Getting started with UX research

Image by Freepik
Image by Freepik

Dear UXer,

Many UX design professionals have messaged me on LinkedIn asking me for advice on how to switch to UX research. They are either frustrated by lack of well-paying jobs, or being used as “wireframe workers” or by entry of figma artists who call themselves UI/UX designers. If you are one of them let me stop you right here and advise you to assess why you want to enter the UX research field. UX research is not for the faint-hearted as there are fewer openings for UX research and it is observed that researchers are laid off first during hard times. If you still want to be a UX researcher, read on.

While UX research is closely related to UX design, it is not the same. Many designers think it is a trivial task to switch from design to research without any preparation, which is a misguided notion. While it is not easy, it is not impossible. If you are trained as UX designer (not UI/UX or UI designer), you are in a better position since you already have the basic skills. Below are the 3 basic research methods you should learn and practise to get a toehold into UX research.

Skills

  1. Heuristic evaluation – Heuristic evaluation of a website or an application involves comparing the current state of the portal with established usability norms. This is one of the most basic forms of UX research and you should be already conversant with this if you are a UX designer. Heuristic evaluation is known as an “expert review” when conducted by experts, with their observations and personalised recommendations added. Although Jakob Nielsen’s heuristic principles are the most widely used for heuristic evaluations, there are a few other rules that too are equally valid and useful. The wikipedia page here lists a few of them.
  2. Usability testing – It is widely known that 80% of the usability problems are usually identified through heuristic evaluations. However about 20% escape our attention. This could be due to various factors – the most common but not obvious being that human behaviour is not really predictable and changes with circumstances and over time. hence it becomes important to test any portal or designs to find and eliminate the most critical unidentified issues. There are various types of usability testing – unmoderated, remote and in-person, discount, guerrilla etc. which I will cover in detail in a future article.
  3. User interviews – When you are started ideation on a product, you need to speak with your potential users to understand their mindset, their pain points, needs and preferences. User interviews are the most common form of getting this information first-hand. You can conduct user interviews by inviting them to your work place, in an online interview or in their surroundings. The last method is called contextual inquiry. More about that later.

Practice

Practising what you learn is very important to be able to grasp the nuances of UX research. Nobody can tell you all the practical aspects of conducting research – you will learn these only if you practise. You will also build confidence when you execute some projects and get feedback on them.

Choose a topic for each type of research and execute a project on it. Compile findings and create a report as if you are going to share it with a client. For example, you could conduct a heuristic evaluation of a commonly used app like Disney Hotstar. Conduct a usability testing session with a few users, interview them to understand their point of view and also observe them as they use it in their everyday lives to get more insights that they cannot express in words.

Document all these in a report and share it with someone who is a practising researcher if you can and get their feedback. There are many platforms who host mentors who can guide you on this.

You can choose from a multitude of courses online and offline to help you get started on the above 3 methods. Choose carefully as not all courses are created equally. Some of the best courses that are also pocket-friendly are offered by Udemy and Coursera. Interaction Design Forum (IDF) also offers a multitude of courses in an annual membership.

Happy learning!

Yours sincerely
Fellow UXer

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