Date of Award

December 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Rachel Splika

Committee Members

David Clark, Shevaun Watson, Sarah Freeman, Tammy Rice-Bailey


quality, user experience, workplace culture


User experience (UX) research is a workplace approach to improving the quality of texts and technologies an organization produces to advance its business goals. Across the industry, UX roles, job titles, and responsibilities are widely varied, and the inconsistency is also reflected in the quality of outcomes; successful, effective research depends on complex, interrelated factors, and the influence of workplace culture and context are largely unacknowledged and unexamined across the technical communication (TC) field. Such examination is warranted because UX professionals face unique workplace challenges that impede their ability to conduct effective research that will improve the quality of outcomes that meet user needs. These challenges arise from 1) limited access to necessary resources for research, 2) limited agency over the goals and direction of research, 3) resistance to research findings that challenge or conflict with organizational identity.

I conducted an exploratory, qualitative study to investigate the perceptions of UX professionals in working within and against workplace constraints. The study includes four case studies, each focused on a UX professional in an organization that incorporates UX research as a quality-assurance practice. To analyze the data, I used a combination of theoretical lenses, including rhetorical analysis and the cultural approach to organizations.

The resulting data indicated that some organizational preferences and norms do not align well with UX methods and practices and may impede UX professionals from fully executing their research, applying findings, and delivering high-quality outcomes. A wide variety of professional relationships also influence the UX research context and shape the conditions for research activities, and responses to research initiatives.

This study highlights key implications for Technical Communication (TC) theory, including a need to deepen and broaden the field’s understanding of the rhetorical situation for UX work within organizations, and the intersections of UX and quality. I offer recommendations for UX professionals, including closely observing the workplace with its key relationships and power structures, networking within the organization to build alliances, and framing the goals of UX research to align with strategic organizational and departmental goals. I advocate for TC academic programs to help students understand the complexities of the rhetorical situations within and across organizational boundaries in workplaces, and to help students develop a sense of “organizational literacy.”

The TC field benefits from a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between UX research, perceptions of quality and the role of rhetorical context in workplace settings.