Hey Bella, care to share a little bit about yourself?
Hello, I'm Bella! I'm a User Experience Researcher based in Vancouver, BC. Things that excite me include: good coffee, exploring new places, and learning. Pre-pandemic, I used to go paddling with my dragon boat team, Orca, every week - rain or shine. But 2020 has blessed me with lots of time at home, so now I foster rescue dogs and have been learning a lot about dog training.
Can you tell us what you do as a UX Researcher for those who are unfamiliar?
As a UX Researcher in a small team, I tend to juggle different projects and lend a hand wherever needed. On any given day I could be: running usability testing on a proposed design, leading interviews with users to collect insights for generative research, drafting a research plan for an upcoming project, reading articles to stay up-to-date on topics relating to research and research ops, tinkering with our internal data warehouse to understand trends and how our users interact with our platform, collaborating with different teams to lend my research perspective, etc.
How did you decide to pursue your specific career?
I used to work in a completely different field, and was looking to make a change. Back then, I was also volunteering at a women's shelter. One night, one of the other volunteers mentioned she was taking a bootcamp course for web development. She mentioned the name of the school she was enrolled in, and I decided to follow their page on Facebook. After a few months had passed, I saw on Facebook that the school was hosting an intro class in user experience design. Googling 'UX Design' brought up some pretty intriguing results, so I decided to attend the intro session.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I was signed up for the full-time UX Design program! While I was in the program, I discovered that I was most interested in research and strategy. Looking back, it was actually the perfect fit considering my background is in Psychology. From then on I decided to focus on UX Research as a specialty, taking on research freelance work, a research internship, then getting hired as a researcher at my current company.
What made you interested in your field? What do you like about it?
I've always been very curious about people and why people behave the way they do. It's why I decided to take Psychology as my undergraduate degree, even though I had no intention whatsoever of become a counsellor or psychologist (which is what everyone assumed I wanted to do). UX Research ended up being the perfect avenue to channel that curiosity in a very hands-on way.
Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?
To stand out, you need to connect the dots of your story. No one is going to understand how unique and amazing you are unless you make an effort to tell your story in a clear, compelling way. Even 'unrelated' milestones can help tell the story of who you are and why you've decided to pursue the path you're on. In my case, I never expected to pursue a career in user experience, but in hindsight I've now noticed that majority of my previous work and volunteer experiences have required me to talk to people, listen to their stories, and empathize with their circumstances. All the difficult conversations I had in my previous career now translate into confidence and empathy while running a user interview. I bring those experiences into my story, and it makes me a more interesting, memorable candidate.
In addition to crafting a really memorable story, I would advise those just starting out in UX Research to seek out real world problems and to use research to guide the solution design. And don't limit yourself to solving just the 'sexy' problems. One of the most memorable case studies I've seen was from a friend of mine who redesigned a form at a clinic she worked at; her design took into account cognitive biases and was grounded in what she had learned from talking to patients. Redesigning a form might not seem like the sexiest case study, but it was sure did make a difference to the clinic and the patients.
What are 3 character traits that would make someone excel in your field?
curious, organized, personable
What fuels you to continue to do what you do?
I love learning, and user experience (well, tech in general) is such a vast field so there's no shortage of topics to delve deeper into. I feel motivated to continue learning and developing as a researcher.
Most difficult thing about your job?
Having to translate what stakeholders are asking into a proper research question, and having to then figure out what methods you can use to best address that question. Justifying the timeline and budget needed for research, and trying to squeeze research into the pipeline for product development.
What would you like to say to your younger self?
Stop trying to plan your life perfectly - nothing ever goes according to plan, and going with the flow is essential to maintaining your sanity (plus it's more fun!)
Best advice you've received/heard?
Don't wait for 'permission' to speak, or wait to be 'qualified enough' to seek out opportunities. Even when you don't feel that you do, you always have something special to offer. Your time is now, stop waiting. Plus, success is always sweeter after a few rounds of good ole failure.
Any last thoughts, advice, or recommendations for someone who wants to learn more about UX Research?
Spend 50% of your time learning about research methods, frameworks, techniques, etc. But make sure the other 50% is spent honing your soft skills, because boy are they way more important than anyone makes them out to be! Learn how to be a good speaker and storyteller, understand how to build good relationships with people, practice communicating your thoughts and opinions in a really clear manner. These are the skills that make a great researcher.