Making sure a customer’s experience has no speed bumps while interacting with a service or product is the holy grail for any company. That’s where User Experience Designers (UX) and Researchers (UXR) come in. Their role within a company is to remove any obstacles from a user’s experience. At FleetOps, we have a UX team of professionals who help guide product research, development, and improvement.
Meet Nina, who leads our UX team. She explains the importance of user experience and the role it plays across products and services.
When we talk about the distinction between user experience (UX) and user experience research (UXR), it’s important to understand – at the outset – that UX is a field. Given such, it forms the umbrella for a subset of four different elements:
These core elements are supported by different UX disciplines, such as content strategy, information architecture, interaction design, visual design, usability evaluation, accessibility evaluation, and UXR.
It’s worth noting that independently, none of these elements makes for a positive UX; however, taken together, these factors constitute the main ingredients for a product’s success. If we choose to view this reality from a more optimistic perspective, it can be said that in order to achieve a positive UX, one must do some sort of research to discover what that looks like; hence, UX, in these circumstances, becomes “the means” and UXR becomes “the means to an end”. This, in my opinion, is the main differentiating factor between the two.
To grasp the importance of such differentiation, it’s important to understand the evolution of UX. The term UX – from a very general standpoint – refers to a concept that places the end-user at the focal point of design and development efforts, as opposed to the system, its applications, or its aesthetic value alone.
Professionals working in the field know that such a term was first coined by Donald Norman in 1995. However, what many do not know is that such human-product interaction was of great interest even before the birth of the term UX itself. For instance, as early as the 1980s, scholars such as Dr. Russell Belk interpreted it as the consumer-possession paradigm after looking at this relationship from a more marketing-oriented perspective, with a focus on consumer behaviors and choices. Evidently, the complexity of UX is strongly stressed by the fact that it draws on principles of cognitive psychology. For such reason, UX professionals and scholars have debated between two UX streams for decades – the hedonic and pragmatic views.
This views UX as a field that stresses the importance of emotions and the affective response of users – i.e., everything that basically goes beyond mere usability.
Using this method, it is possible to find aspects such as usability, ease of use, usefulness, and effectiveness. These aspects are more easily measurable, and some can even be assessed in an objective way.
Here, it becomes evident that UX has both a subjective and an objective nature to it. For this reason, there are many professions in the field of UX. Some of these include UX Strategists, UX Architects, UX Researchers, Content Strategists, Accessibility Specialists, UI/UX Designers – to name a few. UX professionals are in high demand today – even more so with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to increasingly digitized experiences – as companies seek to provide enhanced experiences for their customers.
This means that not only are we seeing an exponential increase in people studying UX recently, but many are switching from their current professions to one in UX. I took this approach a few years back when I transitioned into UXR from academic research. Now, I am seeing graphic designers, software engineers, information scientists, architects, copywriters, marketers, and even a subset of professionals coming from psychology, sociology, and anthropology entering the UX field. Given such a diverse base, I strongly suggest for anyone in the process of deciding whether they want to study UX or do a career shift into the field, they take the time to understand the difference between UX and UXR as this will determine whether they prepare themselves for a UX Generalist (e.g., UX Researcher AND UI/UX Designer AND UX Architect) or a UX Specialist (e.g., UX Researcher only) role.
While there are a variety of frameworks that have appeared over the last few decades that define the phases and steps used in design thinking engagements and workshops (as a search for “design thinking” via Google will readily demonstrate!), the underlying principles remain the same.
There are five such principles that are instrumental to design thinking, as follows:
UXR – just like scientific inquiry – is a structured process, meaning that it has its own approaches, methods, and tools. The basic premise of UXR, nevertheless, is to infuse all stages of the UX design and product development process with data insights. In doing so, it’s worth emphasizing that a structured process does not mean a rigid process. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to UXR: the best processes are flexible, adaptable, and tailored to the unique needs of your users, team, and business. Hence, in arguing UXR’s effectiveness, it is worth emphasizing when it should and shouldn’t be conducted.
UXR can be helpful in situations where you want to assess the intuitiveness and functionality of your design (be it an app or a physical product) or when you want to fine-tune your design by testing prior decisions.
In contrast, UXR might not be such a good idea when you don’t have the budget to do it right as a non-scientific approach that bases product decisions on the opinions of a few users is not so helpful. Likewise, UXR is not the most appropriate undertaking when all you really want is market research. UXR mainly focuses on how users behave while interacting with your product, not so much on whether your product has business potential!
There are numerous real-world examples of companies that owe much of their success to UXR. For instance, Samsung doubled its market share in just two years by redesigning its TVs after uncovering that TV owners viewed their sets as furniture and, therefore, valued sleek design. Febreeze learned that its consumers craved a “scent reward” for cleaning – even though its fragrance-free versions successfully removed unwanted odors. My personal favorite is the success of Angry Birds – a game designed for mobile phones, tablets, and other platforms that now has over 5 billion downloads worldwide. Angry Birds’ creators used principles rooted in cognitive science related to human memory management to create a simple manipulation of the games’ user interface that caused significant short-term memory loss in players. They discovered that this, in turn, increased game play complexity but in a way that was not perceived by the player as negative and added to the addictive nature of the game itself. I advise readers who are interested in learning more about the value and effectiveness of UXR to consult the work of Charles Mauro, a certified human factors engineering professional who has been a spokesperson in the UXR and usability science domain for the past 45+ years.
I’d also like to emphasize that the justification for UXR goes beyond evidence from industry-leading commercial enterprises, as previously highlighted. A study conducted by the world leaders in research-based UX – the Nielson Norman Group (NNG) – revealed that non-profit organizations and government agencies also generate a strong ROI from investments in UXR.
The two are closely intertwined – in fact, UXR can be seen as a subset of the umbrella term “human factors” – which is a discipline of its own. The term human factors might be confusing to some as it’s found across various domains – from “human errors” to incident reports, to safety and ergonomics literature, human-computer interaction, design, etc.
In its simplest form, human factors can be viewed as the interaction between humans and their environment when completing a task. Here, human factors draw on broad disciplines (biology, psychology, neuroscience) to apply scientific knowledge to human capabilities and limitations in design with the aim of improving the areas within a product where actual interaction happens. In human factors, the goal is to essentially reduce the number of mistakes that users make and produce more comfortable interactions with a product.
UXR focuses on researching everything the user comes into contact with, even emotionally, and feeds these insights into the design process. Together, human factors and UXR produce products that are usable, safe, useful, and desirable. Whereas human factors focus more on creating products that are usable and safe. UXR, as a subset of the encompassing UX field, zooms in on the usefulness and desirability of products. As such, the more “intrinsic” nature of humans (i.e., the emotions, feelings, thoughts) are of much greater focus in UXR and therefore complement the more practical side of human factors.
At FleetOps we build both carrier-facing and Broker/3PL-facing products. Given that our product portfolio is diverse – with products at different stages of development and maturity – our UXR process is non-linear (how it should be!), meaning that research doesn’t end when design and development begin. Hence, our UXR process centers on continuous discovery at every stage and involves circling back and forth between those stages.
We combine both behavioral research (i.e., we observe how users actually act/use our product via heat maps, A/B testing, usability testing, user recordings) and attitudinal research (i.e., we study how users think/feel via interviews, surveys, and concept testing). We also map out customer journeys and develop user personas and stories to clarify and communicate the insights we gathered during research.
Likewise, we use our research discoveries to inform preliminary idea development, design sketches, and wireframes and prototypes. My team, in particular, is focused on the Broker and 3PL market and we are currently studying user sentiment for the first version of our product via in-depth user interviews and concept testing with different types and sizes of freight brokerages.
Interested in learning more about a career at FleetOps? See our posted roles here.
Subscribe to receive more empirical insights like these delivered to your inbox.