You know when you're on an app and you're trying to do something but it just doesn't seem to work the way you expect it to? For example, you're tapping a button that you'd expect to show you results—but it's not doing that. So, you end up throwing your phone out of frustration. User Experience (UX) research tries to help put an end to moments like that, and create more moments where you go, "Oh! That was easy!"
So what does a UX researcher do? We study how people behave and what they need when using a product or service. It's a lot like market research, but perhaps the biggest difference is how the research is primarily used — market research informs how to sell something, while UX research informs how to build something that gives target users a good reason to keep coming back to your app or website. In other words, a good sign that UX research has made an impact is when users are able to easily accomplish what they want to do with your website, app, or product.
Of course, UX research isn't the sole driver to achieve product success. It takes a whole team working together to provide that kind of experience to users. The role of a UX researcher is to inform the solution builders like designers and product managers how to get there.
I was in college when I first took an interest in UX. I was initially leaning towards a graphic design career at the time, but what I liked about UX is that it's relatively more objective and pragmatic. As a practical person, that really resonated with me.
For some time, I got quite used to working on graphic design. Eventually, I noticed that one of the biggest differences between graphic design and UX is the consideration for usability. While both job titles are design-centric and concerned with aesthetics, the output of a UX person (or "UXer") is more focused on how users interact with the design. In UX, the primary goal is to enhance user experience by asking questions like, "Which button is more effective?" or "How do users behave when they're on our website?"
In graphic design, I think there's more emphasis on how it looks, while in UX, it's more about how it works. This is one of the reasons why simple-looking websites like Wikipedia stand the test of time — while it's not the most beautiful website out there, it gets the job done.
I was finishing up my degree when this realization hit me. So, while I still had enough time to change the direction of my career, I applied for a UX internship and the rest is history.
If there's one thing I love about UX, it's that it's literally a learning experience. Research, by definition, is a way to find answers and know more about something. So, I like that it's always an enlightening experience and (hopefully) an empowering one for our stakeholders, too. I find it fulfilling when I'm able to help them make decisions backed by research and evidence.
I appreciate that UX research is an intersection of multiple fields, how it can also be regarded as a social science because it compels me to dig deep into user problems. I enjoy learning about people because it expands my worldview, and I like doing things in a methodical way (maybe because I'm a Capricorn haha!).
Research always starts with a question. So when setting out to do research, we first define what those questions are, why are we asking them, and how the answers are going to be used. That will dictate the type of data we'll be collecting and how we're going to collect it. The most common way, for example, is by interviewing our users, though sometimes we would run surveys or review existing data.
In PayMongo, we conduct research when we want to understand why people are requesting for a certain feature. What problem do they think this feature will solve for them? Why does it matter? Gathering this information helps the team think of solutions that are the least time-consuming and resource-intensive to build.
When we do have interviews with users, we also invite other members of the team to observe. These teams are the ones who don't get as much "quality time" with our merchants because they're focused on building things. So, when they observe, it's eye-opening for them because hearing the feedback first-hand has a more profound effect on them. It's eye-opening for me, too, because when I meet with the team to share what we make of the users' feedback, I get to see things from their point of view and learn from their expertise as well.
A lot of the research we've done in recent months focused on understanding and defining user problems. Recently, we've released some minimum viable products (MVPs) built with a "skateboard" mindset that is being cultivated in the company. These are solutions that aim to zero in on the core idea or the heart of a product request, and in turn, address user problems. Right now, we're looking forward to evaluating these solutions and see if it sufficiently solves user problems as we uncover new opportunities to make better products and experiences for our merchants.
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