in project management. He had first studied design but chose the PM role because it allowed him to grasp the larger scope he was looking for.

In 2015, he launched a startup on smartphone repair: La Smartphonerie. They acted as a marketplace linking broken phone owners and repair shops. The project ended 2 years later because of a lack of user research.

After 2 years, we realized the need we were trying to answer was not the most important one.

He analyzes that they were lacking understanding of the different steps people go through when they break their phone.

The first thing when it happens is to wonder whether you can keep using it or not.

Then, people will wonder: do I have insurance? Can I buy a new one? People who answer no to these 3 questions might be looking to repair it.

They soon understood their use case was not that common and came in last position.

I realized how important UX research was when I faced the consequence of not doing it.

Before you do research, you don’t know what you might find.

What matters is to conduct user research as often as possible.

He then started his path in UX at Orange where he joined a new business unit where they generated 600K€ of revenue in 9 months from scratch thanks to UX research which really helped spread the practice within the organization.

I establish my research practice not only on cognitive psychology skills but rather on product, digital design and project management.

He then freelanced for 2 years before joining Deezer.

Is it possible to explore all opportunities?

Too often, research projects come from top management requests.

Gwenael tries to highlight that increased value comes when you are able to change the scope of the project based on insights. That is because when you are looking for X, you might find Y. Although this Y is not useful for your initial project, it presents an opportunity for the business overall.

Exploring these collateral insights and directions requires a lot of resources but missing those opportunities can be a risk for the future. In some cases, it means shifting the scope of the project if a more relevant direction is discovered, even if iterations have started (resisting the sunk cost fallacy).

To go towards a more systematic exploration of user insights, Gwenael is working with his colleagues at Deezer to create a monthly workshop where they study the top recommendations extracted from recent discovery research. They create concepts from these recommendations and test them with users.

This allowed them to work on a product that was initially outside of the roadmap because they realized its value from discovery research.

Gwenael advocates for an approach where UXR brings directions rather than solely validates/invalidates hypothesis from stakeholders.

Product launches at Deezer

A recent initiative that was born from these workshops is a feature allowing to create cross-platform playlists to allow people to share music even if they don’t use the same streaming service.

Gwenael is very happy about this project because they were able to prioritize it even though it was not in the initial roadmap thanks to the insights they gathered from user research (the feature is now called Shaker and you can try it on shaker.deezer.com).

Obviously, there are also cases where they are not able to go beyond the initial brief.

But when they succeed, Gwenael guarantees that the impact can be huge. For example, over 100K groups have been created in just a few days since the release of Shaker.

Gwenael’s perspective gives us rich insights on how research is conducted at high UX maturity organizations, where it can have the power to lead product cycles rather than support and validate roadmaps.

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