I really, really enjoy talking to people. So much so that I came up with a project that allowed me to converse with others about their careers and consume some of their time in exchange for a portrait taken by me. As soon as I found out that I was attending Strive, a user experience (UX) research conference based in Toronto, I knew I wanted to learn about research, design, and strategy through the process of interviewing other conference attendees.
Here is the second part of that series, in which I speak with Lorraine M. about how adjusting lights led to a career revelation, the distinction between academic research and UX research, and the pros and cons of both.
LT: In a few sentences, will you tell me about how you got into UX research?
LM: I was previously doing research in public health, but my research was very much focused on policy. I was getting frustrated because it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. It revolved around academia and didn’t leave a ton of room for creativity. I quit because I wanted to do something creative, so I thought about design but only knew about graphic design and interior design at the time. A friend introduced me to UX design and told me anyone can do it as long as they care. I was like, “Okay, I think I care…” (laughs) We were all hanging out at my place and I was trying to adjust the lights because they were really harsh and we were just trying to chill and my friend’s like, “You should really be a UX designer. You really care about people’s experiences.” I was like, “Oh my god, okay, I’m going to look into this!” That led me to a design thinking course at OCAD and I loved it. The more I learned about UX, the more I realized how much my previous experience helped with what I was learning. The project I was working on was focused on the tobacco industry and the implications of implementing policy. I found that I was really able to understand the problem with my research skills and had the opportunity to come up with solutions, which satisfied my love for problem-solving.
LT: Will you give me an idea of timeline? Did you have these realizations three years ago? Five years ago?
LM: Oh my gosh, no, it was this time last year that I was at a conference presenting on tobacco control. I quit my masters in July or August of last year and did the six-week course at OCAD in November. After that, I signed up for Brain Station, which is the UX bootcamp. I did that from January to the end of March and now I have a contract position doing research ops with Validately. I’m also doing freelance work with a startup called Wavy, but it’s really hard working almost full-time while trying to find an actual full-time job. Applying for jobs is a job on its own!
LT: Absolutely. When I was in my last year of college, I had exams to take and papers to write and I had to apply for full-time jobs at the same time. And then the interviewing on top of that!
You had mentioned that you used to do research in public health. What was that experience like compared to your current roles?
LM: It’s hard to say because research is so broad. Research in academia was a lot of analysis and you know, we have a research ethics board. You have to have a research proposal, apply for grants, and you need to prove your research. Whereas in design, it’s people doing research without having to prepare like that. Also, from what I’ve seen, research in design is so cost-effective and the impact is immediate and significant. However, the way it’s conducted feels a lot more laidback. Still, I think there needs to be established ethics to follow because we live in such a different world now and tech is so unregulated. There’s a lot of opportunity for creativity, but it also comes with risks. In academia, I wasn’t in an environment that allowed me to take risks.
LT: Right. You have to follow X, Y, and Z because there’s a scientific method to follow. They teach you that year after year. You come up with a hypothesis and you try to prove it right.
LM: Yes, and I feel like the approach to design is that you want to fail so that you can figure out how to fix things.
LT: It's interesting what you mentioned about research in academia because that's exactly why I didn't continue with the communication major at UCSB. I thought it was going to be more of a visual communication program with design, but they had me conduct experiments and controlled studies and I was like, “Um, I’m not sure if I like this!” And now, after Strive, I’m like, “Oh great, it turns out I love research and can see myself headed down the designer-turned-researcher path.” (laughs)
LM: (laughs) Yeah! And I think that as a UX researcher, you inherently have a moral conscience, but we should still have a code of ethics to follow.
LT: Since you’ve worked in a number of industries at this point, do you find that you have to take a nuanced approach to each one or do you have a general approach for all?
LM: Oh no, I would definitely not apply the same method that I’ve used in academic research with a startup. You have to consider questions like what’s the situation, what are the questions you have, what’s the environment, what’s the budget, what’s the timeline, what’s efficient? I feel like I can get more creative with design research whereas in academia I have to test the same thing again and again.
LT: What advantage do you think having a research background gives you?
LM: It gives me the analytic thinking that I need, and I don’t know how I would have gotten it otherwise. I needed those stats classes and those research methods classes. I wouldn’t have developed that level of critical thinking in undergrad because pursuing my masters really pushed me to be on my own with research. With academic research the focus is to prove your research. With UX you’re not trying to prove anything, it’s simply investigating what is going on to help create a better solution. My past experience was isolating, it was a lot of research on your own. What I love about tech and UX is the environment to be able to work with others. You get to gain other perspectives and have others challenge you.
You can read part one of this interview series here.
The branding seen in the banner is not my own work. I did my best to make sure the color scheme, background texture, and typeface aligned with Strive's brand. Also, I wouldn't have been able to easily transcribe this interview without the help of Temi, a speech-to-text transcription service. This post is not sponsored. I just genuinely appreciate the tool and want to share it with others.
Thank you again, Strive, for the best first international conference experience!