I regularly get asked what my advice would be for entering the world of user research and landing that first role, so I thought it would be great to pick the brains of two user researchers who I’ve been working with recently, Nicole Fermie and Ria Jesrani, who have kindly agreed to share their own experiences.
Q&A with Nicole Fermie – Junior User Researcher
What was your journey from higher education into User Research?
Biology was my first stop as an undergrad but a love for people and a growing dislike for the sterility and loneliness of lab research drew me towards doing a Masters in Science Communication. This is where I initially sparked my love for bridging the knowledge gap between experts and non-experts. This skill of meeting the needs of the end-user followed me through various jobs and incarnations until I finally landed a gig in sales where I truly put my love for people and the power of empathy in creating products and pitches into practise. It was not until I attended a conference on data visualisation in New York though, that I actually learned of UX as an industry. It was there that I finally put a name to the face of my dream job.
How did you get your first user research role?
I was pretty picky when it came to selecting where I was going to study the dark art of UX. I made a conscious decision to attend a a gruelling 24-week course in Chicago with a school called Designation (designation.io) because they throw you into a thriving American Start-Up scene and allow you to do UX work with live clients which allowed me to fully engage my newly acquired skill set with two incredible start-ups: Culinary Care (a cancer charity that delivers restaurant meals to cancer patients and their caregivers on chemotherapy days) and Tripidee – a visual trip planner. These were my first two invaluable user research roles that truly allowed me to flex my UX muscles and fail, fail fail, iterate and ultimately succeed.
What was important for you when accepting your first role? E.g. salary, culture, training, career development etc.
The most important thing was making sure that my employer understood that UX was not an all-encompassing new umbrella term for graphic, web design and coding but rather a specific set of process and practices that get at the heart of what should be built in order to meet the user’s true needs. The most important lesson that I was taught by a friend was to make sure that your prospective company’s culture fit is right for you as well otherwise you won’t produce your best work.
What would you say is the best way to build up your brand and get your name out there?
Find a style that really speaks to you in the real world – even if it’s outside of current trends. I’ve also been a huge fan of the Bauhaus art movement and decided to use it across my CV, portfolio and branding. Remember that you’re the one who’s going to have to look at these materials for much longer than any one else out there. Make your own design decision and then stick to it – once you find a solid look that you’re happy with you can just make your own style guide and thus remove the burden of having to constantly reinvent your colour and design palette
Would you recommend going client-side or agency for your first role? And why?
As a junior I do believe that beggars can’t be choosers! With not much experience companies are taking just as much of a risk on you as you on them. My only advice is that if the work looks interesting then go with it – you’ll learn exponentially regardless of whether you’re working for an agency or a specific brand. I always tend to look more at what I can bring to the table and how I can personally grow within a company in terms of how big the UX team is and whether UX practices actually are at the forefront of their design process.
How do you stay ahead of industry changes, emerging trends and new techniques?
I published my portfolio on Medium for a reason – I think it’s on of the best and most honest resources out there. TED talks are incredible too and also provide invaluable lessons in how to easily and effectively communicate complex ideas to the masses – which is a much underrated UX skill! In fact, TED is littered with awesome subliminal UX lessons and also allows you to simultaneously keep abreast of advances beyond your field of expertise without having to lose more than 15 minutes of your time.
What would you advise to someone who wants to transition to user research?
Ask yourself repeatedly why you’re interested in user research – it’s a question you’re going to be asked a lot more across job and stakeholder interviews for the rest of your career so start shaping your answer now. User research is becoming a bit of an awkward buzzword but the researchers and designers that I truly admire are the ones who got into the field for a specific and applicable reason beyond the obvious UCD definitions. Also, make sure you have a thick a skin because UX work is fluid and requires you to not get attached to anything you design because after all, only the user’s opinion and ability to use your design really counts. Failure is a solid part of the process so accept it and always keep your chin up!
Massive thanks to Nicole for sharing her great advice! Keep an eye out for next week’s instalment where I’ll be asking Ria Jesrani what her tips would be to help others in a similar position.
Also, feel free to leave a comment on what you would advise juniors attempting to break into the market!