Ready, Set, Research! 3 Things You Need to Know as a Fresh UX Researcher

July 15, 2020

This article was originally published on Medium.

As a Filipino student taking my first steps into the field of UX Research, figuring out where to start has always been the most difficult part. However, thanks to UXR Conference Anywhere 2020, and UXPH’s scholarship, I was able to attend and hear from professionals around the world, with the comforting sense of clarity that the field isn’t as intimidating and ruthless as I thought it would be.

There’s three key things I’ve taken away from this conference: Being a UX Researcher has no pattern, has a responsibility, and has the key to clarity.

No. 1: There's no Pattern

1. There’s no pattern to being a UX Researcher, all of us can contribute in our own ways

“Banish Your Impostor” by Noam Segal tells us that a UX Researcher should not be expected to be incredibly good at many things, like the fields of Qualitative research, Quantitative research, and UX Design. Many positions today hire UX Researchers expect them to be generalists, or people who “can do it all”, but there is no future in becoming incredibly good at all three, as we would wind up lacking in all. In contrast to generalism, diversity allows a gradual specialization, taking time in deepening our knowledge in a particular area of research, nurturing a team perspective, and leveraging deep group expertise.

Individualism is becoming a sole researcher. You may think of this as the so-called “UX Research Team of One” widely known in the industry. It’s a lonely path to take, and it’s impossible to do quality research alone.

Remember: You cannot figure out people on your own.

The UX Research Team of One isn’t automatically individualism. The contrast to individualism is democratization or empowering others. The best way to grow as a researcher is to teach others. You can do this by coaching and mentoring, as well as learning through teaching, as we should urge others to research as well. You can be a Team of One while sharing your knowledge with others about research, and involve non-researchers into how research is important and how it supplements and improves the design process.

Method and Tool-ism is the constant learning focused on the next tool or method. This motive of thinking as a UX Researcher leaves us feeling underprepared all in our own mind, with whole waves of information and tools we ought to use in our research, but don’t entirely need. While method and tools are important, and can be explored upon by people in the industry, it is not an obsession meant for all of us.

Instead, we must foster shared learning with one another, by obsessing over learning the latest insight as a collective.

This track has taught me that there is no pattern at becoming a great UX Researcher. It’s not about having all we can possibly have at our arsenal from the best tools to the latest books and conferences. Each of us has the ability to grow in Research in ways others will grow elsewhere. There is a potential to contribute regardless of who we are.

No. 2: Ethics are not optional

2. Ethics are Not Optional

It isn’t enough to interview and talk to our users to be able to design ethically. Ethics isn’t just limited to the most insane, the purposefully misleading, or outright malicious choices and designs. Ethics also comes into the limelight as we go through how the modern age of UX Research has vastly changed from many years ago.

Alba Villamil’s “The Ethical Researcher’s Checklist” goes over this with striking points. With the modern age of technology, UX Research can be done with behavioral analytics and even more personal analytics by the tools we use that could access the user’s actions and behaviors on a website, and even document user behavior from their use of their mobile phones.

This accessibility, while it may be extremely beneficial to researchers, makes it much easier to violate privacy and safety for the user. This has in turn renewed an even more dramatic need to be responsible and ethical, and be more attentive and meticulous with how we plan out our research.

Ethics are in the details.

Even a single pop-up in a user test left unaccounted for may violate their privacy and safety. Thus, ethics are closely involved in minimizing harm and maximizing the benefit for research participants, protecting their rights, protecting the organization’s reputation and livelihood, and finally producing credible and valuable research.

On protecting the user, we have three key ethical principles, namely: Wellbeing, Autonomy, and Privacy & Security.

There are factors that may harm the user that we may overlook, such as topic sensitivity, researcher conduct, research worksite, laws and policies, cultural norms, environmental hazards and more.

Some practices that may seem harmless to us may cause psychological harm. One example [mentioned by Alba] is Facebook lessening positive content on people’s news feeds to see if they would post less positive as well, that may have caused definite psychological harm. An alternative to this research method would have been to depend on users who already weren’t as exposed to positive content, and either keeping it the same or making the feed have more positive content.

Thus, while A/B Testing is one of the many toolkits used in UX Research, we must keep in mind that any tool used for the study should only either maintain or improve the user’s psychological state, and ask ourselves if it would fulfill this.

The benefit of the research should always outweigh the risk: how it is designed, and the vulnerability they must give

The benefit of the research should always outweigh the risk: how it is designed, and the vulnerability they must give

Research at its core is a meticulous area of study, but all the more as it includes very direct interaction with people, UX research is about the nitty gritty details and making sure we treat and deal with our users in the most considerate and humane fashion. UX Research is about learning from our user’s behaviors, and definitely not about making their life even harder, or worse.

No. 3: Awareness is the key

3. A good researcher’s awareness is the key to the company - and their - potential

Growth for both our research and ourselves as researchers begins with self-awareness of the potential impact of what we do. However, when “the researchers” are just one - you - it can be harder to see. In this situation, it comes down to unlocking the connection between you, the leaders, and the research before you.

“The 5 Dysfunctions of the UXR Team of One” by Roy Olende from Zapier reiterates the fact that the solo researcher role is inherently dysfunctional. It’s a lonely journey with many possible problems and pitfalls to watch out for as we navigate through our research. But while we cannot help being in this situation, there are definite remedies we could apply to be the best team of one we could possibly be.

Being a UX Researcher isn’t just about all the details of the job. Whether solo researchers are aware of it or not, they do not function as just a singular role, but also a whole department. There is a certain tension in being the lone researcher, with knowing the depths of knowledge from our users but not having authority to force changes. So, while being the lone researcher, you must still consider yourself as the head of research, to grasp the mindset of working “on” research over “in” research, of which is about advocating the practices and building and scaling of the work, which is what we must strive for in the long term.

Having at least one day to dedicate ourselves to this kind of work helps us reconfigure how we build great systems, attack problems, and cultivate these socially with others in our workspace.

Following this, we think of how empathy isn’t a very quantifiable metric, and brings us to a recurring question of “how do we know if we’ve obtained it?” and “how is our company growing through this?”. Especially as a Team of One, that brings us to looking towards the most quantifiable facet we could get: Product metrics.

Product metrics are easy to obtain because of the various analytics methods we could get our hands on, but making these metrics understandable to others is a roadblock many of us experience. This is where collaboration comes in. As UX Researchers, we make sense of these by keeping close to those on the other side of the table, the data and analytics team, and making sense of this data with different perspectives.

By getting to know the key metrics like churn rate and product activation rate, and communicating closely with the data and analytics team, we are able to equip our research with their language. This makes communicating the importance of our research a lot clearer not just to their team, but also to those who set the agenda for the company or team, like the PMs and the CEOs, significantly aiding their connection with our research, and our research with the company’s growth.

This way, empathy translates into an improved business position - a new way of looking at data and pivoting the goals and objectives to a path where it could, by no doubt, grow. Roy lets us know that empathy and revenue are not one versus the other, as both are equally important for a business to flourish.

We as researchers provide depth to these numbers, a language we can take advantage of in making sense of and renewing the perspective of the company.

At the end of this, empathy evolves into a resource that has the key leaders of your company’s attention.

The growth of the UX Researcher here is by recalling that we should not limit ourselves in “our lane” of user empathy, as it is with our ability that we could make a positive impact not just for our users, but also for our business goals.

By opening our doors to collaboration and drives for company growth, we remove our limit in our potential through exploration of our field with others not just for the company, but also for ourselves.

The key takeaway for a beginner in UX Research is that even the best of us are in a constant state of unlearning and learning, and even the best of us do not reach where they are on their own. Every talk had key mentions of being detail-oriented, growth-oriented, and most of all, empathy-oriented, with empathy being the core of UX. UXR Team of Ones themselves are not built by people who stand alone, but by those who cultivated the potential of UXR with others, driving the impact by seating UX Research on the company table for them flourish not just in understanding of the users, but also how these translate into their goals and metrics.

There is no need for any of us to be a jack of trades in the field of UX Research, much less hone the skills other UX practitioners have in the field of UX, as there is so much UX Research on its own could be.

In its broadness and depth, UX Research can stand alone as its natural connection to goals and metrics are imperatively important for the company to grow long term. As the researchers, not only must we be equipped with the attitude to constantly learn from others, but we must also understand the responsibility that comes with it, and the self-awareness that leads to a clarity for ourselves and the company or group we research for.

By doing so, we maximize not just the product’s potential, but our own.

All it takes is taking the first step to learning.

All it takes is to begin with you.

Many many thanks again for UXPH for giving the scholars like myself the opportunity to experience a renewed clarity of our involvement and path with UX Research!

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