What is usability experience or user research
User Experience, 'UX' or Usability research, tends to take place on a one-to-one basis. It's a great chance to take a peek at something not yet released, or the next version of a service you already use.
We all have experience of horribly-designed websites, unusable online processes, or bits of technology that just don't do the job they should - and we all know how frustrating that is. User Experience is all about that fascinating area where human beings and technology connect with one another - often it's the kind of things that, where they work perfectly, you don't even notice. If a website or application designer wants their new service to be useful to the public, they will at some point have to get feedback on how 'real' people will use it, and what kind of issues they might encounter.
This feedback is usually in the form of a structured interview, often in front of the application itself, and it can feel a bit like you're being tested - being asked to find information, or locate things on a website, for example. Remember though it's not you that is the test subject, rather it's the site or process itself. Sessions are often recorded, and special technology to track where your eyes move around the screen is also useful to designers to help the designers make further improvements.
Sometimes research needs to take place in the real world rather than a research centre, and you might be asked to test a piece of equipment or software at home, and be interviewed there or complete a diary or blog about your experiences. More typical though is a one-to-one session in a development lab, with an interviewer guiding you through a series of tasks and talking to you about what you're doing, how you are finding the instructions and information available, and so on.
If you are selected for this kind of research, there will be no assumptions of any degree of technological-savvyness about you. If we need 'expert users' we'll cover that in the screening process, but it's just as likely that you are chosen because you have no special experience or expertise of the area at all, and better reflect the potential new users 'out there'. As ever, open questions are asked to pinpoint precisely the participants we are seeking, and by answering fully and honestly you will maximise your chance of selection for the right project. Sometimes you might be asked to test a future release of a service you already use, and this can be a fascinating glimpse into the future - or our clients might be creating something completely new. Often the ideas being tested are very commercially sensitive, and for this reason you may be required to sign a confidentiality agreement before participating (all this will be shared at the point of recruitment). You might be looking at something about to launch publicly and having its final refinements decided - or other projects might be at a very early conceptual stage.
It can feel a lot more intense than taking part in a focus group with other paticipants, but the feedback we receive is that people usually find it very interesting to see the directions in which new technology is moving, as well as gaining new insight about how the technology we take for granted is tested and developed.
All the UX projects we recruit for are individually scheduled and usually booked back-to-back in an expensive test lab - punctuality and reliability in our participants is even more vital here than for group work!