UX Research Requires Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Humanity
In today’s climate, where many decisions are largely driven by data (rather than emotions or feelings), UX research may be one of the few processes that prioritizes people’s thoughts and feelings. We explore the perspectives of our calm, collected and approachable User Experience Researcher, Duangkamon ‘Lek’ Lapkanjanapong.
When I started out, I already had experience working in market research at an agency, and as an assistant innovation consultant at a university. In both roles, I had conducted interviews, analyzed quantitative and qualitative research, and had run user interviews, focus groups and online surveys. With my background, I felt that choosing a career in user experience research (or UXR for short) would allow me to learn and build up on the knowledge I’d already gained.
Although I had never worked in the specific field of UXR before, I found that in some ways it was exactly what I had anticipated. My previous work experience was transferable to different UX processes. However, I was still prepared to build my knowledge from zero. I was always willing to develop my UX research skills, like working with different team members from other departments—such as designers, developers, product owners and product managers—to ensure that our client’s products effectively answered the user's needs, for example, through continuous product discovery.
Of course, now I understand that being a UX researcher involves having great listening skills, empathy for others, the ability to accurately identify issues, good data analysis, and an ability to solve users’ problems.
You have to know yourself better before you can understand others.
My friends have told me that I’m a calm person, and a good listener. I’m also good at noticing someone’s gestures, expressions, and moods, and also have the ability to spot issues that an interviewee reveals, even if that interviewee wasn’t aware that they wanted anything in the first place. I can use these strengths to perform UX research and really understand users.
Let’s say that you want to help someone solve a problem. The first thing you should never forget to do is that we need to make the interviewee’s life better by finding out how they are feeling, their experiences, and the problems they might be facing. It’s only after you’ve listened to your interviewee that you can build something that can truly help them.
Meanwhile, if you are fixated on selling or initiating a certain behavior from your interviewee, then you may as well be forcing them to do what you want. And, as a result, your product or service might not answer your interviewee’s needs and wants.
Ultimately, my favorite thing about working in UXR is being able to talk to people. Not only do I get to hear interesting information that can be used to develop products and services, but good questions help people feel like the interviewer is a helpful friend who can listen, and make them feel relaxed and comfortable.
The people around you are mentors who can help you learn, grow, and overcome challenges.
The person that I can always turn to for great advice is Elodie, our Lead Designer from France. Elodie has previous experience working in a business consulting company, which I believe allowed me to learn world-class professionalism in my attitude, thinking, style and standard of working from her.
The more I get to know Elodie, the more I admire her leadership skills. She really walks the talk. Elodie is respectful of others, is always open to feedback and criticisms, is direct, clear and transparent, and applies creative problem solving.
Most importantly, I consider Elodie a friend that I can always confide in, as she is consistently empathetic, considerate and ready to help. My relationship with Elodie makes me believe that teamwork is possible even when you aren’t working together on the same project.
Building trust with your client is something a consultant should do from the very start of a project, because trust happens when you fully understand your client and can address their pain points, helping you win your client’s heart. At surface level, this statement might seem cliche, yet I feel that Elodie set the vital foundations of a consultant from very early on. I’ve applied these principles every day since.
Don’t overlook the small, ‘unimportant’ things, because those things may have the biggest impact.
There was a period where I worked on several UXR projects with a client bank. This involved several processes, starting with the brief, and then onto designing research methodology, choosing interviews, interviewing, testing, analyzing data, all the way through to reporting our research. The most interesting takeaway from this project arose from how much the bank’s team loved their product. They fully believed that their design didn’t need to be tested for usefulness, but wanted to skip straight to usability testing for the product’s functionality.
We tried to communicate to the bank that they should test the product’s usefulness before usability, so they could confirm whether their products and services were addressing users’ pain points, and were valuable or useful to users through a value proposition design. This would reduce risk to the time and resources invested. Without testing usability or setting a value proposition design, the bank was at risk of offering something to their customers that they wouldn’t use, which would reduce user numbers.
The result of performing UX research helped us see that the bank’s products and services weren’t suitable for their target market. We also received vital feedback that helped us improve and increase the value of our designs, which could then be tested in future.
Listen, stay open, and communicate more.
A moment in my life that I will likely never forget is when I was managing several projects at once. At the time, I had already accepted the time constraints and deadlines, and as a result neglected to communicate with the management team. Because of this, there weren’t enough people to work on each project, and each team member already responsible for the work had to go beyond their daily allocated hours. People suffered from accumulated stress and not enough rest.
Taking responsibility for multiple projects at once doesn’t guarantee successful projects or high quality work from your team. Sometimes, it takes a little bravery and vulnerability to address the problems you’re facing. Talking to your team, regardless of their position in the team hierarchy, can help you overcome challenges.
I started tackling this particular challenge by changing the way I worked. I talked to management about the client’s expectations. I studied the issues, figured out the root of the problem, and readjusted how I estimated the time people would need to work on a project, so I could prevent anyone from getting overwhelmed with their workload. The final step was to ensure clear communication and deliver regular updates.
Above everything else I learned from this experience, I am still incredibly thankful to everyone in the UX research team who worked together to keep our project as close to the set timeline as possible.
Experimentation, making mistakes, and diversity are what makes us human.
Most people think that selling a product or service, or receiving great feedback, is the true measurement of success. But success can also look like failures in development, going through trial and error, and encountering unforeseen circumstances.
In my opinion, the diversity of people in Morphosis is as important as having a growth mindset, as it helped me learn and improve rapidly. In terms of nationality, age, and expertise, no two people here are the same. This helped me see different perspectives and apply knowledge fully in UXR.
While it might be true that we all want to produce something as close to perfect as possible, testing and trying things out can be so much better. Even if you aren’t always successful in your efforts, at least you have the opportunity to learn, get better at handling disappointment. You develop the ability to motivate yourself to tackle problems straight on, develop a better immunity, and drive your self-improvement forward without having to repeat your prior shortcomings.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes. And don’t be afraid of the obstacles that might come your way. Smile, and embrace those challenges, so you can be the type of person that people want to confide in. After all, an expert UXR is someone who truly understands what it means to be human.