Over the past decade, and especially during the last 3 years, the role of User Researcher has experienced a hiring boom. If Indeed.com is any accurate source of industry buzzword trends, the demand and value of User Research in developing software products has only increased. Suddenly, it’s not good enough to just ‘move fast and break things’. Now you need researchers to keep you from tripping over yourself. Indeed (no pun intended) CNN calls us out in 2017 as the 39th best job to have out of 100 best jobs in America (yay, we are #39!)
I like to think of research as ‘adulting’ but for startups. Why? Because ‘adulting’ is boring, routine, unsexy and hard to see or notice. Like flossing your teeth. Every day. (Or at least a few times a week). Must you really do it? Then come the pro and con articles on the internet, endless Twitter debates that resolve nothing except to hone the ‘pro’ or ‘con’ stances of opiners, while your teeth slowly accumulate plaque and other gross stuff. Or worse — cavities.
So let’s take a look at why you should value research at your organization, whether you are a tech startup, an educational non-profit or any other place where humans with diverse points of views, habits, histories, and tastes, congregate, collaborate, and try not to kill each other in the process, as they work towards the (hopefully) greater good.
Part I: The internal benefits of User Research
Research has particular value in several areas for your company, your teams, and your external customer, client, partners, and users. However, for starters, having a research practice can yield benefits even just for your organization internally. There are three general categories of internal benefits that research can catalyze:
- Research has the ability to reduce redundant work or pointless work.
- Research has the ability to defuse conflict and reduce politics.
- Research also makes it easier or possible to bring workers closer to experiencing the direct consequences of their work.
1. Reducing redundant or pointless work.
This may seem not to be such a shocker but: people hate doing work they find is pointless. People hate pointless work because the lack of agency and psychological ill-effects of meaningless work is so real that in David Graeber’s recent book, On Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, the author (an anthropologist) details in one chapter, how people who have switched from having a mind-numbingly redundant or pointless job- to one that actually has some measurable form of impact on the world- have discovered mental ill-effects often simply vanish as a result of the change. The bottom line is people enjoy being ‘the cause’. Such wow that User Research can help Product Designers design for the ‘right problem, right job’ or Developers/Engineers to build for the ‘most conclusively vetted solution’.
2. Defusing conflict.
Hey, I’m not suggesting you should fly a bunch of startup people from the Bay Area to the Gaza Strip anytime soon, but I do think that well-executed research and results has the ability to de-escalate the natural human tension that can easily build up in any organization that needs to make decisions quickly and with confidence while remaining in relatively close social contact (i.e.- a tech startup being the most titular example of this scenario). Defusing conflict regularly is one of those unseen or hard to notice ‘wins’: one less argument a day over a poorly constructed A/B test keeps the team psychologist at bay. If only there was a non-socially awkward way to ‘celebrate’ the wins from reducing the times that people argue unconstructively on a daily basis…
3. Bring workers closer to experiencing the direct consequences of their work.
And last but not least- research has the magical ability to help close the loop between the worker and their effects on the world. The feeling of getting positive validation (or any validation) that your work made a difference is almost always enough to make the most battle hardened employer or employee a bit soft and feel good. So many times, an analyst, a reporter, or an engineer have told me after a foundational research project or a humble usability report express pleasure that they were able to create something that had an effect for someone else. To reiterate the point made in the first reason I outlined: people inherently enjoy being ‘the cause’. It gives friction to our otherwise, unbearable lightness of being.
So all of this is ostensibly in the service of educating, improving, guiding, and motivating employees. And happy employees make a more pleasant work environment- that place you spend more than a half of your waking life during the week.
Next article will cover Part II: the External Benefits of Research, and how it helps your customers, students, external stakeholders, family, friends, etc.