- When we talked about each of the UX careers that fall into the design bucket, there was a clear pattern. Each of these UX career pathways is centered solidly on the understanding of the intended audience groups such that whatever is designed will appropriately meet their needs. While these design careers may, in fact, include data gathering to help with that understanding, often that job falls to people like me, practitioners called user researchers who dedicate a much larger piece of their UX work to finding out more about users and their usage of products.
In fact, this is the UX bucket that is nearest to my heart and has been the center point of my own UX career for the past 20-plus years. A user researcher needs to understand not only users and usage, but also the business goals and capabilities of what can be created. A user researcher will then use this holistic understanding to evaluate interface, often by involving actual or representative users in research studies. These activities are not simply an academic exercise.
They need to supply stakeholders and other UX team members with critical information quickly and succinctly. The research environment is often not ideal and you'll need to constantly iterate and adapt your own research techniques to fit whatever limitations come up. Limitations like how rapidly information is needed, or less budget than would be ideal to conduct the research, or realizing that previously-expected access to ideal users is not actually possible. You'll often start with available data sources, if they exist, such as web analytics, or call center data, or market research data in order to gain some basics about who the users are.
You'll use this information to determine who should be recruited for qualitative research studies and what their general attributes should be so that they are representative of the population of actual users. You'll then work with the product team to determine what information is needed and which research techniques will be most appropriate in gathering the right information. To maximize the value of the research, you may first conduct what is known as a heuristic or expert review. In this process, you will use whatever information is available about users and usage, as well as a general sense of UX best practices, to identify problems that can be easily fixed before research is conducted.
The research itself is often qualitative and may be exploratory in nature, focusing on how users have used prior iterations of the product or a competitor's product, or, what they want to see from a future product. The research may also be ethnographic, focusing on how users behave naturally in their own environments, or may take the form of a contextual inquiry where users demonstrate typical behaviors to you. While there are a whole host of research techniques available, the research technique that is most commonly associated with user research is the usability test.
A usability test is a one-on-one research method where you'll provide tasks to a representative user and then observe as the user attempts to perform those tasks. During the task, participants may be using an actual product, a prototype of a future product, or perhaps a non-functional mock-up of our future product. The success or failure or struggles with the given task during the usability testing, as well as additional think-aloud comments made by participants provide critical information on what about a product should be updated or what should remain the same.
While you will report on issues found, you will also often be called upon to suggest recommendations; how the product design should be updated to deal with identified issues. This information may be provided to stakeholders via a formal report or may be provided more rapidly in discussions shortly after the research is completed. If you're interested in learning more about user research, check out the user research resource page on uxcareershandbook.com, as well as the following courses.
In this course, UX expert Cory Lebson breaks down the sub-disciplines of user experience (the trifecta of design, research, and strategy), so you can learn about the different jobs that align with your strengths and passions. Cory helps you understand job responsibilities as well as the benefits of working full-time for a company vs. consulting or freelancing. With his guidance, you can create a more compelling resume and portfolio package and make sure that you properly brand yourself as a UX professional.
This course offers focused career advice for job seekers, tips for recruiters and employers who want to better understand UX, and a necessary framework for grad/undergrad students exploring the next step in their career. Along the way, Cory highlights training in the library to build specific UX skills.
- What is UX?
- Should you be a UX generalist or a specialist?
- Available UX career types: design, research, and strategy
- Working in-house, consulting, or freelancing
- Telling a story with a portfolio and resume
- Working with recruiters