The Interview: Kelly Wharton – UX Research at the Intersection of Technology and Human Insight

Written in


The modern UX research landscape is transforming, driven by digital tools and advanced data analytics. These technologies enable researchers to gather deep insights into user behavior, moving beyond traditional methods. This evolution highlights the indispensable role of UX researchers in interpreting complex data to inform design strategies. They are key to creating user-centric products, bridging technology with genuine user needs and preferences, and ensuring that digital innovations translate into meaningful user experiences.

A futuristic command center where technology meets UX design, highlighting the synthesis of human insight, UX research, and AI innovation.
DALL-E | A futuristic command center where technology meets UX design, highlighting the synthesis of human insight, UX research, and AI innovation.

Kelly Wharton is currently working as a Senior UX researcher at MVF. She has been working in product development since 2014 after graduating from University of Glasgow with a Masters of Engineering.
Initially working in hardware product development, she moved into digital and worked her way to User Research where she is able to focus again on User Centred Design.

This week, we explore how Kelly navigates the ever-evolving landscape of UX research, blending cutting-edge technology with deep human insights to shape products that truly resonate with users. Join us as we uncover the strategies and visions that guide her through the complex terrain of modern UX research.

Could you describe your role as a UX researcher and how it has evolved with the advancements in technology?

KW: As a UX researcher my job is to understand users, their needs, motivations and how they interact with products so that I can help shape strategy and product development.
I use a multitude of different methods to do this but primarily focus on qualitative research. Over even the last few years this has changed with tech – for example it used to be common place to carry out affinity mapping using data on physical post its in a physical environment and now this is done using digital white board software such as Miro.
Research platforms have advanced over the last few years with integrated video transcription and data coding which used to be done using separate tools.

In your experience, what are the key components of effective UX research, and how do you prioritise them in your work?

KW: Effective research requires a good plan – its not just about asking a user the question you want an answer to. Considerations include recruiting representative samples, avoiding common biases and designing the right questions and tasks. All of this together helps us understand users better and provide the answers stakeholders are looking for.
It also requires multiple points of view, getting the team involved at various stages helps reduce chance of bias creeping in.

What strategies have you found most effective for engaging users during the research process, and how do you transform their feedback into actionable insights?

KW: The strategies entirely depend on what we need to know, and adapting also for the type of users you need to understand. For example engaging with a millennial user group will need to work differently from those over 65, in this case I might need to adapt to conduct research entirely over a phone call than a video call.
A big part of engagement comes from helping research participants understand why you are conducting the research specifically with them as well as actively listening and guiding the conversation rather than dictating it entirely.
In order to deliver actionable insights to the team, which is a vital part of user research, i tend to ask myself the question ‘so what’? Participants didn’t use a certain component, why? What does it mean for the product. Inductive reasoning and combining with design and psychology knowledge also help here to develop hypothesis about why a certain behaviour might be happening and what we can do to change or shape it if required.

Have you observed any significant impacts and changes in UX research practices with the advent of AI?

KW: Yes, some good and some I’m less sure of as of yet.
The good includes AI transcription. I used to conduct research and always include a note taker in sessions. Now this is no longer needed (although i still encourage observation where appropriate) as transcription services have come so far. I used to refuse to rely on them as it required so much work to clean up the transcription whereas now they are pretty accurate for the most part.
We are also starting to see AI sentiment analysis on some platforms – at the moment I feel these are still relying on matching words, however often in research its as much about tone, gestures and what participants don’t say as much as what they do and so this AI currently falls short here.
On a negative side, I’m seeing AI generated responses to screener questions – which if not spotted could result in us speaking to participants who do not represent our user groups.

Are you using AI to identify personas, patterns in user behaviour that might not be obvious through traditional research methods?

KW: Not yet, I’m still not trusting of it fully in it’s ability to give accurate output in this area – however I think quality output requires a quality prompt as an input and I think I still have some way to go in this area.

In what ways do you think AI can further transform UX research, particularly in understanding complex user interactions?

KW: My hope is in the future it will help reduce bias in research by searching for complex patterns quickly in data that we may not see.
I also think in terms of remote sessions with participants it may help open barriers to research with groups of users whom with you do not share a language with real time translations.

How do you navigate the ethical considerations of using AI in UX research, especially regarding biases in AI models and their impact on user experience?

KW: For the moment i think its about not relying on AI for a full task on its own – similar to how we get different team members to look through our plans, our data and analysis to avoid bias.
Other considerations are ensuring proper data privacy and GDPR are followed.

Final Thoughts: Reflecting on the Intersection of UX Research and Innovation with Kelly Wharton.

NL: I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Kelly Wharton on several projects, and witnessing her approach to UX research has been nothing short of incredible. Kelly is unequivocally a professional par excellence, whose work seamlessly merges technological innovation with profound user insights. Her dedication and innovative approach to UX research not only illuminate the path forward in product development but also underscore the significance of bridging user needs with cutting-edge technology. This dialogue with Kelly has shed light on the dynamic and ever-evolving field of UX research, reinforcing the critical balance between human creativity and technological advancement. My deepest appreciation goes to Kelly for sharing her expert insights and for being an inspirational figure in navigating the intricate landscape of modern UX research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *