UX Research is at the intersection of multiple fields. Working in this area gives you the opportunity to be scientific, creative, and collaborative as well as giving you the opportunity to influence the direction of your company. Outcomes and results should influence decisions across all teams within your company – from the C-suite to your salespeople.
That’s why we sat down with Varun Murugesan, Head of Research at Apple & Banana, a globally-read UX research publication built with one goal: make every UX research study more fruitful. Varun joins us to debunk the stigmas around UX research, how to get into the field, grow your research skills, and how to take a good research team and make it a great one. Don’t worry if you missed our webinar, simply click the link to watch the recording.
Varun studied psychology and applied statistics, started his career in data analytics, and moved into user research at Facebook and Best Buy. Eventually, having found a gap in the market for practical research content, Apple & Banana was born to make good research content accessible and smart. When it comes to research thinking Varun believes there are 4 hallmarks to maintain:
Research is about understanding context holistically – so always bear in mind the context in which the research is going to be used.
No one is born with research superpowers – even those with doctorate degrees worked hard for years to get better. So you can too.
Always look to bring stakeholders into the process. Co-presentations with stakeholders are an excellent hack to drive interest and excitement out of your collaborators. As more stakeholders become involved, it becomes easier to get them involved going forth.
Write down every single question that your stakeholders care about, no matter what it is. It’s also great to conduct stakeholder interviews. If you can, you will find that your research plan, context, and parameters completely change because this is what’s important to them.
If you’re collecting data you can’t just be inaccessible to your stakeholders – use Slack to share updates at the end of the day, and the same thing with analysis. Take a fraction of data and do loose coding with stakeholders if possible or if time is tight, just sit down and go through their questions with post-it notes.
You’re being paid for your interpretation and insights on data and how to make that actionable and connect that back to the business. No one is going to read a huge deck.
Decks are useful as an artifact, rather than as decision-making tools. It’s important to note that there are two different goals for any research project: immediate decision-making and institutional knowledge. So thinking about separate artifacts for separate goals makes more sense than compiling a needlessly long deck.
You can constantly learn from what's readily available online. There are a tonne of great resources, (like Apple & Banana) that have some accessible programs. You can also look to upskill in Arc (a statistical programming language) of which there are also free courses online. The world is full of free content on understanding where your gaps are and how to fill them.
Also, if you can find a mentor, it will impact your career 10x as a researcher.
Don’t worry if you have not got a master's or doctorate. Most master's programs are not designed to make you a researcher. They’re broad vocational programs, so much like a law degree, you get the degree so you can get the job to learn how to do the job. There are so many skills you get as a researcher just by doing the job but you can build up skills in other adjacent fields.
Also, it’s important to remember that a third of the job is making the results real to the people you’re trying to influence. Stakeholder management is an excellent area to research and storytelling with data – how do you move beyond facts and figures and actually convey a clear narrative and incorporate design? You need to learn how to bring it back to people and make it real and relatable.
Writing is a craft. It’s not just putting together bullet points. You have to be able to communicate effectively, for example, by synthesizing important data.
Ask questions such as “what parts of the deck did you skip?” This will allow you to refine your deck more easily and focus on what the stakeholders are interested in. If you build strong stakeholder relationships you’ll not only be able to communicate those great, life-changing findings, but you’ll find it easier to communicate the ideas that don’t work and improve at having frank conversations.
Commanding an audience with confidence without being condescending is an excellent research skill to have. But you only get better at this through time, practice, and asking for feedback.
And finally, always consider what decisions you will make based on this information. If you can tie everything back to that, then that really helps get your stakeholders' onside.
Good research teams do research, great research teams change the way the company thinks. Strategic research that asks “where do we go next?” influences the way the company works and great researchers consistently pull stakeholders in and do mix-method research when appropriate.
Great research teams tell better stories than good research teams, they know what it's like to translate data and connect it to the business. The job of research is to have an opinion and to communicate that effectively.
A lot of places don’t have the luxury of all the right tools, but if you invest time into streamlining and upgrading processes, it will impact all of the research you’re doing. Otherwise, you are doing yourself a disservice, making research slow, and reaffirming how much time and energy it takes.
The research game is transient – there are always more skills to learn, more questions to ask, and more people to collaborate with. The job of research is to enable better decisions across the company. It’s about understanding how information needs to flow through an organization to have the best possible impact on your product or service. Watch the webinar replay to learn more about research collaboration, usability testing, and the value of growing junior researchers in your team.