This is the second in a series of interviews with SAP employees in a variety of roles in the area of user experience and design.
Eva Ruegenhagen is a user researcher with the SAP Global Design team. Eva has been working at the SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany for 8 years. Besides working on many other projects, Eva was also the user researcher supporting the redesign of the SAP User Experience Community.
Please briefly explain what you do at SAP as a user researcher.
My job is to moderate the dialog between SAP product teams and the end user. Why is a moderator necessary? Imagine yourself in an interview situation: a team of strangers from a company about which you may or may not have positive emotions comes to your desk to sit behind you, watches you work and asks zillions of questions. It is hard for you to imagine what their real agenda is, and you are asked to talk about things that confuse you regarding the software you use and inefficiencies in the way your work. That’s a tall emotional order for many people! Therefore, special interviewing techniques and a background in human psychology are needed to gather open and honest feedback by end users about such difficult topics. Preparing a structured interview guide, asking unbiased questions without interrogating and refraining from any judgment of users’ statements and ideas are key to achieving useful results.
To someone untrained in this field, this way of talking and listening can seem unnatural. But this is not the only reason why applying these techniques all by themselves is very hard for product teams who are closely involved with their product. As they consider the software their “baby”, when they hear for the first time that users have a problem with it, this fact is hard to accept. But once they are past that point they are really thankful for the feedback. The user researcher helps the product team to gather, structure, and consolidate the feedback and to translate that into actionable improvements for the product.
With whom do you usually work on a typical project?
Of course, end users are the most important people in my job. Internally, I work regularly with product experts and designers, but developers and information developers often join in on projects as well.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love to investigate why things work the way they do and how end users think about their daily tasks.
What are the most challenging aspects of your work?
Most teams underestimate the power of the information we can gather with user research. At the beginning of a project, user research is often a hard sell. Once the project is over, everybody is convinced that it was a great thing to do. User research somehow resembles insurance; with user research you make sure you build a product that users really can and want to use. If you are on a budget or have a tight timeline, you think twice about your investment in insurance. But when disaster strikes, you wish you had done it.
What did you study?
I have a master’s degree in cognitive science. It is an interdisciplinary combination of psychology, artificial intelligence, neurology and linguistics, with a hint of philosophy and anthropology added to the mix.
When did you join SAP and where did you work before?
I joined SAP at the beginning of 2007, right after graduating from university. Before that I explored various aspects of UX jobs through internships at a regional TV station, Siemens, and other companies in Germany and Switzerland.
What is your user research motto?
User researchers must be the users’ advocate – as users neither select the business software they work with nor make the buying decision, they really need one!
Thank you for the interview, Eva.
Are you a user researcher? Why not join the conversation and tell us about yourself and your job?