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3 Traits you need to become a UX researcher (beyond traditional skillset)

Transitioning into a new career like UX research is a personal journey and can often become a daunting task. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when navigating this life-changing decision.

There are plenty of ways to learn the basics of UX research. Participate in a Bootcamp, take an online course, watch Youtube channels, or read up on articles and books.

This will get you from 0 to 1, but what about the skills needed to take you from 1 to 100? 

A few years ago I transitioned into UX research from a career as a Psychologist. I have since been reflecting on what has helped me throughout this journey. 

In this article, I’d like to share some strategies I have used to ease into UX research. I hope it is helpful for people with diverse backgrounds who are considering the leap into UX research or who have already taken the plunge.

In a hurry? A glimpse of what’s ahead:

  1. Critical thinking to reflect on how learnings serve you best
  2. Compassion to overcome impostor syndrome
  3. Communication to be practiced at all levels

1. Apply critical thinking to what you are learning 

Something that has worked for others will not necessarily work for you. This is the most important idea I would like to transmit with this article. It is your responsibility to digest what you learn and figure out if it fits your needs.  

Critical thinking is probably one of the most sought out skills in the UX research field. We must know how to distill data and make sense of it. Otherwise, we risk ending up with information overload which can lead to analysis paralysis.

The same goes for your career. The more you learn from others, the more you realize that there are diverse solutions for any given problem. 

Best practices of other researchers will not work for you 100% of the time.

The effectiveness of each methodology or strategy will depend on your specific circumstances and the particular problem you are trying to solve.

Here’s an example: most UX courses will teach you a framework like Design Thinking or the Double Diamond process. Although effective, such frameworks may not fit the needs of every project. 

For instance, depending on the challenge or a product’s lifecycle, sometimes you might need to start with evaluative research rather than generative research to define a problem to solve.

By paying attention to project specifics and thinking critically about how to approach the problem, we will know where to start and how to adapt frameworks so they fit the specific needs of our project.

How to improve your critical thinking skills

Find reliable sources of information. Even then, keep a cautious eye and always vet new knowledge by cross-referencing your data. Doing so can help you become aware of your biases and harness the power of considering multiple points of view. 

Imagine you are doing a project kick-off. Stakeholders are sure that users would benefit from ‘X’ feature. As researchers, we can’t take their word for it. You might want to dive into a reputable trend report and compare the data with your generative research efforts.   

This approach can also help you build a thorough understanding of your challenges so you can make decisions and solve problems effectively.

2. Compassion to overcome impostor syndrome

Let’s say you have recently finished a UX research Bootcamp or an online course. What’s next? You can continue on an endless journey of preparation or put your skills to the test. 

Your skills will not be perfect. In fact, they will never be perfect, you will make many mistakes, and that is ok.

The sooner you come to this realization, the sooner you can kick impostor syndrome out of your system.

Find your improvement areas through practice

When you start participating in real-life projects, you begin to notice where your shortcomings are. I can’t stress enough the importance of becoming self-aware in this aspect because it allows you to reflect and prepare yourself for future projects.

For example, a background in Psychology certainly comes in handy for building rapport with people in research processes and connecting the dots between the gathered data. However, in my case, finding the rhythm in a fast-paced Agile environment was quite challenging. 

If it were not for my first projects, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that I needed to find ways of becoming effective with time management. Timeboxing was something I had practised for 1-on-1 conversation but not for writing reports and discussion guides.   

User researchers almost always come from diverse backgrounds. Our strengths and weaknesses will be just as varied. Keep your research engine churning to find out where you need to put more effort. 

Be kind to yourself

The next time you feel overwhelmed, or self-doubt comes creeping in at your door during a research project, consider the following:

  • Whatever choice you make will be the right one. In the long run, it will help you learn and you can iterate for the next project 
  • Keep doing and take as many breaks as you need 
  • “Good enough for now” is much more valuable and attainable than perfect   

Be open about your challenges

The point here is to get comfortable with the idea of making mistakes and being open about them, especially with yourself. If you are part of a team that fosters a growth mindset, they will likely appreciate it when you communicate your challenges. It will help them help you become an effective UX researcher.     

3. Practice communication at all levels

Communication is a critical skill in UX research. While it may seem obvious, there is a lot more to it than you might think. Whether you’re a junior or a principal researcher, knowing how to transmit ideas clearly is fundamental.

Early career

When starting a career as a UX researcher, you might feel compelled to reach out to more experienced professionals in the industry to learn best practices. 

After all, excellent researchers have already paved the way for us. It should be relatively easy to find stories that resonate with you. Maybe you also want to gain insights into how others have navigated the challenges of transitioning into UX research? 

How do you talk with them though? What should you say?

Before contacting them, prepare an agenda. Be specific with what you want to learn from them and don’t hesitate to ask. You might be surprised by the outcome. 

Mid-level

Once you’re settled in with a few projects or a full-time job as a UX researcher, you’ll notice how communication starts taking center stage.

Internal messages on Slack/Teams, emails with clients, weekly standups, feedback sessions, workshops, and presenting reports are a few areas where you need to be in good shape with this skill.

Overcommunicating your efforts and demands with your team is essential. This helps everyone involved gain clarity on the jobs to be done, avoiding inefficiencies like repeating work.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that you should constantly be in meetings or talking with your team. Use tools like Loom or an equivalent to get feedback quickly and without wasting others’ time. 

Leadership roles

“At some point, you become a leader and you realize the impact that your words have on others, they start carrying a lot of weight”

Laura Mata Garcia, Ph.D. – UX Research Manager @ Brainly 

Communication at this level goes far beyond stakeholder management and public speaking. People have emotional needs and leaders must be in touch with those needs.

Non-verbal communication plays a huge role, even in remote settings. The way you behave and display yourself will determine how your team perceives you.  

How do you want to be perceived by the team you are leading?

Chances are that most UX research leaders will want to be perceived as caring and empathetic. The reality is that many times status and hierarchy can blind people in leadership roles from what matters, their teams’ growth and effectiveness. 

It takes a great deal of self-awareness to detect how you project yourself as a leader. According to Laura, this is extremely important because your team is likely to adopt your style. 

A leader that fosters open communication, trust, and delegates work will empower their team and create a positive work culture. Meanwhile, if the leader is uncaring and authoritative, the team is likely to adopt silence.    

Takeaways

Each UX researcher will have their own journey and specific challenges. The strategies I shared enabled me to adopt and nurture a growth mindset.

Critical thinking is a crucial competency in UX research and in life. As researchers, we constantly face information overload. We must have the ability to discern facts from opinions, and relevant information from irrelevant noise. Always question the data you observe, listen closely, and draw your own conclusions.

Compassion is another major trait researchers should acquire. Not only for users and stakeholders in our research processes but especially for ourselves. After all, we too are humans who experience feelings. Allow yourself to feel frustrated from time to time, it will allow you to be self-aware and notice where you might need to work harder. 

Communication will be present at all stages of your career as a UX researcher. Using this skill wisely can help you connect with other researchers to learn from their mistakes, it can also allow you to become more effective with your work, and enable the creation of positive work cultures.  

I hope this story has resonated with you. Please remember that it’s not intended to be a guide but merely a glimpse of what it has been like to transition into UX research. Stay critical and use these strategies only if they make sense to you. Thank you for reading!

Cover photo by Christine on Unsplash

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Mohamad Safi (he/him)

Mohamad is a horseman and a UX Researcher. He enjoys thoughtful conversations, experimenting with nuance, and crafting insights to build experiences that make people smile. He is also a freelance Creative Coach helping people who are going through life transitions clarify their decision-making in a fun and engaging way.

Mohamad is a source of calmness and is always willing to connect.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohamadsafi/

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