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So, Are You a UX Researcher or UX Designer? (Part 2)

by Pamela Gay , 03.11.2011

My guess is that before, and possibly even after, reading our last blog, So are you a UX researcher or designer (Part 1), many will continue to identify themselves as either a UX researcher or a UX designer.  Why?  I think there are three reasons for this:

  1. 1. Much of our training is focused on either research or design.
  2. 2. There are many more firms and agencies that only focus on research or design (i.e., there are usability research firms and there are design agencies).
  3. 3. Many companies still seek out services for usability research separate from user-centered design.

The UX field has nurtured a culture that reinforces the delineation between UX research and UX design.

Interestingly, I recently co-led a fascinating round table discussion with UX practitioners on this exact topic. We had attendees physically position themselves along a continuum based on their perception of their role.  On the one end was “UX Researcher”, the other, “UX Designer”.  How did people position themselves on this continuum?  All but one positioned themselves near the middle of the continuum.

This launched the group into a great discussion around whether this question of “UX research or UX designer” was relevant, given the group’s self-identification on the continuum.  There may have been some social desirability here, as the consensus was that “everyone else” tends to think of themselves as either/or and that this was indeed a real challenge.

So what does it take to move UX practitioners from the ends of the continuum towards the middle?  I think it will require two distinct solutions, one for the UX researcher and one for the UX designer.

UX researchers need to be courageous and brave in letting research guide and inform changes to design.  I am in the opinion that UX professionals only provide clients and stakeholders 50% value if we simply conduct user research and identify usability problems.  What are clients or stakeholders supposed to do with these findings?  I think a challenge in the field is in making specific and actionable design recommendations based off of user research.

In contrast, I oftentimes see UX designers as needing to slow down their thinking and truly let research inform design.  I have found that designers can be quick to draw conclusions in favor of quickly making changes without tying those design changes back to user input.  Another common pitfall is that “best practices” are too quickly implemented without truly understanding if particular interactions or design elements match the user population’s expectations and needs.

I’m not saying that a great UX researcher should be great at UX design and vice versa.  A great UX researcher doesn’t need to be someone who can design the next Apple interface.  A great UX researcher needs to be someone with enough of a design sense to provide actionable design guidance using the results from usability research.

Bottom line: A great UX researcher is also a good UX designer, and a great UX designer is also a good UX researcher. Read about our UX researchers (who are also UX designers) ;)

Read Part 1: So, Are You a UX Researcher or UX Designer? (Part 1)