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🗞 Growing a UX Research team from 2 to 100

Jan Ahrend
Jan Ahrend
5 min read
🗞 Growing a UX Research team from 2 to 100

Great Question
Great Question

😌 Humans of User Research w/ Janelle Ward

Hi Janelle, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Janelle Ward. Being a researcher is a big part of my identity. I was in academia for about 15 years. My research started in political communication and later turned to the user experience of dating apps. My teaching mainly focused on helping students learn and apply research design to their academic projects. Once I transitioned into UX research, I led practices both as a founding lead and as a manager upskilling and growing an existing research team. This year I started a consultancy (Janelle Ward Insights) because I want to help companies grow their UX research practice with an eye on research vision, strategy and operations. I’m also setting up a coaching practice for transitioning academics. I grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before moving to Amsterdam to start my graduate studies. I ended up staying in the Netherlands - it’s now been over 20 years! I’m based in the beautiful city of Leiden and live with my partner, 11-year-old son, two cats (Star and Virga) and a dog (Biondo).

What originally got you interested in UX Research?
I’ve always loved being a researcher. It’s an absolute joy to wonder about some phenomenon in our world, evolve that into a research question and build up a robust scientific study. I thought academia was the best and only place for me to pursue that passion. As the years went on, I struggled with the lack of what UX researchers call “actionable insights.” My work obligations involved speaking to and publishing for academic audiences, and though it was possible to share my work more broadly, it wasn’t seen as the core of my efforts.

I discovered UX research from a former student of mine who was in the field. I realized she was describing exactly the kind of work I’d always wanted to do: research in a fast-paced environment, with real-world applications. From that moment I began speaking to people in the UXR field. The more I learned the more I felt like I’d finally found my match, and I began the transition out of academia.

How would you explain your work to a 6 year-old?
Being any kind of researcher makes for a great conversation with a kid. When he was little, this is what I told my son: The work I do is figuring out the best way to understand and explain another person’s experience. I use my research skills to watch what people are doing (observation) or ask them about it (interviewing). Then, I share what I learned.

Coming from an academic environment where incomprehensible writing (and speaking) was unfortunately common, I firmly believe everyone should be able to explain their work to a child. Our own greatest understanding comes from breaking things down to their essence. Explaining things so a child can comprehend them is not “talking down” to them, nor does it diminish our work. It actually elevates it.

How can people learn more about you and your work?
You can read more about my work on my website, There, you can sign up for my future email newsletter (one is geared toward those building a UX research practice, and the other is for academics looking to transition into UX research).

I’m active on LinkedIn, so please connect with me! I write regularly for a number of platforms like Dovetail and dscout, about setting up a UX research practice and tips for transitioning academics. I also volunteer as a mentor on UX Coffee Hours.

Thank you , Janelle!

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🎉 Highlights.

How Indeed established a major UX research org in just a few years
Director Dave Yeats looks back on his experience going from 2 UX researchers to a team of over 100. Kathryn Brookshier

Leveraging user research to decide between job offers
Choosing between job offers can be overwhelming, here's how you can objectively tackle the decision without letting fear take over. Nikki Anderson

What I learnt as the first user researcher at a governmental department
About 4 years ago, I found out I was going to be the only user researcher at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in the UK Government. This was quite daunting at the time and I struggled to find any tips or guidance on it. So, I’m writing this to share what I’ve learnt for people who are becoming the first, or are the only user researcher in an organisation. Sophie Rankin 05/13

🎯 Approaches.

How to use OKRs toward product-market fit
And track progress with confidence. Martin Spinnangr 05/12

Three ways to create more UX researchers
We may soon find we’ve relied too much on candidates with advanced degrees to satisfy demand for UX research. So in this article, we’ve looked at three possible ways to create a sustainable pipeline of UX researchers. Lawton Pybus 05/16

A UXer's guide to neurodiversity
What is neurodiversity and why it matters in UX. Maria Panagiotidi 05/13

Looking for advice on your UX research project? (Sponsored)
No matter the question: how should I recruit participants, how much should my incentive be, to screen or not to screen, we've got you covered. Get advice

🛠 Methods.

How to avoid false insights in your research
It's easier than you’d think to glean false insights in your research. Here are some of the common mistakes researchers make—and how to prevent them. Nikki Anderson

Personas vs. Archetypes
Archetypes and personas used for UX work contain similar insights, are based on similar kinds of data, and differ mainly in presentation. Personas are presented as a single human character, whereas archetypes are not tied to specific names or faces. Page Laubheimer 05/15

Diving deep: agility and scale in qualitative research
How exactly can the insights industry create sustainable scaled qualitative research experiences in the face of numerous resource and time-based challenges?. 05/13

📆 Partner Event

UXinsight Festival 2022 – May 30, 31 and June 1 (hybrid)
UXinsight’s sixth annual UX research conference, in-person or online. Created by UX researchers for UX researchers. Three days full of practical workshops, inspiring talks by experts from leading companies and networking opportunities. Be inspired, make connections & improve your skills. Recordings for all ticket holders! Get your ticket now

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🎥 Videos of the Week.

Brave UX: an interview with Michaela Mora
Michaela Mora discusses the challenges of categorising race ☑️, why homogenous leadership is bad for businesses 🤕, and what UX researchers could learn from market research 🔍. YouTube 05/16

Spotlight > Articles > Video > Audio

🔉 Audio of the Week.

Building data literacy at Starbucks
Megan Brown, Director of Data Literacy and Knowledge Management at Starbucks, discusses what they have done to forge data culture and data literacy at Starbucks. Spotify Apple podcast 05/16

Happy researching,
🗞 Jan