Katharine Carr
UX Professional

Research Blog

Human-Centered Research

The field of user experience exists under the human-centered design umbrella – a framework that promotes the importance of keeping users at the center of and frequently involved in the design process. Research done in the service of creating a better user experience should not be preoccupied with solutions or methods, but just as strongly human-centered. This requires an examination of what the most human-centered research worldview would entail.

Having a research worldview can act as guiding belief about the underlying purpose of the research being done. If changes have to be made, having an idea of a greater goal of research is important. A worldview impacts research design by influencing decisions around what to research, how to conduct that research and define goals for the research. A research plan can help researchers make sure they get the data needed to answer their initial questions as clearly as possible (De Vaus, 2001).

A human-centered research philosophy would be empathy-driven and constructivist in nature. Constructivists believe that as humans seek understanding of their world, they “develop subjective meanings of their experiences – meanings directed toward certain objectives or things” (Cresswell, 2018, p. 8). The research design and methods employed would “rely as much as possible on the participants’ view of the situation being studied” (Cresswell, 2018, p. 8).

Postpositivism, an alternate research worldview conflicts with the more human-centered approach of Constructivism on several beliefs. Most importantly, the two worldviews see the nature of reality and truth quite differently. Truth, to the Postpositivist “argues that knowledge is generated in a scientific method,” (Dudovskiy, n.d., p. 3) and that an objective truth exists. Constructivism, on the other hand, argues that no truth exists that is “independent of thinking and reasoning by humans” (Schwandt, 1994 as cited in Shah & Al-Bargi, 2013, p. 257). Meaning and knowledge are created by the human mind, and reality is subjective. Additionally, Constructivists disagree with Postpositivists that there is just one method to generate knowledge (Dudovskiy, n.d).

Because of how they see the nature of reality and the focus on human experience and perceptions over an ultimate truth, Constructivists acknowledge the bias they have as researchers as well. They “recognize that their own backgrounds shape their interpretations, and they position themselves in the research to acknowledge how their interpretation flows from their personal, cultural, and historical experiences” (Cresswell, 2018, p. 8).

The basic approach of the two worldviews also conflict in their approaches to analysis: theory building versus theory testing. Constructivists build theories from the research they collect by making observations and identifying patterns of meaning across cases (De Vaus, 2001, Cresswell, 2018). Postpositivists start with a theory which then guides the observations they make (De Vaus, 2001).

A human-centered research philosophy would lead with participant experiences instead of a preoccupation with methods. The researcher would perform interviews with broad, open-ended questions while “the researcher listens carefully to what people say or do in their life settings.” (Cresswell, 2018, p. 8). Researching in the context of the user or participant is particularly important, as it leads to greater candidness and a better picture of the user’s experience. As the constructivist worldview “...emerged...for the understanding and interpretation of human and social reality” (Shah & Al-Bargi, 2013, p. 256), the researcher would seek to understand “the processes of interaction among individuals” (Cresswell, 2018, p. 8).

Being in the user experience field requires an agreement that the role of the user is first and foremost. Human-centered research is necessary to support the development of meaningful user experiences. A human-centered research worldview would be empathy-driven, constructivist, and acknowledge the impossibility of researchers or participants being objective.


References

Cresswell, J.W., & Cresswell, J. D. (2018). Research Design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

De Vaus, D. (2001). Research Design in Social Research. Retrieved from: https://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/methods/005847ch1.pdf

Dudovskiy, J. (n.d.). Constructivism Research Philosophy. Retrieved from: https://research-methodology.net/research-philosophy/epistomology/constructivism/

Shah, S. R. & Al-Bargi, A. (2013). Research Paradigms: Researchers’ Worldviews, Theoretical Frameworks and Study Designs. Arab World English Journal, Vol. 4(4), pp. 252-264

Katharine Carr