September 23, 2013

A Day in Life of A User Researcher

While the role of a user researcher as a separate position within the UX organization is gaining momentum, there is still confusion among the rest of software development community as to what does it entail.

Recruiters still email you about QA jobs, if you happen to mention 'usability testing' in your resume. And you if are lucky enough to meet people outside UX organization - who know about user research, they don't know how to distinguish between a good user researcher and a bad one.

So what does a user researcher do? What are good user research practices? And, what are some user research myths?
In this article, I have addressed these questions through a glimpse in a day of a life of a user researcher - a good one!

Okay, what is a day like in the life of a User Researcher?

6:30 am: Up early and bright. Driving to work. Not too many people on the road. Have a usability testing session at 8:00 am. Have to setup the testing lab ahead of his arrival.

8:30 am: In the midst of the session. Testing a new design.

The participant is struggling to identify options to complete the tasks given to him. My designer friend is sitting in the next room. Observing! He is probably pulling his hair out seeing this! I am of course calm and patient.

You need the patience of a 'saint' to be a good user researcher! To be calm and able to create a comfortable environment throughout the experience.

I encourage the participant to make him comfortable. Reiterate that it’s NOT his fault. We are testing the software not him!

10:00 am: Go through my notes and recordings of the morning session. Enter the data in my analysis sheet. You got to have a penchant for statistics and math to be user researcher. See it not only about to talking to users!

Looks like some patterns are coming up. Great! I can publish the results in next two weeks.

11:00 pm: Preparing a research plan for new project.

So you thought I just go to a meeting and talk to the user!!!
Nope. I need to plan a whole of lot of things ahead of the actual sessions.

First thing first! Why do we need to do this research? What do we expect to find out? Huh! I need to go through my notes about the research questions discussed in yesterday’s meeting with the product managers and the UX team.

11:55 pm: Still working on research plan. Need to work out the research strategy! Which research method to use?

Did you think that user research is only about usability testing?
There are hoards of other methodologies and tools to conduct user research. Each appropriate for different situations - your research needs and the stage of product development lifecycle.

In this case, I am weighing my options between two. Should it be a phone interview or a contextual inquiry at the customer site?

12:30 pm: Driving to a customer location! A customer site visit is planned at 1:30 pm.

We will be observing users in their own context. And of course, interview some of them. Two of my colleagues from the design team are accompanying me. We grabbed some quick lunch on the way.

2:00 pm: I am sitting with one of the expert user at the customer site. Observing! How he goes about doing his daily tasks. One of colleagues is handling the camera. Recording! Other one is taking notes and collecting materials.

As the participant goes about doing his tasks, he imparts some valuable knowledge on the domain to me. I am a devoted disciple. Learning at the master's knee!

Hey, if you thought, it is you who does the talking you are wrong!!! As a user researcher you ought to be the 'dumb student' listening to the user.

3:10 pm: Interviewing another user at the customer site. She is use one of our software products in her work. Lot of complaints! But mostly unrelated to the topic at hand. This is where I have to utilize my moderation skills.

I realize how critical the moderation technique is for a successful user research session. To be able to deal with a distracted participant. To keep her on subject without losing rapport.

5:00 pm: Back in office! A debrief session with the team! Going through the key insights.

5:50 pm: Driving home. Fortunately, no session tonight! A relaxed evening.

1 comment: