UX Strategy for Researchers

Moderated by Jillian Hudson, UXC; UXr Guild Board of Directors
This is an abridgment; view the full video presentation here.
Session 2 – October 11, 2022

Identify and Creating UX Champions

On any project, the best scenario is to have an ally in your corner at a client site – someone who trusts you and will help advance your UX Strategy. These champions may exist without any effort on your part, but more than likely you will need to win over business stakeholders. While not without effort, identifying and creating UX champions can happen – and here’s how it’s done.

What makes High-quality UX Research?

The main component to finding those UX champions is to present high-quality research. When you do this, you will set yourself up as the authority. But it’s more than making you look good. It’s ultimately about creating relationships.

  • When you validate something your stakeholders already know, that makes you legitimate in their eyes.
  • When you validate something they suspect is true, that makes them feel smart and makes you an authority in their eyes. 
  • When you inform them of something they didn’t know, they can trust it because of the previous two components. That makes you a valuable resource in their eyes.

While these components may appear obvious, this process doesn’t happen overnight. You have to consistently produce high-quality work while still keeping your eyes and ears open for the response from your stakeholders. That is your power, and it will be an essential element in creating good working relationships.

Steps to Identify a UX Champion

Now that you know the importance of presenting high-quality research, what are the next steps to identifying a UX champion? It all revolves around taking charge of your goals and making stakeholders a part of the process. 

  • You must be the organizer of all research-related meetings, whether in-person or virtual. Don’t try to tag onto someone else’s meeting – your presentation will be lost in the mix. Being in charge will help establish your authority.
  • Always present your findings in a meeting. Don’t be tempted to send this information in an email (although emailing the details and perhaps a recording of the session later is always a good idea.) This environment gives you a chance to interact with your stakeholders. And during these presentations, you’ll have an opportunity to identify the most engaged stakeholder. This is your champion candidate!
  • Invite all stakeholders to be a part of all research meetings and send them any recordings of these sessions. This includes business, product, tech, etc. Not everyone will accept all invitations, or even watch the recordings. But the invitations will keep them in the loop. By doing this, they will always be thinking about research because of all the touch points you have with them.
  • In addition to inviting stakeholders to meetings, extend invitations to observe your research sessions. If they can’t attend, offer them links to any available recordings.
  • And lastly, include stakeholders in your research notes distribution for each session.

Don’t be discouraged if you feel your stakeholders aren’t coming around as quickly as you would like. Remember that you are building relationships, and that takes time. Build those relationships and they will make time for you. You may not have access to the business stakeholders right away, but you can work with those who are super engaged; they are the ones that are willing to talk to you about how to steer the business. 

Creating a UX Champion with Research Bait

Jillian hears a lot about the need of finding a UX champion high in your company’s organization, but no one ever talks about how to get one. She has found that her process works and is repeatable at every company. It involves using research as bait! Good research is the best way to entice your potential champion to come out in the open and engage with you! 

  • Over-communicate – you want to be on their radar as much as possible.
  • Do your best research and create awesome presentations. High-quality research is the key if you’re doing it with those three components mentioned above.
  • Ask your champion candidate to further engage in research.
  • Ask for regular meetings to discuss future research opportunities—even 30 minutes once or twice a month is good. Talk about what’s happening and what is coming up – keep them in the loop.
  • Look for signs that they’re evangelizing UX work – and especially research. When you hear other people in the company talking about what is going on, you know they’re thinking about the research, even when you’re not standing right there. 
  • If they come to engage you in an early discovery opportunity on a major project, you’ve got yourself a true UX Champion. Congratulations! 
  • Repeat with other champion candidates.

For years Jillian came right up to step #3, but never engaged the stakeholders directly. Being passive just wasn’t getting her anywhere. Being proactive opened many doors. Give it a try! 

Three Years Later – How’s It Going?

Jillian started on this path to identifying and creating UX champions three years ago. So, where are things going for her now?

  • She hears about new initiatives when it’s still just something the business stakeholder is thinking about. She is aware of shifting priorities before they happen which allows her to be flexible in my research planning.
  • She is a sounding board and brainstorming partner when they’re thinking through a business problem.
  • Based on conversations in 1:1 meetings, she can create research and project initiatives that meet business concerns and the users’ needs. (This will be discussed further in Session #3. See details below.)

This process works! It’s about knowing what’s in stakeholders’ heads: their ultimate goals and what they’re worried about. To have stakeholders willing to talk to you and take your advice is priceless. That’s a powerful place to be.

It will take your best effort. And it may take time. But it will be worth it in the end.

Questions from participants:

How can I help startups see the value of UX Research?

For smaller companies and startups that may have budget constraints, you may need to explain that there is a difference between market research and user research. The market may be ready for what they want to sell, but that depends on building it correctly for the user base. Remind your stakeholders that with research, you’re mitigating risk. You will make sure you are building the right thing at the right time for the right users. Spending more on research upfront is cheaper than re-designing and re-developing the product in the long run and it’s the best path to set them up for success. 

What if a designer is asked to do research?

Many designers conduct their own design research, which can be very valuable to them and the organization. It’s important to explain the separation between researchers and designers. A designer who conducts research on their own work could be biased and perhaps ignore critical feedback. It’s important to communicate that researchers don’t create solutions – that’s the designer’s job. A designer has the tools necessary to reach those solutions. While this is obvious to UX researchers, it may not be that clear to smaller companies or startups. Take time to explain this difference before trying to sell yourself to them. 

What if people see no value in UX research?

To address this situation, Jillian shared an experience of working with a doctor who was not only difficult to work with, but would give her handwritten notes that were impossible to read. She suggested that if he could type them up for her, it would make the process go more smoothly. He eventually did just that but took credit for the idea. Jillian refrained from correcting him and thanked him for coming up with such a great solution. Over time, the doctor and Jillian developed mutual respect in their respective fields. Reciprocity can be a huge benefit to UX advancement but it takes time.

Leveling Up with UX Strategy Session 3 – December 8, 2022 – “How to Initiate UX Research-led Projects that Get Prioritized and Funded.”

Jillian Hudson is NN/g UX certified in Research and Management. She worked as a UX Product Designer/Usability Expert for American Airlines and as a UX Strategist and Researcher for Bank of America, and Wells Fargo Bank. She is currently the Principal UX Research Strategist at XPO Logistics. Contact Jillian through the UXr Guild Slack channel.


Group Pages

How to Freelance
– Are You Ready to Freelance?
– Do You Need a Freelance Plan?
– How Do You Find Freelance Clients?
– Select and Establish Your Legal Entity
– Manage Your Bidding, Books, and Benefits
How to Start and Manage Your Freelance Business
What is a Freelance UXR/UX Strategist?
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Leveling Up with UX Strategy
Session 1 – What is UX Strategy?
Session 2 – UX Strategy for Researchers
Session 3 – December 8, 2022

Quantitative UX Research Methods
Session 1 – When to Use Which Quantitative Methods
Session 2 – October 13, 2022
Session 3 – November 10, 2022

Transitioning to Freelance UX Research
Session 1 – Transitioning to Freelance


Past Events

How to Make Your Life as a Freelancer the Best it Can Be, August 12, 2021, via Zoom
– UX Research Freelance Work-Life Balance

UXr Guild is Meeting UX Researchers in New York City, July 8, 2021, New York City
How to Become a Freelance UX Researcher