Especially when being new to the broad field of UX and user research, you may wish for a mentor to guide you through the wide world of user testing and research.
Luckily, we have the internet, full of websites offering scientific publications and social media where we can connect with people who are inspiring sources of information. All of the above helps us to find the treasures of expert knowledge spread around the web. This article gives you some orientation for picking so-called “influencers of UX and user research”, supporting your growth in this field with sources for timely and relevant information.
What defines them
“Hi guys, today, I will show you my user research routine. I will start with those cute post-its I got from …” Not denying that there are people on social media posting that type of content, this is not what we are talking about when talking about influencers of UX and user research. In our case, it’s not about presenting a haul of your company’s newly purchased software or showing off your nice work outfit.
What instead defines a user research influencer in our perspective, is one or more of the following things:
- posting innovative ideas
- keeping you up to date with the UX industry
- having personal achievements in their specific field
- sharing relevant UX information that inspires you
Who they are
Here is the list we’ve curated, showing you people in the field of UX and user research who are definitely worth knowing. Of course, this list makes no claim to being complete and its order does not imply a ranking. So let’s get started and get to know:
- Don Norman
- Jared Spool
- Tomer Sharon
- The board of Research Ops
- Indra Burkart
- Reto Lämmler
- Elizabeth Churchill
- Erika Hall
- Saswati Saha Mitra
- Nikki Anderson
- Steve Krug
- Tobias van Schneider
- Luke Wroblewski
Don Norman, the granddad of UX, as we fondly call him, is one of the guys it all started with since he coined the term “User Experience” during his times working at Apple. He says “It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.” (Don Norman (2009), in: Introduction to This Special Section on Beauty, Goodness, and Usability”)
Besides being Apple’s former Vice President, and teaching at different universities, he is co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group. This company is one of the world leaders in research-based UX. Don Norman refers to himself as a design thinker, company advisor, professor, columnist, and author. Part of his work are the two in the field of UX well-known books “Emotional Design” and “The Design of Everyday Things”. Follow the path of human-centered design on Don Norman’s Twitter account or dive into his essay collection ( featuring “Ask Don” amongst others).
If you had to name a UX unicorn being an expert for usability, software, research, and design at the same time – then Jared Spool it is. On top of that, he is a writer, researcher, speaker, and educator. Before the term “usability” was ever looked at in the context of computers, Jared has been working in the field of UX, more precisely since 1978. Later he became the founding principal of User Interface Engineering. This company is a consulting firm for website and product usability which is also leading in research and training. According to Jared Spool, “Intuitive design is how we give the user new superpowers.” (Jared Spool (2018) via Twitter).
“Falling in love with a problem happens through observing it happen in a relevant context, where the problem is occurring to people in your target audience.” (Tomer Sharon (2016), in: Validating Product Ideas)
This statement is made by Tomer Sharon, the current Head of User Research & Metrics at Goldman Sachs. He has been working in the field of user research for the past 20 years. He worked for Google as a Senior UX researcher, later as Head of UX and Vice president for WeWork, where he co-created the research framework Polaris. Moreover, Tomer Sharon has advised “hundreds of companies and organizations all over the world (even the United Nations) about user research and measurement”. He thereby coined the concept of Atomic (UX) Research. There are numerous articles on Medium written by him and he is also active on Twitter.
The board of ResearchOps
ResearchOps is a mindset about mechanisms, strategies, roles, tools, and processes in user research that aims on delivering and scaling research across an organization. It was originally framed by Kate Towsey who is not on the board anymore. Instead, she runs another (invite-only) club for Research Ops called the Cha Cha Club, curates for Rosenfeld Media’s Advancing Research Community, and writes a Research Ops handbook.
The ResearchOps mindset is increasingly adopted by the user research community. The community, consisting now of more than 5,000 members, is led by “the board of ResearchOps”. Among those leaders are the designer and coach Andrew Maier, Design Research Director at Babylon Health, Emma Boulton, UX strategist Hugo Froes, Lead User Research Librarian Brigette Metzler, Research Strategy & ResearchOps Thought Leader Holly Cole, Designer Tomomi Sasaki, and many more. Stay up to date with ResearchOps by following one of their members!
Indra Burkart is a UX Designer, currently working at Bright Skies. She has a background in shop design and game design. Being a newcomer in the world of UX influencers, Indra manages a YouTube channel dealing with UX topics. There you can get in-depth information about UX basics, methods, and how to face upcoming challenges. Indra Burkart’s guiding principle is “UX is more than just a dialogue”. (Indra Burkart in her Twitter biography)
All of her content is published in German.
Reto Lämmler is the co-founder and CEO of TestingTime, a company that recruits test users for usability tests. TestingTime obtains a representative pool consisting of more than 500.000 users and has a highly elaborated recruitment process which makes them one of the best partners for user research for the European market.
Before TestingTimes’s foundation, Reto Lämmler had worked as a VP Product Management at Doodle.com, where he discovered his passion for UX. Also, he started the company 58rocks, where he worked as a freelancer for interaction design and usability consulting. He works by the concise motto “test early and often”. (Reto Lämmler on his company’s website)
In a list of influential personalities in the UX sector – how could you not mention Elizabeth Churchill, the Director of User Experience at Google? Elizabeth Churchill has 20+ years of experience in the fields of psychology, engineering, and data sciences. This made her an “applied social scientist, interactive technology designer, and social communications researcher”. During the years, she has established research teams at Google, eBay, and Yahoo. She thinks that “UX is as much, if not more, about the producers as it is about what they produce.” (Elizabeth Churchill (2019), in: Scaling UX with Design Systems)
“Research is necessary for a successful design project because it gives you a shared basis for decision-making, grounded in evidence rather than in sheer authority or tenacity. And this saves time and money.” (Erika Hall (2015), in: The Secret Cost of Research)
Wise words said by Erika Hall. She describes herself as “deeply interested in the practical, real-world effects of good design and critical thinking”. And this is what she bases her work on, being a design strategist, consultant, book author, and the co-founder of Mule Design Studio. Erika Hall has written a lot of interesting articles dealing with user research topics. Besides, you can listen to her talks on her company’s website or follow her on Twitter.
Saswati Saha Mitra
After working for Google and Uber, Saswati Saha Mitra has become the UX Research Manager at WhatsApp. She is passionate about defining the future and has research and business strategy experience in 25 countries. She says “The act of giving users a voice and making them come alive as an equal in our conversations and decision-making, is critical for a company […] as we work towards adopting a more human-centered approach to business.” (Saswati Saha Mitra, in: Caring radically about our users)
During the last 10 years, Saswati Saha Mitra has pushed UX-driven product development forward in multiple companies she collaborated with. Find more information on her work on Twitter or in her articles on Medium.
Nikki Anderson has the background of a user researcher, consultant, instructor, and writer with a focus on qualitative research. Since 2020 she is the User Research Lead at Zalando. About herself, she says that it’s her mission to inspire clients and users through the lens of UX research. Being a user researcher, she explains: “What we need is to go talk to our users. Go talk to the people using your product instead of the people trying to make your product ‘perfect’, because, without the user’s perspective, the product will never reach the illusive state of perfection.” (Nikki Andersion (2018), in: Why do we make user research so difficult)
On his Twitter profile, Steve Krug describes himself as “best known as the guy who wrote Don’t Make Me Think”. In this book, he states: “If you want a great site, you’ve got to test. After you’ve worked on a site for even a few weeks, you can’t see it freshly anymore. You know too much. The only way to find out if it really works is to test it.” (Steve Krug (2014), in: Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability)
Besides being that guy who’s written a core text about usability, Steve Krug has worked as a usability consultant for about 30 years. He started his own company Advanced Common Sense and worked with Apple and many others. In addition to writing and consulting he holds usability workshops.
Tobias van Schneider
Tobias van Schneider is a German “multi-disciplinary maker of useful, curious and beautiful things”. In other words – he is a designer, speaker, mentor, and another face of UX you should know. He has worked as Lead Product Designer and Art Director at Spotify and is the co-founder of Semplice™, an online portfolio system based on WordPress. His personal blog is full of tips and stories regarding UX writing, design, psychology, and many more. Also, Tobias van Schneider actively tweets and shared his thoughts in a podcast. In one of our favorite quotes, he says “Art is open to interpretation. Design is not. Design, by definition, must be usable, understandable and actionable.” (Tobias van Schneider (2020), in: The misunderstanding of UX design)
One of the most popular UX influencers is Luke Wroblewski. He has characterized the concept of “mobile-first” and about 25 years of experience in leadership and execution in digital product design. He has worked for Yahoo, eBay, and many other companies. On top of that, Luke Wroblewski founded his own company Polar and currently works as Product Director at Google. According to his very informative Twitter account, his goal is to “humanize technology”. To do so, he follows this rule: “Number one for product design: minimize the gap between what your product is and why it exists.” (Luke Wroblewski (2018) via Twitter)