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What Personal Qualities Do You Need As a User Researcher?

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Have you ever wondered what qualities you need to succeed in user research? I just published an article on UXmatters, Qualities of Effective User Researchers, which lists the following qualities that lead to a successful career in user research:

  • Curiosity
  • Idealism
  • Pragmatism
  • Persuasiveness
  • Open-Mindedness
  • Ability to Learn Quickly
  • Organizational Skills and Attention to Detail
  • Time Management Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Empathy
  • Friendliness
  • Neutrality
  • Perceptiveness
  • Patience
  • Mental Agility
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Good Memory
  • Effective Notetaking
  • Analytical Skills
  • Problem Solving
  • Design Skills
  • Writing Skills
  • Communication Skills

This may sound like an intimidating list, but you don’t have to be perfect in all of these areas. Check out the full article on UXmatters – Qualities of Effective User Researchers.

Cow image by FFCU (Free for Commercial Use) by Creative Commons License

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Remember Clippy?

Clippy, the Microsoft Office assistant

In my latest article on UXmatters, Five Degrees of User Assistance, I bring up a character that people love to hate – Clippy, of course! Although I do have sort of a soft spot for the little guy, he is a great example of unwanted user assistance.

Poor Clippy! It really wasn’t his fault, he came along at a time when computers were too stupid to accurately predict when people needed help. Programmed to jump out when certain events occurred, to enthusiastically offer his assistance, instead he came across as an unwanted interruption and annoyance.

Today, as technology becomes increasingly intelligent, computers are smart enough to provide more appropriate and more accurate user assistance. In my latest article I describe these five levels of user assistance:

  • Passively providing online Help content. Here’s help if you need it.
  • Asking if the user needs help. Can I help you?
  • Proactively offering suggestions that users can accept or ignore. Is this what you want, or do you want to correct this?
  • Alerting the user that it’s going to take an action automatically, unless the user says not to. I’m going to do this, unless you tell me not to.
  • Automatically taking an action for the user, without asking for permission. I’ve got this for you. Don’t worry about it.

 

Check it out at UXmatters: Five Degrees of User Assistance

Image source: Clippy, created by J. Albert Bowden II and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Questions People Have a Hard Time Answering

Question marks

Over the years, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned about the types of questions and topics that participants have a hard time answering accurately in user research. Most people do try to answer your questions, but they may not be able to easily and accurately answer these types of questions:

  • Remembering details about the past
  • Predicting what they might do in the future
  • Accurately answering a hypothetical question
  • Discussing the details of their tasks out of context
  • Telling you what they really need
  • Imagining how something might work
  • Envisioning an improved design
  • Distinguishing between minuscule design differences
  • Explaining the reasons for their behavior

I discuss these types of difficult questions, and better ways to get that information from participants, in my latest article on UXmatters:
Avoiding Hard-to-Answer Questions in User Interviews.

Image credit: Véronique Debord-Lazaro on Flickr

The Most Difficult User Research Method

User research participant at desk

What do these three things have in common – playing in a one-man band, juggling chainsaws, and babysitting 10 three-year-olds? When you try to do all of these things at the same time, it’s only slightly more difficult than conducting field studies.

Of course, I’m just kidding, but not by much. In my opinion, field studies are the most difficult user research technique for three reasons: unpredictability, the need to learn about unfamiliar domains, and the need to deal with competing demands. There’s not much you can do about unpredictability or the need to learn a new domain, but there are things that you can do to better handle the competing demands of field studies.

In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss these competing demands and how to best handle them:

  • Observing and listening
  • Understanding
  • Determining whether and when to ask questions
  • Formulating questions
  • Assessing answers
  • Managing the session
  • Assessing the session
  • Keeping track of the time
  • Managing observers
  • Capturing the session
  • Maintaining a good rapport with the participant

Read more in my latest article, Handling the Competing Demands of Field Studies.

Image credit: Highways England on Flickr

More UX Analogies

I just published an article on UXmatters today, “Why So Many UX Analogies?” It’s an investigation into why there are so many articles that compare UX to other things and whether these UX analogies have any value. I mentioned some examples in my article, but here are links to many more UX Analogies. Trust me, this doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Professions


Other Fields


Pop Culture

 

Hobbies/Activities

 

History

 

Miscellaneous

UX Career Advice

Today I published a new article in UXmatters, “What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job.” It details the questions you should ask and consider when contemplating a new job in the UX field.

I’ve written several UX career advice articles over the years. I link to them on my Publications page, but here they are compiled for easy reference. I don’t claim to be a career expert, but these are just some of the things I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) in my 15 years in UX.

What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job
UXmatters – January 4, 2016
Lately, it seems like there are more jobs in User Experience than ever before. Deciding whether to accept a particular position is always an important decision, but in a hot job market like this, with so many opportunities, choosing the right company to work for is more important than ever. As with any other job opportunity, there are typical criteria to consider such as salary, benefits, company culture, and the commute. But, in this article, I’ll focus on the special considerations when you’re contemplating a new UX job.

UX Generalists or Specialists?
UXmatters – September 7, 2015
This is a question that every UX professional faces at some point: is it better to be a UX generalist, or is it better to specialize? Companies often question whether a team of UX generalists or a mix of specialists is best. In this column, I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of generalization and specialization for UX professionals and the companies that hire them.

Better UX Internships
UXmatters – March 10, 2014
An internship is a great way to get into the field of user experience, but internships are often failures—for both the intern and the hiring company. Why? The hiring companies often don’t have a plan for how to use their interns, and interns often don’t know how they can contribute or where they fit in. In this column, I’ll discuss what interns and companies can do to ensure a better internship experience.

Career Advice for User Researchers
UXmatters – December 5, 2011
Eleven years seems like a good point at which to reflect back on the things I’ve learned over my career and pass on some advice to those who are just getting started in the field of user research.

Publishing and Presenting, Part 1: Yes, You Can!
UXmatters – November 12, 2012
In Part 1, I’ll discuss the benefits of publishing and presenting, as well as explore the excuses that prevent people from doing either. Publishing and presenting is a lot of work, especially when you’re already a busy UX professional. So why bother? Here are a few reasons you should.

Publishing and Presenting, Part 2: Publishing
UXmatters – December 10, 2012
Perhaps Part 1 of this series convinced you of the benefits of publishing, dispelled your fears, and defeated the excuses that have prevented you from publishing in the past. But how do you get started writing, and how do you get your writing published? These are the questions I’ll answer in Part 2.

Publishing and Presenting, Part 3: Presenting
UXmatters – January 7, 2013
In part 3 of this of this series, I’ll discuss how to generate ideas for conference topics, find the right conference at which to present, submit a proposal, and create a presentation, and what to do during a conference where you’re presenting.