It has now been over a month since I started my summer internship with Human Interfaces as a UX research intern. I have been given the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned during that time and how my understanding of this type of research may have changed.
Prior to starting my internship, I had the chance to work on a few industry-sponsored usability studies. However, I had not yet experienced what it was like to be the sole researcher on projects such as these, or to be the one in direct communication with the industry client. I will undoubtedly return to campus in the fall with many new personal and professional skills that I can apply when tackling the dreaded dissertation that awaits. In particular, I am fortunate to be able to work closely with a number of experienced UX professionals who are willing to share their insights and knowledge about how best to navigate the working world of UX. Below are three observations that I have made during my first 30 days of journeying into the awesome world of UX research.
- There are key differences between research in industry and academia.
“In industry [there is] the ability to significantly improve existing systems or products for others to directly experience.”
My academic research has mainly focused on identifying behavioral training methods that improve the cognitive functioning of older adults, and as is often the nature of academic research, it has tended to be rather slow-moving. The freedom to choose your own research topic afforded by academia is also coupled with many factors that add to the substantial length of many projects, especially when the research involves specialized populations or requires external funding. I have enjoyed the quick turnaround of short-term industry projects, as well as being able to spend time learning about the systems and devices on which our research is focused. In industry, I have not been met with any difficulty in accessing research tools and resources or the challenge of recruiting a certain number of participants from a limited group, which are two realities that can seriously damper academic research. There is also a certain luxury in conducting research with an already established investigative aim, and the ability to significantly improve existing systems or products for others to directly experience.
- The UX researcher never stops learning.
“With the unique constraints of each project, it seems that there is a never-ending potential to continue to learn.”
The endless hours I spent reading articles that attempt to define the concept of UX in preparation for my qualifying exams have taught me that the subjective user experience is really a complex integration of numerous concepts and, therefore, its meaning is difficult to dissect. Working on industry projects has helped me to appreciate the practical relevance of these user experiences and how they are constructed. A diversity of both theoretical and practical experience is essential when providing innovative solutions to various research problems. With the unique constraints of each project, it seems that there is a never-ending potential to continue to learn. The variety of research projects allows the UX researcher to increase the breadth of their UX toolbox, but also to deepen their understanding of what UX really means. UX researchers are not afforded the ability to spend years and years going deeper within a relatively narrow topic area. Instead, the variety and change that UX research offers and the opportunity to explore a wide range of areas is what excites me most about this type of research.
- UX research is a collaborative activity.
“…group efforts in the realm of UX seem to only deepen the appreciation for the work that goes into improving the user experience.”
With each day, I feel as though I am getting closer to becoming a full-fledged member of the UX practitioner community. I have not only enjoyed learning from the other UX researchers within the company, but also engaging with the clients and stakeholders who have attended user sessions. The industry clients have patiently taken the time to answer questions and educate me on the various systems used for testing, as well as feeding me relevant follow-up questions during the user sessions. Collaborating with other researchers and discussing thoughts and findings with clients and stakeholders have made me appreciate that UX is very much a team activity. Unlike academic group projects, which tend to be the most fundamentally hated facet of university coursework, group efforts in the realm of UX seem to only deepen the appreciation for the work that goes into improving the user experience.
Inga Sogaard has a MA in Human Factors Psychology and a MS in Psychology and enjoys studying how people interact with technology, especially if those users are from specialized populations. She is the current summer intern among the team of UX professionals at Human Interfaces, Inc. who develop custom research solutions for any UX challenge. If you need help from a full-service UX research consultancy for a study, recruitment, or facility rental, visit our website, send us an email, or connect with us through LinkedIn.