UX Research: how do you get to research with users

If you are starting to venture into the world of research with users (UX Research), you have probably wondered how it comes to that or, perhaps, how UX Research comes to you. Clearly you are not born UX Researcher but you become a researcher to the extent that you make certain decisions in your career, your academic and professional life in general.

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As I mentioned on my presentation page, I am a "specialized generalist". In the last 18 years, I have worked practically 90% of the time on digital projects, addressing different business problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. The remaining 10% was a mix of more traditional marketing and international trade (including market research). Of those 18 years, for 14 I have done UX Research.

Broadly speaking, the path I traveled was as follows:

  • Undergraduate studies in business administration in Canada. I took a customized major, mainly made up of business courses (a bit of everything in the common core: micro and macroeconomics, accounting, finance, HR), marketing, international trade, information systems and e-commerce.
  • 18 years of digital projects: I worked from the second year of university onwards.
  • A mix of years in the corporate and consulting world.
  • Master of Advanced Design (MADA).
  • Currently a PhD candidate in Engineering with a specialty in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

How did I get to UX Research specifically?

I've been working in UX since 2006, when, in fact, we still weren't talking about UX, UX Research or UX Researcher as such. At that time I was living in Canada.

Before, I went through marketing and market research. I got there because I was always interested in the web world and, one day, I was given the opportunity to lead the redesign of a corporate website. Then I felt that I had to really dedicate myself to digital to learn and make the web a better world, therefore, I resigned and went to work as an e-commerce manager in a hotel group also in Canada. There she was in charge of 7 websites: a corporate portal, 5 reservation sites and an e-commerce store.

I came to this job with the mission of increasing e-commerce sales, so in the first weeks I dedicated myself to analyzing why we were not selling more. Reviewing the metrics and doing an inspection of the interface, I realized that the e-commerce navigation was unclear and there was a significant cart abandonment. That happened because two brands coexisted on the site and, when moving from one brand to another, the perception was created that you were changing sites.

The tricky thing was to convince senior management that we had to change the navigation and, in passing, fix other interface problems that we had. To persuade them, I first asked them to let me test and I went to two cities in Canada to do tests in person with clients. This is how I did my first test with users in 2008 and the first inspection or expert evaluation of usability that same year. There I also became a unicorn (a term that did not exist at that time either, but which today is synonymous with a person with very varied knowledge and skills within a professional field).

Types of projects and clients in UX Research

I worked inhouse in the corporate world. Between 2011 and 2012, while I was at Movistar, I participated in a simplification project for the movistar.cl site. I watched mainly for the information architecture of the site, the SEO and the optimization of the sales funnel, which generated incredible results in lead generation and increased conversion.

I continued for a while in the corporate world in the financial industry and finally became independent in 2014, founding a startup, UsabilityChefs, which was born from an idea I had during my master's degree in advanced design. The north of this undertaking was to allow the testing and evaluation of interfaces in remote mode. It was basically a platform with a set of tools for professionals in charge of experience with digital interfaces. That initial project evolved, finally we never got out of the beta of the application and the business model was transformed into a consultancy.

From the consultancy I had to accompany companies of all sizes, mainly medium and large, some startups and SMEs. And, honestly, every day more and more UX became a component of a work methodology in order to design memorable experiences with brands in an omnichannel context and less thinking of a single interface.

The natural evolution of that was towards service design and innovation. The service design was given to me because I had led digital projects with transversal implementation for companies and had also led large teams. In addition, in service design, research is essential, which is also something that comes naturally to me. Consequently, today I find it a bit complex to define myself only as a UX Researcher because I usually add value from an interdisciplinary perspective, with a strategy and tactics perspective.

Qualities to be a UX Researcher

Some pillars that I consider fundamental for any professional who wants to dedicate himself to UX Research are:

Innate curiosity

I am an eternal student and my best gift or gift are books. At the same time, I am very curious to understand the "why", "how" and "why" of things. Over time I have developed a good capacity for observation that makes me notice details in people's behavior, interactions and human relationships. At the risk of sounding cliché, I would say that curiosity must be complemented by the ability to empathize.

Systemic vision

To be a UX Researcher in an increasingly complex world, it is essential to have a systematic vision, which means seeking to understand the relationships between the parts of a system and looking at the problems of people and companies from a broad point of view. In front of a client, that may mean going beyond the commitment or scope of a project because perhaps what you planned in the beginning - for example, the design of an investigation - is not enough to answer the study questions or explore a particular topic.

Varied and complementary knowledge and theoretical foundations

Regarding complexity and systemic vision, organizations today need people with general knowledge in a wide spectrum of areas. As shown in the following illustration (although it refers to UX design, it is very useful to understand the UX world in general and, therefore, UX Research as well), disciplines such as human factors, ergonomics, information architecture, HCI, usability, writing and marketing coexist and are articulated to give life to this field.

It is what I call a professional and academic journey to my look, which has allowed me to forge a perhaps atypical profile of UX Researcher with a background anchored in interdiscipline.

Do you like research with users and want to enter the world of UX Research? Where do you come from and what brings you to UX Research? If you are already an experienced researcher, how did you get there? Share your story in the comments of this post.

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