Should you outsource your UX research?

Loïs Gauthier
January 11, 2023

Not all companies are able to conduct UX research themselves. Either they don’t have the resources: time, teams, skills or they lack focus and clarity in their strategy. While all these challenges can be addressed internally, either by training teams or hiring new members, some companies decide to externalize some or all of their UX research.

In this article, we wonder why they choose this option? Are they right to do it? How do they do it? Where to find consultants, agencies and tools? What budget is necessary to outsource UX research? How to monitor your partners?

Here are some reasons TO outsource UX research:

  • Access to experts: outsourcing a task gives you access to the expertise of an external stakeholder without having to make a long-term investment by hiring and/or training teams. Even if you could hire, maybe your budget wouldn’t allow the level of expertise an external partner could provide. For example, you might have the budget to recruit a junior UX researcher but realize a better investment would be to access the part-time expertise of someone with extensive experience.
  • Access a brand new perspective on your business and research: bringing new eyes into your UX research can help reduce bias and open opportunities to learn about your users. External partners have experience with other products which will allow them to question the status quo and foster new ideas
  • Conduct research faster, with more frequency and systematicity: if you lack time, bringing an outside partner to conduct some or all of your UX research might allow you to conduct more of it. Outsourcing might even be your only way to conduct any research at all.

Here are some reasons NOT to outsource your UX research:

  • Everyone in your organisation, from product to marketing, can benefit from learning UX research skills. Even if you don’t have dedicated team members at your organization conducting research, training them in this field would help grow your organization’s customer-centricity
  • It is tricky to manage someone on a subject you don’t have a good knowledge of, especially if they are an external stakeholder
  • You are wasting resources outside of your company instead of investing in training your teams and building skills internally
  • Insights created outside of the company are trickier to manage: usually they are more easily accepted than insights produced by internal stakeholders. However, team members might have a harder time using these insights because they will need to make extra efforts to adapt them to the product roadmap. Even if these insights are valuable, they might not be formulated in a comprehensive enough way because external stakeholders might lack background and company culture.

Specific situations:

1. Outsourcing a specific part of the research process:

  • a step of the research (recruiting testers)
  • specific research types/categories (quantitative research, focus groups) (more below)

2. You are a UX team of one: outsourcing might be your only way to expand your user research and start building a culture before more members join the team

3. You are making your first steps in UX research:

  • outsourcing your UXR can be a first approach to kickstart your research which will help you get familiar with the practice
  • with time, you might be able to internalize some of the processes if that’s what feels important for your research.
Decision making graph, should you outsoucr your UXR?

Steps to outsource (some of) your UXR

What can you outsource?

You can decide to segment what you will outsource by segmenting tasks in various ways:

  • Strategy/operations: you can choose to manage the UXR strategy internally (because it is strategical obviously) and outsource the operations (conducting the research and delivering insights for example). Depending on the scope of your UXR, you might need a full-time team member to manage your external stakeholders. This type of organization requires a trusted partner and streamlined processes.
  • Qualitative/quantitative research: depending on the skills and resources you have internally, you might decide to separate how you conduct qualitative and quantitative studies. Some companies struggle to conduct qualitative studies because they are longer to organize and their insights longer to process. They end up mostly conducting quantitative research (usually surveys) even though UXR best practices advocate for using a variety of formats. This might be a reason to outsource qualitative research. It is better to have it done externally than not doing it at all. Also, once it has been done and you have experienced the synergy between qualitative and quantitative data, you might feel inspired and empowered to conduct it yourself. On the contrary, you might decide to keep qualitative studies managed internally because they allow you to stay close and connected to your users.  The skills necessary to conduct qualitative and quantitative research are very different: if you have data oriented teams, they might be more comfortable conducting quantitative studies. On the contrary, if you have more empathic, user-centric teams, they might be more comfortable conducting qualitative research. Mapping your team’s skills will help you evaluate what you should externalize.
  • In-person/Remote meetings: you might decide to outsource in-person meetings for logistical reasons. Maybe your UXR team is fully remote or located far away from where your users live. This will require to hire a local freelance/agency to conduct in-person meetings for you. To monitor UXR in this type of settings, you can require meetings to be recorded.
  • Research/Operations: Research operations are necessary but very time-consuming. A choice you can make is to separate research from operations by outsourcing the latter. This will allow your UX researchers to conduct more research while enhancing your ResearchOps processes. Another way to reduce the load of research ops is to use tools for specific aspects of operations such as recruiting testers or gathering insights in a single repository.

Using a clear segmentation for what you outsource will allow for more clarity, easier skills’ targeting when looking for a partner as well as easier day-to-day management and monitoring.

How you segment it will depend on your team’s size and skills as well as the nature and frequency of your projects.

A hybrid solution

You can decide to onboard an external expert who’s responsibility will be both to train, accompany teams as well as conduct research. This way, you are investing on both sides: operation/delivery and training/skills improvements. It will allow to get results quicker than if you were training your teams in a more formal way.

How and where to find partners?

Whether you are looking for freelancers or agencies will impact how you source them.

There are two main sources of freelances for UXR:

  • social media: Linkedin, Dribbble, Medium, Behance, Slack (MixedMethodes, ResearchOps)
  • freelancing platforms: Malt, Upwork, Designhill

UX agencies can be found through their websites, social media and industry awards (such as UX Design Awards).

If there is a content creator you like or someone you trust, you can ask them for recommendations.

Your ability to find trusted partners will play a great role in your ability to outsource or not. Indeed, you might have already decided to outsource a specific project but if you are unable to find the freelance you are looking for, this will setback your project.

What budget to hire a UXR partner?

Externalizing is more expensive but requires less risk because the level of commitment is lower and you can usually stop the collaboration more quickly.

Prices vary across locations, skills and seniority but expect daily rates to start around 250€ and up to more than 1k€ for renowned experts.

You can lower daily rates if you commit longer with stakeholders and on a regular basis (10 days a month for example).

How to monitor your UXR partner?

State, formalize and clarify your expectations:

  1. Define your UX research goals and KPIs internally
  2. Share your goals and KPI with your partner
  3. If they are able to address these goals, ask for a detailed plan of how and when they will work on these
  4. Define what resources they will have available: what they will provide and what you will provide
  5. Define how you will work together, through which platform, how often, for what purposes
  6. Define how often you will review actions taken and KPIs together. What will be the format and frequency of the review? Who will present what?
  7. Define in advance an outline of what will happen if those KPIs are not met

If you wan to make the best use of insights created by an external stakeholder, make sure to allocate enough resources to welcome and manage them. They might need to be reworked in some way but this extra effort is what is going to make the investment worth it.

There is no one-size fits all answer to externalizing. It is a strategic decision that has to be made depending on your company size, UXR team size, UXR skills, growth momentum, your projects’ timing, your forecast of activity, revenue, UXR needs as well as your location. In the end, what is important is that UX research is conducted and used at your organization. Although important, the decision of externalizing some of your UXR or not is less important that the fact that UXR has to be done. So don’t spend too much time pondering this matter and start doing research!

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