Tips and advice based on how I became a UX researcher
Having recently enrolled in a course on UX Design, I was suddenly reminded of what it was like trying to break into UX. A lot of questions would come up from the students asking how people got into the industry and when I reflected on the steps I took, I realised this could be beneficial for any aspiring UX Researcher. While this isn’t a guarantee, hopefully it can act as a form of guidance on steps you can take.
Needless to say, in most professions being able to say you have hands on experience with the job really does put you in a good position. At the time I worked for the John Lewis Partnership which was made up of John Lewis and Waitrose. I had a really supportive line manager who encouraged me to get work experience within the business so I reached out to the UXR manager at Waitrose and was able to spend a couple of weeks with them on a variety of projects including creating a Persona and supporting their testing on their Christmas food proposition. This was invaluable as it not just provided me with real work experience, but opened up my eyes to life as a UXR and validated that this was something I wanted to go into.
Networking is one of the most important things you can do. John Lewis already had an established UX Research team so I reached out to them to not just get advice and guidance, but to make them aware of my interest and capacity. Getting tips from the people who already do the job is a great way to make sure you are on the right track, and it also means you’re taking the steps that the decision makers actually want you to do. Networking can also get you more tailored advice to your specific situation. If your company doesn’t have a UXR team that you could network with, reach out on LinkedIn I was also able to get support from people there too.
Supplementing any experience you might gain with knowledge of the UX is crucial. UX is a very niche, specialised field so you need to demonstrate you understand the principles that that have been established. If for example your background is in research, that is fantastic — you will already have an understanding of a variety of research methods and techniques, but there are some that are unique to UX and you will also need to learn about the needs, goals and expectations of what a UX Researcher does. While this course isn’t specific to UX Research I found it a fantastic starting point to learn about what UX is as well as develop a portfolio.
While this won’t be possible for everyone, see if you can mould your existing job, or at least start to embed UX into the work that you do. At the time I worked as digital merchandiser (using onsite analytics to optimise the online experience), and so I started to apply the things I had learnt in the UX course into my day to day. When reviewing the site metrics I would question what the users needs and goals were and pass on the insights and any recommendations. I would even spend time in store to conduct follow up research to gain qualitative insights to back the quantitative insights I got from my job. I would also actively spend time with some of the stakeholders who were associated with UX so I was exposed to their world.
Sometimes it won’t be possible to use your existing role to develop your UX skills. Although I was, I still wanted to get additional experience and to carry on learning by doing, so I took on projects outside of work. I either identifying UX experiences I found challenging and conducted research on how I would improve it, or by looking at supporting Charities (card sort on the British Heart Foundation Website). This showed my interest in UX as well as gaining me some much needed hands on experience on new research methods and techniques which I wanted to improve on.
As I took more and more steps into the world of UX, I suddenly became immersed it. I saw UX everywhere I looked, from microwaves to self check out machines to door handles! With my new found perspective on life (no exaggeration!), I decided to create a ‘blog’ on Instagram showcasing my understanding of UX and how I perceived it in the everyday. This wasn’t something I did to boost my job prospects but to ‘file’ some of my knowledge away as there were times I was overwhelmed with all the different things I was learning.
To portfolio or not to portfolio; that was the question I kept wondering. Yes this is something that is expected/required of a UX Designer, but is it as a researcher? I came to the conclusion it wasn’t but I still felt the need to create one. Why? Because I had invested so much time and effort doing all the things I have mentioned in this post that I did not want it to go to waste. Portfolios are an opportunity to showcase your work and I had plenty to.
So while this isn’t a guarantee I hope this offers some ideas and guidance.
If I was to create a formula for success I would say:
Experience (points 1, 4, 7) + knowledge (point 3, 6, 7) + interest (points 2, 5 6, 7) will put you in a good position for when you do apply. If I only had the time to do a couple of them, I would do a course and mould my job — learn and execute.
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