Article by Tom Robinson
By mhenrichsen | 06 Nov 2023
I’m Tom, a Fast Streamer and User Researcher finishing my placement with the Scottish Digital Academy. I joined the team during the final months of my third year and after a year working as a User Researcher with DWP in an Agile team working with Job Centres. This has been my favourite of all the roles I have worked in as a Fast Streamer. I am pleased to be able tell you about my time in the SDA and my day to day role in the Scottish Government.
What is a User Researcher?
In the fast-paced world of technology and design, understanding user needs and preferences is paramount to creating successful products and services. This is where the role of a User Researcher comes into play.
We work behind the scenes to uncover insights that drive product innovation and improvement. In this blog, I will delve into the world of User Research, exploring the responsibilities, challenges, and rewards of being a User Researcher in what I do every day.
Understanding the Role
A User Researcher’s primary responsibility is to bridge the gap between the end-users and product developers. We serve as the voice of the users, advocating for their needs and preferences throughout the product development lifecycle. Here’s a closer look at what a User Researcher does:-
- Planning and Designing Research: User Researchers carefully plan and design research studies, selecting the appropriate methodologies and tools to gather user insights effectively. This may involve conducting surveys, interviews, usability tests and more.
- Collecting Data: Once the research plan is in place, User Researchers collect data by engaging with users. This could mean conducting one-on-one interviews, facilitating focus groups, or observing user interactions with a product.
- Analysing Data: The collected data is then meticulously analysed to uncover patterns, trends, and key insights. This analysis informs design decisions and helps identify pain points or areas for improvement.
- Reporting Findings: I then communicate my findings to the team in the form of a playback. This distils complex data into actionable recommendations that guide next steps.
- Iterative Process: User Research is an iterative process. So I can take input from the team, look at what is the next focus moving forward and start planning and testing again.
For me, User Research has always been part of an Agile process. So over the course of a few weeks I’m somewhere in the mix of the above processes. I can be speaking with Operations to source participants for the next round of research and then scheduling with participants. While this is in progress I need to understand whatever new environment I’m going to be testing in, so speaking to whichever team member or colleague that is involved is useful while doing my own discovery work.
With participants being sourced I then move to preparing sessions themselves. A script called a discussion guide lets me form a structure for the conversation and markers for me to hit. I also need a place to capture peoples’ responses so setting up a table to capture and analyse feedback is made, usually in Mural.
The research sessions themselves are where the work comes into its own. I need to hit each question and manage the conversation so that it flows naturally and participants feel encouraged to explore their own attitudes to the topics I bring up. Socratic questioning, not leading people to answers, especially not answers you may want to hear, is really important to get a true reflection of their needs. User Research is great for getting to know people and understanding their point of view.
After that it’s the heavy work of analysis, sorting through mountains of data, coalescing and making sense of it so that I can start recognising themes and putting together a format to feed it back to the team.
Finally, I take that format and deliver my report to the team in a playback. This could be in a written format, or my preferred method which is a presentation where I can explain my findings, what users thought of the product or whatever my research is geared towards and then put forward any next steps. This is my favourite part of the process, with the team taking in my findings, going away and implementing it to their work so we can iterate and improve.
Seeing my work change the team’s perspective, for them to act on my advice and then to get positive feedback from the users when I test those changes demonstrates that I’ve done my job well. The people who need our help are being heard and getting what they need and I am pleased to have been able to help facilitate that.
While in a project management role in a previous organisation, lessons learned was generally a one-off task at project conclusion. It was not a priority and there was no focussed or consistent approach.
It has been an amazing journey to be part of and I regularly reflect on the incredible achievements that have been accomplished to date from researching, designing, building, testing, maintaining, and transferring the vital services to help the people of Scotland.
I'm a student, currently studying for a BSc in Cybersecurity at Abertay University. My path into the cybersecurity world has been a unique one, having lived a former life as a Primary School Teacher for 5 years. I'll be entering the third year of my degree after this placement, so I'm relatively new to the field.