The following case study covers internal user research for a startup building wireless augmented reality ear buds called Here Active Listening. Users controlled the settings of the ear buds using the Here Active Listening mobile app. Learn More

Conduct generative research on users with hearing loss, tinnitus, misophonia, auditory processing disorder, hyperacusis, and other hearing conditions. Help the team empathize with these users and build a better solution.

Research helped prevent black and white product thinking, supporting the team in exploring more considered design approaches to battle societal stigma related to hearing conditions. It also contributed greatly to the product roadmap, adding not only new but relevant features for hard of hearing and hearing sensitive users.

Role & Team
I was the sole user researcher, working closely with two product managers and a designer. I also shared insights with the rest of the organization.

Methods & Tools
Remote interviews 
Diary studies 
NPS & qualitative coding
The Problem
While we discovered completely new communities of users who were interested in our product, we knew little about the impact of hearing loss or hearing sensitivities in everyday life. This resulted in the risk of categorical thinking and outgroup homogeneity effects.

After launching Here Active Listening, a wireless augmented hearing product, we quickly realized that our technology had massive potential to change the lives of hard of hearing and sensitive hearing communities. 

However, the team had little knowledge about the needs and pain points of these users, and was not sure how exactly our technology could help. There was a risk of generalizing or even stereotyping the needs of these communities, when in reality, there were many differences in needs between individuals.
Major Research Questions
What are the day to day experiences of people with hearing loss and other hearing conditions? How do they cope? 
How can and could the company’s core technology help? 

Limited budget. 
Hearing health is a sensitive topic for most people to admit to themselves and discuss with others, given the existing stigma.
Research Methods
Research focus was generative and qualitative at first, with the goal of understanding user problems and relevant solutions to problems among existing products (including Here Active Listening). This allowed the formulation of the right survey questions for further quantitative research.​​​​​​​
Remote Interviews
I used the interview format to develop an initial understanding and relationship with research participants. We used the landscape of existing in-ear products to help frame the discussion on Here Active Listening (ear plugs, headphones, hearing aids).
Diary Studies
As hearing is a personal experience that is difficult to observe, day-in-the-life insights were gathered through a guerrilla diary study approach using Evernote. On-the-go documentation prevented sensory memory decay. Participants were also encouraged to send their day to day feedback via email. 

“It will be interesting to see if things like Here can, like glasses have done for sight, change the perception of hearing as being a binary state for society.” 
— Diary study participant
Qualitative feedback was complemented by survey data, enabling benchmarking. Some surveys were automatically triggered after customers started using the product, while others were sent to specific people to learn more about their experience as hard of hearing or hearing sensitive users.
Empathy Building
Meanwhile, I worked with product and design teams regularly to discuss new findings. I also engaged internal stakeholders outside of the product and design teams by sharing verbatims and data points through various channels to invite curiosity, start discussions, and spark new ideas.
Internal Newsletter
Stories were shared on a bi-weekly basis in the form of a digital newsletter. This helped the entire organization connect with real users on a personal level. 
Hard of hearing or hearing sensitive users were never segregated or featured separately to avoid categorical thinking and celebrate diversity.
NPS Response Tagging 
I conducted rigorous tagging of NPS data, which flowed into our SQL-based dashboard tool. This allowed the organization to see NPS segmented by different use cases.
Dedicated IM Feeds
I setup tools like Slack and Zapier to automatically share incoming feedback with the rest of the organization. This also engendered trust for the integrity of research activities.
Research Impact
The insights and stories gleaned from research reduced “othering" and contributed greatly to our product strategy.

Portfolio Strategy
Research helped illuminate the commonalities between all users, regardless of hearing conditions. It also highlighted the variety of needs between hard of hearing and hearing sensitive users. Due to these findings we discarded the idea of a hard of hearing-specific SKU, which we also agreed was essential for the destigmatization of users with mild to moderate hearing loss. 

Product Design
We also discarded the idea of a “skin-colored” ear bud design, which contributed to idea that hearing loss was shameful and needed to be "hidden". Surveys indicated that although some users preferred skin-colored buds, most did not.

Product Roadmap
Last but not least, this and other research studies informed the development of relevant product features, including personalized listening profile, L/R volume controls, improved speech intelligibility features, and self-voice reduction.​​​
Personal Growth
Balancing Act
Slowly but surely, what became clear was the sheer diversity of ways of experiencing the world through the ears, based on biological and personal preferences across contexts. An area of growth for me was to strike a fine balance between portraying the richness and nuance of hearing on the one hand, and simplifying the world on the other. This balancing act ensured the inputs were easily digestible by the team and would result in an experience valuable to end users.

Interviewing Participants
"How someone hears” is not something that is observable through sight. Nor was hearing health a topic that users were immediately open to talking about. This project honed my interview skills. By the end it felt that I had built meaningful trust with many research participants, some of whom continued to reach out to me after the research study was complete.

Personalized Hearing
Back to Top