Whose Job is User Research? An Interview with Dorian Freeman

As part of my ongoing series about how user research is being done in organizations, I asked Dorian Freeman, the User Experience Lead at Harvard Web Publishing to answer a few questions. She shared her experiences working in UX design since the late ‘90s. See the rest of the series here

Owning Process vs. Owning Results

When I asked Dorian who on a product team should own user research, she explained that there is a difference between owning the process and owning the results. “The people who are accountable or responsible for research are the ones who oversee the researching, the synthesizing of the data, and the reporting on the findings,” she explained. “However, the data from the research is ‘owned’ really by everyone in the company. It should be accessible to everyone.”

 

This is an important distinction. Regardless of who is collecting the data, the output is important to the whole company  and should be accessible and used by everybody. Research, in itself, is not particularly valuable. It’s only the application of the research to product decisions that makes it valuable. Making the results of the research available to everybody means that, hopefully, more decisions will be made based on real user needs. 

External vs. Internal

A few folks in this series have talked about the benefits of having UX research done by members of the team, but Dorian called out one very important point about external researchers. “An external expert can often provide insights that are more credible to the leadership than an internal expert, which is a perception issue, but helpful in some cases.”

And she’s absolutely right. We may not always love that it’s true, but highly paid external consultants will sometimes be listened to where an employee won’t, even when they’re saying the same things.

On the other hand, for day to day research that is informing product team decisions, an in-house expert is often preferable. Dorian says, “Typically, the in-house expert researcher has more institutional knowledge which can speed up the process and provide more insight. In the ideal scenario, the product team should always have an internal expert researcher working closely with them.”

For teams that aren’t lucky enough to have an expert, Dorian recommends getting someone on the team to learn how to do it. “Understanding the people who use your product is essential,” she says. “If you’re not interviewing users, you’re not doing UX.”