Senior UX Researcher at ChaiOne
This month’s ChaiOne Employee Spotlight is on Adrian Garcia, a Senior UX Researcher at ChaiOne. As a Senior UX Researcher, Adrian and his team chart the design direction of projects and ensure the technology we deliver is user-friendly, intuitive, supports users in the context of their work, and delivers on specific business objectives.
Here are some of Adrian’s thoughts on being a ChaiOne Senior UX Researcher:
Can you describe a typical day as a researcher?
That’s a tough question to answer because my days vary greatly, but a few constants are: helping create a robust research team, evangelizing research and user-centered design both internally and externally, and doing research work for our clients. Additionally, I train new researchers on our unique process, help the sales and marketing team, and assist in department planning.
When working on client projects, the tasks I do vary depending on whether we are at the early, middle, or late stages of a project. However, regardless of where we are in the project, I participate in client presentations and help create various reports.
Early in the project:
The early stage of a project is all about charting design direction so that the end solution satisfies business objectives. This means the team and I visit clients to understand their goals for the project and to identify any business constraints we will need to work around. From there, research strategies and timelines get produced, and the initial research is executed.
Research at this stage of a project can be anything from surveys, interviews, contextual inquiries, usability testing, diary studies, data mining or any combination of these. Contextual inquiries are popular for our clientele. This is when teams of researchers and designers observe and interview users and they go about their normal day-to-day activities and collect information relevant to project KPIs. Afterwards, these teams triangulate and synthesize all the data and then ideate on how to satisfy the business objectives based on all the known facts. The ideation session includes rethinking how individuals interact with technology to do their job, how groups of individuals work in teams, and how policies are enforced within a business to support more productive work. The end result is the design direction, or our hypothesis of the solution needed to meet the project objectives.
Middle of the project:
The middle of the project is all about designing and testing our hypothesis, or the agreed upon design direction. This is when teams of designers and researchers collaborate to make the solution tangible through low, mid and high fidelity compositions and prototypes. Once the solution is tangible enough, the team circles back with end users to do usability testing. Testing at this stage can range from guerrilla or exploratory to running a controlled experiment. It all depends on the project objectives and the particular answers we are seeking from the test. Based on the information collected from the tests, the teams decide if the design is on track to meet the project objectives, and what improvements can be made, if any.
End of the project:
At the end of a project, research teams along with QA validate that the project objectives have been met. After deployment, research is all about making sure the solutions are working as intended.
Were you always set on becoming a researcher? What made you become a UX Researcher?
Yes, ever since I was in undergrad I wanted to become a researcher. Every since I heard about the discipline of Human Factors, I was set on pursuing it. Human Factors is a specialization of psychology and is the core of UX. This meant I first had to go to undergrad for psychology and then graduate school for Human Factors. I had always been fascinated by psychology so I decided to go to a small university that did it well. The university structured their curriculum to allow students to do all the research they wanted and allowed students to focus their research on things that interested them. While there, I collaborated with professors on a variety of research projects in many different domains including: Psychometrics, Social Psychology, I/O Psychology, Biopsychology, and Cognitive Psychology. I did everything from content analyses to running experiments. My senior year I had so many posters on display at a conference that I couldn’t stand at them all, even after partitioning them into separate time slots. At one conference, my team and I won best project that got us a cash prize and our photo featured on the International Psi Chi website. The skills I developed during this time are ones I still use in my job today.
Graduate school is when I focused my research skills to human computer interaction. From knowing that relationships with professors are essential to learning research, I decided to go to a small graduate program in Human Factors that was run by a professor who had a good reputation. My thirst for research didn’t stop. When presented with the choice of doing academic or industry track research, I decided to do both. I did research on designing auditory interfaces, usability testing on apps and websites, and studied the muscular force exerted on touch interfaces to determine their potential for causing repetitive stress injuries compared to traditional input devices. Throughout grad school, I also tutored students in statistics and did consulting work for businesses in UX and user-centered design. I have definitely been preparing for this career since my first year as an undergrad.
What are some important traits that UX researchers should have and what skills are needed?
As a UX researcher, you have to get along with clients and have those soft skills to deal with people. It will be hard to be successful if you don’t have these skills. You’ll have to interact with clients and educate them in order to direct them down the right road. Plus, a big part of the job is observing, interviewing and doing usability tests. You need to be comfortable during these activities or it won’t go well and information needed for the project won’t be collected.
Great with experimental design, psychology, and human factors
UX researchers will have to know how to do experiments with human subjects, comprehend social and cognitive psychology, and understand how to apply the principles of our discipline to humans and organizations, and work with qualitative and quantitative data.
Good writer and presenter
As a UX researcher, you’ll need to write many research reports, collect a ton of info, and do many analyses. You have to be able to synthesize tons of information into a succinct research report that highlights actionable deliverables and clearly tells clients what to do and how we will tackle the business problem. This needs to be done in a convincing manner or teams will ignore the data and not get to work.
Have an eye for usability
Researchers need to know when designs and interactions are confusing or won’t support a user in the actual context of their work. They need to be able to examine designs from the cognitive perspective of the end user. They need to answer questions such as, will this language make sense to the end user? Will this interaction be cumbersome to use while the user is undergoing a secondary task? Are users likely to discover this feature or interaction based on their history of computer use? For example, I once worked with a small team to design a desktop interface for teachers in South Africa who weren’t even aware of right-clicking. Burying options in a right click menu was out of the question. As a researcher you need to be able to brainstorm alternative solutions and make sure the team is on track to deliver something highly usable and intuitive to the target population.
What are some challenges that you face as a researcher?
Researchers face many challenges: business constraints and time are constants. Additionally, UX, even though it is deeply rooted in Human Factors and Psychology, is a fairly new discipline still taking form. Consequently, people differ on what they think UX research means and how it is applied in a user-centered design lifecycle. There are also differences in application between the B2B and consumer space. This means that some clients need to be educated on how we do things. Even though differing opinions is an obstacle that needs to be overcome, I view it as an opportunity. From my perspective, this means the industry is ripe for thought leadership.
What things have you learned so far at ChaiOne that you would tell a new employee?
This is your chance to make a big difference. Be confident and swing for the fences.
What are some of your favorite apps?
- LinkedIn Pulse
- Banking apps
Fun Facts About Adrian:
- Likes to travel
- Likes art from the Renaissance period (because of how it is influenced by religion, philosophy and science), Surrealism (because it was the visual representation of breakthroughs in psychology at the time), and self-portraits (because it’s interesting to understand how people see themselves, it’s a window into their self-concept)
- Used to compete in gymnastics, martial arts, and amateur boxing
- Received the Texas Regional Golden Gloves Title in his heyday
- Has a Jack Russell Terrier dog named Jack
- Did so much research he needed special permission from the university to rearrange his schedule to accommodate his interests in both undergraduate and graduate school
- Likes taking classes on Coursera and Khan Academy – He’s currently taking courses in world history and data science.
- Currently planning a vacation – He is going to Portugal and Spain and wants to see three artists’ work when he is there: El Greco, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. He is also attending the Las Falles Festival in March, which has many floats and is a traditional celebration to commemorate Saint Joseph. At the end of the festival, everyone burns all of the floats and then they pop fireworks. They save one float and put it into a hall of fame museum in Valencia. It is very interesting because these floats are supposed to be satirical and political. Visiting the museum is a chance to see what people cared about over time and what was important to them culturally.