User Research at LinkedIn with Sunny Patel

Andi Galpern
sunny patel, user researcher at LinkedIn

Sunny Patel

User Researcher at LinkedIn

• Works on Linkedin Jobs

• Built a research program from the ground up for her last company, Grand Rounds

• Switched from academia to work in technology





Meet Sunny Patel

Sunny Patel is a User Researcher at LinkedIn. She and her team work on Linkedin Jobs, where they help people discover and apply to their dream job.   

Prior to joining LinkedIn, Sunny worked for Grand Rounds, a healthcare startup in the Bay Area.  She started off as an intern, and over a 3-year period, she built a research program from the ground up.  

She graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas, with a PhD in Developmental Psychology. She became infatuated with technology after observing her husband who has been a product designer for over 10 years and currently works at Uber.  She noticed the parallels between user centered design and behavioral psychology.  

In this article, you'll get an inside scoop of Sunny’s research process at LinkedIn.  You'll also learn how research integrates into product teams and the organizational structure of researchers at the company.  

Sunny's Research Process

1. Begin the Project

Sunny meets with her team to first understand what the project is about. They identify goals and share the timeline to prioritize what’s important.  Her goal is to align expectations have a general understanding of what questions they are looking to answer through research.

As an embedded researcher, Sunny works closely with her product team.  She identifies opportunities where research can help shape the roadmap or answer questions.  Other times, Sunny receives research requests from her product and design partners.

2. Kickoff Meeting

After Sunny understands the goals of the project, she hosts a kickoff meeting to bring everyone involved in the project into one place.  She gathers all requirements for the project, and leads her team in an open discussion. Research is a collaborative process. All team members are involved and well-informed. Good communication is a must.

Sunny starts every project with a kickoff meeting, where she takes notes and discusses project goals with her team.

The kickoff discussion gets everyone on the same page. She collects information from her team to understand:

• Research questions

• Goals of study

• Expectations of outcomes

• User segments to include in the study

• Timeline

• Specific dates to do research

• Type of materials to present, whether mocks or designs


3. Summarize Kickoff Meeting

Once the kickoff is complete, Sunny writes a summary in Google Docs and shares it with the team. This is a living document, where more information is added and iterated.

Sunny uses Google docs to summarize the kickoff meeting and collaborate with her team.


4. Start Research

How She Selects Methods

Sunny’s main goal is to hear from users directly.  She selects methods based on the research questions and the scope of the project.

Qualitative Studies

Sunny primarily focus on qualitative studies. She asks open ended questions and observes behavior to uncover repeating patterns and themes. Then she makes recommendations based on her findings. This is different than quantitative researchers who work with metrics and numbers, quite often associated with analytics and data trends.   

Here’s a brief overview of the types of research Sunny works on at LinkedIn:


Foundational Research

Foundational research provides a deep understanding of your users and their environments. They guide you to understand people you create products for.  This is not a usability study and you aren’t asking users to test a product feature. With foundational research, you observe and interview people.  You uncover their attitudes, behaviors, needs, pain points, motivations, and values.  Methodologies include ethnographic studies, contextual inquiries, customer interviews, and watching people's environments.  


Formative Research

Formative research occurs in the early stages of design and during development. Researchers often use prototypes to test the general design direction.  These can be paper prototypes or digital, depending upon the stage of the design and the research questions.  

Evaluative Research

Evaluative studies measure the usability of a product and evaluate if the designs meet the users’ needs. Methods can include usability testing, heuristic evaluation, and benchmark testing.

5. Dive In

LinkedIn understands the value and importance of user research. They provide exceptional resources to make it easy for their research team to interview and perform ethnographic studies. They take care of all of the technical needs.

The LinkedIn Research Lab

LinkedIn’s lab coordinators manage the lab at the San Francisco and Sunnyvale offices. Each lab is equipped with soundproof walls, recording equipment, video cameras, streaming, and everything you need to get the job done.

The LinkedIn research lab in Sunnyvale. Photo by Tony Chung | LinkedIn Media Productions

All research studies typically take place in the lab in San Francisco or Sunnyvale, these can be remote or in-person studies. 

Behind the scenes at LinkedIn labs. Photo by Tony Chung | LinkedIn Media Productions

Photo by Tony Chung | LinkedIn Media Productions

Field research

Not all user research takes place at LinkedIn.  At times Sunny does offsite research to talk with people and learn from them directly.  She goes out with a team, she facilitates the interview while a team member takes notes and records.  

LinkedIn Provides Field Research Kits

UX Lab coordinators provide field kits that include a camera, tripod, microphone, and a recording device.   Pretty cool, right? 

Sunny's projects typically span 4-6 weeks. 

6. Synthesize Research

Reviewing the Data

After interviews are complete, Sunny collects the data and reviews it. The lab team sends her an audio and video recording of the interview. She looks through the notes and recordings in the analysis stage to find general patterns in the data. She then goes in and takes screenshots of recorded video and creates video clips to include in her presentation.

How Sunny Knows if She Collects Enough Data

  • She sees patterns
  • She aims to interview at least 8 participants
  • Once she sees patterns, she knows that they are on the right track, and continues to uncover themes  
  • Evidence based and how the study is going
  • Understand all perspectives and not only focus on things that stood out during interviews


7. 
Share Her Findings

After every project, Sunny shares her findings in a presentation deck.  The audience includes anyone involved in the project.

Storytelling


Sunny uses storytelling methods to engage her team, build empathy for the users, and explain her findings. She answers questions such as:

  • What were our original goals?
  • What were our research questions?
  • Who did we recruit?
  • What did we test?
  • What did we find?

One page summary

She also provides a one page summary of all of her findings and recommendations, based on what she's discovered.


Research Operations

Now that you've learned about Sunny's research process, let's discuss how LinkedIn organizes research operations. 

Leadership Opportunities

Autonomy in the Research Process

User Researchers at LinkedIn have a ton of autonomy and act as a research lead. Each researcher is assigned to their own product area. Sunny decides how she organizes projects, what methods she uses, collaborates with her team to manage scheduling, and she also shares findings with her stakeholders.  

Support is there when Sunny needs it. She reports to a Research Manager, who guides her, mentors her, and provides feedback when necessary.   

Growth opportunities

Currently there are 27 User Researchers across all of LinkedIn. There are a lot of growth opportunities for researchers. User Researchers report to a Research Manager.  The Research Manager reports to a Senior Director of Research.


Conclusion

Sunny Patel loves her job at LinkedIn, because they understand the value of user research.  LinkedIn provides extensive support, necessary tools and resources to get the job done. Sunny enjoys conducting user research within LinkedIn's large ecosystem.  She finds it exciting to dive deep into the world of job seekers to understand their experience. LinkedIn is lucky to have Sunny as part of their team.

Follow Sunny Patel on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sunnylpatel.

About the Author

Andi Galpern is a UX Content Strategist for CloudApp. She is also the founder and producer of Cascade SF, an experience design organization in the Bay Area. Her events provide a go-to space for product designers to stay ahead of the job market. They learn new skills, connect with industry leaders, mentor, and work together toward a more fulfilling career. 

Since 2011, Andi has organized hundreds of design and technology events. She coaches designers on how to create presentations, write blog posts, and become leaders.

Follow Andi on Twitter @andigalpern to learn about UX design, content strategy, and how to have a dance party.

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