Since making the move from research consultancy to UX, I’ve been exploring how to apply the principles of academic research to my daily UX research practice.
I quickly observed that UX is not a stand alone discipline but is a piece in a larger puzzle. It is tightly connected to many other disciplines and therefore we don’t have to limit ourselves to draw inspiration from only one academic direction, but as UX researchers we have the great opportunity to find advice and relevant resources in multiple research journals and libraries.
The ultimate advantage of connecting the UX research practice to academic research is that academic research is rooted in theory and offers in-depth knowledge which can serve as a solid foundation for any qualitative or quantitative UX research study. In addition, academics face similar challenges when conducting social science research. This means they can offer insight on how to overcome specific challenges, such as choosing a research method or sample size.
Many academic disciplines provide access to rich and often untapped knowledge resources. As part of my practice, I consider research methods used in disciplines such as behavioural science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, statistics or social data science.
But how do we go about connecting the academic resources to day-to-day UX research practice? I find it helpful to stay close to academic resources by reading academic articles regularly. Accessing a range of academic journals and disciplines means I can discover new insights, theories and methods.
This inspires me to design research studies in different ways. It also provides practical guidance on conducting unbiased data collection, ethical research and achieving high quality research standards.
Read on for some recent examples of academic articles I’ve found useful in my UX practice:
- Thematic analysis
I recently conducted thematic analysis on a qualitative dataset. Afterwards, I was asked to share this analytical method with my colleagues. In doing so, I wanted to summarise the advantages of using this type of analysis. Using thematic analysis in psychology (2006) helped me to form a clear argument.
Thematic analysis is a flexible method suitable for qualitative data collection. It’s relatively easy to learn and implement. This article neatly presents the pros and cons of the method and when to use it. It also provides a practical step-by-step guide on how to use it in qualitative research.
I especially liked the focus on deliberate and rigorous ways of conducting thematic analysis and presentation of concrete pitfalls which should be avoided. These include, for example, mistakenly using data collection questions as themes for the analysis or creating overlapping or undistinguishable themes.
- The ‘framing effect’ and research biases
Framing the User Experience: Information Biases on Website Quality Judgement (2008), explores the ‘framing effect’ in UX research practice.
The article focuses on human-computer interaction. However, it has the potential to inform researchers across different disciplines on how to deal with information biases in social science research.
It argues that it is not only the information but also the presentation of the information that influences the user experience and perceived quality of the website. As researchers, we are responsible for framing the research questions and interview guides in a non-leading, non-framing way to avoid information bias.
Another interesting article that explores the effect of biases in research is Social Data: Biases, Methodological Pitfalls, and Ethical Boundaries (2019).
This article provides a summary of the different types of biases at different stages of a research project. These include behavioural, content, linking, redundancy and other information biases. The article also explores data quality and how to ensure the quality at every stage of your research.
- The influence of cultural background on data collection
Interviewing and counselling across cultures: Heuristics and biases (2002) – describes interviewing practices used by lawyers.
This article explores the influence of cultural background on data collection, specifically interviews. It also looks at how researchers relate to interviewees.
I found this article fascinating and very relevant to UX research practice. Like law practitioners, UX researchers conduct qualitative user interviews daily, often with a culturally diverse sample of interviewees. This article explores the role of culture in forming our understanding of the world, as well as its effect on interpersonal behaviour.
The article highlights how the assumptions we form about how people interact and behave, as well as how we interpret each other’s expressions, are culturally influenced. On this basis, the article advises researchers to learn and recognise the cultural influences in interaction with interviewees and account for any biases when collecting and interpreting the data.
- Evaluating research quality
Issues of validity and reliability in qualitative research (2015) explores evaluation of quality of qualitative research compared to quantitative research.
The article provides a clear presentation and comparison of criteria that can be used to evaluate the credibility of research findings.
The criteria commonly used for quantitative research (such as reliability, validity and generalisability of data) are compared with the alternative terminology associated with the credibility of qualitative research (such as truth value, consistency and applicability).
The article also offers practical strategies on how to enhance the credibility of qualitative research. These include accounting for personal biases, acknowledging biases in sampling methods or data triangulation.
To conclude, using academic articles to inform our day-to-day UX research is good practice.
We can use academic research to find answers and guidance on our research challenges, discover new theories, or gain inspiration from research questions explored by other researchers.
Bridging the gap between academia and UX can be achieved in a number of ways. Whether you prefer to attend research conferences, watch online lectures or regularly read academic articles, your UX research practice will be enriched and built on a solid academic foundation.
Virginia Braun & Victoria Clarke (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3:2, 77-101
Hartmann, J., De Angeli, A., & Sutcliffe, A. (2008, April). Framing the user experience: information biases on website quality judgement. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 855-864).
Olteanu, A., Castillo, C., Diaz, F., & Kıcıman, E. (2019). Social data: Biases, methodological pitfalls, and ethical boundaries. Frontiers in Big Data, 2, 13.
Tremblay, P. R. (2002). Interviewing and counselling across cultures: Heuristics and biases. Clinical L. Rev., 9, 373.
Noble, H., & Smith, J. (2015). Issues of validity and reliability in qualitative research. Evidence-based nursing, 18(2), 34-35.