The UX researcher (sometimes also referred to as a “user researcher” or “design researcher”) is responsible for conducting research aimed at investigating user behaviour, identifying user needs and goals, discovering usability issues and opportunities for improving the user experience of a product or service.
What does a UX researcher do?
What a UX researcher actually does highly depends on a variety of factors: what needs to be researched (a digital product, a physical product, is there even a product?), the users (is the company Business-To-Customer / B2C or Business-to-Business / B2B?), the maturity of the company in terms of UX and availability of other roles (do they expect you to do both research and design? Do they even know what to expect from a UX researcher?).
Some time ago, I took part in a few events organised by ResearchOps, a global community of user researchers that has been working on a framework for standardisation of user research practiced. We then had a chance to take a self-assessment questionnaire in which we all ticked a list of skills that we use, or would like to use, in our jobs. You’d be surprised by how different the daily life of a UX research in company A can look from that of a UX researcher in company B. Some of us spend most of our time in the lab, others out in the field; some only test a single product, others work on many different projects simultaneously. We work with/as designers, coders, business stakeholders, we constantly learn from and educate others. It can be quite eclectic. Because of this, it can be tricky to define what the role of a UX researcher is. Based on the ResearchOps worksheet we used for self-assessing our own skills, these are the broader activities that we deal with:
UX Research Activities
- Developing actionable research questions;
- Devising and socialising a plan for finding answers;
- Adapting the plan to the real world and executing it (“research”):
- Debriefing and reviewing the nature of the collected data (“analysis”)
- Deriving answers, actionable meaning from results (“synthesis”);
- Ensuring coherent action and follow-through.
In order to perform each of these six activities, there are dozens of skills that we may or may not use – some of which, I am going to be honest, I am not familiar with even after years of experience. If you are a beginner in the world of UX research, most likely you won’t need to learn half of the skills in that list. But it is useful to break down your responsibilities according to the activities above. You will be required, at the very least, to plan, develop and execute a research project, after which you will also have to analyse and present findings to the relevant stakeholders. Note that it is not your responsibility to fix the problems you uncover through research, but you will be responsible for making sure you can act as the voice of the customer and advocate for a better user experience. Most of the time, this will mean having to persuade others that a problem is worth solving, and that it will bring value to both the user and the company.
The UX researcher skills
So, what are the skills you will need as a UX researcher? There are a few skills and research methods that any beginner researcher needs. If you are coming from a background in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), psychology or social sciences, you may already be familiar with the basics of how to formulate problem statements, hypotheses and research questions. These are the fundamentals of any research project, in academia and the industry alike. You simply cannot plan a good research without having first defined the problem you are trying to investigate and your objectives – and it’s based on these that you should choose the most adequate research method. There are countless possibilities when it comes to these, and you should not worry about learning all of them until you find a need for using them. For a novice, I would advise getting familiar with the think aloud research method, as well as getting practice conducting interviews and surveys.