Introduction to
Think Like a UX Researcher.

Introduction

Currently, user experience (UX) researchers are in an enviable situation. There are many more jobs than people suitably trained to fill them. Practitioners are swamped with work. This has obvious advantages—but it comes with its own share of problems. 

Not least of these problems is the difficulty of maintaining one's own area of expertise by staying up to date with best practice and new ideas.

We know from the training courses we deliver to UX researchers that many are too busy (and may feel too knowledgeable) to read a comprehensive, introductory text on user experience. In fact, if you're like us, you probably have more than one UX book on your shelves that you started but couldn't finish.

That's why UX researchers turn to shorter articles and blog posts to keep their knowledge fresh. But blog posts aren't curated. It's not clear how they fit together because they lack the kind of structure imposed by a book. And they vary in quality—both in the quality of the content and the quality of the writing. 

With printed books feeling overwhelming and the quality of blog posts being too variable, it's not clear what user researchers are meant to do to stay current. 

This book aims to bridge the gap by providing user experience content that is authoritative but at the same time easily digestible. It contains a series of essays on UX research. Although you could read the book from cover to cover, we have planned the book on the assumption that you will dip in and out of it, somewhat like a bedside or coffee-break reader. Think of it as a launch pad for UX research ideas. But if you prefer to read linearly, we've organised the chapters (and the sequence of essays within each chapter) to build upon each other.

This book is not just for UX researchers

Who should read this book?

  • UX researchers who want inspiration and stimulation in various aspects of their craft. If that's you, dip in anywhere—but especially Chapters 1-4.
  • Project owners and Scrum masters who want to stimulate discussion of UX research with their development team. If that's you, turn to any essay in this book and pick a discussion question (you'll find these at the end of every essay in a section titled "Think like a UX researcher").
  • Designers who want to get user feedback on a new product idea or a prototype. If that's you, turn to the essays in Chapter 3 to avoid many of the common bloopers in UX research.
  • Business analysts and marketing managers who want to persuade development teams, senior managers and stakeholders to take action on the results of UX research. If that's you, review the essays in Chapter 5.
  • Anyone who wants to build a career in user experience. We wrote the essays in Chapter 6 just for you.

In a nutshell

The book has 6 chapters. The first chapter contains some introductory essays that set the stage for the later parts of the book. It covers topics such as the kinds of question you can answer with UX research, common mistakes made by practitioners and how to apply psychology to UX research.

Chapter 2 covers the planning and preparation phase of UX research. The essays in this section will help you decide if UX research is needed on a project, and if so what kind of research to do. It will help you take the first steps with your research, for example in deciding what kinds of participants to include.

Chapter 3 focuses on conducting UX research. This is where you engage with users and observe them working in either natural or controlled environments. It is the phase of research in which you collect data. The essays in this chapter will help you gain informed consent from your research participants, run an ethnographic interview and avoid common usability testing mistakes.

Chapter 4 discusses data analysis: the process of turning raw data into a story. This is where the meaning of your findings, and the insights and "Aha!" moments, start to emerge. It's the "So what?" of a UX research study.

Chapter 5 describes how to persuade people to take action on the results of your UX research. This chapter will help you confidently stand your ground with development team members critical of UX research. The chapter covers both persuading the development team and persuading senior managers and stakeholders.

The final chapter of the book aims to help organizations build a user experience team and help you build a career in user experience. With guidance for both new UX researchers and people who have been in the field for some time, these essays will help you evaluate, improve and present your skills.

This book has been several years in the making, since each of the essays started life as an article on the Userfocus web site. One benefit of this is that while writing the book we have been able to engage with other UX researchers to discover what works, what is confusing and what content is missing from those earlier drafts. In a very real sense, the essays in this book have been through the same build-measure-learn cycle that we encourage design teams to follow.

How to think like a UX researcher

In addition to re-writing the essays and curating them for this volume, we have added a section at the end of each essay titled, "Think like a UX researcher". This section contains five questions and its aim is to encourage you to reflect on how you can apply the thoughts, issues and ideas in the essay to your current user experience role. Some of these "thinking prompts" contain an outline of a workshop topic that you can run with your team to help them become more user centered.

As well as helping you reflect on the topic of the essay, you'll also find these questions helpful in preparing for competency-based job interviews.

What we mean by “UX research”

Perhaps because user experience is a nascent field, different practitioners use different terms to describe the same thing.

"UX research" is one of those terms. We are aware that some practitioners prefer the term user research, arguing that everyone on the development team is responsible for user experience, not just the UX researcher.

Although we agree with the philosophy that user experience is everyone's responsibility, we have still decided to use the term UX research throughout this book. "User research" implies a focus on users only; in contrast, "UX research" encourages practitioners and stakeholders to take a more strategic view and focus on what really matters: the user's experience. This term also reflects the reality of the work: the best practitioners study users but they also research their users' goals, their users' environments and the business context of the product—indeed, anything that affects a user's experience with a product or service.

Acknowledgements

We are indebted to the hundreds of UX researchers who signed up at our web site, uxresearchbook.com, and helped shape decisions on everything from the book's content to the cover design. Your comments and opinions helped us improve the book and we hope that you're as proud of the final result as we are.

Finally, we would also like to thank our many students and clients who have asked us difficult questions over the years. Those questions made us think like a UX researcher and led directly to many of the essays in this book.

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