This spotlight was part of USERWEEKLY - a weekly email to understand what is happening in user research. It's the best way to keep up on trends, methodologies, insights across the industry, and meet new researchers. Each week, the newsletter captures the pulse of our community and answers a simple question: What mattered in User Research this week?
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, janelleward.com. 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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