There are a number of American job types that have been somewhat successfully outsourced to other countries with cheaper labor. For example, with the low cost of telephone calls these days, in many ways, it does not really matter where a call center is located. Similarly, computer programmers can be anywhere in the world to do their job. But for those in the United States who have professions like these that are able to be outsourced, there is always the fear of – and legitimate risk of – job loss.

Are user research professionals at risk?

From a purely technical perspective, some parts of user research could be outsourced and others could not. If someone is doing in-person usability testing or any other kind of in-person research, the research will occur in a place which has representative or actual users. If someone is doing in-depth telephone interviews or remote usability testing, however, conducting a usability test via phone and possibly a shared computer screen, the test administrator could technically be on the other side of the world. But it is critical that a test administrator, even a remote test administrator, fully understand the cultural context of the participants, and that is much harder to outsource.

It’s quite hard, if not impossible, to prep someone to be ready to appropriately follow up on all the various permutations of user comments. I know from personal experience that these comments are often made with the expectation that I, as the test administrator, am coming from the same cultural context. Even when the comments are audience-specific, I am able to differentiate a cultural comment from a more narrow comment that refers to in-depth knowledge.

There are certainly small bits and pieces that can be consistently outsourced, perhaps something like participant scheduling, but usability is not a high-volume profession. I wouldn’t be scheduling 1000 people; I’d be scheduling 10 or 12 or even 20. It isn’t worth the effort or the cost savings to outsource these bits and pieces.

I’ll therefore make the argument that I – and others in my profession – have chosen a rather safe field. If we are doing research for US companies who are targeting US users, the work will very likely continue to be done here in the United States.