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UX Consultant Knowledge Base

How to become a User Researcher

Rebecca Scott

Rebecca Scott, UX Consultant, UX Connections
@uxconnections

In this article we offer our advice on how to become a UX Researcher

As a UX Consultancy, we hire UX Consultants who are expected to conduct both UX Research and UX Design. However, it is often the case that our consultants specialise in either research or design. This is due to a variety of factors such as: academic background, personal interests, character and skill set. 

So first off, how do we define user experience research:

‘UX (user experience) research is the systematic study of target users and their requirements, to add realistic contexts and insights to design processes’ (Interaction Design Foundation).

In this article we offer some tips from our UX Research Specialists around how to become a User Researcher; and how to be a good one.

1. Study a Relevant Course

We tend to hire UX Consultants from a variety of different backgrounds from History to Systems Sciences. Our User Research Specialists tend to have studied Social Sciences such as Sociology, Psychology, Social Ergonomics and Anthropology. Or they have an additional qualification such as an MS in Human-Computer Interaction Design.  

We see short courses such as General Assembly courses or online courses with the Interaction Design Foundation as complementary to the above mentioned courses; as opposed to being a replacement for them. 

It is also important to note that we generally hire recent graduates, so a lot of UX Research learning takes place on the job.

2. Develop Empathy

Empathy is a critical skill when conducting user research. It is key for understanding the needs, goals and frustrations of different users. We see empathy as ‘the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes’ along with considering how another person is feeling and experiencing the world around them. In order to champion the user it is important that their mental model is deeply understood. 

There are a variety of ways to develop your empathy such as learning to listen, mindfully observing and practicing being non judgemental. Ultimately the goal of user research is to understand the user as fully and objectively as possible, so their needs can be best attended to through design.

3. Learn and Practice Different Methodologies

There is a vast array of different UX Research methodologies, from card sorting to longitudinal diary studies. It is important to have an understanding of the different methodologies in order to be able to choose what is best for a particular project/business need. 

Different methodologies are suitable in different contexts, for example a longitudinal study is effective when looking at user engagement over time with a product, whereas usability testing is effective when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a products’ usability. 

We recommend practicing these methodologies as much as possible, with real users, in order to become a real expert. It is only through conducting the research that it is possible to refine one’s individual approach and develop confidence with users. We advise doing this through paid internships and personal UX projects.

4. Be Inquisitive About People

It is important to be inquisitive about humans in general when hoping to become a UX Researcher. If you are curious about psychology, mental models and behavioural trends then that is the perfect start on the road to UX Research. 

A lot of time is spent talking to people, observing people and analysing their behaviors. This can be exhausting and can involve working through vast swathes of data in an excel spreadsheet. It really is useful to be curious about people, otherwise this can be quite a daunting task.

5. Start off as an Assistant UX Researcher

As previously highlighted, a lot of the learning takes place on the job. In the beginning, it is important that you are willing to be ‘the note-taker’ and observe how research is conducted by experienced researchers.  This way you are able to analyse someone else’s approach to research and consider the approach that you might want to individually take to the methods. 

However, we do like to give new researchers experience conducting sessions as early as possible. There is definitely value throwing someone into the role of a research facilitator and letting them learn as they go. It can be intimidating at first but quickly becomes invaluable experience.

References:

https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/ux-research

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