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Learn How Research Shaped our Site Redesign


What goes into a site redesign? Many of you reading this post know (intimately) that the answer is “everything but the kitchen sink.”

Since we recently relaunched our site, we wanted to give you an insider’s look at our process and let you glean lessons from a few of the talented people who made it happen. Hopefully it’ll save you time and effort on your next site project!

Here’s the first of our three-part series. (If you have any questions, just put them in Comments and we’ll have our interviewees answer.)

Part 1: User Research

Any project like this has to start with the users. Who are they? What are they hoping to accomplish when they visit? What do they find confusing or frustrating about the current site? What features and information do we need to add or subtract?

To answer these and other critical questions, we turned to Aquent’s research team, headed up by Kirsten Lewis, Director of Customer Development and Insight. In this interview, Kirsten describes how we defined the users we wanted to study, how she conducted her research, what we found out, and what it takes to be an effective researcher.

Q: How did you identify users to start your research?

KL: From the outset we had a pretty interesting wrinkle: We didn’t want to use any of our current clients for research. The reason for this was that most visitors who come to our site are new. To replicate that experience, we needed to find users who’d never interacted with our site. So, we went out and found hiring managers who were incredibly similar to our current clients, but who weren’t our clients yet.

Q. What did you do once you had found your research subjects?

KL: First, we had a lot of questions to ask them, like, “How do they find out about a new company?” and “What information sources do you use?” We also had to find out as much as they could about their hiring process and how a company like Vitamin T might fit into it.  

After finding out as much as we could about their needs and behaviors around hiring, we showed them wireframes of the new website and asked for their reaction to different parts of it.

We also gave them tasks to do, such as, “Imagine you’re looking for an art director. Using the website that we’re showing you today, how would you find one?” We then had them describe out loud each step that they took in trying to accomplish that task. Which buttons were they pressing? What they were reading? Was it compelling? What was missing?

Q: Why did you have users interact with a prototype of the site?

KL: Bringing a mockup or prototype of some type to these meetings is incredibly important. You can’t just ask a customer what they want to see, because customers aren’t in the position of imagining innovation. They can only respond to what they see or what they know.

That leaves you with a few choices: either you go out and observe them, that is, ask them to react to a competitor's product and services, or you show them something new that you’re trying out and solicit their feedback. We chose the latter.

Q: So, what did you find out?

KL: One key finding was that our menus were confusing to people.

Here’s what I mean. We had a menu element in the middle of the page that allowed people to quickly hire folks for different roles. One role listed was “Art Director.” But we also had another menu element in the upper right hand corner that listed the roles you could fill through Vitamin T. This list also included “Art Director.”

When our hiring managers were looking at both of these solutions on the website, they said, “We don’t know which one to click. Is one going to give us better information than the other? It’s not clear to us.”

That was very important feedback for the designers to hear, because it meant they weren’t distinguishing these elements properly; they weren’t pursuing the right hierarchy to direct the user in the way that the user would find most helpful.

And that, after all, is our job: directing the user in the way they find most helpful.

Q: Did you work hand-in-hand with UX?

KL: Absolutely! Our Director of Customer Experience Strategy, Nicole Stern and a few other marketing folks were there in person for several of the interviews, and watched our videotapes of the rest. It’s really helpful when the designers and other people who can use the information in their jobs come with you into the field.

Q: Why is that?

KL: Each person brings their own experiences to the discussion. A UX designer always has specific questions floating about in her head, and they’re probably ones we haven’t articulated in our discussion. Also the client may say something about the prototype that sparks an idea in the designer’s brain and she might want to ask a follow up question.

There’s also a sense of ownership that the designer embraces when they are in the field with customers and they help to shape the analysis and the results of the research. Ownership and actionability is the key to making what we’re doing work inside a company.

Q: On a final note, what are the key attributes of an effective user researcher?

KL: To conduct research effectively, you need to make sure you can do these things:

  • Be a great listener. (That is, listen more than you talk.)

  • When you do talk, ask questions.

  • Be really open minded.

  • Don’t take things personally.

That last one is the hardest. I’ve actually seen clients watching prototype testing from behind a mirror and yelling because the user they’re watching wasn’t using the product properly.

In the end, work is really important to people. As humans, we want to believe what we do is meaningful regardless of where we work. When you start to get into this research flow and you realize you’re talking to your customers more and creating products and services that meet their needs, it makes your work more meaningful. It becomes a virtuous circle. It’s a really fulfilling and satisfying process.

Do you have questions for Kirsten? Please write them in comments and we’ll get an answer!

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