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Research & Design Strategy

Delve Talks: Julie Norvaisas, LinkedIn

Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our second season continues to explore how to create a culture that supports innovation through interviews with leaders of startups, educational and banking institutions, and multinational corporations.


Dave Franchino [00:00:20] Hello everybody, Dave Franchino here once again. And as usual, I'm joined by our Vice President of Strategy, Stef Norvaisas and today's guest, Julie Norvaisas. You'll probably recognize the similarity of the last names. Julie and Stef are sisters, and we were fortunate enough to work with Julie, who worked with Stef to start our strategy and research offering here at Delve. But since then, she's gone on to an amazing career and is currently the Senior Director of User Research at LinkedIn. And I know all of our listeners are familiar with LinkedIn. Obviously, founded in 2003, LinkedIn is the world's largest professional social network with 675 million members worldwide. And obviously, a vital part of many, many businesses today, including our own. So, thank you very much for joining us, Julie, we really appreciate it.

Julie Norvaisas [00:01:08] Oh, my gosh. I'm thrilled to be here. It's always nice to spend time with you, Dave, and, of course, my beloved sister, Stef. So, I'm really excited for this same conversation.

Dave Franchino [00:01:17] And once again, our objective with these conversations is just to talk with individuals about a culture of innovation. We've been facilitating conversations with a wide range of people, different backgrounds, different experiences, and using them to share some of the insights and wisdom that they've applied that our listeners might be able to apply within their field. So, thank you very much, Julie, for joining us. Maybe to start us off, if you could walk us through your background. It might be good context for our listeners to understand the perspective you're bringing to the topic of innovation.

Julie Norvaisas [00:01:49] Sure. Well, I'll start by saying ... I'll go way back in the Wayback Machine. My background academically is in art history, which was seen as a little bit far afield maybe, but I was always obsessed with this idea of choices. There is a work of art. The artist was influenced by their own psychology, by culture, history, kind of bouncing ideas off of each other and communities of artists to create individual works of art that are representations of a collection of choices.

[00:02:18] I always found this really fascinating. In particular, with Mondrian paintings, I would just stare and stare at them and think like, "Why is this black line here and this one here? And why is this one red? And this one yellow? And this one blue?" I just was fascinated by the logic there and this kind of ... I was fortunate enough, Stef started working at a strategic innovation firm, which was at the intersection of design and social science and business called Doblin. And so, she started to expose me to the ideas of design.

[00:02:51] And then, I became really fascinated with the idea of choice in the built world. So, what are the choices? You know, frankly, when I was very young, I was like, why is everything weird, ugly and broken? Like, who's making all these choices and how can I help make it better, you know? But then it becomes an interchange, just like art between the consumer and the creator. Any kind of product design or service design or experience design in any level is also that interplay between what are the choices that individuals and teams and companies are making to put things out into the world. And then, how are consumers and people, humans, making choices about what to bring into their lives and what to use and how to use them. So, I've always just been like really fascinated by that and fortunate enough to get exposed to the world of design and then research to help fuel those choices in what I thought was a very kind of compassionate and human-centered way.

[00:03:56] So, yeah, I worked with Stef at Doblin for a time. She was there for much longer than I was, but I was there long enough to get the gist of it and get some great training and then Stef and I moved on to Design Concepts at that time, now Delve. And I think I was there for about five years, you guys, when it was just when you instituted the little award that you would get for five years, the big screw that you would get, and then you're going to get one every five years. Well, I got one of those and then was lucky enough to get a chance to go to Korea and work for a year. A group called HCI, Human-Centered Innovation, for a large telecom company in Seoul. So, there's a lot of stories to talk about innovation, there. That was fascinating. But then I moved to the Bay Area and I've been at LinkedIn now for about eight years, just about eight years, which is unbelievable. And when I started ... it's an interesting story, I don't know how much you want me to get into, but I when I joined LinkedIn, I joined as an individual contributor, researcher, and there were two researchers altogether at LinkedIn at that time. And I was given the opportunity to lead and grow the team. And the organization had a real appetite for the kind of work that we do across the product development life cycle, really focused on design thinking and qualitative and very humanistic approaches to grow that team to about 45 people. Now we're a global team.

[00:05:19] And that's, yeah, I have certainly a lot of stories to talk about there in terms of moving from a very small, scrappy team to still a scrappy team, but much more embedded in the process of product development and design. So that's a quick sketch.

Dave Franchino [00:05:42] So much to dive into. Let me start with a couple of questions sort of inspired by your background. You started LinkedIn when there were two researchers and you've mentioned you've now grown into quite a global team. I'm curious what you would tell our listeners who probably take more of an ad hoc approach to capturing the voice of their users. What have you learned or what are the advantages of taking a professional approach to understanding insights and observations versus some of our listeners who might think, "Hey, I know who my customers are. I know who my users are."

Julie Norvaisas [00:06:17] Something I didn't mention that I'm also leading now the user experience writing team. And I mention that because there's a lot of similarities there where people think, "Oh, I write words, so I know how to write. So, let me just do this," and then you see somebody who and I've had you know, I've been lucky enough to have witnessed this a number of times. Now you see somebody who is actually a writer and who thinks like a writer, you see them apply their skills to an interface or design problem. And you go, "Oh, yeah, that's really, really different." I remember when I first started at LinkedIn, my first project as a researcher was on email and we were getting a lot of feedback that we sent a lot of email. So, what was that experience like? So, I did kind of a step back and looked at people's inboxes and how LinkedIn email fit into the context of that. And I did a little like linguistic analysis of what I was seeing and had really deep conversations with people about their inbox experience and communications with companies, whether it's marketing or more kind of actionable types of communications. And I remember after a few interviews, the product manager took me aside and he was like, "I've never seen anything like that. The way that you were able to talk to people, get them to open up, and then the way that themes are coming out that are really, really meaningful and help shed light." He's like, "I've just never seen anything like that." So, I think that one of the, you know, one of the things we've done and tried to do is establish rigor and credibility and establish that in a very big data context and in a context where metrics are everything that research, user experience research, design research, deep research is not anecdotal. It's a process. It's very systematic. It's rigorous and it's different. There's a little bit of theater that goes along with that. 

And then there's a lot of really hard work that researchers do every day to communicate that to our stakeholders. So, you know, but I also will say there's a lot of research that goes on at LinkedIn. So, there's user experience research, which is our own kind of brand of insight. But we also know there's a lot of customer feedback that comes in through our customer support and customer service channels. There's market research on who's doing a lot of things. Really valuable work like MPS and customer satisfaction and running kind of large-scale omnibus studies and things like that. So, as our user experience research team has grown, research in general has matured and grown as an organization at LinkedIn, which is now multi-tiered, super-collaborative, and highly credible.

[00:09:32] But we will also get scrappy, too. So, we have some methods that we use ... we're not that precious. So, we empower designers to do their own research. We do intercept interviews that are kind of more structured and guided. When I first started, people would be like, "Oh, we'll just go to a hotel lobby and we'll ask people about this hiring platform." And we were like, head exploding, like, "Oh, my gosh, you can't do that because the people who are your target users for this, they are not walking through a hotel lobby unless there happens to be an H.R. conference." You know, you need to have a little bit of structure and a little bit of guidance and some guardrails. It's not just a free-for-all. And put that structure around analyzing that unstructured data that you give back and knowing what it is and what it isn't and stuff like that. So, we've created some, like I said, guardrails around more scrappy research that allows people to feed that. I mean, I think everybody should be able to talk to people about how they're using their products and then bring that back. But just knowing what it is and what it isn't and how that fits into the broader conversation of decision making versus gaining empathy versus learning somebody else's perspective, all of which are valuable, that's something that we're constantly training people and ourselves to do it within the organization.

Photo of Julie Norvaisas from LinkedIn
“Listen with the desire to be heard, to be changed by what you’re hearing from other people. Listening takes a lot of courage.” — Julie Norvaisas

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Delve has merged with Bresslergroup. Learn more →