Under the microscope. Image Credit: Maxime Ge

“There’s not enough time.” “ We don’t have the budget.” “ I know the user.” “ I’m the user.” These are the common and irrelevant that researchers hear on a regular basis. Let’s talk about the root of these and how they impact whether you get the time or resources needed to conduct .

Research in the “Real World”

I once got the “research takes too long” excuse, which prompted me to ask the person to define “too long”, and to specify what an appropriate amount of time for research would be. They were stumped by my questions, as they expected me to make a case for some elaborate three month research plan. Since we were working in two week sprints I asked, “Would two weeks be considered fast?”. When they replied that it would, I thought to myself, “Challenge accepted!”

You might be asking yourself, what type of research was conducted — generative or evaluative? What was the goal? It all comes down to one answer: it doesn’t matter. I was working with a team that used the excuse of “research takes too long” when in reality it had nothing to do with time. It was simply fear of change, and that’s difficult, if not impossible, to rationalize against. So what happened? I conducted the research in the two week period, brought back interesting insights that informed the direction of the project, and guess what? I received management approval for a discovery research sprint at the beginning of every project. Ok fine, so you’re not that impressed. But hey — this is the reality of working as a UX Researcher in the “real world”. Little wins add up over time.

So am I suggesting you go out and ask your managers or leads for two weeks to conduct research? Of course not! Two weeks just happened to be what was feasible for my team. However, next time you’re having to make a case for conducting research, consider the following:

  1. Understand your audience. Stakeholders may say it’s due to the lack of time, money, etc., but underneath that excuse there is something else — a fear perhaps — and that’s what you have to figure out. Use your research skills to dig a little deeper. This is the only way you’ll be able to make a strong case.
  2. Be flexible. The ideal methodology might be in-person contextual inquiries, but if time and budget won’t allow for that, what about doing remote interviews instead? Think outside the box and select the methodology based on your reality, not the ideal case scenario.
  3. Be specific. It is important that you are clear about the goals of your research, methodologies, and the timeline. This will help create trust and set expectations with stakeholders.
  4. Educate your team. I worked on a project once where I sensed that we were going in the wrong direction. After presenting the research findings from an evaluative study, a stakeholder said to me, “We already know this!”, to which I replied, “Yes, you’re absolutely right and I’m glad you noticed”, and I went on to explain the difference between evaluative and generative research and why it was crucial to do generative research at this stage of the project. I’m happy to say this stakeholder now uses that explanation to educate his colleagues and executives! Hallelujah!
  5. Document and share your findings. Proving the value of research doesn’t end when you get the approval for budget. In fact, that’s when it begins, and now you have to deliver! Find interesting and engaging ways to present your findings, share them with anyone who might be interested, and refer to them as often as possible in casual conversations, meetings, etc. (e.g according to our research…therefore…). Whatever you do, don’t let them forget your good work!


Part of being a UX Researcher means having to constantly prove the value of your work. It’s not always about whether or not we should do research, rather how much research or what type of research should be done. It’s the nature of the beast, as people say. And yes, learning cheap and creative ways to conduct research can ease the pain, but at the end of the day it’s all about communication and patience. Think about the big picture and remember that the little wins add up.

Margie Mateo Villanueva is a Lead User Experience Researcher at IBM. The information and views explained in this article are those of the author, and does not necessarily reflect IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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