I spent a fun two days being immersed in workshops and talks about user experience design and innovative thinking in Manchester. The reason for travelling up north was to attend UX in the City, but this trip coincided with User Research North, a regular meetup for user research people which we also sponsored.

Surprisingly the first UX in the City keynote was not from a user experience practitioner, but from Sarah Richards, a leader in content design. This may seem a bold move, but there are a lot of comparisons between what Sarah talked about and learnings from other speakers.

Sarah was the first head of content design for the Government Digital Services. Content designers map out the journey a user might take when looking for content, and how we read information is all part of the user experience.

We all read in the same way regardless of language, and sentence structure has a big impact on how easy something is to read as a result.

The lessons in neuroscience continued in the workshop about storytelling in virtual reality (VR) by the team at Hidden, who went through the psychological needs humans have and how to cater for each of the four dimensions when telling a story. The workshop element was really fun: we were given different elements of a story to kick-off the creative process; then each table was tasked with creating a story that had elements of intrigue or suspense, to create a narrative that would have appeal. I think the story we created was Oscar-worthy, including an attempted murder and a smoking llama.

Two other talks which provided useful lessons were those from James Lang, UX Research Lead at Google, and Fiz Yazdi, Managing Director at cxpartners. James shared lessons for how to research smarter, not harder: “understanding user needs is not enough.”

Instead, research is about enabling better decisions. For James, this means 50/50 research and relationships, taking into account that user researchers have the power to influence people. Fiz shared a framework for consultative sales, but not sales in the way you might think. She focused on sales in a way that build good relationships, the skill set you need to develop that includes empathy, an open mind, curiosity, and good intent.

Both James and Fiz talked about assumptions, which linked in to the subject of my lightning talk (slides below).

I explored assumptions in user recruitment, and how people’s biases may put them off taking part in research, depending on how it is framed. Fiz quoted Jesmond Allen: “don’t assume people will know what they want” and James added “work with existing assumptions” to maintain status quo when working with a new team, and then helping people understand where and why their assumptions may be inaccurate.

I spent the Thursday night at User Research North, listening to Steph Troeth and Adam Warburton run a workshop about the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework applied to the user research field. Again, there is a lot of neuroscience behind the theory, and the workshop made the theory much easier to understand, although I certainly wouldn’t claim to be an expert.

user recruitment assumptionsThere was a stark contrast between the ‘when I / I want to / so that I can’ JTBD framework and the guidance Fiz gave for assessing if you have correctly understood someone by using a three-step method to show someone you are actively listening:

1. Paraphrase – “can I just check I have understood you”
2. Mirror – playback keywords
3. Empathise

With the UX in the City/User Research North chapter now closed, we’re getting ready for the next event in our calendar, which we are also sponsoring: the second User Research London, a two-day event this year, happening on 21st and 2nd June.



Jess Lewes, Business Development Director

If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.