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How do you set up a Design and User Research function properly?

Katie Tzanidou, VP Global Head of Research at Thomson Reuters and Product Matters Coach
Design and Research are crucial in modern Software development, Katie shares her insights on how to set it up for success

Katie, how do you set up a Design and User Research function properly?

Well, that is a big question and I feel like my immediate response should be ‘it depends’ on a few things i.e.  how big a company is, how many and which functions will partner with UX and UXR, how ready is the company to embed UX and UXR in their DNA, just to mention a few of the factors that will help you determine your approach. The setup involves several key steps to ensure effectiveness and integration into the overall business processes. Starting from assessing the maturity and readiness of a company for UX and UXR support you can understand and identify what kind of set-up is needed.

Drawing form my experiences here is a general guide with the top 5 things to help you establish a successful UX and UXR function:

  1. Understand Business Goals and Objectives:
    Align the UX and UXR goals with the overall business strategy. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that matter to the business.
  2. Establish Leadership Support:
    Ensure top-level executives understand the value of UX and UXR. Gain support and commitment for the necessary resources.
  3. Define Roles and Responsibilities:
    Clearly define the roles of UX and UXR team members. Identify who will be responsible for what aspects of the process.
  4. Build a Cross-Functional Team:
    Assemble a team with diverse skills, including UX/UI designers, researchers, content strategists, and developers. Encourage collaboration between different departments.
  5. Create a UX Culture:
    Foster a culture that values user feedback and continuous improvement. Encourage open communication and collaboration across teams.

One of the things that has worked really well in my experience is making sure you, gain leadership buy-in early to secure the necessary support and resources. Demonstrating the business impact of UX through ongoing communication, success stories, and alignment with overall business goals is critical. Secondly, integration is key—UX should not be treated as a standalone phase but should seamlessly weave into the entire product development lifecycle. However, you shouldn’t assume that cross functional partners already know how to work with UX and UXR, it is key to spend time educating and showing your PM and Eng partners how to work with your skillset and showcase the value you bring to the product development lifecycle. This ensures that user-centric principles are considered at every stage, from ideation to implementation. Cross-functional collaboration is imperative, breaking down silos between departments and fostering a collaborative environment.

Another crucial aspect is cultivating a user-centric culture throughout the organization. This involves instilling a mindset that prioritizes user needs and values, achieved through training sessions, workshops, and internal campaigns. Resources, both financial and personnel, must be carefully allocated to prevent the risk of insufficient budget and tools. Regular and varied user research activities help in avoiding reliance on assumptions and contribute to informed decision-making in the design process. Additionally, resistance to change can be mitigated by implementing gradual shifts, effective communication of benefits, and providing support for teams adapting to new methodologies.

Lastly, a strong emphasis on continuous improvement is vital. This includes establishing metrics for measuring the success of UX initiatives, closing the user feedback loop effectively, and encouraging a culture of iteration and learning from both successes and failures. Accessibility considerations should be integrated into design processes, and a focus on the human element of UX should not be overshadowed by an overreliance on tools. By navigating these considerations carefully, a company can successfully embed UX and UXR, leading to enhanced user satisfaction, improved products, and positive business outcomes.

It is all work in progress and worth trying the steps to see how effective they are and how you might evolve them to create a strong foundation for a UX and UXR function within your company, addressing your specific needs to enhance the overall user experience and contributing to the success of your products or services.

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