Getting an User Experience Research Internship at Google

April 2017

GENERAL

There are two roles someone with a background in user research / HCI can take: One is the User Experience Researcher (UER) and the other one is the scientific researcher. The User Experience Researcher works closely with the product manager, engineers and designers on a particular product and helps to drive product design questions. The scientific researcher works on broader research questions that are often not specific to a product – their work often gets published. If you want to continue doing research similar to the projects you do at University, then scientific researcher may be best suited. If you want to work with real-world products and have direct impact on millions of users then User Experience Researcher may be best suited. All notes below are about the User Experience Researcher role but I would be happy to connect you with someone who just completed his DPhil and now works as a scientific researchers at Google.

 

Google’s HQ are in Mountain View (MTV) and most (interesting) work is done there. There are some other offices where User Experience Researchers work, including London. I recommend applying for a User Experience Researcher position in MTV. You can only apply in NA or Europe, not both. Once you started an application for one continent you can’t switch.

 

User Experience Research falls under “Engineering” (fields of work).User Experience Researchers  at Google are either qualitative or quantitative, or both. It’s okay to have a qual focus and not be strong in quant. Just make sure to point that out in your application and to your recruiter to manage expectations.

 

What kind of work you do in your internship depends on the team you are matched. I conducted eye-tracking studies, large-scale experiments, large-scale surveys, interviews and ethnographic field observations. I learned a lot in terms of methods and data analysis but also about effectively collaborating with stakeholders to operationalise research findings (something we academic researchers often have little experience in).

 

Some of the things that stood out to me during my User Experience Research internship in MTV was a culture where user research was understood to be crucial and highly appreciated (which is unfortunately often not common in other organisations or even Computer Science). There are hundreds of UERs working at Google and they have weekly/monthly/yearly meetups. The support for user research studies was outstanding. Google has dedicated teams that help with conducting studies (e.g. participant recruiting, legal aspects, etc.). This support goes so far that you can even have certain types of research studies completely conducted for you if you choose to. This frees up time for you to fully focus on designing studies and integrating research findings.

 

The infrastructure is also outstanding. Example; Google builds their own labs and fleet of user research vans all around the globe. And the financial support for studies is also fantastic. I got granted $1.000 for participant reimbursement within an hour, for example. This support is available to all UERs and interns. This lead to a role that could be described as ‘senior’ User Experience Researcher in other organisations – where you have teams working for you, to ‘enable’ your research. You can concentrate on the fun parts like designing studies, analysing and integrating findings.

 

The people are also genuinely nice and supportive – to a degree that I haven’t experienced in any other organisation.

 

One aspect that an academic researcher may be perceived as a drawback when working as a User Experience Researcher at Google is the product-centred nature of the work. While you still can publish papers, most of your work will be about improving the user experience of a product. If this is a strength or weakness will depend on your attitude/definition of ‘impact’.

 

To summarise, you will face a research environment that truly appreciates user research, uncomparable support in terms of infrastructure, finances and work force to conduct research studies, and interesting and motivated people.

 

How User Experience Research work differs from our academic work

As you may have sensed from the description above, the work focus shifts somewhat from analysing data to designing studies purposefully and feeding findings effectively back. Your main responsibility is not only to analyse data but to design studies appropriately so they will lead to impact on your product. You will need to collaborate closely with the product team and understand what research questions are most pressing, and then to communicate findings in a way that they will lead to actual impact. In our academic work, the analysis of data may be most ‘challenging’. The challenges I faced as a User Experience Researcher shifted more towards understanding what findings would be needed to drive pressing product decisions and how to effectively communicate them to product managers and engineers and work with designers to incorporate them into the product. It is not enough to have ‘interesting’ findings if they lead to no impact on the user experience.

 

UX and UX Research at Google

 

 

You will need a reference from someone working at Google otherwise your application will get lost. A reference will increase your chances of getting to the interview stage. You will need a tailored CV and motivational statement. A portfolio showcasing some of your work is not necessary but can help.

 

Interviewing tips

I am happy to answer any questions you may have!

Jan

 

Moving to Britain and the Motivation Behind my Studies

Quite a few exciting things happened over the course of the last months. I graduated from university, did an internship in Silicon Valley and started my Master’s degree at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

Graduating university with a major in Computer Science and a minor in Game Development, my coursework and work experiences increased my interest in the relationship between humans and computers, clients and end-users. I realized by way of my studies of Game Development, that games are different to traditional software systems in the sense that most software is designed with the purpose of either rendering the user obsolete, or of supporting a user in performing a task. Games on the other hand are solely developed for entertainment or educational purposes. For me, this is a very intriguing aspect, as user experience and satisfaction should therefore play an even more significant role.

 

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The Miracle of Customer Feedback

The reason I choose to work as a Community Manager at Gameforge back in 2011 was the ability to study the behavior of customers in the context of product failure. And that’s what it was, serving 300 customer tickets a day as the initial point of contact for inbound requests, I was supposed to “creatively and proactively assist users”. But apart from helping customers with questions, difficulties, bugs and trying to knock out negativity with sheer kindness, I also received once in a few weeks user feedback on the product.

At first I was agitated and upset when faced with negative feedback like this one: “The login process is completely counter intuitive! I am not able to login with my username! What are these guys thinking!” I was upset because the user was venting and had simply not realized that you need to login using your email address, because usernames in our system were redundant.

But now, a year later, working at a startup and proactively looking for feedback from users and investors, I realized the following:

If I had lined up our visitors per month shoulder to shoulder, they would have reached over 100km. Now imagine driving past at 50km/h, trying to look at each and every face swishing by one at a time. After 30 minutes I would be absolutely numb trying to see that many faces. Imagine how big that group is! Out of all of those people, how many are going to reach out to us and give us feedback on our product? Looking at the sheer size of that group, how many would contact us to complain if something was wrong? Even 0.1% would be thousands of people giving us feedback. Which clearly does not happen. Of all those faces, all those customers, it is less than one in a million who take the time to contact us to anything personal about what we are doing.

On the first impression, identical to the other requests, feedback does distinguish in the underlying motivation of the user. Unlike a particular action or information a customer is trying to receive by contacting us (e.g. getting to run the software after an update or to revoke an account suspension), the customer has no other intention but to interact with us when giving feedback (e.g. how our new product update completely sucks or telling about how awesome feature XY is).

This is a miracle.
Of all the things the coustomer could have been doing in that moment, like quitting the application or searching for an alternative product from our competition, he chose to interact with us. This is a miracle. The fact that he took the time to say anything, whether positive or negative, makes him extremely special.
In my role at Fair Observer, I am currently trying to get a grasp of our stakeholders perceptions to improve our product. Getting feedback is highly valuable, especially at our current seeding stage. We should treat any feedback we receive as a miracle and get a warm feeling when thinking about all of our disgruntled web site complainers.

THE AVENGERS User Interface Design

Jayse Hansen is a fictional UI and screen graphics designer for film and worked on some of the user interfaces displayed at The Avengers. He used Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects and Cinema 4D for the HUD designs. He describes his work process as follows:

If you are interested, an interview with Jayse is published here.

 

Books on Usability Testing Worth Reading

I used all of the following literature to write my Bachelor thesis about usability testing. Contact me at hello[at]janahrend.com if you’d like to borrow some of the books (and I know you personally).
The list is sorted alphabetically according to the author’s name.

 

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