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UXR Spotlight: Varun Murugesan

Varun Murugesan
Varun Murugesan

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?

Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello, I’m Varun! I really like research that champions the best of people, creativity and technology - so that’s why I do UX research! I grew up in a house of problem-solvers and curious thinkers, where now both qualities have helped me become a better researcher. After studying psychology and statistics in undergrad, I’ve been a mixed methods researcher working with startups, nonprofits and large enterprises (such as Facebook and Best Buy) since 2017. My research philosophy is focused on two main ideas: researching together and doing whatever you can to avoid studying bad research questions in the first place.

What’s one thing you wish you realized earlier in your research career?
90% of this job is just educating your team on research. I spend a lot of time with stakeholders explaining away misconceptions about sample sizes, why qualitative research matters or how cyclical data analysis can be. When I slow down and educate my stakeholders in a thoughtful and succinct manner, they’re excited about research. Better yet, they want to come take notes or observe a session or even fund more research. I wished, in the research community, that we talked about engaging and simple ways to make the process of research feel energetic, rather than something statistical or lethargic. The more human I’ve been when working with my team, the more humane - and powerful - user research I’ve been able to do.  

What was the funniest/weirdest experience you had in a user study?
I was working with a UX designer, concept testing some screens. It was a low-fidelity prototype and we had several big questions to address. We struggled with participation but were able to get two really meaningful testing sessions completed. But near the end of the second session, the participant kept asking about some colors on the screen. I assumed that it was a screen-sharing issue but I asked the participant about his questions. Very plainly, he said “Oh, I’m color-blind. I’m not sure what color that is! I just thought it was red this entire time!” It was such an unexpected moment so we three all burst out laughing. After the session, I made accessibility recommendations back to the team but the experience stuck with me (vision challenges is now a common screening question I use during usability testing research).

How can people learn more about you and your work?
You can reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’m also working on a UX research handbook! Fruitful: A Practical Research Handbook is set to be released in early 2022 and you can join the book waitlist here. Or you can listen to some podcasts I’ve been (If you want hear someone ramble on about doing fruitful research) here.

Thank you, Varun!