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Attributes of a UX researcher

By: Sean Smith
Date: June, 2015
File under: Articles

Here at U1, we are going through the process of introducing a new organisational structure – and this has resulted in us thinking about who we are and what makes us ‘U1’.

One of the primary influences of who we are as a company is the people who work for us. This has led me to reflect on the attributes of a U1 employee, and in particular, a UX professional or researcher.

Whilst our team comes from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, it has become very clear to me that a key set of common attributes is present in all members of our team.

What I find particularly interesting about this list is that they are all personal attributes; they do not necessarily represent a skill set, knowledge or expertise (although they are not unrelated).

When it comes to hiring staff, I tend to place these attributes above professional experience. This is because research methodologies and/or technical knowledge can always be taught – particularly to someone who exhibits these attributes – but personal attributes can’t.

In no particular order, the attributes we look for in UX researchers are listed below.

Empathy – is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”.

It is essential that a UX researcher can consider what participants are thinking and feeling; they need to be able to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. This also applies to the client’s point of view, understanding the issues/pressures they are facing.

Curiosity – is defined as, “a strong desire to know or learn something”.

This desire underpins all research activities. We must always ask ourselves and our clients, “Why?”

Analytical – is defined as, “relating to or using analysis or logical reasoning”.

We take a methodical approach to sifting through data and observations to assist with forming our insights and recommendations.

Flexible – is defined as, “ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances”.

Although we spend a lot of time planning research to meet objectives, we need the ability to accept that things change. We must be prepared to accept that all our planning may go out the window after speaking to participants or stakeholders, and that we may need to open a new, previously unconsidered, area of investigation.

People person – is defined as, “a person who enjoys or is particularly good at interacting with others”.

We deal with a lot of people in the course of our jobs, so it is paramount we actually like them! In particular, we sometimes ask research participants direct, probing questions so it is important we put them at ease and establish rapport to obtain maximum benefit from a research session.

Problem solver – is defined as, “a thinker who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to synthesise information and knowledge to achieve a solution”.

To make design recommendations, we need to leverage information at our disposal to work through a number of possibilities, then identify the best possible solution.

Intelligent – is defined as, “displaying or characterised by quickness of understanding, sound thought, or good judgment”.

As UX researchers, we need to be switched on and smart. Enough said!

Calm – is defined as, “not showing or feeling nervousness, anger, or other emotions”.

When we are conducting research, often there is a lot going on. We need to present a calm and composed exterior – even if we are experiencing pandemonium internally while thinking furiously about what a research participant has just said or done, how it relates to our research objectives, and what our next question will be.

Finding all of the above attributes in a single person (let alone a group of people) is not that easy. This is why the focus for me is on personal attributes first, then skills, knowledge and expertise second.

We are always interested in hearing from people who may be interested in working at U1. If you feel that you fit the mould, please get in touch.

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