Conduct UX Research Like A Pro

We are excited to introduce you to Kevin Liang from San Francisco, California. He is a UX researcher for famous companies such as Volkswagen, Google and Uber. He is passionate about mentoring and his Youtube channel is called Zero to UX. We learn how to conduct ux research like a pro.
What defines a good UX design in your opinion?

The user experience stems from the meaning we derive from interacting with something. 
A “good” design fulfills our psychological needs of safety, trust, a sense of belonging, ownership, ability to give back, and feeling competent. When it does, we can truly experience and extract what it means to be interacting with something beautiful and something that brings us contentment. The common adage for good UX is that, if it’s designed well, you wouldn’t even notice it. 

The common adage for good UX is that, if it's designed well, you wouldn't even notice it. 

What are the most often challenges you face while working in a UX field?
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Relationships. Life is all about relationships, and the field of UX is no different. The research or design part is easy.
The toughest part is being able to influence and lead with the intent of bringing the user’s voice closer to your team, especially when everybody has different goals or they do not understand how UX works; some will align with others, and some will not. Some will go straight to solutions without understanding the problem. Whatever the case, then comes the master skill of balancing the different needs and goals of your users, your team, and your business.

Always be leading up, whether you're a junior, assistant, intern, senior, or staff level.

I’ve seen arguments ensue because people want to get their points across, disregarding what others think. We must practice active listening. Listen to understand. Understand why someone has a certain goal. Then find ways to help them achieve that goal while not sacrificing on our mission as UX professionals.
Always be leading up, whether you’re a junior, assistant, intern, senior, or staff level.

What is your favorite project you’ve ever done and why?
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“I don’t move freight. I move lives”.

My favourite project I have done was when I was with Uber Freight, where it matches shippers with trucking companies. The freight business is traditionally old school – done with a lot of paperwork, person-to-person communication, and phone calls.

The team wanted to learn more about the day-to-day lives of truck drivers who move virtually everything we have in our household, from your laptop, to your coffee table, to your plastic Tupperware; everything you own, at one point, had likely been on a truck.

Challenges in research.
The thing I enjoy most about research is every problem is different, and thus there are different approaches to solving the problem.
To understand their user journey, whom they interact with, the tools they use, and generally how they accomplish their task of moving freight, I wanted to do field studies, intercepts at truck stops or ride-alongs in their trucks. However, there came the first challenge in research – we were not allowed to do this for legal and safety reasons. So quickly I had to think of alternatives, so we ended up doing remote interviews and diary studies using a tool called dScout. What I gathered from this method far exceeded what we would’ve got if we were to simply do intercepts and contextual inquiries. 

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Discovering a population I never worked with.
Scout allowed me to see video footage of how long-haul drivers slept in their trucks, days or weeks at a time away from their families. I saw how drivers drove around at night to sleep at crowded truck stops. I saw how drivers would seal their trailers and how they interacted with shippers. I saw the sheer amount of waiting. Waiting. And more waiting. I saw how difficult it is for drivers to maintain a set schedule because in this business “anything can happen”. One delay for a shipment could spell a chain reaction of delays down the line, instigating a flurry of back-and-forth phone calls trying to resolve problems. One driver even lost their job halfway through the study.

We must practice active listening. Listen to understand. Understand why someone has a certain goal. Then find ways to help them achieve that goal while not sacrificing on our mission as UX professionals.

Sharing the story of a population who often feel “forgotten”.

From these observations, I felt an empathy I have not felt before for truck drivers. Some love their jobs. Some are trying to make an honest living. They are the blood cells that move the oxygen through the veins that is our country’s roads. Yet, they often feel unseen, forgotten, or disrespected by other motorists on the road.
And as a researcher, my favourite part is being able to share the story of my findings back to the team, identifying the drivers’ joys, pain points, and opportunities for Uber Freight to help streamline the drivers’ lives.

After getting to know some of the drivers, I now tend to give truck drivers a nod, and pass only when I can see both their headlights in my rear view mirror. So next time you see a truck driver on the road, give them a thumbs up or say thanks.

Would you share 3 habit recommendations you think are crucial for success?
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1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable

As UXers, we live and breathe ambiguity. There are often no clear answers to the problems we are prompted with. Don’t fear not knowing. Instead, embrace it. Where’s the fun in design or research if someone gave you all the answers? Take the opportunity to understand the problem, and put your detective hats on and go on the treasure hunt to find out what clicks.

2. Keep learning new things with intent.
This is pretty broad, but observe how successful people work. When learning, always think how it can apply to your work in UX. Learn outside of UX. Learn about behavioural economics, leadership, communication skills, psychology. Then connect the dots, which in itself gives you some practice in synthesizing and finding opportunities and patterns in the real world, a skill every UXer needs to know. In other words, UX is not simply knowing how to do research or wireframing.

3. Have an improvement mindset.
When something does not go our way, we can do one of two things: classify it as a failure and start the crybaby blame game. OR take it as a learning lesson; improve and iterate on your process. Learn what not to do by trying yourself or by observing others. Ask for feedback and continuously be your own worst critic.
However, also play to your strengths. If you know you’re better at qualitative than quantitative research, while it might be helpful to learn some basic quant, it’s also important to become the most badass qualitative researcher you can be and ask for help from others who complement your skills. You do not have to be the jack/jill of all trades, because the corollary to that is “master of none”.

Don't fear not knowing. Instead, embrace it. Where's the fun in design or research if someone gave you all the answers?

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