The role of a UX researcher (UXR) encompasses many tasks and responsibilities, from being a meticulous data collector to a strategic storyteller. In the past few years, UX researchers have taken on a new role. They’re now also helping people in their organizations understand the importance of UX. 

This shift has brought about a renewed focus on fostering collaboration, empathy, and effective communication across teams and seniority.

Join us as we learn from Daniel Moon, Senior UX researcher at the Chamberlain Group. He shares his experiences and advice on how the role of a UX researcher is changing from technical executor to educator.

Defining UX researchers as educators and technical executors

UX researchers often find themselves switching between two distinct roles: that of an educator and a technical executor. While the latter focuses on the practical application of research methods and techniques, the former adopts a more educational approach, sharing knowledge and fostering a culture of research-informed decision-making.

It's important to note that these two roles aren't mutually exclusive, and many UX researchers seamlessly navigate between both domains. However, understanding these distinct contributions can provide valuable insights into how UX researchers can make an impact. 

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“As an educator, we live and breathe research," shares Daniel. “Aside from the typical best practices, we also like to promote a culture that seeks valuable insights into more of the attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of a company's target audience.”

UX researchers act as educators by promoting a shared understanding of user needs, empowering their colleagues to make informed decisions rooted in quantitative and qualitative evidence. This not only elevates the overall quality of products and services but also cultivates a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. 

On the other hand, UX researchers are great at using research methods to solve real-world problems and putting their knowledge into practice. 

Daniel shares, “As technical executors, we still have to do the work, engaging directly with participants through surveys or interviews to gather qualitative and quantitative data. By executing strategies based on user feedback, we guide the iterative process, ensuring improvements are well-informed and inclusive of diverse perspectives.” 

In this capacity, UX researchers collaborate closely with designers, engineers, and product managers to make sure that user needs are consistently prioritized and addressed. 

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Balancing UX research with knowledge sharing

Striking a balance between being an educator and technical executor requires prioritization and effective time management. 

According to Daniel, the balance is dependent on both the researcher’s experience and the UX maturity of the wider team. “A junior researcher will typically focus on more of the technical execution than a senior researcher.

It's essential to gauge the team's level of experience with UX research when first engaging with them. Some may have only dipped their toes in. Some may have had their own researcher assigned to them. Teams can vary widely in their familiarity with research practices, so understanding their background helps tailor support and guidance to meet their specific needs.”

Experienced senior researchers are better equipped to adapt and take on ‌more educational roles. 

“As you gain more experience, you essentially develop that muscle to be an educator. The balancing aspect really just comes down to experience and initiative.”

For example, Daniel’s team actively works to democratize UX research within the organization by offering workshops. “We have targeted the industrial design team, because we work very closely with them, in addition to the fact that we've noticed that there's this gap. Hopefully by democratizing UX research and enabling them to do research themselves, they're able to gain some level of proficiency to help benefit them.

“We also have office hours almost every day to act as a support structure. From this, we can make sure that they are up to date with best practices.”

Role of a UX researcher

Communicating complex concepts as a UX educator

As a UX researcher, it’s important to be able to effectively communicate complex concepts to diverse stakeholders, such as designers, product managers, and other team members. This is crucial for fostering a collaborative and user-centered design process. 

Drawing experience from Daniel’s democratization project, there are several valuable strategies for sharing UX knowledge.

Interactive workshops and discussions

Daniel and the team run workshops where stakeholders can learn more about UX research and what it can achieve. Participants are encouraged to bring their own concept for testing, and the research team walks through it.

These sessions provide a platform for open dialogue, questions, and brainstorming, allowing team members from different backgrounds to collectively explore and comprehend complex UX concepts.

Role of a UX researcher

Sharing UX materials

Daniel uses worksheets and forms, adapted from UX research briefs, to educate others on things to consider when conducting research.

“We’ve been showing a range of UX research materials to get the team started and assisting them in creating surveys to empower them to perform research independently and enhance their capabilities in their respective roles.”

‘Learn by doing’ method

This approach involves using shared UX materials and then guiding participants to practice. "We essentially provide outlines, detailed instructions, and other supporting documentation to help the team organize their thoughts. For instance, we have one worksheet that prompts them to consider the potential impact and value of their research requests in terms of business outcomes."

Using UX tools

Using UX tools like Lyssna can help illustrate the concepts that you’re trying to explain. As Daniel explains, “We have been using the Lyssna platform to demonstrate what we do when creating surveys and other tests. For the detailed instructions, we pull screenshots from Lyssna and talk really in-depth about that.”

This can also show others how easy it is to gather insights from users, removing concerns about complexity or cost, and even encouraging teams to feel empowered to create their own tests.

Two-way communication between teams

Daniel stresses the importance of two-way communication when dealing with complex concepts between the various teams.

He points out that it can be challenging for researchers to enter a new environment where the design team, product owners, product managers, and developers are already deeply familiar with the project's intricacies.

“They're living and breathing this stuff and there are times when you're trying to latch on and understand in order to assess the situation and effectively frame and scope the project's research needs to launch a study that's digestible for participants.

“A lot of times, when it comes down to communication, it's really about the boundaries of the project itself. And that way we can provide relevant user feedback so that it becomes something that's actionable.”

Role of a UX researcher

Tips for teaching others about UX research

To make it easier to teach others in your organization about UX research, Daniel has some valuable advice.

Acknowledge the disparity

Understand that there's a significant gap between individuals who have conducted research extensively and those who are new to it. What may seem straightforward to seasoned researchers can be daunting for others.

“And it can be extremely overwhelming. We've been doing this for so long and have slowly accumulated all of the knowledge. When you share this knowledge with other people who are new to it, it can be a lot,” adds Daniel. 

Keep documentation simple

Make sure that when you're creating documentation, you want to be as simple and succinct as possible,” shares Daniel. While comprehensive guides often contain valuable information, they can be too much to read and understand all at once. 

Offer support and interaction with the UX team

Instead of relying solely on extensive documentation, encourage interactive methods of learning. Consider hosting office hours or regular sessions where team members can ask questions and engage in discussions.

These office hours allow people to essentially feel a lot more assured that they can come to you with questions and there's a set time for dedicated support.”

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Start your path as a UX educator

Every organization faces unique challenges and priorities. Daniel reminds us of the importance to continually adapt and be flexible to meet these challenges effectively.

You should consider the specific context of your organization and adapt your teaching style accordingly. By customizing your strategies, you can navigate organizational nuances and create a culture where everyone sees the value of UX research in driving innovation and putting users first.

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