Jennifer Dorman, Head of User Insights, Babbel

User Insights: Igniting A Research Revolution At Babbel

What do you get when you invite the entire Babbel insights team to a conference? A fantastic presentation, followed by an in-depth workshop for the audience. Jennifer Dorman, Head of User Insights and her team really rocked Qual360 Europe in Berlin earlier this year. While the workshop was to be experienced live only, you can watch Jennifer’s talk here as part of our presentation showcase!


Igniting a research revolution: Babbel’s remarkable journey to empowerment

Jennifer Dorman, Head of User Insights, Babbel


You can find all MRMW conference recordings for free in our video section!


Video transcript below (This is an AI generated summary. There may be inaccuracies.)

Igniting a research revolution: Babbel’s remarkable journey to empowerment – Jennifer Dorman, Head of User Insights, Babbel

Jennifer Dorman, Head of User Insights at Babbel, discusses the importance of insights in qualitative research and how Babbel’s journey since 2016 has been shaped by the question of what an insight is and how to use it. She introduces her team, including Anna Reger, the first research operator manager at Babbel, who transformed the research culture, and Paulie Rabau, another research operations manager.

In the first part of the session, they will talk about how Babbel wanted to empower its product teams, and how both research and the product grew since the company’s founding in 2007. Babbel was the first online language learning solution, with a mission to empower people through language. Since then, it has grown into a robust blended learning ecosystem with a diverse product portfolio, including a self-study app, live classes, podcasts, and a large B2B business. The growth was enabled by the insights gained through research.

Dorman discusses the challenges Babbel faced in implementing user experience (UX) research in the company’s product development process, particularly in the early stages. The company, which was multinational with employees speaking various languages, had a bias that assumed others could learn languages the same way they did. Researchers had to break this bias and integrate UX research into the product teams’ practices. One of the initial challenges was the limited ability to connect UX researchers with product teams due to geographical and time zone differences. This made it difficult for researchers to effectively influence product decisions.

Despite these challenges, Babbel was able to learn valuable lessons, such as the importance of having UX researchers work closely with product teams and stakeholders. The company also started the early stages of democratizing user research, making research findings more accessible to stakeholders. By 2019 and 2020, Babbel began rebuilding its UX research team, this time with researchers based in the same location as the product teams, allowing for more effective collaboration and integration of UX research into the product development process.

Banner for MRMW EU, Presentation by Jennifer Dorman, Head of User Insights, Babbel

Babbel overcame early collaboration gaps by bringing user researchers directly into the product teams, enabling them to understand user needs and broader insights for innovation. They also began integrating research partners and stakeholders more intentionally, allowing them to attend interviews and refine research plans. As Babbel scaled its team, it faced challenges in strategic alignment and the need for user-centric perspectives in decision-making. The company became more intentional about democratizing research and providing training to stakeholders, leading to the hiring of research operations to support the team’s growth and efficiency.

Consequently, the research team grew and evolved, enabling them to support over 25 product development teams continuously throughout their entire life cycle. This was a time when product development teams were adopting dual track agile and continuous discovery, requiring researchers to be part of the entire process. In 2023, Babbel adopted a hybrid organizational structure, with a central team and embedded researchers in product teams, allowing for expansion in terms of capacity and specialization. The democratization of research programs enabled collaboration and a user-centric mindset across the organization, with customer conversations becoming central to every decision. This led to strong strategic alignment and impact, with even non-user-facing teams engaging with customers regularly to reinforce Babbel’s purpose.

The importance of empathy for content creators and product development teams to deliver valuable products was also addressed by Dorman. She highlights unexpected wins, including bringing every Babylonian (employee) in direct contact with customers, which reinforces their reasons for working and helps make informed decisions. The speaker also mentions the consolidation of processes and platforms, lowering the barrier to research entry. During the Q&A a delegate asks about the distribution of research generation within the team.

Dorman explains that product managers, product designers, engineering managers, and quality assurance analysts conduct interviews and generate insights, but not in isolation. The ratio of researchers to product teams is approximately 1:3 or 1:5, allowing researchers to focus on specific product initiatives and feature areas. Researchers may conduct studies or support team members in building tests, with more complex research being taken on fully by the researcher. The democratization program empowers non-researchers to conduct simpler evaluative tests with confidence.

To conclude, Jennifer Dorman explains that while they had an enablement program in place, it wasn’t a formal one, and the team waas already unintentionally democratizing research. When they realized there was demand for more involvement from non-researchers, they developed a more formal program, which included a five-part enablement program with homework and a capstone project.

However, this program was not scalable, so they standardized it and made it replicable for any product team. The speaker mentions that there is no clear market leader in their industry, and they have moved towards enterprise platforms to lower the barrier to entry and increase collaboration. They have invested in user testing with Zoom as their base platform, but still use a few other tools. Overall, Babbel’s journey involved turning the tap on slowly to democratize research and then scaling up with a standardized program.

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Jens Cornelissen

Jens Cornelissen has been writing for over two decades – initially for general newspapers in his home country Germany. After receiving an MA degree in Communications, he joined a new media start-up in Amsterdam as consultant on new media technologies and country editor for two daily newsletters. In his current day job, Jens runs the global conference division for Merlien’s dedicated marketing research events. Jens is a trained journalist with a BA in Journalism from Westminster University in London and has authored several media industry reports and articles on mobile and media technology.

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