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What would be the top four challenges UX researchers face in the current environment?
One attribute of a great UX researcher is the ability to evaluate their work objectively. No matter what stage of their career, there will always be those challenges that every UX researcher strives to overcome in a meaningful way.
Listen for answers that not only describe the challenges they may face but how they overcome them.
According to a recent study, these are the four challenges UX researchers face today:
- Inclusion in the product development process
- Sourcing the right participants for UX research
- Securing resources and budget
- Getting executive buy-in about UX research
The UX researcher who’s being interviewed may not name these four above exactly, but they should voice similar challenges they face every day. Listen for the UX researcher demonstrating an understanding of the root of the problem and a willingness to overcome these challenges by various methods. Ask about how they overcame them.
Listen for answers that include overcoming challenges of working with others with different agendas. A UX researcher will always face challenges around collaborating with professionals from other disciplines, such as C-level executives, marketing teams, sales teams, growth teams, product managers, engineers, and designers.
They may have a challenge justifying their UX research process to specific stakeholders—it may seem too costly and take too long. How do they overcome these obstacles? How do they align their work with that of the goals of the business, the company’s brand, and marketing efforts?
For example, convincing a company they need more in-depth user research before a product is designed, or incorporating proper usability testing during a product design lifecycle can be difficult. How do they advocate for those mentioned above in making their case?
Follow-up questions on this topic:
- Can you tell me about a time you faced one of these challenges in previous projects and how you went about solving it?
- What were the outcomes of this approach?
Describe your UX research process and what methods you follow.
UX research is continuously evolving and searching for new approaches to aid the product design process and solve problems. Seasoned UX researchers have likely been developing their approach to the research process, and will vary from one UX researcher to another.
In general, great UX researchers will walk through the “toolkit” they use when approaching a problem or a project. Depending on resources and time given for research, listen for their flexibility with approaches. Great UX researchers have a deep curiosity and a constant desire to learn about steps they could take to solve user problems. A UX researcher will reach into their toolkit and apply the most effective research methods given the constraints within which they have to work.
Listen for applying different methods of UX research depending on the project. There is primary and secondary UX research, qualitative and quantitative UX research, generative and evaluative UX research. Generative research is conducted during the beginning of the investigative process. It helps UX researchers clearly define a problem and generate a hypothesis for its solution. Evaluative research is executed near the end of the research process, and it’s used to test and refine ideas until the best solution is reached.
One overarching theme should be around a human-centric approach to research; perhaps mention “design thinking,” which follows a thorough understanding of both user and business goals. Key concepts or methods used to carry out this process may include but are not limited to competitive audits, stakeholder interviews, user personas, empathy maps, user research, content audits, minimum viable product (MVP) lean UX, and usability testing. They may also mention conducting user testing—moderated or unmoderated, remote or in-person—multivariate testing, A/B testing, eye tracking, click-tracking heatmaps, and other quantitative analytics.
Apart from the above, listen for UX research methodologies that will help align the product’s design with business goals and marketing, and which encompass the company’s brand promise. By applying these UX research methodologies and learning directly from users, each of the techniques mentioned above can play an essential role in the creation of a product that users will love.
Is UX research important? Why?
A great UX researcher should be passionate about the need for UX research because it’s an essential step in the human-centered UX design process. UX research guides subsequent stages in design to provide effective solutions to customer problems. It is “the soul of the product build process.” The reason why UX research is necessary is because doing user research provides insight into which features to prioritize and helps develop clarity around a project.
A great UX researcher should elaborate on the importance of UX research, break it down into concrete terms, and talk about the need to:
- Focus on the end user and approach product design from the user’s perspective
- Identify the product’s potential user base and build user personas
- Understand users’ behavior, goals, and motivations
- Deep dive into specific areas to identify user needs
- Tease out actionable insights from UX research to help the product design process
As to why it’s important to conduct UX research, listen for the following great reasons for doing UX research.
- To create a product that is truly relevant to users:
- If you don’t have a clear understanding of your users and their mental models, you have no way of knowing whether your design will be relevant. A design that is not relevant to its target audience will never be a success.
- To create a product that is easy and pleasurable to use:
- A favorite quote from Steve Jobs: “If the user is having a problem, it’s our problem.” If your user experience is not optimal, chances are that people will move on to another product.
- To have the return on investment (ROI) of user experience design validated and be able to show:
- An improvement in performance and credibility
- Increased exposure and sales—growth in customer base
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How do you approach UX research?
The answer will help you discover what kind of UX researcher you may be hiring.
Listen for answers that include a discussion around empathy—things like “walking a mile in a customer’s shoes” (customer journeys) and a human-centered, goal-driven approach to designing products. Empathizing with people often means engaging in in-depth user research to solve problems. It’s essential to ask the right questions in order to come up with reliable solutions, and to ask great questions, researchers need to be able to empathize with people and gather relevant information through in-depth UX research.
Also, listen for two main types of user research, such as qualitative research and quantitative research. Qualitative research is about gathering insights and is concerned with descriptions, which can be observed but cannot be computed. Qualitative user research is a direct assessment of behavior based on observation. It’s about understanding people’s beliefs and practices on their terms. It can involve several different methods, including contextual observation, ethnographic studies, interviews, field studies, and moderated usability tests.
Quantitative research is primarily exploratory research and is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into useful statistics. Some standard data collection methods include various forms of surveys (online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys, and kiosk surveys), longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations.
Quantitative data from analytics platforms should ideally be balanced with qualitative insights gathered from other UX testing methods, such as focus groups or usability testing. The analytical data will show patterns that may be useful for deciding what assumptions to test further.
Most great UX researchers know that it’s about balance: employing the right amount of each type of research depending on the scenario. A great UX researcher doesn’t rely on one or the other exclusively. It’s about the right mix of the two. The reason why they need to do qualitative research, for example, is because the most critical information is often not quantifiable, and quantitative analysis is often too narrow to be useful and can sometimes be outright misleading.
Describe a recent UX research project you were particularly challenged by and how you approached the problem.
This question should help you understand more about a UX researcher’s process. What kind of project was it? What did they find challenging, and why? How did they set out to come up with a solution? While there is no right or wrong way to approach a particular challenge, having a clear strategy to facilitate an end goal is essential.
For example—on an existing product—they may have found it challenging to define the problem. Did they gather extra user-generated data to help them crystallize the problem? It could mean collecting data using analytics, or it might involve testing the design on a specific demographic in a format that makes the most sense. This could include testing wireframes or interactive prototypes on users to either validate or reject hypotheses, or it could be sending a survey to a broader demographic to understand product-market fit better.
For example, did they employ remote moderated user testing or another form of remote research methodology to listen to users and arrive at better design solutions?
Did they interface with C-level executives and company marketing and sales teams to better understand business goals, the customers, and what problem the product was trying to solve?
Potentially, a UX researcher may start multivariate testing or A/B testing and let data lead the way until they hit a roadblock, then continue iterating until they achieve a satisfactory result. UX researchers thrive on solving challenges, so the right candidate should readily share enthusiasm about how they approach problems.
Since UX research is at the core of HCD (human-centered design), can you provide some examples of your experience dealing with HCD?
First and foremost, human-centered design is all about understanding your users. A good UX researcher will help design products that work well across a variety of use cases across a wide range of audiences.
A seasoned UX researcher should be able to elaborate on how they think of and engage user research, which, in essence, drives human-centered design. What “lenses” do they use when conducting user research? These “lenses” could be ethnographic studies, field studies and contextual observations, focus groups, surveys, and diary studies.
Reflecting on past projects, they should mention details of how they set goals for the research and came up with a research plan, how the organizational aspect was approached, the recruiting of representative users—what kind of research questions they asked, and how the results were analyzed. While there is more than one approach to facilitating user research, the designer should have a clear description of the method, the sample size required to gain a meaningful result, and speak to the interpretation of the data.
Look for a UX researcher who understands how to measure appropriately by selecting the minimum number of subjects needed to gain a strong understanding of the research, and comprehends what they are testing and seeking to understand.
Testing product designs is a vital aspect of UX research. For usability testing, the UX researcher should discuss the methodologies they used. Did they conduct structured, one-on-one interviews with users while they tried specific tasks with product prototypes? Listen for how they’d define a successful test, i.e., what key revelations were gathered and how the data was distilled into practical, actionable insights. Did they use moderated or unmoderated usability testing? (Unmoderated testing examples may include eye-tracking, click-tracking heatmaps, online card sorting exercises, and more.)
How do you go about recruiting the right UX research participants?
UX researchers should spend the time necessary to identify and find the right people with whom to conduct user research. The quality of the final UX research report will be built on the quality of the feedback sources: the UX research participants.
A great UX researcher will identify the user base (personas) for a given product and set out to find representative participants for UX research and user testing. They should also form relationships with gatekeepers who can provide researchers with access to end users.
Listen for specific recruiting strategies based on the type of product they may be working on as well as ways to screen UX research participants to find the optimal mix. UX researchers should seek out users with varied experiences with a product.
For example, seek out users who no longer use the service or are inactive. Finding out why they’ve dropped off (Have they turned to a competitor? No longer need the product? Or something else?) can lend valuable insights into how to improve the product.
Customers who have spent much time complaining to support are also valuable. These people are usually invested in making the product better and will feel validated having their opinions heard.
Looking at where the product is currently marketed (social media, newsletters, specific websites or blogs) can be a useful way to find the types of people the company is already targeting. Other options could include paid surveys and UX testing platforms like usertesting.com.
There’s also the option of going “into the wild,” as in guerilla user research. For example, if creating a mobile app for grocery coupons, researchers could head to their local grocery store to gather feedback. The more genuine the participant, the higher-quality the results will be.
In a B2B environment, UX researchers should consider how to communicate with participants most effectively and whether they need to go through gatekeepers or if they can communicate with users directly. Different companies will have different procedures for this.
Follow-up questions on this topic:
How do they reach out to potential participants and how do they manage the process?
How do they ascertain if an incentive should be offered and how do they determine what the incentive should be?
What are the UX research deliverables?
The work of a UX researcher happens in many different environments—from lean startups and Agile environments where teams work with little documentation to consulting engagements for third parties or large enterprises and government entities with strict documentation requirements. Regardless of the nature of the engagement or environment (and the one thing that ties it all together), UX researchers need to effectively communicate their research findings and the context of projects to a range of audiences.
During a UX research process, researchers will produce a wide variety of “artifacts” and project deliverables as part of their UX research methodology. Deliverables may take many forms because they help UX researchers communicate with various stakeholders and teams. It may be documenting the UX research, delivering reports, and providing artifacts for meetings and ideation sessions.
Some UX research deliverables include but are not limited to:
- UX research plans
- Survey analysis reports
- Consolidated interview analysis reports
- Consolidated insights from user observation research reports
- Competitor analysis reports
- Affinity maps
- Empathy maps
- User personas
- User testing plans
- Usability testing reports
- User analytics (geographic, demographic, device used, etc. data)
- Product usage analytics reports
- UX research reports—that may be consolidated reports of most of the above
How do you distill UX research into actionable insights?
If conducting UX research is divergent thinking, then synthesizing is convergent. UX researchers may collect copious amounts of data, but the meaning of all that data won’t necessarily become apparent until they synthesize it. Researchers take an array of data and restructure it into a handful of insights to prioritize those insights. There isn’t one right way to do it, and they may use many different methods to synthesize UX research, including affinity maps, empathy maps, personas, problem statements, and journey maps.
Generally, listen for how UX researchers go through specific steps in a well-defined process as they look for themes and patterns from which to draw practical conclusions. Through a rigorous process, the aim should be to go from findings to actionable insights which they can share with the broader product and design teams. It is a process, and each UX researcher may have their preferred method depending on the type of research they did. With each UX research method, they may employ different approaches to extract the most impactful ideas.
For example, they might be distilling a user interview series with a dozen users. They would perhaps take notes, use post-its to keep track of critical insights, and identify salient points (rather than just summarizing the interview.)
It’s best to listen for various types of methods they may use, the distilling process, and how they approach each UX research project a different way to find actionable insights.
What tools do you use for conducting UX research?
Since UX research techniques vary, so do the tools UX researchers use. Listen for how the UX researcher describes their experience with various tools and how they use them. The UX researcher should be well-versed in an arsenal of tools and use each one appropriately, depending on the UX research project.
For example, for user interviews—one-on-one sessions that can be conducted in a variety of ways—they may use video conferencing apps such as Skype, BlueJeans, or Zoom, with which they can also record the interview for future analysis. When they employ guerrilla-style interviews—where a UX researcher performs impromptu interviews with a random set of users (such as at a coffee shop)—they may use a small audio recording device.
Similarly, for remote user testing, they may use video conferencing apps as mentioned above or more sophisticated online tools such as usertesting.com, UserZoom, Lookback, and Userbrain. With all of these tools, product testing sessions can be recorded, including the participant’s desktop or mobile screen and the tester’s and the participant’s face and voice.
For user surveys, they may use tools such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, scalable, inexpensive means to collect specific information from users.
They may mention generating lots of notes from contextual observations, and when distilling the collected information and constructing an affinity map, they may use sticky notes or an online tool, such as Miro or DoGo Maps.
For card sorting—a generative UX research method that reveals users’ mental models by having them arrange topics into groups that make sense to them—they may use paper cards or various online tools, such as OptimalSort.
For multivariate and A/B testing, they may mention Crazy Egg, Google Optimize, Optimizely, or Maxymiser.
For website usage analysis, they may use widely used tools such as Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics, and for precise in-product usage metrics, they may use Mixpanel or Pendo.
For eye-tracking and scroll heatmaps, session replays, and conversion funnels, they may be familiar with Hotjar, Crazy Egg, Inspectlet, Clicktale, or EyeQuant.
There is more to interviewing than tricky technical questions, so these are intended merely as a guide. Not every “A” candidate worth hiring will be able to answer them all, nor does answering them all guarantee an “A” candidate. At the end of the day, hiring remains an art, a science — and a lot of work.
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Submitted questions and answers are subject to review and editing, and may or may not be selected for posting, at the sole discretion of Toptal, LLC.
Arthur is an advertising strategist with a deep passion for design-led solutions. His master’s in advertising coupled with UX/UI design allows him to intuitively blend user-centric design with proof-of-concept strategies to create immersive experiences. He excels in rapidly growing, innovative organizations and enjoys solving problems rooted in research and storytelling. His aim is to help people spend less time clicking and more time doing.Show More
Esperanza is an experienced UX/UI designer who has worked on a variety of projects spanning web and mobile applications for different clients and industries, including real estate and health care. She enjoys working with organizations of all sizes, from startups to enterprises and everything in between.Show More
In addition to 12 years of experience in UX design, Lara is an independent consultant who works with startups, agencies, and established businesses—helping them build better customer-centric products. She also mentors and trains university students and professionals how to apply proper UX techniques to the products they are making.Show More
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