Becoming a UX Researcher With Kent State

Kent State alum Chello Elmi wants to pursue a career as UX researcher. Learn how earning an online Master’s in UXD set her up for success.

Chello Elmi headshot

At first glance, Chello Elmi might seem like an unusual fit for a UXD program. She studied psychology as an undergraduate, but when it came time to earn her master’s, all she knew was she didn’t want to continue in a therapeutic or mental health field.

So, she started searching online for potential degrees she could pursue. That’s when she learned about UX design. Through Reddit forums and YouTube videos, she learned her psychology background could give her added insight into this growing field.

“Things like conscious and unconscious biases, human cognition, qualitative and quantitative research, statistics, ethnography, and focus groups: Those are all things that come in handy,” Elmi explained.

Elmi landed at the online Master’s in UX Design at Kent State University because of its affordability and the school’s reputation. While at Kent State, she learned the ins and outs of user experience design, landed a UX internship at Nationwide and realized exactly what her career path would be, a UX researcher.

As someone new to the field, Elmi was surprised by the number of steps involved in the UXD process. For one class project, she created an alert app called ReminderX. She completed each part of its creation, including writing memos to stakeholders, researching a plan, validating and analyzing data, as well the actual design part of creating a wireframe and a high fidelity prototype.

“Through my internship experience, I got a chance to see firsthand that these are all the steps that they take, but I didn’t get to physically do it myself,” Elmi explained. “It challenged me in a way that I appreciate because I actually saw people do this at work.”

From Ux Research to Design

A lot of ideas sound great on paper. When a company is launching a new product, app or tech feature, they need to ask themselves whether their newest innovation is actually what their consumers want. That’s where UX research comes in.

“A UX researcher basically conducts research with users, like usability testing or interviewing a focus group,” Elmi explained. “As the researcher, I would create a research plan and then execute that. I analyze that data or the feedback I get from participants and then create a final report.”

From that report, the business team can decide whether the idea is worth implementing, saving time and money. Elmi was able to get a crash course in the experience at Kent State, while developing her idea for a mobile app. Called Safe Rides Junior, the ride-sharing app would be exclusively for riders under 16. As part of her research process she asked her friends, her husband and others, “How would you feel if there was this app that could pick up your child from school? What would make you comfortable with that?”

Their responses varied: The driver couldn’t have a criminal record. They’d want to know for certain that the driver was exactly who they said they were. Some preferred the driver to be a woman, but others specifically wanted the driver to be a mother. Her research required Elmi to dig back into psychology (particularly gender biases), but there was a financial component to consider as well.

“Can you put a price on safety?” Elmi asked. “That’s another thing to look into, right? How much would you be willing to pay to ensure that your child got home safe? If it costs $5 or $10 for someone to pick your kid up from practice, you almost feel like it’s not safe. This feature can’t even be cheap or else you think something’s wrong with it.”

From her interviews, she pulled together a report of the common patterns and concerns she heard, which mostly came down to cost and safety. Elmi realized facial recognition software could solve any concerns about the identity of the driver, but the cost would also be too expensive. Instead, she landed on a system where the driver would take a selfie with their young rider and send it to the parents, who would also be able to track the entire ride home.

“These psychology theories that we learn, they emerge while you’re actually talking to people and you’re interviewing them,” Elmi said. “You realize people have a lot of unconscious biases, but they don’t really know they exist. Not everyone is going to be exactly the same, but how do the majority of people feel about your idea?”

Choosing Real-world Experience

Throughout her time in Kent State’s online program, Elmi was happy to find that what she was learning in class matched with what she saw happening in the real world.

“Every step that I had to do in that research experience class was what they were doing at Nationwide,” Elmi said. “It solidified for me that this program really is preparing me. If I want to be a UX researcher, it’s giving me all the steps. So I was lucky enough to be able to compare and see that, yeah, you made the right decision.”

Learn more about the curriculum in Kent State’s online Master’s in UX Design and other career paths in the UX design field.

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He is an Associate Professor in the Evaluation and Measurement program within the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University. He is also the program coordinator for the online Master of Education degree in Research, Measurement, and Statistics.
Dr. Astrid N. Sambolín Morales is an Assistant Professor in Kent State Online’s 100% Online Master of Education degree in Cultural Foundations. She received her PhD in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research provides a more nuanced picture of the agency, resistance, and empowerment enacted by displaced Puerto Rican m(others) in the U.S., and her work was funded by several grants, including the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center, the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, the URBAN Research Network, and the NAEd Spencer Foundation.
Felesia McDonald, ’14 is an adjunct instructor in the iSchool, teaching courses in the 100% Online Master of Science in User Experience. McDonald is also the Sr Manager UX Design at Optum, a branch of UnitedHealth Group.