Just in time for the Super Bowl – A football metaphor for UX research and design

February 1, 2018

LinkedIn doesn’t lack for content and opinions on how to define roles within the broad sphere of user-centered research and user-centered design. In acknowledgement of the proliferation of the UX industry, and the fact that there are plenty of good reasons for specialized titles beyond a general “UX Practitioner,” we will lead with the caveat that, for this blog, we’re talking about user research and user-centered design in general. We thought we’d have a little fun and, at the same time, share our perspectives on the relationship between user research and user-centered design via gridiron metaphor.

There’s no “I” in team

User research and user-centered design are inseparable in our minds. Doing good user research isn’t worth anything if you don’t tie it to your design process; user-centered design isn’t really user-centered if it isn’t based on research. Kind of like having a blue-chip quarterback isn’t worth much without a high-quality receiver or two.

The QB

Regardless of specific title, the user researcher (intentionally vague) plans, manages, and executes the user-centered research that will ultimately provide the insights used to guide product design. Just as the legendary quarterback Joe Montana had the ability to read the defense and adapt the game plan, a great user researcher (intentionally vague) has the ability to observe and understand the use-related challenges faced by the intended users of a product and guide product design with those insights.

The receivers

Now, consider who gets the ball, like Hall-of-Fame Receiver Jerry Rice. He has the skills and experience to carve up a defense and make big plays happen – much like a great designer has the skills and experience to execute upon research insights and create a best-in-class product or interface design.

The designers often snag the highlight reels when they do their job particularly well. The brilliantly-designed product or interface akin to the receivers’ one-handed catch dragging a toe while falling of bounds. But that play is not possible without the quarterback’s audible at the line of scrimmage based on reading the challenges presented by the defense.

Assume “the pass” is an insight traveling from quarterback to the receiver. A quarterback can adjust the flight path of the ball to avoid the defenders. The great ones can deliver the ball to the receivers in stride just like great researchers provide designers with the well-placed insights to design with confidence. Each team member plays an equally important role, and it doesn’t do much good to have one without the other.

But let’s be real, we prefer research to running

We love working directly with designers, and in fact, many of us have worn designer hats in the past. But make no mistake – we are researchers. We excel at uncovering and interpreting the nuances of use-related challenges and delights so that designers have the framework they need to create products and services that provide exceptional user experiences. Also, we don’t like to run.

We are actively seeking quarterbacks to join our team. If you share our passion, visit our careers page.