Level Up | Episode 1: UX Research Basics

Level Up | Episode 1: UX Research Basics
Photo by Antonio Gabola / Unsplash

When I attended my first class in University of Washington’s Human Centered Design program, I didn't fully understand what user experience meant, let alone that user experience research was a career field. In that first class (user centered design) I learned how to combine user experience with design to create products that meet real user needs. That was my first introduction to the value of user research in a design environment.

If you're new to user experience research, it's easy to get started, but there's a lot to learn.

What is User Research? In its essence, the goal of user research is to gather insights that can be used to improve the design of products and services. These insights can be anywhere throughout the product development lifecycle.

There are dozens of qualitative and quantitative methods available to user researchers, but there are three core methods that you should master first:

  • Interviews: One-on-one interviews (in person, over the phone, or online) allow you to get valuable insights into users' needs, wants, and behaviors. This is the foundation of unbiased information gathering.
  • Surveys: Surveys allow you to collect data from a large number of users. They're great for answering questions at scale and collecting a lot of data quickly. You can also slice and dice the data in different ways to get insights.
  • Usability tests: Usability tests involve observing users as they interact with a product or service. This type of research often involves watching users in a target user group (demographics, behavior, or otherwise) interact with an interface (visual or otherwise) as they try to accomplish a task. This requires knowledge of how people typically interact with technology, what the technology is trying to achieve, and when and how to ask follow-up questions.

If you can master these three types of research, you'll be well on your way to mastering other skills like study moderation, data analysis, stakeholder management, and study preparation.

So what?

  1. I've interviewed job candidates who don't have all these skills. They might have experience in two research methods, but zero experience in the third. While this may be acceptable for an entry-level researcher who will need guidance, the more experienced you are, the less acceptable this is.
  2. If you're just getting started in the industry, showcase portfolio pieces and interview case studies where you can highlight your skills in all three of these areas.
  3. If you have a lot of experience in research, but not much experience in the technology sector or user experience industry, find ways to show your experience. For some people, this might mean taking a certificate program. For others, it might mean conducting 1-2 sample usability projects to demonstrate your understanding of and ability to mechanically perform a major methodology you'll be expected to conduct. Even if these sample projects aren't for a company or a paying client, combined with other projects, good interviewers will understand that you can be successful as a UX researcher.