Facebook Acq-Hires Part Of Design Firm Bolt | Peters To Beef Up User Research Team

Knowing how users react to Facebook’s product changes is crucial to the site making the right moves, so today it closed an acq-hire of part of design research firm Bolt | Peters — specifically its leading man CEO Nate Bolt and several other employees from the six person consultancy. Those coming over will be joining Facebook’s design team that’s headed by Kate Aronowitz.

Bolt | Peters started 10 years ago and specialized in recruiting actual visitors to a website through its tool Ethnio and then observing their usage remotely so it could deliver insights on what to improve to their clients, which numbered over 90. Bolt | Peters will shut down on June 22nd, and has already spun out its Ethnio real-time research service.

Facebook tests product changes more frequently than nearly any service. Bringing in Nate Bolt and some of his teammates will help it understand exactly how users feel about changes and avoid blunders like Beacon.

Right now, Facebook typically pushes design changes to a tiny fraction of its user base through its Gatekeeper system. It then watches the usage data to see if users engage with new features or changes, and how engagement, sharing, and time-on-site change. Changes that improve these metrics often get pushed to the whole user base. Innovating and iterating in a way that pushes people’s boundaries is good, but Facebook needs to be careful not to roll out new features too far before its users are ready for the future.

Bolt | Peters will give Facebook talent with experience deducing both the sentimental reactions and actual impact on usage of its changes. That’s important because sometimes users hate things at first, like the news feed, but use them a ton and end up loving them. It had previously assisted Sony, HP, Electronic Arts, Volkswagen, Autodesk, AAA, Genentech, Esurance, the Washington Post, and more with its services including live remote research, mobile research, training, live recruiting, game research, and “UX blitz”.

You can learn more about Nate Bolt at his About.me, or in this interview with Use.this

Here’s the full announcement of the acq-hire from Bolt | Peters’ blog:

It turns out the Facebook design team is a great place for smart researchers. For more than ten years, Bolt | Peters has worked with our clients (plus a robot and clay dinosaurs) to improve the design of their sites, apps, devices, video games, and cars. We did that with 238 projects, 24 talks, 18 articles, 11 events, 1 book, 19 weird videos, and 1 app. But the time has come for our next adventure — at Facebook. Bolt | Peters will be closing operations on June 22nd, 2012. While we’ll miss working with our amazing clients, we’re stoked about Facebook’s commitment to user experience, and the design team is a critical part of this.

What about ethnio? Last week we announced that after five years of growth, ethnio deserved to be its own company. That has not changed. Ethnio remains committed to supporting its customers with real-time research recruiting and more. We know Ethnio is in good hands with some of the people who have worked on it for years at the helm. I will no longer be working there, but will retain ownership. You can find out more about the new team at ethnio and who will be running it by following @ethnio or watching their blog.

User Research Friday and 1197 I’m thrilled to say that our friends at User Interface Engineering will be taking over User Research Friday. They pretty much rule at events. URF lives on. And the fine folks at the New York Soho Gallery for Digital Art will be taking over our mobile photography conference, 1197. Basically, both our product and the events that we’ve enjoyed putting on will live on after Bolt | Peters closes up shop. Feel free to get in touch with us with any questions, and you can keep up with all of us individually here. Our VP, Cyd Harrell, deserves 100% of the credit for running the consulting side of the business for the past six years. She rules. Thank you, Cyd. And a huge thanks to my co-founder Craig Peters, who has been a friend and advisor for years. But especially, all the team at Bolt | Peters past and present that I’ve had the pleasure of working with – you’ve made our success possible. Thank you guys.

Well. It’s been our privilege to be a part of the the interaction design and UX community as a consulting firm since January, 2002, and we plan to continue to work in that community as part of Facebook. I want to mention that this decision did not come lightly. Our clients, colleagues, team, and advisors are simply the best. They are our partners. They are our friends. And we sincerely thank you. – Nate Bolt