Career Spotlight: User Experience Research with Jennifer Davidson

User Experience (UX) is a vast field that encompasses many disciplines including content strategy, information architecture, interaction design, usability testing, conducting research with users, among other things. UX Research is specifically the research side of the field where researchers conduct studies to improve or inform the creation of products and experiences. In a workshop I helped create for ChickTech, it was explained as, “how to know what to design and how you know that what you designed worked.”

User experience research can happen before anything is ever designed. For example, a researcher could interview teachers to understand pain points in their day. Findings from those interviews could yield a set of important requirements/tasks to inform a new product to be created. User experience research can also happen throughout the design process in order to test concepts and sketches to see if they align with user needs. UX research can also be highly quantitative where the researcher conducts a study where users use two different designs, and the research analyzes which design is best. Additionally, user experience research can be completed after a product is released to test if the product met the user’s needs.

As you can see, there are many different skills and methods involved in UX Research, and there are many job opportunities that align with those efforts, specifically at tech companies. For example, Microsoft often hires “Design Researchers,” and Google often hires quantitative user experience researchers.

What is your background in user experience research?

I started studying user experience research as a PhD student at Oregon State University. I took many courses on the subject, learning all methods of UX research: case studies, empirical lab studies, interview techniques, etc. Throughout graduate school, I worked as a teacher’s assistant for an undergraduate course that I eventually progressed to teaching. For my dissertation, I conducted 4 user experience research studies — all qualitative (meaning I had a small number of participants and got detailed results and recommendations, rather than large sample-size surveys). These research studies helped me form recommendations for future UX practitioners to involve older adults in the technology design process, particularly in open source software communities.

How do you use UX research skills in your role at Intel?

My first role at Intel was as a UX researcher and a software interaction designer. I used what I learned in grad school every day, conducting qualitative usability and user research studies with Intel employees. I did interviews, questionnaires, and ‘think aloud’ usability studies with Intel employees. I also conducted ‘field interviews’ where I screenshared with Intel employees all over the world to understand how they accomplished their daily tasks. These studies informed how we could improve the software design, and helped inform what new features should be included in the software.

My current role at Intel is as a market research analyst. Now, I’m using a different set of my UX research skills by conducting mainly quantitative studies (usually surveys). These studies help inform the Data Center Group about technologies they should be investing in, while also helping executives make decisions about products and strategy. With my UX skills, I’m also able to contribute to the team outside of the analyst role — for example, I’m helping the team re-design their Market Intelligence Portal using a UX approach, complete with interviews, personas, sketching, etc. Having UX skills has proven to be useful for me and the team I’m on, even if the job title doesn’t include “UX”.

What are the 2-3 most critical skills someone taking your UX Research course will gain?

First, I have 3 reminders when being a UX researcher:

  1. No research study is ever perfect. Ever. Get used to it, and learn from it for next time. You’ll always realize something you could’ve asked differently or done differently.
  2. You are not your user. The reason we do user experience research is because we are not the user, and we need to understand things from someone else’s perspective. It’s important to be humble and accept that the way we think about things isn’t necessarily the way other people think about things. Listening and working with users helps researchers create highly effective products.
  3. You don’t need to be an artist. Once upon a time, I wanted to be an artist, but I was no good at it, so I gave up that dream. As a UX Research professional, you don’t need to be an artist. You just need to be able to communicate your ideas effectively. Sketches can be ugly and covered with notes, as long as you are able to get your point across. Don’t be intimidated by the ‘design’ word, if you don’t consider yourself artistic. That said, artists can make great researchers.

Now, the most critical skills from the UX Research course:

  1. You’ll learn how to conduct a variety of interview techniques. Prior to this course, you may have thought that there was only 1 kind of interview — the kind you see on TV when a reporter asks people questions. This course will teach you a variety of interview techniques and when to apply them to get the most out of them.
  2. You’ll learn how to report out your research results to executive management, as well as team members. It’s important to know how to be short and sweet with executive management — to give them exactly what they need to know to understand what you’re doing and what they need to do to support you in your work. It’s important to be able to communicate your results to people who are not UX researchers. Having that skill will make you stand out amongst your peers.
  3. You’ll live and breathe the term “user-centered”. “User-centered design” is a hot topic in today’s technology firms, and for good reason. When we are user-centered, we listen to our users and create better products. This course will pair you with a colleague to be your ‘user’, so you’ll truly understand what it is like to be user-centered. This will help you in your work and in future UX courses. Never lose sight that the underpinning of User Experience is your user.

Thinking about a career in UX Research? Lookout for the next User Experience Research course starting May 9. Register online or call Customer Service at (425) 564-2263.

Jennifer DavidsonJennifer Davidson

Instructor, Technology Programs

Last Updated December 28, 2016