Introducing UX Research to your Organization — How to Communicate your Value and Navigate Misconceptions
The domain of UX design and research has been gaining a lot of momentum in recent years, and for good reason. It has been demonstrated that companies that invest in UX see an immense return on investment, and for many, first-class product design has become a differentiating factor to surpass competitors. But this guide is not to convince you that UX is valuable to your organization. This is to help you demonstrate the value of your role as a UX researcher to those you work with. Research is not a job that can be done in isolation, so getting buy-in from different departments at your company is critical to your success.
- Get to Know your Company’s Current Stance on User Experience
- If you’re a solo researcher, establish yourself as your company’s UX research spokesperson
- Tips for established UX teams
- Handling Misconceptions
- Colleagues that intend to “think like the user”
- Colleagues that think research can be skipped
- Colleagues that assume you’re a Graphic Designer
Get to Know your Company’s Current Stance on User Experience
As a UX researcher, you will be surrounded with a lot of different variables at your company that impact your work and how you should present what you do to external teams. You may be one-of-a-kind in a smaller company or startup, or you may be part of a well-established and growing UX team.
If you’re a solo researcher, establish yourself as your company’s UX research spokesperson
Although you’ve probably got more than enough work to do as a scarce resource, it’s important that you budget enough of your time to take on the additional responsibilities of becoming your company’s official UX research spokesperson. Use every opportunity to introduce yourself to different teams and demonstrate which topics you’re working on. Even if you’re not a seasoned expert, you can cultivate an interest in UX principles and become the go-to source for your colleagues to share product feedback, discuss ideas, tackle problems and collaborate on different initiatives.
Here are some ways to spread the word and create enthusiasm about user research outside of product and engineering:
Conduct multidisciplinary internal workshops - being inclusive of various stakeholders from other departments shows them how design thinking works hands-on and allows them to actively participate in the innovation process. Not only is this valuable for you as a researcher, but it’s also an exciting experience for your colleagues, especially for those that have never taken part in such workshops before.
Conduct internal usability studies - when appropriate, conducting usability studies with your colleagues can not only provide you with insightful information, but it also is a great way to include anyone from your organization in the process of user research. Be transparent about your role and create a comfortable environment for sharing feedback with the aim to welcome them back to participate in future studies.
Tips for established UX teams
If you are a fortunate UX researcher that already has a set of peers, efforts of spreading the word about your role will be a lot more efficient. Take note of which practices are already in place, and what the response has been from other departments. Even if the impression of your team is very favorable, it’s still critical that you continue to spend enough time on UX evangelism and networking, especially if your company is growing quickly.
One tactic to ensure every new employee is aware of your team is to incorporate an introduction into your company’s onboarding curriculum. The format will largely depend on the size of your organization and the depth of onboarding activities, but in general it’s great to spread awareness of who is in your team, what you are presently working on in a collective sense, and what your aims are. Be sure to include a call-to-action - invite your colleagues to reach out to you and offer them a clear way to do so (a UX Slack channel or directly via email, for example).
Regardless of your circumstances, there are still many people that aren’t familiar with UX as a discipline and unfortunately, there are also many misconceptions that people have about designing products. Here are a couple more common issues UX researchers face:
Colleagues that intend to “think like the user”
As a UX researcher, you already know that it’s against best practice to design a product by “thinking like the user.” While we have the techniques to ensure our research activities are unbiased and methodical, the need for our approach to product design may not be common sense to those around you. It can also be tricky to address the tendency to “think like the user” with powerful stakeholders because of the direct influence they may have over the product.
Your colleagues likely mean well, but this is where being a good UX spokesperson will help you steer innovation back on course. Give fair warning that there are strong disadvantages to “thinking like the user” and introduce your colleagues to the methodologies you would apply in the given situation. Explain how your work aims to give an authentic voice to the user and how results can bring confidence to the process of defining your product’s strategy. You may need to repeat this message to instill the right mindset.
Colleagues that think research can be skipped
In fast-paced environments with tight timelines, it’s understandable that your team seeks ways to optimize your time for only the most critical activities. You may have already experienced reluctance from your colleagues when you’ve presented a research timeline. Maybe you’ve been asked to reduce steps in your process or, worse yet, to skip research activities altogether.
In order to convince your team you should avoid such compromises, respectfully confront them with their uncertainties. Ask your colleagues questions to determine which facts you are working with and try to uncover where there are flimsy assumptions and knowledge gaps that may put your project at risk by proceeding with a lack of data. Exposing these risks is sometimes enough for management to reconsider their willingness to invest in user research.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and ultimately the responsibility of the researcher is to ensure that your team has the right foundation to create value for your users by evaluating and understanding their needs.
Colleagues that assume you’re a Graphic Designer
There are indeed many skilled UX generalists performing outstanding research and designing great solutions, but as a dedicated UX researcher, your responsibilities fall exclusively on one end of the UX spectrum. It could be that your colleagues are not used to this split, or perhaps you’ve worked as more of a generalist in the past and demonstrated competency in design. You may be frustrated with your colleagues approaching you to mock-up a UI or even to perform graphic design tasks like creating logos and icons.
Don’t be afraid to make the clarification that you are not a designer. Your time is valuable and is intended to be spent performing research, even if you are capable of taking on design tasks. It may be that your colleague genuinely isn’t aware of your role and clarifying this will eliminate any confusion.
It also helps to regularly broadcast the outcomes of your research. There are quite a few ways to do this - one entertaining method I’ve used in the past was to create a research digest that was posted in many of our company washrooms.
As a UX researcher, you are part of a growing and highly skilled domain that not everyone may be familiar with. Even if you are part of an established team already working alongside other researchers, your networking will always depend on some degree of UX evangelism. Remember, you can’t do it alone - creating allies across different departments will give you a strong support system that facilitates your work and provides mutual reward.