Democratizing UX: Who to train (and what to train them)

Democratizing UX research can be challenging—this guide helps you decide who to train and what to give them

UX is facing an existential problem: demand is growing faster than supply can keep up. One answer is to ‘democratize’ UX—to disseminate UX research skills to traditionally non-UX parts of the business. 

Education and training are the only ways you can do this. They’re crucial to shaping the understanding and perception of UX in your company. Neglecting to do basic UX education may lead to future problems with teams self-educating and not understanding quality research practices.

The democratization of user research

As someone who trains researchers, democratization is a word I have already heard at least a hundred times this year. Research democratization is the goal of spreading UX training to non-researcher roles. This is desirable for a number of reasons:

  1. Democratizing research lessens a research team’s workload.
  2. It ensures research is conducted more frequently and that research is a regular part of the design process. 
  3. It fosters an understanding of what it really means to consider the end-user experience.

If you want to learn more about research democratization, check out this Nielsen Norman Group article.

Who needs training, and what kind of training do they need?

The big question is this: how much training and education should you, as a UX research professional, be providing to non-researchers? How do you maintain research quality across so many teams? And who needs UX training? 

Here’s a breakdown of which roles and teams need training, and what kind of training they need.

Designers as Researchers

Education Level: Train to perform research and direct to your organization's research resources

The first non-researcher role typically thrown into UX training is designers. Most designers are already familiar with user experience and many UX best practices. 

Design tools, like InVision, are already motivating designers to collect their own UX insights. These tools’ websites provide articles on how to do research and beginner’s guides.

Many designers are interested in design guidance, especially at the early stages of design. Thus, training them not only ensures they can get answers to guide them on which direction their designs should go, but that they are aligning with the practices of the organization’s research team.

Designers do best with knowing the logic behind certain research methodologies and often become excited by the insight they can gain by doing usability testing on their own.

Another benefit of allowing designers to do usability testing is that they can more readily update and re-test their designs.

This means researchers can focus on other projects versus waiting for prototype or design updates for iterative testing. In my career, gauging when designs would actually be ready for specific tests was the largest hurdle in conducting efficient research.

By focusing on simple tests such as usability testing or click testing, designers typically pick up the research process quickly. However, they will need training to focus on the softer research skills such as ensuring tasks are realistic, non-leading, and do not result in confirmation bias.

Bad research is all too easy to do. Often it’s a result of well-meaning designers who haven’t been given the tools and skills they need. Consequently, they produce user research that is flawed. 

Engage those naturally curious about UX research and allow them to thrive in their designer-researcher role. For those less interested in research practice, promote the value of research and let them know exactly who to contact in order to execute research.

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Design Leads and Managers 

Education Level: Train to assess research and direct to your organization's research resources

Design leads and managers may be too busy to do research on their own, but they should be aware of how research best practices can help gauge the quality of their designers’ findings.

Being able to ask about study setup, test scenarios, population, etc. will provide another level of oversight. This can ensure research maintains its value in the organization and that research teams don’t have to be the only ones monitoring it.

Product Owners and Stakeholders

Education Level: Train to assess research and direct to your organization's research resources

Not everyone is going to be in a position to take the workload off of a research team. However, product owners and similar stakeholders should be able to identify quality UX research and ask meaningful questions.

Training on UX best practices, methodologies, tools in use, and study design can help those digesting findings understand the value of the research.

Not only does basic training prevent future questions on “why UX?”, it will ideally motivate product owners and stakeholders to be more invested in research and to expect design assessment before final production.

Market Researchers

Education Level: Train to perform research and direct to your organization's research resources

Market researchers are smart and skilled at their craft. Likely, they are already doing research looking into natural behavior, even if they don’t necessarily label it ‘user experience’. 

I’ve found that market researchers who have requested training are exceptionally eager to understand UX best practices and how to properly word questions to capture more behavioral insight. 

Market researchers may use tactics from UX to explore content testing, emails, etc. This may not directly take any workload off a research team, but their own research can be strengthened by additional learning. 

As with other roles, it is beneficial for other departments to know your organization’s research teams for collaboration and insight sharing.

Other Teams Needing Research Resources

Education Level: Share informational basics and direct to your organization's research resources

Depending on your organization, there may be other teams curious about research or research insights. These teams should be introduced to your UX research teams, as they can benefit from knowing what UX research they are doing.

This will help curb any future scenarios where teams attempt to conduct research on their own using their own testing tools. This could also save them from hiring outside vendors instead of utilizing what is already in-house.

One way to spread knowledge of research without heavy training is research repositories. Being able to easily direct those outside research to past insights will increase their understanding of what is already being explored, the value of what the research team is doing, and who to contact for additional insight gathering. 

Research repositories or any type of research share-out, such as internal organization-wide meetings, can help increase the awareness of internal research teams and promote outreach.

What to Do Next

First, think about how you want to shape UX research in your company and ensure you set up research value for success.

Train to get ahead of other teams exploring or practicing UX research on their own. Train to have stakeholders understand what good research practices are. Educate to ensure the organization knows who is their best go-to resource for UX insights.

In summary:

  • Design leads and managers need training to gauge UX research quality.
  • Designers can be successful researchers if they are eager to learn.
  • Product owners and stakeholders need to gauge UX research quality and know who are the best internal resources for research.
  • Market Research can benefit from understanding UX best practices and applying them to their own craft. 
  • Other teams should be aware of internal research teams and research that’s already been performed.

Spread the knowledge and increase the curiosity with company-wide workshops, newsletters, or research repositories to shine a light on your research team’s work and spread awareness of who can assist with future research needs.

If this guide has left you wanting to know more, why not check out our UX Research Masterclass series of webinars?

UX Research 101

A comprehensive guide to planning, launching, managing, and analyzing UX research projects.