The Rise of Social Science Researchers in UX

It’s incredible how the field of user experience (UX) has grown so much in the last few decades. Today, it’s nearly impossible to think of any digital product or a service without considering the user experience it provides or intends to provide. If you want to make your customers or users happy and ensure that they have a positive experience while interacting with your product, investing in user experience must be your priority. This, of course, will require that you incorporate user experience research into your workflow.

UX research is imperative when it comes to providing a pleasant user experience. UX research intends to understand human behaviours and motivations to produce usable, useful, and satisfying products that serve the real needs of real users. Although in UX community research is carried out by people from different fields and backgrounds, an effective research requires the touch of competent researchers. If you are closely following this field or if you are already from this field, you probably have noticed that the number of researchers with a background in social science has increased steadily in recent years. Many researchers, especially those from psychology, sociology and anthropology are now have a say in this “technical” field.

Although UX researchers are expected to have certain knowledge in areas such as technology, product management, and design, surely they don’t have to be an “expert” in any of them. Rather, they need to have a good understanding of research methods (qualitative research in particular), be competent in using various research techniques, be skilled in data analysis, and have the ability to derive insights from research findings. It’s not surprising, then, that researchers from certain areas of social science, especially those with a special interest in technology and design, are quite successful in UX research. Most of the research techniques used in UX research are borrowed from research methods in social science. For example, psychologists or sociologists employ methods and techniques such as interviews, surveys, observation, and focus groups which are commonly used in UX research as well. Anthropologists and sociologists know a great deal about ethnography which is one of the most important research methods when it comes to understanding user needs and the “why” of behaviours.

However, it’s not only about being skilled in employing methods or knowing how to use certain techniques; it’s also about deciding which techniques to choose in a given situation to achieve the best outcomes. One should be aware of which particular methods and techniques would best answer the research questions in hand, and which would be the most feasible. If you received a decent education in, say psychology or sociology, chances are you have a good idea about the pros and cons of various techniques, although you get better at this by experience.

In the process of product development, UX researchers help teams in designing optimal solutions by listening to and observing existing or potential customers (or users), preparing and implementing user tests, deriving insights from the data they gather, and communicating findings to others. Therefore, they act like a bridge between users and team members, and help develop harmony, unity and communication within the UX team. Some researchers from certain areas in social science are in a very good position in terms of working successfully in teams, and building relationships with stakeholders. It’s, of course, true that no matter from which discipline they are, some people are naturally talented in interpersonal relationship management. However, a good deal of exposure to an education full of courses on understanding human behaviours, needs, and emotions, as well as relationships, increases the chances of those such as psychologist to flourish in user experience field.

UX researchers play significant roles in the development of successful products and services. Those with a good social science research background can make a great deal of difference in user experience. If you are a psychologist, an anthropologist, or a sociologist, or from another field in social science and knowledgeable in various research methods, interested in human-technology interaction and user experience design, it may be a fantastic opportunity for you to take your part in this challenging, but constantly growing and fun area.

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