• Eric Russell

My Time as a UX Research Intern (so far).

When I got the call asking for me to come in for an interview with FiscalNote in the heart of Washington, D.C., I was excited, grateful, and terrified all at the same time. Thankfully, it has been one of the best opportunities I have ever had.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the entire field of UX research and design is entirely new to me. My background is in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. However, when there once was a time when I was comfortable discussing the implications of action potentials on the speed of cognitive processing, I'm now becoming much more fluent in ethnographies, contextual inquiries, user testing, user interviews, etc.; and I am loving it!

Sure, there are certainly some aspects of the field that are stressful, and I get a bit uneasy with my own skills, but that is an essential part of learning any new skill set. This got me thinking about some of the things that I would want to go back and tell myself when jumping into a UX research and design internship (and hopefully this could help others who are just getting started).

You don’t know what you don’t know.

What? Essentially, this part of your career is still the learning phase. This is the same for every career path, but it's important to keep in mind that this is also when working with the right team is crucial. Surround yourself with experienced professionals and absorb as much as you can from them. Ask questions, jump in on projects, and fail. Yes, fail. Making mistakes on the job leads to lessons learned that can’t be taught in a classroom or from reading a book. You will discover how to overcome the failure with a team, brainstorm on an approach to avoid the mistake in the future, and carry that experience on with you as you move forward to the next project. If you're worried about appearing like too much of a 'newbie' then maybe this piece of advice that I learned from a neurologist I once worked with will help: fake it until you make it (I know, pretty scary). Commit to doing your best work confidently and consistently, but don’t be afraid to mess up; everyone does.

Design and Research Skills Vary

At FiscalNote, I’m a part of a team of highly skilled UX designers, researchers, and developers each providing a unique perspective to our group. The amount of experience that each of us has varies. For example, while the product designers are exceptional at determining the appropriate layouts, colors, fonts, etc. of our product, my skills still heavily reside in research and human behavior. That's not to say that the product designers aren't that great at research, but on the contrary; my entire team is very skilled, I respect their skills, and they respect my perspective in research. In fact, my outlook on research is respected to a degree that I’ve never felt in any previous role (another thing that I love about my internship)!

Moreover, be mindful that as you continue to grow in this career, it’s important to find the opportunities that will allow you to strengthen your current skill sets and develop new ones. Like I mentioned before, I don't currently have a background in design, but working with the talented team that I am lucky to enough to be a part of has allowed me to create a foundation in my understanding of design principles. As you move forward in your career in UX research and design, be open to the skill sets that the members of your team bring in, and don't be afraid to let yours shine. Before starting any job or internship, do some research on the UX team before making the commitment to work with them so that you are positive that you will be in a company that will help foster your growth. If you are interested in working with a great team at FiscalNote, check for current openings here!

Daily Demos are Vital

Okay, you've spent all day on a wireframe or prototype and you're feeling very proud of it. You're ready to get it out there and have your users journey through the best experience imaginable for your product. Or perhaps you've taken the time to create the most comprehensive user research proposal, and you cannot wait to bring in your users to gather all of the raw data that will lead to those golden insights. But wait, have you shown your team your work?

There is something unnerving about presenting your hard-work in front of others. However, good research and design should be iterative, and there should be constant feedback on the work that you are doing. Remember when I talked about the unique perspectives that each member of the team brings to the table? Those perspectives will help polish your designs and proposals to ensure that you can deliver a high-quality product centered around the user. Here’s a rule that I have lived by for a long time: strive for progress, not perfection. That is why I appreciate the daily demos that we have on our team at FiscalNote. If a member of the team has something that they would like feedback on, we have a space in which they can demo their work while receiving constructive critiques, suggestions, and praises. This is meant to create a cohesive team where members are comfortable sharing their work in order to drive progress forward. If you want to know more about the value of the daily demo, I recommend reading this post by Patrick Thornton, Head of User Experience & Design at FiscalNote, here.

Jobs to be Done

One last thing that I want to mention is the concept of Jobs to be Done. This theoretical framework suggests that successful innovation does not have to occur due to chance or luck, but rather it can be obtained by carefully observing people going about their day-to-day lives or jobs to discover what overarching task they are trying to accomplish (aka, the job to be done). It may sound simple enough, but discovering the job to be done requires careful observation, thinking outside the box, and unbiased reflection in order to ask the right questions.

One great example of a company that understood peoples' jobs to be done is Netflix. When you first think about a competitive service to Netflix, you may think of television networks, movie theaters, or other streaming services. However, Netflix understood that the true job to be done for their users was not sitting down to watch a movie, but rather the job to be done revolves around a date night, hanging out with friends, or simply relaxing. Indeed, competitors of Netflix do include other streaming services and movie platforms, but the dangerous competitors are those products, services, or means that consume your free time: a bottle of wine, a board game, a night at the bar, or reading a book.

“Sometimes employees at Netflix think, ‘Oh my god, we’re competing with FX, HBO, or Amazon... but think about if you didn’t watch Netflix last night: What did you do? There’s such a broad range of things that you did to relax and unwind, hang out, and connect–and we compete with all of that.” —“Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: Sleep Is Our Competition,” Fast Company & Inc., 2018

Once you have determined a job to done, you are ready to develop a user centered product that people will hire to complete these jobs. Keep in mind that these jobs are not just functional, but they also have emotional, social, and cultural implications as well. Having this theory in my mind has fueled my curiosity around our users at FiscalNote. I continually ask myself and others on my team, "what are our users' jobs to be done, and how do we help them achieve their goals?" This framework and train of thought benefits not only the user researcher, but UX designers and developers as well. If you are interested in learning more about the Jobs to be Done Theory, I recommend reading Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton M. Christensen, David S. Duncan, Karen Dillon, and Taddy Hall. You can find it here.

Wrapping It All Up.

Overall, there are many valuable things that I have already gained from my internship at FiscalNote. From the friendships that I have made, to the hard work that continues to be rewarding and fulfilling to me everyday, I honestly feel very grateful for this opportunity. There are still so many things I have to learn (but should learning ever really end?), but I am excited about the opportunities that are in store for me in this field. I hope to continue to share these experiences with those of you who are interested to learn more about my journey into UX research and design. If you ever have any questions, feel free to connect with me!

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©2019 by Eric Luke Russell.

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