Best Practices

I’m a Developer, and I Do User Research

How user research can make you a better modern web developer.

Arleigh Atkinson
/
October 19, 2018

Since I started my career in web development a few years ago, I’ve seen product team processes change to help developers better understand the goals for a particular feature set. I’m excited that user research is a trending addition to these processes and even more excited that it’s become part of our company culture for everyone to interview our users. Though I was pretty nervous for my first few sessions and experienced more than a few awkward moments, research has been a great skill to grow and is something I believe should be common practice for more dev teams. If it’s complementary to the skills we already use every day and can help us deliver better features for our users, why not?

The Why

User research is a great way to get better acquainted with the product you’re building. In the past, I’ve usually had to jump head-first into developing features for an industry that I don’t know much about. Including user research as part of the onboarding process gives purpose to product walkthroughs and has helped me build domain-specific vocabulary to better communicate with product managers and business stakeholders.

Understanding the industry has been really important, but it’s been equally important to get to know users individually. This has also made an impact on my development practices. In the past, I haven’t often been able to speak with end users, and doing so is actually very gratifying. Seeing the product through their eyes helps me approach my own development environment with a new perspective and with empathy for the user—as much as I enjoy generating Bob’s Burgers-themed test data, being able to test a feature I’m building more realistically allows me to think more critically about each state I need to consider, as well as questions to bring to the product manager.

Getting to work with other departments is also one of my favorite parts of our research process. At User Interviews, we’ve been deliberately paired with others outside our department to carry out our interviews. It’s great to get off-the-cuff product insight from those who use our admin features and are closer to the end-user, but I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the personalities behind the avatars on Slack, especially since we’re a remote team.

The How

If research is already part of the product development process, ask if your team’s UX researcher would allow you to sit in on a session, or even conduct one, if you dare. Otherwise, starting an inter-departmental book club could be a great way to build the skills and the knowledge needed to carry out the research during the feature development process without having to actually conduct sessions.

Having a general sense of how user research works translates into asking the right questions during the feature development process. This could be the difference between wasting three months building something in a way no one wanted and delivering a feature that actually moves the needle.

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Arleigh Atkinson

Arleigh Atkinson is a software engineer, and sometimes user researcher, at User Interviews.

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