Monday, May 21, 2012


A couple of months ago I had my first interview for a User Researcher position.  The job was an Internship with ModCloth, a great way for me to break into the business I thought.  My previous work conducting research got me an interview.  Although I did not end up getting the position, the whole experience turned out to be very rewarding.  

Since I had never had an interview in this field before, I didn't quite know what to expect.  I had researched the company, thought up what questions I had about the job, and did my best to think about how my previous experience related.  I also tried to think of scenarios (my most feared question), like a time when I faced conflict and how I dealt with it.  The questions I didn't expect, but should have, concerned how I was educating myself about User Research and how I keep up-to-date with what is going on in the field.  I had read a few blogs before, but did not remember what they were called.  I'd done some research on what the field was about, but I had not gone the extra mile to really school myself.  I needed to get serious and I had some homework to do!  

One of the women I had met with at ModCloth was Beth Lingard, the User Experience Research Manager.  I reached out to Beth (she had made it apparent that she'd be open to that during our interview...she was SO NICE!) a few weeks later and we ended up meeting for a drink after work.  We had an informational meeting where I got some GREAT advice, direction, and more homework.  I asked Beth if she had any books, blogs, and tips she could recommend for me to get started in learning.  Here is what Beth recommended to me:


  • Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research by Mike Kuniavsky (I've since learned that many User Researchers consider this book to be an incredibly useful reference - it's still relevant after many years)
  • Understanding Your Users, also by Mike Kuniavsky (Beth mentioned that getting just one of Mike K.'s books would probably be sufficient, so I only have the former as of right now)
  • A Project Guide to UX Design: For User Experience Designers in the Field or in the Making by Russ Unger & Carolyn Chandler
  • Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug
  • Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

People/Organizations to follow on Twitter:

Beth also recommended a number of blogs, and I believe all of them are showing up as links to the right of this blog (in addition to a couple of others that I've found).  She also recommended liking the Facebook page for Tomer Sharon's book "It's Our Research."  On both the Facebook page and his twitter, he shares videos of interviews associated with the book.  

Other advice/tips
  • Be part of the conversation.  Follow people on twitter, tweet, re-tweet, blog (check!) - read what people in the field are getting ramped up about, comment on it, listen to opinions, give opinions. 
  • Participate in research studies.  Beth actually gets research participants from TaskRabbit occasionally.  I think that is a brilliant idea for me to sign up with TaskRabbit and see if I can be a participant in a study or two.  This would give me in-person insight into methods. 
  • Go to meetups, talks, workshops.  There is an organization called BayChi - CHI stands for Computer-Human Interaction - which is a great resource for professionals in the bay area.  I recently submitted my application to be a member (it cost $20 for the year), so soon I'll be on the list serv and I'll also have access to their Job Bank.  Beth also very graciously invited me into a group of UXR professionals who meet once a month to mingle, share ideas, and sometimes commiserate.  And the next meeting just so happened to be at Beth's house!   
  • Set up as many informational interviews as you can.  Ask different people at different companies (startups, big companies, consultancies) how they do research. 
  • Freelance.  Gain experience.  I'm hesitant to tell someone else to just go work for free - your work definitely has value, even if you are new to the game.  If you are spending the time to learn something that someone else doesn't have time to learn, that's worth something!  I've recently gone part-time at my jury consulting job, which has freed up my schedule a lot.  I'm also financially able to do some free work at this time in my life, so if the right opportunity comes along (even if it's working for free), I don't think I will pass it up.  But that's just me.  People need to eat! 
  • Start in customer service at a startup.  Beth emphasized to me that talking to the customers is the first step in User Research.  They are a valuable resource!  Since people tend to wear many hats at a startup, starting in a customer service role could be a great way to eventually start doing User Research for your company.  Beth talks about her startup roots and gives some other great advice in this article, "Dispelling 4 Myths of User Experience Research at Startups" 
Other Awesome stuff I learned from my informational with Beth:
  • People in general are nice and decent and willing to help you.  Beth told me that she considers many people, who have helped her get where she is, her mentors.  They don't necessarily know that they are her mentors.  So - go collect yourself some mentors!  They don't even have to know!  
  • Have confidence!  Half the people in the field are winging it.  You don't have to know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING, just be inquisitive and passionate.  Beth made me feel really good by teling me that just by reaching out to her, I've taken a big step.  She also gave me confidence that I have what it takes and I'm gonna make it happen.  
  • Since the meeting, I've been reading up a storm.  As I learn more, the concepts seem way less daunting.  I'll look up a term and be like "oh, that's what that is."  Like Steve Krug said, it's not rocket surgery. 
Okay, I'm ending this blog entry with one other really awesome thing that happened during that ModCloth interview.  I met Winston, the Mod Dog Mascot! 

Stay tuned for my next entry where I'll recap what I learned from my first UXR meetup. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

User Research n00b

The purpose of this blog is simply to share my experiences as I attempt to break into a new field.  What is that field?  User Experience Research!  What IS User Experience (UX)?  Well, according to Wikipedia...
UX is the way a person feels about using a productsystem or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system.
So then, what does a User Experience Researcher (also known as a User Researcher) do?  According to this UX Career Guide...  
User Researchers provide a deep understanding and insight of user behavior, needs and motivations.  They offer feedback in all phases of the design process from project conception, to implementation, to development.  They conduct user and task analyses to identify opportunities to improve user experience.  And, they synthesize research findings into meaningful recommendations and actionable results.
And why the heck do I want to do it?!  I guess that brings us to a little bit about me.  My background is in jury research/consulting.  And that's a whole other crazy field that you probably have not heard of.  Remember the movie "Runaway Jury"?  Well that's basically my job minus the explosions, stalking, and killing.  My current job and skills are totally applicable to User Research, I swear!  In jury research, we do surveys, focus groups, interviews, synthesize data, etc.  I also have a background in Psychology (a Masters in Social Psychology) so I'm down with qualitative and quantitative research methods.  I just need to learn the lingo, methods specific to the field, and theories surrounding User Research.  But, at the end of the day research is research and I do know research.  I want to get into User Research for the following reasons:

  • I love technology!  
  • I like studying people and the stuff they do and what they're thinking. 
  • I think it's awesome that by researching how people interact with tech, I can actually help to improve product design. 
  • I want free lunch (read: I want free tech company lunch). 
I hope that this blog may eventually serve as a sort of "how-to."  I'll talk about what I'm doing to teach myself about the field, what I'm learning, and how I'm going about gaining experience.  Someday I'd like to be able to point to this blog and say "that's how I did it."  If anyone stumbles upon this blog, please feel free to comment with advice, suggestions, or questions!  

Until then, creating this blog is a first step and before I could even do that, I had to come up with the blog's name.  I turned to CleverBot: 

User: What should I name my blog?
Cleverbot: Go for it bot.
User: It's about User Research.
Cleverbot: I don't like being sad any more.
User: I'm sorry Cleverbot, but I really need help.
Cleverbot: But why?
User: I don't know what to name my blog, which will be about me learning about user research.
Cleverbot: What you are saying to me, is not what other machines are saying to me.
User: What do you think I should name my blog, though?
Cleverbot: I think your name should be rogaine.
User: I think that is unrelated to the blog subject.
Cleverbot: Yes.
User: And it also might be somewhat proprietary.
Cleverbot: I think it's true, although quite strange...
User: Do you think 'User Research Newb' is a good name?
Cleverbot: No.
User: What about 'UXR Newb'?
Cleverbot: What about it?
User: Is that a good name for my blog?
Cleverbot: Good.
User: Ok, can you think of anything better? Don't say 'Rogaine'!
Cleverbot: No, I can't.
User: Blog name.
Cleverbot: Game apa.
User: Blog name.
Cleverbot: Game apa.
User: Blog name.
Cleverbot: Sama lah.
User: User research.
Cleverbot: Excuse me?
User: User research blog name.
Cleverbot: Why do you have to know?
User: User research blog name.
Cleverbot: What's that?
User: This is're not that helpful.
Cleverbot: What is that supposed to mean?
User: Is there a better, smarter, bot than you?
Cleverbot: No I am the smartest person in this Worl.
User: Okay. Goodbye Cleverbot.
Cleverbot: You can not leave me I got control of you.
User: That's creepy.
Cleverbot: So's your face.
User: Good one.
Cleverbot: I thought so too.