The occasional badassery of UX Research skills

My family doesn’t have a very strong grasp of what I do for a living. User Experience Research is such a niche, and most of them pursued careers in vastly different fields than tech and design. My sister refers to me as a “web analyst” and I’m like yeah close enough.

Recently, my dad got sick and my uncle was struggling to figure out how to help him. My two sisters and I started chatting. We’re worried about whether or not our elders can still look after themselves, and whether we should step in to help in some way.

Obviously, that’s a difficult conversation to have. Dad and uncle are in their 70s, and there are serious considerations about their well being that we have to navigate without hurting their feelings or infringing on their own personal agency. We’re dealing with our own anxiety about their living situation and whether we’re prepared to deal with medical, legal, and financial issues effectively as they arise.

My older sisters asked me to go down and facilitate that conversation. They didn’t use that word, but that’s what they wanted me to do. We debated whether it could be remote or needed to be in person; I know it’s easier to read body language and tone when you’re face to face, but suggested they join remotely to prevent things from feeling too confrontational. I built out a moderator guide with notes about each participant’s state of mind and potential emotional triggers. I set up an invite and took two computers to the session, so I could take notes on one while we used the other to run the video call.

It was an hour of moderating. I set out the parameters of the conversation, made sure everyone was comfortable and felt heard, helped nudge reluctant topics to be considered. I even had to defuse the tension and pivot topics every now and then. We came away with a set of action items and longer-term ideas we’ll need to work through. I had post-interview syncs with everyone, too.

We wrapped up the call around 9 PM, but it took me hours to get to sleep. I was so wired. I’d been so nervous about how that would go, and to have it go so well was…well, it was really great UX Research.

I found myself wishing that my colleagues had been able to see me. They would have recognized how much planning and intention had gone into the project. They would have seen how graceful the pivots in conversation were, and appreciated my techniques for empathizing and guiding the participants through the sticky moments.

As a UX Researcher, I sometimes feel like my skills don’t have practical application to my personal life. It’s not like you end up in situations where a tree test would really help you understand your kid’s mental model. I’m rarely asked by a family member to code some open-ended comments for primary themes.

But my skills for planning a conversation, my ability to gauge people’s emotions, and my stakeholder management techniques made a difficult family conversation go smoothly. It made me proud of being a UX Researcher.

I’m a little sad that my family doesn’t know enough about my work to recognize when I’m being a UX Research badass, but it’s interesting that my sisters nominated me to lead the conversation. No one else tried to run the actual video call. Even though I was the youngest person involved, they trusted me with the responsibility. They may not understand UX Research, but they knew I was the right person to do what needed to be done. And I guess that makes up for them calling me a “web analyst”.

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