What I wish I knew starting out as a UX Researcher
They don’t teach you this in school
Looking back to the time when I started out as a UX researcher, I wish someone had told me more about this role. I ended up learning these from various jobs, projects, mistakes and time in the field. Hopefully, this article makes you think, reflect and make small changes to how you work as a researcher. It doesn't matter where you are in your career journey. Even I have to remind myself to apply these points. It is very easy to move into executor or reactionary mode, in face of deadlines or when the pressure from work is high.
Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash
Understand your goals and responsibilities
There is a job description for the role you might end up getting. However, often there’s a lot beyond that you will need to figure out when starting your job. A lot may be very implicit so doing research on the role itself once you join is important.
Your work should have an impact - this can be done through a risk assessment of the questions and projects. What will happen if the research doesn't get done.
Know the business and context - understand the business model, goals and strategy.
Move from executor to strategic thinker. The best value you can provide is not just an order taker but provide some expertise or observations.
Use a research plan to help with goals and responsibilities on a project level. It’s a ågood way to make sure everyone is on the same page and that expectations and goals are clear and captured.
Be a player, not a victim
I was introduced to this video by Fred Kofman recently and found the mind shift really helpful. Do things happen to you or do you have some involvement in it? It helps to be proactive in your career and job. It won’t be like school or higher education where things get handed to you in a neat package. A lot of it is figuring things out for yourself and influencing once you have done that.
Build your own network - both inside and outside of the organisation.
Use the business context - to understand how to prioritise and suggest work. Being an order maker instead of an order taker.
Set and review your own personal goals. There will be organisation goals, or your manager's expectations. Take the time to think about what you need, want, and would like to work towards.
Reassess what you need and what your job gives you. This should be an ongoing practice as your priorities and needs will be changing over time.
Your manager can make or break your career at an organisation. Use your interviews to assess what working with them would be like and how the other team responds to them. Look out for dynamics and what is not said.
Multitask like a UX Researcher - it’s not what you think
It’s come to light that multitasking wasn’t as productive as we once thought it was. Yet, there is something to be said on knowing how to stack your time or plan accordingly. Use time when you’re waiting on details or another dependency to get things going.
Start recruitment early. It can take a long time, especially if the project requires special participants. While you are doing this, iron out details like your moderation guide or the artefacts needed. This can help with keeping a project to a reasonable length.
Don’t juggle multiple projects at once. Context switching is bad for focus and deep understanding. It risks you conflating details on one or multiple research projects.
Apply critical thinking generously and think like a scientist
One of the ways a UX researcher can add value is because we are objective parties in projects. Often we are not measured nor rewarded by confirming what people want to hear. Lean into that and question various aspects of the project such as the assumptions and problem definition.
Question assumptions and organisational knowledge. Really find out why people believe these things. If it’s based on past research or data take a look at it yourself to assess it’s rigorousness.
Get a second pair of eyes - bring in a team member or collaborator. They will be more bought into the outcomes if they are involved in the analysis. Ideally, they don’t have a particular outcome they are trying to get to. Having two or more people involved helps reduce the risk of confirmation bias.
Good research work isn’t important in itself - impact, reach and style
This is related to understanding roles and responsibilities. Research isn’t about just doing and writing up the research. It’s about making sure it gets used and implemented. It should be easy to access, understand and be memorable.
Socialise your work. Understand how and where your audience is and communicate in a manner that works for them. If they are senior stakeholders some extra effort may need to be made.
Get feedback often and early. Find out if the research hit its objective. Are the stakeholders able to understand and apply the findings. What methods or channels are the best way to share that research?
Make sure you use the right research method(s) appropriate to the research objective. More often than not, people over-rely on interviews since that’s their comfort level but there are other appropriate research methods to get data.
Tie it back to the goals and bring it back to what’s in it for the stakeholder. Give your research context and a reason for the stakeholders to take action / define the next steps based on the outcome
Gain good organisation skills and keep using them
This seems basic on the surface. When there are competing research deadlines and tasks which can be energy and focus intense, it is important to be able to manage this well. The sooner you can implement these skills the better.
Guard focus time. Cal Newport talks about this a lot, this is how as a researcher you can add value by thinking deeply about the problem space you are focusing on.
Know how to manage your calendar and manage your energy - this ties in with the focus time. Get a sense of when is your peak and troughs when it comes to energy and align that with what you are trying to achieve. Block that out or set purposes for slots in your calendar.
Always be learning and have a growth mindset
As one gets older the time and effort spend on improving may plateau. It’s important to ensure that every day you are learning on the job somehow. It may not be obvious but it is important to reflect on this daily.
Know your gaps and get exposure. Do a skills audit to identify the gaps in your skillset and areas of improvement. Looking at job ads for the next level also work.
Read different forms of media - the broader the better.
Learn by trying new methods or take existing methods and make them work for new situations e.g. contextual inquiries during a pandemic.
Ask for informational interviews - this one is easier when you’re fresh out of school. Awesome People Design List and UX Coffee Hours are good sources of people to reach out to. If you’re going to reach out to people make sure you do your pre-research and not ask things you could have Googled online. Be careful not to waste people's time.
Review your past projects with stakeholders - what should you start, stop and continue?
What did I miss? Was there anything else you wish you knew earlier as a UX Researcher?
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