Day 1- MC Escher’s UX Research Career Ladder

—  It’s amazing to be here, and I’m here to talk about researchers, whether  they are labeled as UXR or by some other name


— I will talk about our career paths, the paths we travel, the doors we pass through, and the ladders we climb


— The career ladder is out of vogue, but in practice it is very much in
  • This talk is inspired by my own experience joining the field, and my preparation in talking with other UX researchers
— The stakes are high, as we are are missing out talented people
  • We are not doing our best work as a result, and are at risk of ruining futures
— As a field, we are unique but not the first to grow and grapple with the  trade-offs of growth


— First, a little about me:
  • Why have I been thinking about this?
    • As my photography over the last 10-15 years has shown, I have been many things from a barista,  to a sustainability consultant, to a data analytics, all before going into UXR
— At face value, though chapters different shared the same theme
  • I’ve always been curious, asked questions, told stories, was analytical, cared about people, and their experiences
  • I was doing work long before UXR, and didn’t use words to describe it


— I’ve always been curious, asked questions, told stories, was analytical, cared about people and their experiences


— I was doing this work long before I was a UX researcher, I just didn’t use words to describe it


— Since making it as insider, I’ve seen other UXRs have as many non-linear and meandering career paths as possible
  • It brings to mind the work of MC Escher, an artist whose work matched my experience in the field
— Ladders and job requirements expect a linear trajectory
  • Since becoming a UX researcher, I have focused on talent acquisition and recruiting experience, studying how people search, how hired, and building teams


— So I’ll be talking about three things, based on my experience
  • Finding a way into UXR
  • The incredible potential to look at people in new ways in different places, that will push the field forward
  • Understanding how we can invite more people into the space, by being better hosts to future UXRs and to ourselves, from the inside-out
— Analysis will change who we look for, where we go looking, and the future of the discipline


— To begin with, I will go back in time to a restaurant, a fancy one that is hard to get into


— You chat to group on the way there and arrive at restaurant that seems unassuming, but you quickly feel out of place
  • Group sits, and you don’t see anything on menu, and you expect the unknown
— After while food is served, and, presented with dish you don’t recognize, you take a bite, and recognize that the food being served is just what you cooked at home.
  • This is something you make and love


— You announce you’re been making this food for ages, but there is silence and confusion
  • At that moment you are simultaneously on top of the staircase, but for others you are outside the important door of where you are let in
— Too many UXRs have discovery that they have been doing UXR work all along, despite formal terms and wanted to learn more


— But most people I spoke to, stepped away from their current career ladder to get the necessary stamp of approval


— The journey into the field was rough, and the inside was confusing
  • The throughline was that there was a disconnect between what’s asked for, and what makes people successful


— I stitched together a journey of shared themes, based on my conversations with others:
  • It starts with invitations
  • Then experience a sense of already doing UXR
  • Getting the stamp of approval, and learning the right terms — to prove you are not just a teacher, organizer, or engineer, as well as that your skillsets in these fields don’t count
  • Inside the field, you are starting at the bottom of new ladder, and  your transferrable skills not recognized
    • Job requirements and buzzwords/stamp aren’t cause for success
  • This disconnect continues in performance reviews
  • Then you have the sense of experience coming full-circle and realizing you wouldn’t have hired your past self and recognizing a sense of tenousness
— Right now, more and more people want to get into UX research, but the front-door was under-construction when we got into the role
  • Our group snuck in, and as insiders are constructing are formidable front-door that others cannot pass


— So let’s take a quick detour. For those who haven’t seen Ratatouille, it’s a move about the unusual character of rat called Remy who wants to become a chef, and is inspired by the words of “Anyone can cook”


— A food critic reviews Remy’s work, and acknowledges that great artists can come from anywhere
  • For us, this means not everyone can be a great UX researcher, but that great UX researchers can come from anywhere
  • For us to do our best work, we can not rely on talent from the exact same places
— People who can be UXRs gravitate to certain roles and activities:
  • What are the signals we can look for that are more inclusive and responsibility for our future?


—  So what now? What do we do?
  • I hope we will all start thinking about this career progression as a design problem
  • I’ll offer a set of How Might We questions to think about journey and six questions to make change:
    • 1) Can we get real about what success is, such as a seat at the table?
    • 2) Can we get real about who we are as UX Researchers?
    • 3) How can we build ways to find new folks and look for resources?
    • 4) How can we open new and better doors, by removing harmful barriers?
    • 5) How can we make the process go full circle?


— Let’s make a change by starting inside and then working out


— First, Define Research Identities, by prompting UXRs to consider their identity, and what makes people their best researcher self, and how they learned these skills
  • Clarifying their success as researchers and lines to what made them successful.
  • Encouraging them to be successful, and call out things not currently recognized
  • Each person will come up with own identity and artifact
— Next, define research team identity by thinking what makes our team greater than its individual parts, and what we want to be growing up as a team, and coming up with aligned definition of success, and consciously make trade-offs


— Discuss a final form of these artifacts and how they should evolve and grow


— For Step 2, let’s help the team identify the most successful research projects to date, and use the team definition of success to think of the UXR process


— Create a shared definition of success, that acts as a shared point of reference
  • The exercise is not in the output, but the exercise itself, and learning form the work
  • This will make the definition of success explicitly co-owned and ways to be successful modeled and visible
— As more examples of success emerge, add them to the list


— For Step 3: Draw a through line between what makes us successful and the skills for success
  • It’s critical to build a channel for changing how things are done to make sure people who don’t easily fit into existing systems  can enter
  • It becomes important in better futures


— Experiment and continuously learn and improve


— Now let’s move outside to bring more folks in


— For Step 4: Use the UXR identity and team identity to uncover needs, and think of what to share and where to diversify


— Be generous about what to share with teams


— For Step 5: Think of how to recruit and working with HR, Ops, and talent needs
  • What if we were acting to stimulate a passion and invite people to restaurant
  • What if we took burden of clarifying what we looked for, and trusting value of being collaborative versus exclusionary
    • What if we supported this through the application process, and offering a guide for transferring skills to the UXR roles
— We are finding the people who will eventually lead the field
  • Let’s ask is this best way to get best of people, to be opaque about ingredients and instructions for success?
— Candidates will gain, but  our discipline will gain even more


— Finally: Let’s support and value incoming talent, and helping people translate their skills and experiences, as well as learning new skills
  • Seeing multi-track career and multi-level skillsets and avoiding the premise of a single track start-over
— Example of apprenticeship model, to leverage non-traditional experience
  • Program will not end up with getting someone in door, and how people can advance beyond just being viewed as a career changer in these roles
— Supporting and retaining apprentice within 3-4 years, and thinking of how people will achieve mastery, and take control to build a better future


— I have taken many journeys today, and I offered steps to change how we do things, and take better care of ourselves
  • Things we are creating are like Escher drawing, but I think that’s okay


— As discipline, we are both unique and not unique
  • We are not first discipline to grapple with outside-in challenges
  • We spend so much time to get inside UXR and then work to exclude, but instead we need to reach-out
  • How do we blur barriers between inside/out and make sure our paths don’t become walls and keep our discipline vibrant?
— Let’s look at the complex, the non-linear, the human, and use our superpowers to reframe and see connections


— Please take the time and think about this


  1. Where to get copy of the slides outlining the six step process?


—> Will get copy on AR 2022 research in next hour


  1. How does  the process change as team-of-one?


—> You are defining culture for your team, from the individual identity to  the team identity
  • Work with any research community you are part of to help build this
—> Reach out to fellow researchers and push yourself, as research is a team sport


—> Lean on community and others can help
  1. How to balance demand/definition of success within business versus within the team? How to challenge status quo?


—> As researchers, we are so good at bending over backwards, and not having an internal definition success out of fear of stakeholder pressure


—> Still do the work, and clarify what success looks at a team, and test it in the world
  • Forge ahead and go forward
  1. How can we help other cross-functional team mates change their views?
—> Rich question, but the first line of defense is having clear ideas to educate against


—> Treat ourselves and discipline more seriously, and leaning on the educational background to advocate for value of non-traditional UXRs
  1. When did you realize you landed in the right place?


—> Remember spark of the moment, when I was on a data analytics team, and was recommend to join UX research by my boss
  • I had the chance to transfer and after looking it up on the Internet I saw it was a reflection of my career path and choices
  •  I liked the definition of rigor of being intentional on what you’re doing and why— all of her experiences lined her up to do that
—> I felt moment was personal, at being top of staircase, and asked to go back on career ladder
  • Hold space for all of it
  • Researchers who entered the field have described themselves as being “Both very grateful and salty”— If you had to squeeze to get inside, still see if you can open door to see who you can get in
  1. Any advice for those who want to get in without getting off ladder?
—> People on inside should be doing the work of making the shift, as career switchers should not be shouldering the burden of the work


—> For the moment talk to people, learn the terms, and don’t lose connections to outside view
  • Long-term this needs to change