Hi, there! I’m a Mexican woman researcher who, since January 2022, has joined Accenture Song, a dynamic consultancy company. Moving from academia to a corporate enterprise was not an easy decision, but entering academia at a university in Mexico was more difficult, due to the low rate of tenure and the huge number of post graduates. Besides, I was curious about how a PhD in Anthropology could integrate into business.

Thanks to my mentor, I got an opportunity for the Human Resources office of Accenture to evaluate me. After some interviews, they asked me to design a research proposal and share it with a team that evaluated my research skills. They hired me as a Design Research Specialist. Since then, I’ve collaborated with renowned technology companies in the design, development, execution, and analysis of qualitative and quantitative research projects. Some of these projects focus on understanding how users react to a single element of a website (like a button). Other, more general, projects attempt to gain deeper comprehension of perceptions such as “trust,” “value,” and “consistency.” I am part of the UX (user experience) research world that helps companies understand and act on how their users (not only clients) interact with the digital/virtual products and the services they provide.

I collaborated in projects that used several types of tools. All of them, taken together, create the infrastructure that unifies and validates the research process. Some tools are more “foundational” while others are more “practical.” The first group lies at the core of our education as anthropologists with ethnography, fieldwork, the creation of moderation guides, transcriptions, and the fieldnote coding. Especially relevant is the particular way of thinking that anthropologists develop. This sensitivity to understanding reality applies whether the issues are digital or technical. Furthermore, our theoretical basis allows us to grasp common, well-known frameworks relevant to the UX scene, such as the Design Thinking Framework, which also brings structure to the design process.

However, the digital artifacts we work with as UX researchers requires a distinction in the  understanding of their nature and, as a consequence, in the ways we approach/research them. Rogers reported this in his 2013 book Digital Methods. Additionally, we must recognize that UX has its own jargon and technical terms, usually related to UI (user interface). This falls within the realm of our co-worker engineers. Here, the second significant group of tools comes in: the “practical” ones.

From my experience, I can classify these practical tools into two levels: the “basic-common” (often more accessible and cheaper) or the “professional-sophisticated” (usually more expensive, less accessible, and available only in specific regions or countries). First level platforms include Windows Excel, PowerPoint, Word, or Google Sheets, Slides, or Docs; as well as video conferencing services such as Meet, Zoom, and Teams. Other everyday tools include calendars, emails, and infinite virtual whiteboard services like Mural or Miro.

The second practical tools relate to a wave of specialized services. Platforms like Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, help designers assemble mockups and prototypes. There are also UX research-focused services that provide study templates for inspiration. These can recruit participants, pay their incentives, cover legal consents, and generate reports. In this group are tools like UserTesting, Dscout, Qualtrics, Maze, Wevo, Remesh, User Interviews, UserZoom, and Optimal Workshop, among many others. These streamline the recruiting stage with participant panels, automate some processes, and offer features that assist even the most basic research tasks, such as almost-immediate-translations, word clouds, or charts. However, there are some drawbacks:

  • The paywall of these tools usually excludes smaller organizations.
  • The learning curve can be stressful and time-consuming to master the platform. To help, the tools usually come with support and documentation.
  • The tools might only be available in certain markets or regions. They are popular in the US, UK, and other developed nations, but not in peripheral or less developed economies. This availability can introduce bias in relevant studies.
  • These tools incorporate another bias, relating to the emergence of what I call the user-worker-participant or study hunter. As platform popularity increases for Dscout or UserTesting in certain countries, some have taken advantage of them—much like a side job. These “study hunters”may have multiple accounts on different platforms, enabling them to participate in various studies, narrowing the diversity and reliability of the research. Therefore, the screening and recruiting process must double check that the participants are real users of the product, service, or feature intended for research.

As anthropologists, we must remember that all these tools and frameworks are part of cognitive trajectories; they are inherent to specific and particular ways of seeing, understanding, and apprehending the world. Therefore, we must always be attentive to their uses and cognitive horizons when employing them.

If you have a strong foundational grounding in anthropology and ethnography, you will eventually master the different features available in the platforms based on your needs and responsibilities. These features will always be changing, improving, just like your anthropological superpowers for UX research.

Some of the tools offer free accounts so you can familiarize yourself with them. But, before you do that, please check this super useful tool – Anthropology Is a Superpower in User Experience—to get a broad understanding of UX. This tool, and others developed by ACRN, are helpful. In fact, they are amazing!

About the Author: Paty Alvarado

Paty Alvarado
Since January 2022, Paty has been part of the Design Research team of Accenture Song, Mexico. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics (2008, UMSNH), a Master's Degree in Geography (2015, UNAM) and a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology (2021, UIA-CDMX). As a Design Research Specialist at Accenture, she has been collaborating with renowned technology companies developing qualitative and quantitative UX research. Her true passions range from research to cakes to traveling.