What does … a Director of User Research?

Job Title: Director of User Research & Data

Name: Michele Burigo

Age: 44

Education: MA Psychology, PhD Cognitive Science

Company: ecx.io – to IBM Company

What do you do as Director of User Research?

At ecx.io, I am the head of the User Research & Data team with a total of three employees. We extract valuable information from data and provide our clients with insights about their customers, end users and users. To understand this relationship even better, we highlight three main aspects: the needs of the user, the behavior of the user and the context, ie the situation in which the user acts.

One of my responsibilities is to explain the importance of user research to the client. Our customers often have clear ideas about a technical solution that ecx.io should implement for them. However, they are often unaware of the benefits and necessity of user research.

How did you come to this task?

Because I wanted to understand how the human brain works, I studied psychology. Then I started to get interested in how people process information. That’s why I turned to this research area and after completing my psychology studies, I took part in a PhD program in Cognitive Science. The focus was not only on how people process information, but also how they use it to interact with other people and artificial systems.


After completing my doctorate, I worked at the Cognitive Interaction Technology Research Center (CITEC), where I became an expert in human-human and human-computer interaction. After spending a few years on this topic, I wanted to use my research and data analysis skills more directly and develop products or services that have a more immediate impact on people. Leading the user research team at ecx.io was the perfect opportunity to put my skills into practice.

What skills do you need for your job?

For one thing, I need technical understanding, so I need to know how our analysis tools work and are applied. In addition, I must be able to choose the appropriate methods depending on the customer and their requirements. As a user researcher, I also need a special interest in data and the ability to recognize clues, patterns and trends. I have to correctly classify and interpret the results of the analyzes. For that I need a high degree of precision. After all, we do research and it does not matter if it’s academic or market research.

Away from the technical know-how, soft skills such as empathy and empathy are very important in order to gain a deeper understanding of the user. Because without these skills, it becomes difficult to understand the perspective of the user. And, of course, I need communication skills because we need to communicate with customers and colleagues accurately and present the results of our work. After all, our findings are the basis for colleagues who program or develop prototypes.

What is the most fun?

I like the research part at the beginning of a project when we identify the actual problem of the customer. Customers often come to ecx.io with a specific concern, such as a website not generating enough revenue. But the customer usually does not know the cause. We collect the necessary data and insights, track down the cause of the problem and solve it. Every project is different and we have to adapt to the needs and understand the customer’s needs before choosing the tools.

That is fun. It’s also great to work with others. We really collaborate closely with the areas User Experience (UX) and Our Interface (UI). We share an office with some of the strategists and colleagues from UX and UI. That’s great, because the collaboration is so much easier. You do not have to pick up the phone, but can work face-to-face. I have been working at the university for a long time and this new approach is very exciting for me. I enjoy working this way.

What is the most important task in your job?

To find and define the crucial research questions. They need to be answered to improve our customers’ business. And define the appropriate research method to answer the questions. For example, if customers struggle to increase revenue because they are not focused on the right audience, we help them achieve better user segmentation. Or, if they do not understand why their digital platform does not convert as expected, we analyze user behavior by combining eye-tracking, web analytics, and other user research methods to deliver data-driven insights that help shape our customers’ digital business.

Describe as clearly as possible a project that has particularly impressed you.

We were commissioned to develop a digital employee tool. Before we started implementing, we had to define the retail processes that have the greatest impact on business and user satisfaction. The company has a huge network of more than 1,500 stores in 11 European countries. We first conducted an online survey to prioritize users’ needs while gaining an overview of international requirements. These requirements were analyzed in workshops and later on the basis of prototypes. The prototypes were created based on our findings. To make sure they match the processes in the shops, we also did exemplary tests with users. That was a very exciting project.

My job is indispensable because …

… digital solutions need to be user centric to work. My team provides information about these users so that the digital solutions can satisfy their needs. Our work is therefore fundamental to all digital projects. Any product launched without User Research is a game of chance because you do not know in advance if it will meet the needs of the user and pick him up where he stands. With User Research, we can test exactly that before a product is launched on the market. To quickly find and edit the pain points, we conduct user research at the beginning of each project. When the project goes online, all the problems are solved and users get a good user experience right from the start. Solving the problems only when the product is already launched costs time and money.

What would you be if you were not Director of User Research?

I think I would work in a position that requires the ability to analyze, model, and interpret data. I would probably be a data scientist.

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