"Selling" the Added Value of Qualitative UX Research
Quallies who want to expand their practice into UX research need to be aware of the different types of UX research and the various terminology used in UX field. Practicing UX researchers (UXRs), especially those not lucky enough to work within a company with a well-established UX research practice, should be adept at discussing how qualitative research adds value. This article is written for anyone who need to “sell” the benefits of UX research, whether to generate new business or convince internal colleagues.
How Qualitative UX Research Adds Value
As independent consultants, you probably already have a sales pitch in your back pocket describing the value of qualitative insights to the marketing organization. In UX research, you’ll be working most closely with product management and engineering. Talking to this different set of stakeholders means tweaking the terminology and emphasis. In working with product teams, the language that resonates is that of “bringing the outside-in perspective, mitigation of risk, and efficient use of valuable engineering resources.”
Three Categories of UX Research
UX research falls into 3 broad categories: exploratory, conceptual, and evaluative. Each contributes differently to the product and mitigates different risks. Exploratory — or generative — UX research (field visits, ethnography) addresses product-market fit and reduces the risk of building the wrong product for the wrong people. Conceptual UXR (iterative design research, usually with prototypes) reduces the risk of building the product in the wrong way and minimizes internal bias. Evaluative UXR (primarily usability) confirms user goals are met and reduces user adoption risk.
Disruptive vs. Incremental Research
It’s a mistake to think of UX research as synonymous with usability testing. UX research encompasses much more, and significant contributions come from other methods. Usability testing — as an evaluative method — can contribute only incremental improvements to the product. The engineering team is a fast-moving train on tracks that have already been laid. Usability testing may be able to paint the coach a new color, but it’s too late to route the tracks to a different destination. Disruptive innovation and product-market fit come from doing exploratory research in advance of the engineering effort.
Working as a UXR, your role will be to bring in the outside perspective, helping to develop and maintain focus on the user problem and delivering value to the user. This is sometimes a large effort in the face of pervasive and — at times — strongly held opinions about the perceived problem or the imagined value of a visionary solution. Developing a strong partnership with entrepreneurs and product leaders is key to grounding the vision and shaping it into something that will be successful in the world of the eventual users.
Being adept at explaining the different types of UX research and how they can add value to the product team will help you sell your UX services. And in terms of impact, focus first on exploratory methods, then conceptual methods. Usability testing may be a good way to get in the door, but only as a last resort as your impact on the project will be severely constrained.
Mary Sorber is Founder and Principal Researcher at Practical Insights, a boutique qualitative research company engineered to ask the right questions to get answers and insights that are a springboard for innovation and improved user experience. We are happy to partner with quallies looking to break into the UX field.