Over the past 20 years, two of the domains to which I have applied my research and analysis skills are UX research and career exploration. I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between the approaches I use in these two domains to get the most desirable and effective outcomes.
In UX research, the goal is to have the best possible impact on product design and innovation—to help product teams innovate, design, or improve a digital service or product that achieves the highest level of usability, usage, and user satisfaction.
In career exploration, the goal is to identify the career that best suits a person, in which that person would thrive, excel, and achieve his or her full potential, maximizing personal fulfillment, and contributing to the benefit of the company, community, and the planet.
In both of these domains, the approach, methods, and tools you choose for research and analysis make a big difference in achieving the desired outcomes. My experience has taught me that in-depth research and analysis provide more optimal outcomes over the long term.
Unfortunately, research and analysis all too often just skim the surface. For example, a product manager might ask a researcher to evaluate an existing product that does not actually meet a user need. While doing this might seem more efficient in the short term, it tends to generate solutions that do not solve the real problem. Such solutions often require revision in the future, ultimately resulting in higher costs and wasting time, money, and energy.
In this article, I’ll share six keys to applying in-depth research and analysis to achieve better outcomes in User Experience and career exploration.
1. Dive deeply enough.
In both UX research and career exploration, it’s necessary to dive deep enough to gather foundational data and discover insights that can lead to truly innovative and effective long-term results—meaningful results that last instead of short-term patches that don’t solve a problem at a deep enough level. Short-term, quick approaches might initially seem more efficient. You might save time, energy, and money in the short term by doing a quicker evaluation. But the extra time, energy, and money you fail to invest up front often result in headaches, unsatisfactory solutions, and incessant adjustments in the future, leading to more wasted time, energy, and money.
Apply this adage: Go slow to go fast.
I would add: Go deep to go further.
In UX research—especially foundational research—it’s necessary to move beyond any current product or user-interface design. So, instead of evaluating the current user interface, you need to move past the existing solution to explore the underlying user needs that the product is trying to solve. To understand users’ underlying needs, take a step back and explore the problem more deeply. The current product may not address the user’s true needs. By investing some extra time and energy in foundational research, you can ensure that the product’s functionality and design meet users’ needs and are built on the right foundation.
Similarly, in career exploration, rather than evaluating a person’s current or past work—as most people or counselors tend to do—set the current work situation aside for the present so you can explore the underlying needs that work should meet for that person. What are the person’s values? What does that person love doing? What are his or her passions and interests? What are that person’s natural talents and strengths? What is that person’s unique operating manual—the person’s personality patterns.
When people do not like their work, that indicates their work is misaligned with their unique blueprint and operating manual. To help someone discover work they truly love, you must take the time to fully explore and understand the ingredients that would make a great career for that person—before considering the current or past careers. This is why, in my approach to career exploration, I don’t need to look at my clients’ resumes. Nor do I consider the types of careers that are out there before looking at what need the solution—that is, the career—is trying to solve.
This approach to discovering a person’s most fulfilling career is a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach, as the diagram in Figure 1 shows.
The process of discovering a person’s most fulfilling career comprises the following steps:
Identify the person’s unique blueprint, or authentic self.
Discover the person’s life purpose.
Identify the career that is in alignment with your learnings from steps 1 and 2.
2. Expand the scope of research.
In the domains of both UX research and career exploration, you need to expand not only the depth, but also the scope of your research to reveal unforeseen data and opportunities that can have a significant impact on outcomes—whether on product and design strategy or on your career path. To get different, more effective, more innovative results that will stick, you need to think outside the box you’re currently in. If you limit the scope of your research to the current state and, thus, operate within the same box, you’ll get the same types of results.
In UX research, if you want to create a product that people love and want to use, you need to do exploratory research that goes beyond the scope of the current product. If you just keep exploring how people are using the current product—or what works and doesn’t work with the current product—you’ll stay stuck in the same paradigm and limit the scope and impact of potential solutions. You should instead do exploratory research that goes beyond the use of the current product, as well as beyond the scope of the user needs the current product covers. Exploratory research—such as ethnographic research, field interviews, and shadowing, or observing people in their day-to-day life and context—is great for looking beyond the use of a specific product and the scope of the problem that the product is solving.
When I was at Yahoo!, working alongside the other Search UX researchers, we conducted shadow sessions and contextual inquiries in people’s homes to explore the broader context of information searching—how and when—beyond Internet searches. We observed what triggered an information search and what information sources people were using—both offline and online—to reveal unforeseen opportunities for search-product innovation.
Similarly, in career exploration, when I work with clients to discover the career they’ll love, I guide them in expanding the scope of data collection to include their whole life, not just their current or past work experience. We move beyond their field of work to reveal unforeseen opportunities that may lie outside it. Many career counselors and career explorers make the mistake of analyzing data only from the work context, thinking that other data wouldn’t be relevant to work. As a result, they keep operating from the same paradigm that created their problem in the first place and stay at the same level of thinking that isn’t working for them. No wonder they run in circles or find only temporary solutions that don’t solve the root of the problem.
The answers to finding the career that would be your best fit may lie outside your current work experience, especially if what you’ve done so far in your career has not been satisfying to you or doesn’t engage your interests and strengths. If your job is not the right fit for you, but you won’t find your answers by analyzing what you’re doing now. This is why it is essential that you look at your life more broadly. By broadening the scope of your exploration of your values, passions, and talents to your whole life—outside of work—you’ll find the answers you need. Otherwise, you’ll keep making quick, temporary careers fixes that won’t bring you true satisfaction over the long term.
3. Triangulate data from multiple methods and sources.
It’s important to know that no one input, method, or source can give us all the data we need—or even enough reliable data. Each method, source, or type of data has its own biases and limitations. By triangulating different data points, methods, and sources, you can ensure both the completeness and accuracy of your findings. Triangulated data not only supports solid recommendations and projections but also convinces stakeholders and clients of the validity and robustness of both your findings and recommendations. The more triangulation that occurs at different levels, the more robust your outcomes will be. Leave no stone unturned, so you can have the highest level of confidence possible in your results.
In UX research, triangulation can happen at different levels—from your overall research strategy to the individual research method you use—for example:
By mixing quantitative and qualitative analysis and research methods, you can gather both quantitative and qualitative data. Collaboration between different specialists and teams is often key to getting optimal results—for example, UX researchers, market researchers, and data-mining analysts.
You can also triangulate different evaluation methods—for example, by combining heuristic evaluation, benchmark testing, and usability testing.
When using a particular research method such as field study or lab usability testing, it is essential to gather both observational and self-reported data, as I discuss in my article “When Observing Users Is Not Enough.”
In career exploration, triangulation can happen at different levels—for example, by
exploring different facets of a person’s unique blueprint, including values, strengths, personality patterns, and life purpose
combining different sources of information to cover the whole Johari Window Model, which is shown in Figure 2, and to ensure you don’t fail to discover any major blind spots. Sources can be either self-discovered and self-reported—that is, known to the self—or other reported, other observed, or from assessments—that is, not known to the self. Others who could share what they’ve observed might be people who know the person—such as family, friends, and coworkers, as well as the career coach.
combining different data-gathering approaches for these facets and sources—such as inquiries, coaching questions listening, visualizations, teaching and explaining, and reading
4. Use the right tools and approaches to collect accurate data.
In addition to triangulating, you must ensure that you use the right approach or tool to gather the most accurate data possible. If you triangulate using tools or approaches that give you inaccurate or false data, you’ll lose the benefits of both the method and the triangulation. This inaccurate data would negatively impact your findings, predictions, and recommendations. One pitfall to avoid is choosing a tool just because it’s popular, taking it at face value, and failing to question its accuracy. Another is going too fast and choosing the easy route, without challenging the accuracy and validity of your data.
In UX research, one example of gathering inaccurate data would be doing usability testing with people who do not belong to the target audience for the product you’re testing or with people who are not passionate about the product. In my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work,” I quote Jared Spool, who said:
“Passion on a subject changes how participants invest in usability test tasks. That change can have profound effects on the results and the recommendations produced by the team.”
To get accurate results, you need to recruit participants who are actually involved in the process you’re testing and are passionate about it. This is especially true if you want to test how users respond to specific content or functionality, how they navigate and search for information, or whether certain content is useful and valuable to users. To collect accurate data in usability testing, you also need to have participants perform realistic tasks and task scenarios that are tailored to participants’ real tasks, as I discuss in my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work.”
Otherwise, your recommendations won’t have dramatic impacts on use or sales. Jared Spool gives a striking example: “The design recommendation seemed solid, yet sales had dropped 23% immediately after the changes were made.”
In career exploration, an example is the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) by many career coaches and counselors to help identify a client’s personality type. As much as I believe in the validity of the theory behind the sixteen personality types and that this is a great tool to use in career exploration, the instrument itself has many limitations. When I took my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, I learned that, in about 40% of cases, the type the instrument indicates is not people’s best-fit type. There are also many limitations to using the letters representing types individually—for example, T versus F or S versus N. This is why I don’t use the instrument in my practice, and I don’t use the letters either. Instead, I use the InterStrength CORE Approach™, a holistic approach that my mentor Linda Berens has developed, which triangulates two or three different data points to clarify personality type.
I guide my clients through Linda Berens’s CORE Self-Discovery Process™, which is way more effective and accurate than taking the MTBI assessment alone. For many of my clients, the type we identify through Berens’s process is different and much more accurate than the type the MTBI assessment had identified. This is important because your best-fit personality type has a major impact on the type of work environment and tasks that would be the best fit for you. If the data you collect are inaccurate, the outcomes won’t be fully accurate either.
5. Optimize the accuracy of data collection during interviews.
To optimize the accuracy of the qualitative data that you collect—whether through observation or as self-reported data—just choosing the right approach or tool is not enough. You also need to make the most of your method by collecting data effectively. In particular, you must place thoughtful attention on truly hearing what people are saying and avoid erroneous interpretations or letting your own false assumptions color what you hear. Covering this subject fully would require an entire article in itself.
In UX research, the quality of your listening and observing skills can make a big difference in the accuracy of the data you collect. I talked about this at length in my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work.” One key thing to be aware of is that you should not rely on any assumptions you might make about the meaning of what study participants are saying or doing. Avoiding this requires high-quality listening. It is so easy to read too quickly into what others are saying or doing and projecting our own meaning onto them. This happens a lot in personal and professional relationships because most people have not been taught the art of listening well. So check your assumptions. Here are some tips for accurately collecting data from my article “When Role Playing Doesn’t Work”:
Make objective and precise observations. Reflect what you observe instead of making assumptions.
Be aware of your assumptions or projections on the meaning of what the person is saying. You can learn more about this in my article “When Observing Users Is Not Enough.”
In career exploration, the same principle applies when you’re guiding someone through a career exploration. Active listening, getting other people’s worlds, and not projecting or assuming are key to gathering accurate data and helping people see themselves clearly. If you’re making assumptions, check your assumptions with your client to see whether they’re true. For example, you might say, “It sounds like independence in your work is very important to you. Is that true?” The great thing about asking is that your client will generally not only confirm or correct your assumption but extend your understanding by giving you more information. Another way to fully get other people’s worlds—and help them understand their own world—is to ask Why? Use the 5 Whys Method, which some people call the Root-Cause Analysis Tool.
6. Expand the richness of the data you collect by adapting on the fly.
When you’re collecting qualitative data about people through live interactions, it’s important to be willing to adapt your process to the person with whom you’re talking. Doing so greatly enriches the data you’ll collect—sometimes in unexpected ways. This is key and is an art more than a science.
In UX research, this adaptation can happen at different levels, as follows:
at the study level—As you’re conducting a research study, it can be beneficial to make ad hoc additions or changes to respond to what’s happening during sessions with participants. For a concept research study at Yahoo!, I designed a research plan that included a comics storyboard walkthrough and paper prototyping. During the study, some participants wanted to draw what they imagined the user interface should look like. Adapting in the moment, I added some ad hoc participatory design to the session, which provided very rich findings to the team—much richer than if I had stuck to the original plan and gone by the book.
at the session level—Some examples of adaptation include the following:
changing a task or skipping it altogether—If, during usability testing, you realize that a participant cannot relate to a task at all, adapt it to that participant.
going along with a user’s flow—Disregard the sequence of questions you’ve planned for a user interview. For example, perhaps a user starts talking about a topic you intended to address at the end of your interview. While much depends on the particular situation, I generally recommend letting users talk about the topic rather than telling them you’d prefer to go back to it at some point later on. If a user spontaneously raises a point you wanted to know about, it is golden.
allowing unpredictability and flexibility—Don’t follow a test script by the book! Don’t be afraid of going off the beaten path! You might encounter an unexpected, enlightening, or rich insight that can help you have greater impact on the design.
at the task level—Adapt to each participant’s context and tailor your tasks, your storytelling, and your examples to that participant’s passions, interests, and needs. For example, if you are researching the usage or usability of a search function and a participant tells you he’s passionate about cars, ask him to search for information about cars.
Similarly, in career exploration, adaptation can take place at different levels:
at the whole-process level—With my clients, I follow a step-by-step process that has proven effective throughout my seven years of experience while working with hundreds of clients. Although each step is important and builds on the others, it is important to adapt to what is emerging during the process—for individual clients and what they need or what works for them. For example, after Step 1 or 2, some clients are not yet ready to move onto the following steps. Some inner blocks are being revealed that we need to address first—before we can move onto the following steps. Sometimes, we can address these blocks in just one or two sessions. But at other times, they’re so deep seated that it takes the rest of the process to address them. A release of past wounds or negative beliefs must happen before they’re ready to step into the career of their dreams.
at the session level—During the first part of the process, there is a predefined agenda for each session that aligns with homework the client had to do to prepare for the session. However, it is important to adapt to what is emerging in the moment for each client. Sometimes, clients have an expected life challenge or situation that they’re facing that triggers emotions such as grief, fear, or sadness. When these emotions are alive and present, they require attention before a client can be ready to move onto something else. Processing these emotions or situations can take a few minutes or a whole session. Often, being with whatever is emerging allows a client to address, release, or transform some inner blocks, which is exactly what the client needs for the whole process to succeed. It is important to trust that this is what the client needs in the moment.
at the activity level—It sometimes happens that certain exercises or activities do not align with what a client needs. If the client is not showing resistance to diving into something important, you should listen and adapt to whatever is in the best interests of the client. There is an art to distinguishing the clients’ growth edge versus what does not align with what the client needs.
at the moment level—Another skill requires dancing in the moment, or adapting to what is emerging in the conversation with the client rather than following a strict agenda. This also requires following what is alive in a conversation, where the energy is the strongest.
In both UX research and career exploration, in-depth research and analysis can have profound impacts on outcomes, revealing unforeseen opportunities and solutions.
However, in UX research, rapid studies often overlook opportunities to create optimal solutions because they remain within the same scope or at the same level of thinking that created the problem in the first place. Plus, they often result in solutions that don’t get to the root of the problem, so fail to solve the problem over the long term, and require multiple revisions of a process in the future. This can be costly in time, energy, and money and cause headaches for both the people who use our products and services and the businesses who employ us.
Whether in UX research or career exploration, spending the extra time, energy, and money it takes to truly solve a problem is usually worthwhile. Truly solving a problem requires the right strategy, method, and tools, as well as the accurate collection and triangulation of data.
You can uncover insights that enable you to solve a problem effectively and achieve significant results. Plus, you can save time, energy, and money down the road. If you’re a UX researcher, your insights can lead to significant impacts on product and design strategy and innovation. If your goal is career exploration, you can identify a career or work environment that is the best fit for you.
All of this might not be new to you if you’re working in the field of UX research. However, have you ever thought about applying the principles of in-depth UX research and analysis to your own career? If not, this is time to start! Ensure that your career is on the right path and that you are fully leveraging your talents, interests, values, and your unique blueprint, to maximize your career satisfaction and success—whether within the field of User Experience or beyond it.
To learn more about Isabelle Peyrichoux’s career-exploration process, check out the following content online.
Peyrichoux, Isabelle. “Type and Career Calling: Using Type, Temperament, Interaction Style to Transform Careers, Lives, and the Planet, One Person at a Time.” A forthcoming talk at APTi Conference 2021.
Isabelle has 20 years of experience applying her research and analysis skills to User Experience and career exploration. With a multifaceted education and background in information science, psychology, coaching, personality differences, and relational mastery, she has contributed to innovative approaches in the fields of UX research and career exploration. Isabelle has created a step-by-step approach to career reinvention that goes beyond the limitations of traditional career counseling and has helped hundreds of people find fulfilling careers. Currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has lived and worked in France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Canada and has conducted several international user-research studies. As a user researcher, she has worked for companies such as Yahoo!, Bell Canada, and the French Speaking University Agency. An engaging speaker, Isabelle has given presentations and workshops for professional associations and conferences such as the IA Summit and at General Assembly. She will be speaking at the Association for Psychological Type International in 2021. Read More