This interview is part of an on-going serie we are conducting with UX researchers. The goal is to shed light upon this role: its diversity, practices and the people moving it forward.
Jessica is an Expert UX Researcher at Amadeus. She has been working in the field of UX since 2010 and teaches UX and design.
We chatted with Jessica on March 3rd about what it was like to work in the emerging field of UX in the early 2010, her role as a teacher and some of her views on the field.
The small world of UX in the early 2010
Jessica studied psychology at the university, discovering its different branches and especially cognitive psychology. She specialized in cognitive ergonomics and Human-Machine Interactions (the academic field somehow corresponding to UX in a business setting).
I was kind of a geek: into new technologies and with a creative side.
Cognitive psychology is the study of high level functions: memory, attention, vision, reading etc. […] This knowledge of how humans process information is very useful to design. For example, knowing that our working memory is limited to around 7 elements will help in keeping things simple when conceiving a webiste.
She also learned about the technical methods of psychology: creating a questionnaire, leading an interview, how to analyse answers while limiting bias.
She really enjoyed studying and applying this knowledge during her first internship where she created a user club, conducted tests and took part in the design of a product from scratch. After graduating however, she faced many companies who had no idea what HMI (Human-Machine Interactions) was, especially in the South of France where she lives (France is a very centralized country and even today, many technical and specific jobs are mostly available in Paris).
She worked for a consultancy firm for 6 years before joining Amadeus where she still works today.
Creating a user pool
On several occasions, Jessica has created user pools as part of her process to conduct user research.
In early development stages, it may consist of early adopters or future users she gathered and frequently asked feedback to. She compares it to a co-conception process.
For mature products, a pool will be made of clients who have agreed to be contacted for research purposes.
They are all volunteers and in some cases, can interact with each other.
The first project was an app target at students to help them navigate their leanring. They create the pool from a students union which they met once a month.
More recently, she has worked with clients from her company who agreed to take part in research efforts and are contacted from time to time.
In UX, reaching users is the main challenge.
There are a lot of acronyms in the field of user experience research, aren’t there?
HMI and UX: 2 acronyms, 1 practice?
Jessica mentions that a main difference of these 2 acronyms is their field of origin:
- HMI comes from the field of psychology: it means human-machine intercations and people from this field will have skills focused on human psychology, cognitive sciences and how these define how humans interact with machines (such as computers) and thus webistes and apps.
- UX comes from the field of design: people from this background will usually have an approach based on creative problem-solving.
However, they are often used interchangeably although UX is much more common. As the practice evolves, people in the field are becoming increasingly more aware of these both aspects.
Who conducts what research: UXR/UXD?
In a stereotyped definition of roles:
- A UX researchers will conduct research before a product is designed: their role is to understand user needs and create a concept based on different methods like interviews and focus groups
- A UX designer will illustrate this concept visually and test this design with users
But there are other ways to frame these roles: some with a more holistic approach. Her personal experience is having to do it all.
I think UX researchers and designers should have a common basis of knowledge.
Low UX resources
When I first started, I was the only UX practitioner in a team of more than 100 developers. […] I was designing, creating the style guide, conducting user tests. At the time, it felt normal to me to be doing all of that.
She explains that her work back then was very different from what we would expect of a researcher today. 80% of her work was actually more design than research. She would meet users only for user tests after a big delivery.
The software ecosystem has also greatly evolved.
When I started, I was using Photoshop to create mockups.
Teaching UX, staying inspired
Jessica started teaching by replacing a colleague on a mobile design course, then design thinking and innovation, UX tests.
Teaching is a very important aspect of my work life. It is what drives and fulfils me.
We have to fight for users, not giving up because of functional limitations and technical constraints. Making do with what you have is better than nothing.
This job can create a lot of frustration because changes are slow but we have to focus on long term changes happening. This frustration can also be a fuel for progress. At Amaedus we have a growing community of UX practitioners, people travel to meet each other.
I am a bad user, I never find buttons, functionalities. When I am with users, I try to interact with them as if they were my parents: being as simple as possible, nothing is obvious.
The future of UX
We are going towards conversational UX, away from our focus on interfaces, buttons, colors. We are moving our expertise from technicalities to strategy.
She also mentions there is still a lot of structure to bring within organizations.
Some of the efforts people at her organization have undertaken include research operations and atomic research. For example, they have created a common database for user insights with Airtable. Using tags allows them to classify research results and avoid loosing value. They use it this way: when working on a specific product, page etc, they will start by reviewing all existing insight about this element to benefit from previous work and avoid duplicating research efforts.
This can be considered a low-tech repository tool.