The following is a guest post by Niraj Rajput, cofounder and Head of Engineering at Chisel Labs
User experience research is an essential part of product development in today’s tech world.
However, the transition from classic academic research to user experience research can be puzzling, bizarre, and overwhelming.
Academic research is very different from the user experience model.
The grounds and aspects of each are multifarious. From concept to methodology, to approach, to the complexities of the factors involved, academic and UX/UI research are very different.
User experience research is a cyclical process that involves active participation from all stakeholders.
The research starts with an idea or statement that needs validation.
After UX researchers conduct user research, they can propose design solutions that they validate through user testing.
The final step of the cycle is to measure how well the design solution meets the needs of the users. This requires analyzing feedback data and making necessary changes.
Academic researchers focus on developing a new theory or extending an existing theory. Meanwhile, UX researchers focus on understanding users and their needs and designing around that.
Researchers in academia often use experiments to test their theories. However, UX researchers use interviews, surveys, and focus groups to understand user behavior.
Academic research generally produces papers that are read by other academics in the field, while UX research results in products that are used by real people.
In this blog, we will understand:
The difference between academic and user research
Top 14 ways to easily transition from academia to user research
The difference between academic and user research
As stated earlier there are certain fundamental differences between academia and user research. Let’s cut the clutter and understand them.
- User research is much faster paced, compared to academic research. The typical academic research project takes six months or more, while user research takes months or even weeks.
- User researchers do not publish their findings as opposed to academic researchers. Many UX researchers publish papers, but they rarely divulge the actual details of their research process. Instead, these articles take a very high-level view. They synthesize insights from several studies or present recommendations based on the collected data. In contrast, academics typically research part of a larger study. The aim is to produce an academic paper that they will submit to conferences/journals for publication.
- The ambit of the questions in user research is much shallower than that of academic questions. User research is typically conducted to answer specific questions, such as: ‘Does this new feature work well, for users?’, or ‘How usable is the current reporting interface?’ These are not open-ended questions and once we answer them, we tend to move on. In contrast, academic researchers will often ask more open and interesting questions which influence how they design their user studies.
- User research is more transitory as opposed to static academia. User research is by nature transient. As we learn more about users and their behavior, our understanding of what is useful or important changes. Academic user researchers often have a more static view of their research area. They tend to build on past work and develop a deeper understanding of their subject matter.
- User research has to be practical and applicable as opposed to academic research. One of the key strengths of user research is that it is solves practical problems. We need to know whether new features are helpful in order to make decisions about whether to develop them further. Academic researchers also solve theoretical problems, but these are usually less applicable in the real world.
- User research values insights while academia focuses on method, approach, and scrutiny. User research is data-driven and usually focuses on generating insights. Academic researchers, in contrast, may be more interested in methodological rigor and developing new approaches to understanding user behavior. In academia, the focus is often on scrutinizing findings to see how they hold up to rigorous analysis.
- User research is iterative while academia is more linear. User research is typically an iterative process, where findings from one study can be used to inform the next round. Academic researchers often adopt a more linear approach, where each step in the research process is carefully planned and executed.
- User research is more exploratory while academia is more hypothesis-driven. User research often starts with a question that needs to be answered. Then researchers explore different ways of answering it. Academic research is often hypothesis-driven, where researchers start with a specific question that they want to answer and then find the best way to do so.
In order to be a successful user researcher, you must have a conspicuous idea of the key differences before you make the big shift.
Now, as you have a lucid idea as to what changes you will have to incorporate, let’s make the ride easier for you.
At this very moment, you have a ton of assignments that need to be finished. So, here are some tips and tricks that might help shift your research from academic to user-centric.
With this mind shift, you have to look at the bigger picture. It won’t be enough for you to just test a product or service. You have to go out there and find what people want and how they can get it done.
Top 14 ways to easily transition from academia to user research
Our top 14 ways can make your transition from academia to user research much easier.
- Hone your communication skills: This is the most important step that you can take. You need to be able to effectively communicate with everyone, including team members, clients, and users. The ability to communicate effectively will help reduce misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
- Get out there and talk to people: User research isn’t just about sitting in a lab or office and testing products or services. It’s also about talking to people and getting their feedback. Researchers can conduct interviews, focus groups, or surveys to achieve this. You also need to talk to people who are not your target audience as this can help you understand their needs and wants.
- Learn the tech design concepts, languages, and methods: Whether you’re a UX designer, front-end developer, or web designer, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the design concepts and language used. Familiarise yourself with the 2-dimensional grid system, typography, and best practices for working within specific platforms such as Bootstrap (used for designing responsive websites). Learning about user experience methods such as user testing will also help you understand how other designers come up with their designs and what works best for users.
- Learn to multitask: As a UX designer, you’ll often need to wear many hats and juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. This could include conducting user research, designing wireframes, testing prototypes, and writing reports. It’s therefore important to be able to effectively manage your time and stay organized.
- Use online resources: There are several great online resources available for budding UX designers. These include blogs, podcasts, e-books, and courses that can help you learn more about the field and keep up with the latest trends.
- Develop business acumen and market astute: UX designers must constantly keep themselves aware of current trends in business and technology, as well as stay abreast with the latest competitive landscape. This way they can make decisions that are informed by real-time market data.
- Learn making notes: Once the UX designer decides on a framework for their future product, it is important to note that this may change as and when user requirements and tests suggest. This ensures that there is no disconnect between what the user wants and what you are offering.
- Be open to criticism: The UX designer must always be willing to accept negative feedback from users and co-workers alike because it helps them in improving themselves for better results.
- Promote your work: As a newcomer in the field, it’s important to promote yourself by communicating with people in similar fields or attending conferences where you can meet like-minded individuals who could help further your career options.
- Be prepared to host and be a part of many different kinds of meetings: Any UX designer will tell you how important meetings are in the field. They may range from interviews with clients to internal brainstorming sessions where they need to come up with original ideas for client proposals or presentations.
- Be flexible: An ever-changing world means that there is no one particular way of doing things. UX designers must develop this trait early on in their careers because it helps them accept change, overcome obstacles and work under immense pressure at times.
- Learn the business end of your business: UX design is an extremely creative process that requires its practitioners to deal with constant changes in technology, user behavior, and business initiatives so it’s best if they learn the basics of these areas so they know when their designs are being compromised and can advocate for their work.
- Be a people person: No matter how talented a designer is, if they’re not able to communicate and collaborate with team members effectively, the final product will suffer. UX designers need to be patient, good listeners, and be able to give and take constructive feedback.
- Advocate for user experience: Many times, business stakeholders or developers do not see the value in user experience and may try to compromise designs or reduce budgets. As a UX designer, it’s important to be vocal about the importance of user experience and how it affects the bottom line.
With the constant change in the market milieu, customer habits, and emerging technologies, to sustain in the market, it’s important to get in tune with the change.
User research provides a thorough insight that helps to identify the right change that a company needs to make. It’s not only about understanding customers but also empathizing with their feelings and thinking from their perspective.
So, the user experience must be designed with user research in mind if you want to create a lasting user experience.
User experience is important for every business as it helps to understand how customers interact with the product or service.
It’s not only about understanding customers but also empathizing with their feelings and thinking from their perspective.
Hence, the user experience must be designed with user research in mind if you want to create a lasting user experience. To design a good user experience, you need to do some user research that can help you understand your users deeply.
That is why we suggest you take the shift, as soon as you can, from classic old academic research to newer, more competitive user research.
Niraj is co-founder and Head of Engineering at Chisel Labs, a premiere agile product management software company that brings together roadmapping, team alignment, and customer connection. Niraj is passionate about building scalable infrastructure and systems and he also happens to be a huge fan of Cricket!