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From Writer to UX Researching-Product Manager with Norman Dalager of Bloomberg

Getting beyond gimmicky design thinking tutorials + Beavis and Butthead.

“Other side of the table” is a series featuring user researchers, their work, ideas, and challenges along the way. This week we’re featuring Norman Dalager, executive director of web products at Bloomberg Media.

Let’s get started with the basics, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where you live, hobbies, family, etc.

I'm married and have a 1-year-old daughter and an 8-pound Yorkshire Terrier named Ritz. We live in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, NY which is my wife's hometown (if you could call it that). Most of my free personal time is spent in the kitchen pretending to be a chef or in my basement practicing DJ sets.

What’s your current role and how did you get there?

I run the Digital News Products group at Bloomberg Media. Essentially, I'm in charge of the design, functionality, and all integration points of I've been here for three years, but my digital career started in 2003 as a content producer at The Boston Globe. There, I met an excellent mentor who guided me to product management, and I've been doing it ever since. I'm among several of my peers who have roots in journalism, but ended up on the product management side after an early career in editorial.

And what’s your most useless skill?

I can draw Beavis and Butthead from memory. See:

Alright, let’s get into it — what is your favorite “war story” from a user research session you were involved in?

I can't recall a time in which a participant created a warzone during a lab session. But I have been in situations where working with facilitators was a total failure. I was in a situation (not recently) when a graphic designer I was working with kept asking very very leading questions about a registration workflow we were testing for potential friction points and dead end. Eventually, this designer became frustrated with the participant's confusion/defiance and muttered (audibly) something to the effect of "just use the *expletive* internet like a normal person." AWKWARD.

Norman, super fierce and lanyard clad

There has been a big surge in “design thinking” recently, how would you like to see that trend continue to evolve?

Design thinking needs to mature from some of the gimmicks that have been around for years in order to gain more respect and participation from executive-level stakeholders. Trying to get CMOs and Tech VPs to sketch cartoon personas and create paper prototypes is tricky. Unfortunately, I don't think I have a good answer as to how to make exercises more inclusive and efficient. But as the culture and attitudes within upper management evolve, the "Design Thinking AND YOU" exercises will be less necessary.

In what ways do you deviate from the conventional wisdom around user research?

Sometimes you can’t find 18-20 people from a specific demographic to participate in sessions. In those cases, I may use just a handful of responses to validate what is already my gut feeling.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when approaching user research?

Not letting go of biases toward one idea or design.

Norman and team, getting it done.

After years of doing user research, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned? The type of thing you wish someone had told you about when you were getting started.

The biggest lesson I've learned is how to determine when to use quantitative analysis vs user testing to prove a hypothesis. It's easy for anyone to suggest that an idea warrants testing, but it takes some critical thinking to determine which test approach is appropriate for what you're trying to learn. Know the right scenarios in which an A/B or limited/Beta release will provide you the the results you're looking for.

Typically, anything that I consider impactful to the fundamental intentions or goals of a power user OR has the potential to damage your company's core business model is worth bringing into the lab. If the change you're considering would mostly affect the larger, more commoditized audience, a multivariate test will often collect enough data to make the decision for you.

Let’s wrap up with some quick hits. How do you like to prep right before sitting down with a user for a research session? Any habits that you find effective?

I'll review my scripts and tasks over and over and over again, typically fine tuning things right up until the start of the session. Make sure all of your visual tools are functioning properly.

What tools do you use during sessions? For interview guides, notes, recording, prototypes, etc.

Working prototypes tend to yield better results than static images. I've also found that writing notes tends to make participants feel nervous about the responses they give, so I lean toward using audio recordings.

Are there any tricks you use to make participants feel relaxed or more expressive during sessions?

Well, I really appreciated the ice breakers you threw me at the beginning of the interview. It's a very effective warm-up exercise.

Why thank you! How do you and your team document and share the insights you collect from user research?

I typically use the standard email digest and slides for the wider audience, but for key partners and stakeholders I like to keep the format more of a live discussion or conversation. This helps prevent a situation where feedback comes in the form of email bombs going back and forth.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Other Side of the Table, reach out to

Want to contribute to User Interviews content? Here’s how.

Erin May
SVP, Marketing

Left brained, right brained. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held.

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