Bringing Clarity to Design Research

I am the only dedicated researcher at my company. I have people coming to me to complete research tasks on a regular basis, but due to a lack of clarity about research by some of the people whom I serve, I don’t feel I am delivering my best. People often don’t know what research could/should be doing for them.

All of that to ask, “How would you explain the mission of Design Research (or User Research)?” I know this could have several definitions based on where you work and how you work. That is fine. I am hoping to spark thought as to how I would like to define the mission of Design Research at my place of work. From there I can cast a vision for myself and the company hoping to bring clarity to what it is that I do and how the company can leverage my abilities more effectively.

I appreciate any thoughts that you have as they are sure to get the gears turning for me.


Let’s hear it @Researchers

Hi Aaron,

I may not be a Design Research professional (yet), but I’ve been in the workforce 20+ years. You absolutely are headed in the right direction. I applaud your attitude and your strategy.

I would encourage you to get to know your business partners. What are their needs? What are their aspirations? Research them. Get curious about them. And then that will help you to develop your own purpose statement for what it is you want to do to help your company, and how you are going to do it. I recently read a book called “Making Yourself Indispensable” that helped me do exactly that for my company.

In terms of design research specifically, I ran across this article in Medium earlier in the week:

According to the author, a User Experience Researcher’s job (may be slightly different that what you are looking for?) is to:
- Investigate the user - their goals, motivations, hesitations and requirements
- Help the team make good decisions - Advocate for the user, show up and share your knowledge during design and development

The author goes into more detail than that, and it might just inspire you to develop that vision you need to help your colleagues.

Best of luck! I’d love to hear how it goes!
~ Marie


Thanks for the insightful response, Marie!

I actually started writing something this morning that got at the idea of orienting decision makers around the goals, motivations, and behaviors of people who enter our space.

I will definitely check out the book and article you mentioned as well.

I will let you know what I come up with. I expect to take a while as I work with UX leadership at my organization to really iron this out. I may seek feedback from other sources outside of my company as well.

Thanks again!

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I love this question and the notion of approaching one’s job as a mission, especially in a domain so esoteric and poorly understood as user experience design research.

Unclear expectations are the scourge of the modern knowledge worker. When you don’t know what is expected of you or your teammates or why, how can you chart progress? How can you gauge impact? Job or role descriptions are more like a la carte menu of everything people can expect you to be able to do, regardless of why. But the “why” is important because people aren’t motivated by tasks, they’re motivated by purpose.

People can get a sense of purpose by working at the intersection of what they’re passionate about, what they’re good at and what moves the work forward and makes progress you can see.

In one of my former roles, our small team was really struggling with unclear expectations. As we tried to self-organize better I floated the idea of role-based purpose statements. The idea is no different than a well-crafted mission statement used to rally a company of thousands of people under a common expectation.

Maybe I’m ignorant and role-based purpose statements are already a thing and I just haven’t seen it done. Perhaps it’s not common yet because it adds more work. It forces people to think beyond the boilerplate job descriptions and communicate value about individuals and their unique potential, and then tie that back to a larger mission and vision.

I think the same exercise applies to a domain-level concern, like design research. Why can’t you draft a mission/purpose/strategy statement that describes in 1 sentence the reason design research exists within your organization at all? E.g.


Delivering value through UX design begins with understanding our users and what they value. It is therefore the mission of design research to ensure that our work is informed by and measured against the needs of our users, as discovered through systematic study and application of good user research practices.

(Or whatever, text TBD, but not the point.) Point being that it is far less important what such a thing actually look and read and feel like - hallway poster, 10-page essay, splash screen on the internet or placard on your cubicle - as what it is meant for and how it actually gets used. But if you had such a thing, whatever form it took, then theoretically you could set clear expectations for those you work with in terms of what research and you could/should be doing for them. Any ad hoc requests would have to reconcile with that mission.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Luke. This is certainly helpful for me. I do intend to keep the mission pretty simple while adding context around it to offer more meaning.

Let me flip this for you: currently they’re coming to you and asking you to define yourself to them. The problem is that you haven’t done anything for them yet. How can you say what your contribution to the organization is?

Instead, I think you should be going to them. Figure out what their missions, incentives, and priorities are. Then, once you know who everyone else is, you can really identify what you can contribute to them.

After all, if the visual designers are asking what your role is, they don’t really want to hear what your contribution is to Architecture & Development. They want to know how you fit into their needs, so dig and see what you can do for them.

Edit: I’ve also seen some good enterprise UX recommendations for using user journey maps and turning them inwards to help describe internal stakeholders.