Nurturing Design Culture Roadmap UX Research

Tools and Tips for UX Research

In my first startup, my manager threw me into a project that involved nearly every aspect of product design. Within that experience, I first came across UX research. It was not until a few years later, that I got the chance to revisit UX research as an intentional practice to help inform the client on the appropriate design decisions.

Today, I find myself leading a small group of UX researchers at IBM Design. This is a step that I took because design and implementation can no longer ignore research without the risk of misinterpreting the customer or the industry. I am not an expert, but I have studied with mentors who have helped me understand tools, methods, and best practices. Other the course of my career, I have also uncovered the following resources to help broaden your understanding of how UX research enhances the process of product design.

Getting started with UX research

Complete beginners guide

If you are just starting out, here is a post from UX Booth that will lay an initial foundation for UX research.

Introduction to core methodologies

In the article above, UX Booth also briefs the reader on some basic methods. This article from the Neilson Norman Group explains when to use certain methods. Learning to align logical reasoning behind choosing the most appropriate method will help you navigate your research practices in an increasing A/B heavy testing world.

Deeper dive into methodologies

Comfortable with what you have learned so far? UX Magazine has an exhaustive list of UX research methods and techniques.

Tools to geek out on

Evernote

Evernote is by far the most robust when it comes to helping you establish a system for your information. The lessons I have heard from more senior UX researchers is that your project will most likely connect to other projects. Thus, you will need a way to connect content across projects. With features such as notebooks, nested notebooks, tags, stars, and location, Evernote helps organize UX research as it becomes more comprehensive and complex.

Here is a great article on how a team of 11 UX researchers uses Evernote to capture, process, and share data.

Looking for alternatives to Evernote? I have also used Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and plain text. The first three may scale to a team, but referencing data across projects is tricky for these tools. Designers’ memories are usually only good for their current project. Trying to recall or search for data that is not specific to a project goal requires a lot of time.

Recording

Currently, I am trying out a combination of Zoom and Quicktime. If I am doing a testing session with someone who is face-to-face, then I will record* with Quicktime. Most of the time, I need to do a remote session. Zoom is best, free option. I have tried other free videos such as Google Hangouts, and I have also had paid accounts for GoToMeeting and WebEx. All of them had their share of audio and video problems. With the free option, you can record the video and audio to review later.

*If you are recording a participant, it is important to ask him or her for permission. Most of the time they do not mind if you assure that person the recording is only for research purposes. Any video will stay private.

Transcribing

This is the bane of UX researchers. Reviewing recordings and notes can be time-consuming. Some UX researchers have told me that they have logged approximately four hours for a one-hour session. Audio transcriptions can cut that time. However, there are two immediate problems.

  1. Machine transcription services are often inaccurate and expensive
  2. Human transcription services are more accurate and more expensive

To be clear I do not have a magical solution for this. However, I have been experimenting with a few alternatives. One of them is building an app with IBM Watson’s Speech to Text API*. I have tested this out with a few past projects. The demo shows you how confident it is with the transcription. If you go deeper into making the app, you can correct it and teach Watson how to be more accurate.

*I work for IBM and often collaborate with the Watson teams. However, I am not receiving any compensation for this. I just think this product is pretty cool.

Internal communications

Whether you are a UX research team of one or many, you will need to include others on sessions with customers or users. You do not want to overwhelm that person with a panel of questions bombarding one person. In our sessions, we try to create the atmosphere of one on one with the participant. One researcher from the team leads, and everyone else listens and/or watches on mute. Any questions come through a preferred chat channel on an app such as Slack.

If you are the lead for a session, make sure you have at least two devices. One for running the interview with the participant. The other one will be for monitoring questions on Slack.

Read more on other UX research teams

When you are first starting out, trying to communicate the value of UX research is a lonely journey. There are groups out there to help you craft your message and hone your skills. UXPA offers support and guidance for designers with a variety of skill sets. My local one in Austin, TX often showcases UX research centric topics, and it has helped me build a community of mentors as I move more into UX research.

Interested in learning more on UX Research? Check these posts.

Matt Eng

Product Designer at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Polycom, Symantec and Pebble. Volunteers with AIGA Austin and teaches at Austin Community College.

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