Erika Hall

Erika Hall is the co-founder and Director of Strategy at Mule Design and the author of Just Enough Research. Her consulting practice focuses on helping organizations make better, more evidence-based decisions.

Erika Hall

Just Enough Research

Erika Hall is the co-founder and Director of Strategy at Mule Design.

Her consulting practice focuses on helping organizations make better, more evidence-based decisions.

She is the author of Just Enough Research, now in its second edition, and Conversational Design, both from A Book Apart. Erika loves helping people overcome the often invisible organizational barriers to doing good work.


Design With Words

The tools and practices that carried over from graphic design have worked well for us in software design since the advent of graphic user interfaces. However, that time may be coming to an end.

Beyond Measure

Even though everything is measurable, and almost everything we do is generating data, human problems often require illogical approaches. A good story is more powerful than a stack of facts.

Just Enough Research

At An Event Apart Orlando, Erika Hall presented her talk, Just Enough Research, makes the case for doing the research necessary to help the products, services, or interfaces we design in the safety and comfort of our workplaces to survive and thrive in the real world.

Asking Why (PopTech 2015)

Designers must also be philosophers, and asking “why?” is our most vital tool.

Chapter 8: Analysis and Models

Erika wrote the book, Just Enough Research, published by A Book Apart. She has a couple published articles in A List Apart.

In this sample chapter from her book, she refers to humans as social creatures and pattern-recognition machines.

Here is a quick overview of the book:

Book Notes: Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
Conducting thorough and useful qualitative research for a product can seem daunting. Especially in a fast-moving startup. First, you have the logistics of finding the customers, contacting them, and…

And a more in-depth summary:

Just Enough Research — Book Summary
Back in 2013, Erika Hall, founder of Mule Design, wrote “Enough Research”. This book consists of 9 chapters which is distills her experience into a brief cookbook of research method. Although this…

Select the Approach

If your question is about users themselves, you’ll be doing user research, or ethnography. If you want to assess an existing or potential design solution, you’ll be doing some sort of evaluative research.

The topic and nature of your questions will guide your choice of research activities.

Research Methods

  • Interviews
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • Literature Review
  • Usability Testing
  • A/B Testing
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Brand Audit
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Heuristic Analysis

Usability Testing

And for the record “user testing” isn’t really a thing because you aren’t testing users, you are testing the usability, or other qualities, of a system. Intentional phrasing matters.

— Erika Hall

Research Questions Are Not Interview Questions
The most significant source of confusion in design research is the difference between research questions and interview questions. This confusion costs time and money and leads to a lot of managers…

Challenging Authority

Designers inhabit the tension between the organizational hierarchy and the creative, collaborative network that is the innovation engine of the organization. Invariably, the authoritarian nature of the typical hierarchy is something that designers must seek to challenge for the sake of well-being of the organization, or the organization risks losing the ability to innovate and will be destined to fail. Erika Hall offered this insight in a conversation with Jared Spool.

That’s what research is. Research is challenging given ideas, so it’s naturally anti-authoritarian. If you’re in an authoritarian business culture, you have to work very carefully to change that.

Understanding Behavior

That's actually one of the criticisms of research is that you're asking people what they want. People will speculate, and this is something you have to be really careful of when you do research about people and their actual behaviors and habits.
If you ask the question the wrong way, what you'll hear is what people are speculating about, which might have no connection to how they actually behave. We humans are terrible, terrible reporters of our own behavior.
That's one of the key research skills is getting through that. Through how people think of themselves, which is usually a little bit more optimistic than how they actually behave.

Collaborative Research

The nice part about working with research is doing this research together makes teams more collaborative. By being collaborative and doing the research, it makes the research more effective. It's this really virtuous cycle, but it doesn't happen on its own. It absolutely does not happen on its own.
Researchers, as humans, will do what's habitual and comfortable for them, which is want to be a specialist, and go off in a corner, and do a rigorous course of study, and write up a report. Then, designers and developers will do what they want to do, which is not read anything and go off and do things that are interesting and feel productive to them.
You have to recognize that changing these behaviors is not insurmountable, but it requires intentional effort on the part of everyone involved. Once you have that, then it's all great, and you get people working together.
Episode 275 of The SpoolCast: Erika Hall - Cultivating Shared Understanding from Collaborative User Research — — The UX Podcast Network
Traditionally, user research has taken on more of a scientific identity. You would do usability testing and research, take a ton of notes, and then compile all of your findings into a report. The effectiveness of that research depended on whether anyone read the report, and then if they could do any…

Surveys: Misunderstood and Misused

Surveys are the most dangerous research tool — misunderstood and misused. They frequently straddle the qualitative and quantitative, and at their worst represent the worst of both.
On Surveys
Surveys are the most dangerous research tool — misunderstood and misused. They frequently straddle the qualitative and quantitative, and at their worst represent the worst of both. In tort law the…
Why I Decided to Revise Just Enough Research
Wow, thinking about 2013 is like looking back at the Cenozoic Era. And yet, it was only six short years ago that Just Enough Research popped into being following a lot of late nights staying up…

“Not all surveys are bad surveys, but many are.”

“Good research starts with a good research question, one that is specific, actionable, and practical. This means you’re taking cues from what you want to learn, not what kind of research method you chose to use.”

Focus Groups

There is an interesting debate going on between UX research professionals about the value of focus groups.

Because of Erika Hall’s expertise in the area and her strong views about focus groups, they tend to be avoided as a UX research methodology. Erika argues that focus groups tend to be ineffective because of the effect of group dynamics on the opinions that are offered in a group setting.

Another consideration is the cost, in terms of time and money.

Focus Groups Are Worthless
If I achieve one thing with my time here on earth, I might be content if that one thing could be burning to the ground the practice of running focus groups in place of actual user research. Sociology…

Emma Boulton describes some of the benefits and disadvantages of focus groups.

Focus groups aren’t worthless
This was first published on my blog three and a half years ago but having read The Guardian’s long read on Focus Groups this week, I thought it would be worth publishing it again here. I first read…

The greater risk is to design and build a product without doing research. So, the important thing is to decide how much research will be enough to make the right decisions.

Yet focus groups are not research; they’re research theater. They tell us very little about how real people behave in the real world. The brilliant sociologist and father of focus groups Robert K. Merton later lamented their misuse in replacing research: “Even when the subjects are well selected, focus groups are supposed to be merely the source of ideas that need to be researched.”
How the ‘Failure’ Culture of Startups Is Killing Innovation
Far from being the measure of disgrace it once was, failure now seems to be a sort of badge of honor. But somewhere along the way, it got to be uncool to reduce one’s risk of failure. People have somehow conflated concepts like ‘rapid prototyping,’ ‘lean startup,’ and ‘minimal viable product’ with a…

Empathy for People

UX design is all about understanding the experiences of people who are using a product, engaging in a service, or trying to accomplish a specific task. Research is the first step in gaining empathy for people.

Which brings us to another debate: should we dispense with the term “user”? Is it not dehumanizing? Rather than “user experience”, should we refer to “human experience”?

As a Designer, I Refuse to Call People ‘Users’
The terms “user,” “user experience,” and “UX” have become ubiquitous in design and technology, but they’re simply no longer accurate. As designers, we must do better.

Attitudes change over time as people are exposed to new ideas. So, curiosity and conversation are essential tools in a designer’s toolkit.

The 9 Rules of Design Research

  1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  2. Ask first, prototype later
  3. Know your goal
  4. Agree on the big questions
  5. There is always enough time and money
  6. Don’t expect data to change minds
  7. Embrace messy imperfection
  8. Commit to collaboration
  9. Find your bias buddies

What I like about Erika Hall’s “Just Enough Research” is that it focuses on the real world scenario of a team that has limited time, a limited budget, and limited resources.

If it helps with your analysis, here is a list from pages 53 and 54 of Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research. This list is also cited in her presentation on Collaborative Research.

What is the data?

You are looking for quotes and observations that indicate:

  • Goals (what the participant wants to accomplish that your product or service is intended to help them with or otherwise relates to).
  • Priorities (what is most important to the participant).
  • Tasks (actions the participant takes to meet their goal).
  • Motivators (the situation or event that starts the participant down the task path).
  • Barriers (the person, situation, or thing that prevents the participant from doing the task or accomplishing the goal).
  • Habits (things the participant does on a regular basis).
  • Relationships (the people the participant interacts with when doing the tasks).
  • Tools (the objects the participant interacts with while fulfilling the goals).
  • Environment (what else is present or going on that affects the participant’s desire or ability to do the tasks that help them meet their goals).

Research Insights

A couple Designlab students, Ashley Des Marais and Renee Bruhn, have been working together on a collaborative Phase 2 capstone project.

They used Erika Hall’s list to help define the categories for their affinity map.

You can see how they used the insights they gained from this analysis of their interview results to formulate some conclusions on page 6 of their research findings.