UX Researchers come from all kinds of backgrounds. While the field may skew toward those with a background in academia, there are plenty of others. Regardless of background, most UX Researchers share a few of the same traits. I’m not talking about hard skills - though there is a fair degree of overlap there - I’m referring to soft skills. The things that are more like behavioral habits. I think it’s a strength in these qualities that draw these types of people into the field in the first place.
I made the transition into full-time UX Research in 2020 after a long career in law enforcement. It was not a straightforward move though. I sat down with a mentor, and mapped out my biggest strengths. We focused on soft skills, things that can’t be taught. Our thinking was that I could put in time and learn any hard skills that would be required, but since I was doing a career-pivot, focusing on my ingrained behaviors would be a good place to start.
We outlined 5 behavioral traits that I displayed in my work life that would be seen as strengths and, I believe that most successful researchers share these 5 traits.
#1. See the Big Picture
I always strive to see the bigger picture. Knowing how your work will be used by others, and how it fits into the larger goals will go a long way toward structuring your work in a way that others can build on later.
This mindset is critical to UX Research. It’s why researchers should always meet with stakeholders before any research is started. Learn the questions they want answered but more importantly, figure out what they will do with the answers. What decisions will be made with the information? Doing so will help you frame your research questions, and your ultimate delivery, in the way that helps your stakeholders most.
#2. Act With a Sense of Urgency
I regularly try to treat my work as if someone else is depending on it. I don’t want to let that person down. Even if it isn’t the most important thing I’m working on today, it could be the most important thing to my stakeholder.
A great researcher will take this to heart. Stakeholders depend on accurate, usable findings and they usually need them quickly. An outstanding researcher will remember to treat every project like it will have a tremendous impact on the business, because it often does!
The best researchers typify a sense of urgency even in tough times. When facing blocks and obstacles, a great researcher won’t sit around and throw their hands in the air exclaiming, “Woe is me!” A researcher acting with a sense of urgency will develop a plan on their own. They will come to the table not just with the problem, but with a proposed solution.
#3. It’s OK to Disagree, Until the Decision is Made
At one point in my career, I worked on a team that rarely agreed on what the right course of action was at first. We would talk, debate, poke holes in theories, and play out the what-ifs. The expectation was that if you disagreed with an idea, you had an obligation to discuss that disagreement.
Debate and discussion are crucial to research. If everyone goes along, agreeing with whatever the previous person said, your findings will always be exactly what you expect them to be. What a boring world! Researchers should challenge and push each other. They should bring their diversity of thought and opinion to the forefront. This ensures that when a plan emerges, it’s one that has considered as many ideas and angles as possible. And that’s usually a plan everyone can get behind.
#4. Do the Right Thing When No One Is Looking
Part of being a successful UX Researcher is trust. You will be asked to explain study results and methodologies to stakeholders who will not have the same level of understanding. They won’t know why you picked an A/B Test over a Moderated Usability Interview, or a Tree Test over a Card Sort, and rarely will a stakeholder deep dive into the data.
Most stakeholders are not going to sit in on every interview, and none of them will sit with you while you sift through large raw data sets to bring out your findings. The fact it is, most stakeholders will only watch one or two interviews, or even just read the executive summary.
A UX Researcher works with a tremendous degree of autonomy. There is rarely someone sitting over your shoulder micromanaging your work. The best researchers know and appreciate this. They understand the degree of trust placed in them and always act with integrity.
#5. Take the Extra Step
Excellent UX Researchers, because they see the larger picture and act with urgency, will often take the extra step that will ensure their work contributes to the desired outcomes of the business. Sometimes this is as easy as an extra interview or two to tease out another finding. Other times it’s reworking a presentation because one set of stakeholders might have a different focus than others.
The fact is, great researchers know that their success is driven by how they help businesses reduce risk and achieve results. When the best researchers take these small extra steps, they have an outsized impact on their business.
When I was ready to make my career change into UX, I was fortunate to find Key Lime Interactive whose core values very much reflect the five traits above.
This isn’t by mistake.
At Key Lime, Researchers...
- See the Puzzle.
- They’re Dynamic.
- Open and Receptive.
- They Do the Right Thing.
- And Key Lime Puts a Ribbon on it.
I believe these are the 5 traits that make the best researchers. And it’s why I feel privileged to be one of the researchers at Key Lime Interactive.
If you like the idea of having researchers with these principles handle your next research project, contact us, and we’re happy to see how we can help.
If you’re a UXer and these behaviors describe you, we’d love to chat about you joining our team.