The role that research plays in an organization is critical to any sized business. It forms the foundation of the many decisions that need to be made on a daily business and also guides the bigger strategic bets companies take when innovating on products or services.

Whether user researchers are already an established position inside of your organization or a newly emerging role, it’s important to understand the language and responsibilities to have meaningful conversations and establish effective working relationships.  

Academic vs. professional researcher

There are different ways to conduct research. Often, those who perform research for a project are broken down into two main areas: academic and professional researchers.

Academic research is conducted by scholars in an attempt to further scientific knowledge. It's usually published in journals and goes through a peer-review process. Think of universities, research institutions, and non-profits.

On the other hand, professional research, sometimes referred to as “applied research” is done by people who are paid to do research for a specific purpose, usually to solve a problem or make a business decision. This includes market researchers, user researchers, and design researchers (in an agency or consultancy.) 

As user research is becoming an increasingly popular role inside product organizations, we’re seeing more and more academic researchers transitioning to user research, bringing with them a deep understanding of research methods and rigor to the fast-paced technology industry.

In this article, we are specifically going to focus on user researchers and highlight what makes their role so important in an organization.

What is a user researcher?

If you've ever wondered what a user researcher does, you're not alone. Maybe you’re wanting to learn what a user researcher is because you’re considering it as a career path, or perhaps you work with user researchers and want to be more informed about their role. 

Whatever the case is, you’re not alone. A lot of people are curious about what the role entails because it’s becoming an increasingly important part of product development. 

The role of a user researcher is important to any business that wants to set itself up for success because the role provides key insights that analyze user behaviors, needs, and motivations in order to design products and services that provide real value.

In this article, we'll take a look at what a user researcher is, what they do on a day-to-day basis and some examples of their work.

The role of a user researcher in an organization

In short, a user researcher is responsible for understanding how users interact with a product. They use various research methods to collect data about user behavior, needs, and motivations. This data is then analyzed and used to inform the design of products that are more likely to be successful.

The work of a user researcher has arguably the most humanizing effect on the entire design process. They know how to:

  • Consider and understand a problem
  • Execute methods and approaches to understand the impact of a problem on a target audience
  • Gather insights by asking the right questions
  • Formulate their findings and present them to the relevant members of a team

Key areas of ownership for a user researcher

At the heart of any good user researcher is the ability to unearth human insights. They are responsible for collecting, organizing, and analyzing data and opinions. Their job is ultimately to solve a problem by exploring potential issues and predicting trends.

Their typical tasks fall into these 5 key areas of ownership:

Research Planning and Recruitment

It's important for a user researcher to effectively be able to develop clear research objectives, through a well-crafted research plan. They also need to draft up usability research screens and effectively ensure that targeted end-users are recruited for specific research studies.

Data collection

This is arguably the most important part of a user researcher's job. They need to be well-versed in various research methods and know when to use them. Methods can include everything from interviews and focus groups to surveys and user testing. Through these methods, they are able to collect data that will inform business decisions.

Data Analysis

Once data has been collected, it needs to be analyzed in order to extract valuable insights. This is where a user researcher's analytical skills come into play. They need to be able to make sense of large amounts of data and identify patterns and themes. Some researchers use spreadsheets, sticky notes, or specialized research tools for analysis. 

Reporting findings

After the data has been analyzed, it's important for a user researcher to synthesize their findings into rich insights. They need to be well-written and communicated effectively to the relevant members of a team in a research report. Good research will go on to inspire new and innovative work, so the key findings need to be memorable, inspiring, and supported by evidence.

Strategy

Once the research is complete and the findings have been reported, a user researcher may also be involved in helping to implement the recommendations. This could involve anything from working with designers to create wireframes and prototypes to conducting user testing during the development process.

Common user research activities 

The day-to-day of a user researcher will vary depending on the goals of the project and the stage at which the research is at. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common user research activities: 

Surveys

Effective for capturing a larger amount of data from a broad audience, surveys ask a series of questions, including both open and closed-ended questions. More statistically significant than the other methods here, surveys can be done online, in-person, or over the phone.

Focus Groups

This is a qualitative research method where a targeted group of people is brought together to discuss a certain topic. Focus groups are good for generating conversation & uncover hidden information. The discussions are usually moderated by a user researcher.

User Testing

In this method, users are asked to use a product or service while being observed by a user researcher. This allows the researcher to understand how users interact with the product and identify any potential usability issues.

Interviews

This is a qualitative research method where researchers interview users either in person or remotely to uncover motivations, desires, and deeper insights about the end-user. Typically, user interviews fall into either discovery or validation research.

Card sorting

During a card sorting exercise, individuals will be asked to group items in a way that makes the most logical sense to them. The output of such a study would be to assess how an application or website is designed to meet consumer expectations.

Expert reviews

This is a usability evaluation method where experts in the field appraise a product or service. They will assess the product against a set of defined criteria and identify any potential issues.

These are just some of the many methods that user researchers use to collect data to improve a product.

Approaches to research methods

When it comes to user research methods and approaches, there are a few different schools of thought. Some researchers prefer to use quantitative methods, while others prefer qualitative methods. Then, there are those researchers who believe in using a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods, known as mixed methods.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods are those that involve the collection of numerical data. This data is then analyzed in an effort to identify patterns and trends. Quantitative methods are often used to assess user behavior, such as how long they spend on a particular task or how many errors they make.

Through this method, researchers are able to understand statistical possibilities and what is taking place within a website or an application.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods in user research are used to generate an in-depth understanding of users’ needs, values, and motivations. They provide insights into the “why” behind user behavior. These methods are typically used at the beginning of a project, to help define problem areas and identify potential solutions.

The focus of this method is to understand the human side of data. This is done by understanding an underlying reason and motivation that may cause a consumer to act in a certain way.

Mixed methods

Mixed methods is a user research approach that uses both quantitative and qualitative data. This approach is used to triangulate data, which means that it can be used to confirm findings or generate new insights.

Mixed methods are often used in cases where there is a need for both user behavior data (quantitative) as well as user perceptions (qualitative).

This approach can be used at any stage of the product development cycle, from ideation to evaluation.

No matter what method or approach is used, the goal of user research is always the same: to understand users and their needs in order to create better products.

Conclusion

User researchers play an important role in the product development process, identifying problems and opportunities early on in the development process. 

Without someone doing research on a product team, it would be difficult to create solutions that meet the underlying needs and desires of users and ensure products are designed with real people in mind at every stage of the design process. 

Make an impact with better, faster user research

If you are looking to make a significant impact in your organization, you need better research. This is where Notably comes in. 

Notably is a single place for teams to collect, analyze, and share qualitative research. With a unique split-screen workspace, research teams can analyze qualitative data as rows in a table or digital sticky notes on a canvas. Researchers have the ability to link their data to their notes and add evidence to their insights to further support their conclusions. 

With best research practices already baked into the foundation of Notably, you and your team can speed up your research process, and develop better, stronger insights to share. Find out more about Notably here: https://www.notably.ai/

Make an impact with better, faster research.

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