4 Key Takeaways from Being UX Researcher

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see the word “research?”

I am sure that the answers will vary. However, according to articles from Irish Times(2015) regarding public opinion of research, it is known that most people are still perceiving research as something that goes on behind a closed door, in which only very specialized people can engage in.

Honestly, I used to think of research just like that before I started pursuing a career as a researcher myself. I even think of researcher as an occupation that is quite nerdy. Well, here’s to prove my point:

Reverting a bit to my past, I used to study Psychology. I studied it not because I specifically want to be a psychologist, nor delve into the field of HR like most people expected a psychology graduate would be. I simply study it because I like communicating with people. What I didn’t expect from studying psychology was the countless days spent for research. During my University days, I would say that I wasn’t very good at quantitative research. However, I like qualitative research. While people who like numbers loathe it, I found myself enjoying the abstraction of qualitative data.

Little did I know, my enjoyment of qualitative research eventually lead me into my current profession. Never ever have I ever, thought that I would be UX Researcher. To be honest, 2 years ago, I didn’t know even know the meaning of “UX”, moreover the existence of job title that came with it. I used to think of researcher as a title that was related to numbers — scientist, statistician — you name it. But now I know that I was wrong.

User Experience (UX) researcher’s job encompasses a variety of investigative methods to add context and insight to design process. UX research merely translated from other forms of research. That is why anyone who has experience in running scientific research may be suitable for this role. To prove a point, my team members in Tokopedia (which consist of UX Researchers and Product Researchers) came from various backgrounds, such as biological science, IT, management, anthropology, psychology, and Chinese literature. Some even have previously worked as market researcher, field researcher, HR, business support, and data analyst. However, instead of diverting our focus as a team, those differences turn out to be empowering, as it enables the team to see things from a different point of view. Because of it, the team becomes braver in trying various method of research — to see what is working and what is not. It also opens more room for each individual to voice opinions based on his/her respective background — something that is needed to drive collaborations in the team.

While my experience in UX may not be much, I personally feel like I have learned a lot from being UX Researcher. Just like research finding that has key takeaways, every job also has it own lessons. Here are some key takeaways (or lessons) that I learned from being a UX Researcher:

  1. Perspective taking really helps you to get through the day.

    Since I begin to work, I have come to realize that many people aren’t used to the practice of perspective taking. I have seen people forcing their belief to their colleagues — be it in a harsh way, or in a more acceptable way. I also have seen people blaming others if something goes wrong, or even worse — blaming themselves too much that it ended up destroying their self-esteem.

    I can say that I am very fortunate that my current job teaches me a lot about perspective taking. Since each research usually has a different goal and can be handled by multiple stakeholders, I have to accommodate their opinions in order to formulate a research plan. Be it the Designer, Product owner, Associate Product Owner, Business Development people, or even Marketing people— I need to understand how they think, how they work, and what they need so that I can conduct a research that can answer their problem. Not only I learn from the stakeholders, but I also learn so much during my time spent with users — be it directly or indirectly.

    Let me give you three examples on this one. First of all, seeing quantitative data from survey enables me to see how different kinds of variable, such as demography, roles, and economic standing — can affect people’s sentiment or behavior toward things. Secondly, talking with different kind of users makes me realize that every person has their own story, and even when some of it seems similar, each one of them is actually unique. Last but not least, visiting users to their natural environment give me depictions of their daily life and also the limitation that they have to face every day.

    By knowing lots of aspect regarding users, I have more or less been put in the position where I have to consider their point of views when solving a problem. It really helps me on making sense of the things that happened in my life – be it work-related or not. Without those experience, I would still probably think of things only from my point of view. I would also more likely to have problems in understanding people who had different opinions than I did— which would lead me into higher tendency to be frustrated because I can’t make sense of what’s going on, or being in conflicts with other people.

    2. There’s always time to try or learn, even when you feel like you don’t.

    When you are working, it is really easy to be caught up in work and abandon everything else. Sure, working can be fun, especially if you love your job. However, even when I love my job, there were days when I felt like I was just running my work responsibilities instead of improving myself. After a long time reflecting on what could have been wrong, I found out by then that it wasn’t my job that was wrong — it’s just the way I did it that was wrong. I forgot that there were actually so many things that I could do rather than just sat down and tried to finish my job as good as I could.

    Working as a researcher pretty much drives me to be aware of many things since the job enables me to be in contact with so many people and topics. It somehow drives me to be more open to change. At some point, I then learned to challenge myself to do things that were out of my habit, starting by attending various meetups or workshops, volunteering in an event, embarking on outdoor adventures and even spending more time to do my hobby — something that I previously do in rare occasions. By spending time to do other activities, I become more able to pursue new knowledge and skills that otherwise wouldn’t be there had I chose to be caught up with my usual work routines.

    If you open your eyes, you can always try and learn — whenever, wherever, from whoever it is — be it from books, movies, parents, friends, communities, colleagues, strangers, etc. Learning doesn’t always involve something that is really new. Sometimes, the things we learn might be more subtle — it can be from the things that we have heard or maybe have experienced before. If that’s the case, you can try seeing things from another point of view. As long as you are willing, you can always find that there are many things in the world for you to learn. If you ever feel empty despite your best efforts to do your routines, just take the chance to try and learn more things to break out from the feeling. You have countless better versions of yourself, inside you. They are waiting to be expressed and realized. After all, you can only regret the things you don’t do or try, right?

    3. It’s very important to communicate things clearly with othersI remembered a day when I sent a report to my lead. I thought that I have done the report well until she asked me to check her feedback. Eager to see it, I found that she told me that some of the written sentences were hanging — leaving the reader with ambiguous meaning. I decided to re-read it, and turned out what she said was true. I have just realized that I have forgotten to explain things in context — something that is very important when communicating things to others.

    Sure, the word “context” has various definitions. One of the widely acknowledged definitions of context is the one according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, in which it is defined as “the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.” I previously read an awesome article regarding the importance of context that is written by Julien Samson in the Writing Cooperative. In the article, it is said that “context adds specificity to your writing and directs the reader attention to a particular train of thought, thus avoiding unwanted interpretation.”. However, it is also said that while the context is important, too much explanation will further confuse the reader and will make writing becomes harder to understand.

    As a researcher, I can’t guarantee that stakeholders will always have time to meet with me and discuss the findings of the research altogether. More often than not, stakeholders can’t meet the researcher in person due to various circumstances (ie: stakeholders are residing outside the country, different schedule with researchers, etc). Given the situation above, it is very important to make sure that the audience can understand research findings in a glimpse, by delivering the findings in clear and concise words.

    Now, back to my experience where my lead asked me to revise my writing — so, in order to make it easier for the audience to understand what I wrote in the report, I then learned to add more context to it. Adding context doesn’t mean that you need to write a long explanation — it means that you have to find the most effective way to communicate things in a way that will avoid misunderstanding. For example, I started by explaining numbers of user base (ie: answered by 315 participants who have bought pulsa), and make sure that I have written all the base for the graphics and chart that I have included in the report. The information that I added regarding user base may seem simple, but it can help readers to better understand what I write. From that time until now on, I will always keep in mind that I have to put context when communicating with people. Without context, people can’t relate to your story — and that is just sad because the most powerful stories are usually the ones people can relate to.

    4. Practice makes everything better — but not perfect.

    “Practice makes perfect” is one of many age-old sayings that is still popular until this time. Well, the concept itself is believable. For example, if you are learning to drive a manual car, where you constantly have to think about shifting the gears — it’s logical that you have to practice to drive over and over — until you just can do it instinctively. However, after mastering the driving skill, does it really make your driving skill perfect? what if you are put in the situation where the road is steep? what if the road is bumpy? can you still drive successfully? During my time working, I have done many usability tests, interviews, surveys, and other methodologies to gain information from users and make use of it to improve products. Due to that, there was a time when I thought that I was good enough in this field — probably better than certain people at it. Fortunately, that feeling of superiority didn’t last long, because, in one event, I found that my colleagues were able to give better explanations and practical solutions to stakeholders regarding a topic. That event made me feel like I was kicked in the guts. It left me thinking “ What the hell did I do wrong? how come I didn’t think of better solutions? how did she/he able think of that while I couldn’t? ”. That was also the time where I realized that falling in the illusion of perfection is very easy.

    Since it’s the researcher’s job is to unravel the truth through various kind of analysis, I have come to the term where I realize that I need to know more today than I did yesterday. By falsely believing myself to have expertise in a certain field, I have shut down my curiosity, and that is the death of my growth. Embarking from my mistake, now I believe that there is no such thing as perfection no matter how hard you try — but you can always learn to be better, and curiosity is the key. As long as you are curious, you will never stop learning — which is good because explosive growth is usually triggered by curiosity, not knowledge.

Source: uxplanet.org

Author: Ananda Nadya

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