Embrace Silence to Enlighten Your UX Research Skills

August 7, 2023

Many believe that an expert must conduct UX research, who does some magic to improve a product’s user experience. In fact, the belief that asking the right questions is the art of creating the perfect user experience is a mere myth. The perfect UX research script does not exist—one that would help researchers to clearly understand the painpoints, needs, and expectations of users and be solely responsible for the outcome of research studies.

The only thing that users expect of UX researchers is the depth of their understanding of the users’ stories. These stories are not mere data. They can take UX researchers to a whole new world of emotional values. Users expect UX researchers to hear them at an emotional level.

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Now, the question is: how can UX researchers ensure that we listen to users at an emotional level? To answer this question, it is worth asking a few questions of ourselves and trying to find answers within us rather than going outward to seek these answers. These questions include the following:

  • Are we quiet enough within ourselves to hear users clearly?
  • Does peace of mind have any connection to the quality of UX research?
  • Do we know enough about our own thought processes and biases before coming to conclusions regarding key findings and actionable insights?

Calming our inner noise and overcoming our biases could help us to hear users clearly and, thus, to conduct more effective UX research. The whole story behind creating valuable user experiences is how well UX researchers can empathize with users.

On the other hand, a few of my colleagues think that having a team of expert UX researchers review study findings and derive insights can help them understand users and possibly remove biases from their research. But each individual’s life perspectives and experiences are different—even though we must work on common problem hypotheses. Let’s think critically about this and ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Can we manage the biases of each individual teammate during our peer-review calls?
  • Should we keep reevaluating our findings and insights over and over again until we are sure that our studies are completely free of bias?
  • Can we tailor our findings and insights to validate our problem hypotheses?
  • Can we reach mutual agreements, compromises, and consensus between research teams on users’ painpoints, needs, and expectations?

Obviously not, so we need to think of reliable solutions that we would never regret later on when launching our product in the marketplace.

There are better ways to hear users’ voices clearly and curb our biases. But this starts at the individual level rather than at the team level. (UX research reviews are different from peer design reviews.) At the team level, biases could multiply many times over to complex levels, with the consequence that we replace our initial research goals with personal research goals. By the time we finally got feedback on the user experience, it might be too late to invest in revamping the product user experience. The only outcome would be a long list of Jira epics (#UX/UI), tagged with countless user stories.

How can we curb biases at the individual level?

When we are seeking change within us, we must look inward to understand our own thinking and biases. Let’s try to understand this better.

What is thinking?

Thinking is a natural phenomenon that occurs when complex waves of thought keep evolving and dissolving in the minds of humans—although this phenomenon is not limited to humans. The speed at which all these thoughts arise is incredible. We might say that, if we can compete at the speed of light, we most probably will win.

While we might be grateful that we can think at lightning speed, the cost could be our having little or no control over our thoughts. We never know how or when our mind would start comparing our life experiences with others’ experiences. This is the point at which we can lose users’ stories.

Now, just imagine that you are in the definition phase of your research studies and have come across a good-sized data set that you need to synthesize so you can extract key findings and actionable insights within unfavorable timelines, which is quite common. In this scenario, differentiating between your own thoughts and users’ stories would be challenging. The pace at which you would need to think would not even let you realize when you’ve started mixing your own unfair and unjustified subjective misinterpretations of data with the user stories.

To better understand this, let’s take a common example from our day-to-day lives. Many times we have expectations regarding what we want to hear, which is known as bias, rather than focusing on what friends and family have actually shared with us. This could derail the whole conversation. Similar instances might happen during research studies and could derail the whole user experience.

Such complex thought waves have caused so much noise within me that I couldn’t even hear users’ stories despite our sitting in a quiet room together.

After years of struggling with my own biases, I’ve realized that we don’t have much control over our thoughts, but we could use our gift of thought in a constructive way by aligning our thoughts with self-awareness. In this case, self-awareness is unconnected to our controlling our thoughts. Instead, it is about consciously knowing our thoughts and evaluating whether it is right to unfairly make unjustified, subjective misinterpretations of someone else’s life experiences. This is self-critique or evaluation.

How can someone be self-aware at the thinking level?

Self-awareness at the thinking level happens in fractions of seconds—similar to our casual thought process. The only difference here is that we are thinking about our own thoughts. This level of awareness comes when we start embracing silence. Here silence refers to a time when there are no thoughts of the past or future running in our head, and we are completely conscious of the present moment. Once we start practicing such a state of mind, we realize that the level of noise running within our head would diminish over time.

In this state of mind, we can differentiate between our inner, intellectual thinking and our biases. This ability to differentiate is all about delivering quality findings and insights, without mixing them with our own biases.

The whole process of UX research builds on UX researchers’ levels of inner silence, which helps them clearly hear and differentiate between users’ painpoints, needs, and expectations; aligning them with organizational goals and, ultimately, verifying our problem hypotheses to define the problem.

To conduct high-quality UX research studies, we need to embrace a deeper level of thought and an empathetic disposition that comes only when we can differentiate noise from the silence within us. 

UX Researcher at Honeywell

Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Ravinder SinghRavinder is an award-winning industrial designer, UX researcher, and budding UX writer, with eight years of experience in the automobile and enterprise, business-to-business (B2B), software-as-a service (SaaS) industries and more than a year in academic research methods. He is currently working for Honeywell as a UX researcher. His goal is to make the planet a better place for all living beings and natural environments. He believes in a deeper level of empathy, which he calls inner intellectual thinking, and silence, which lets him connect with users and uncover their painpoints, needs, and expectations through unbiased observation. Ravinder holds a Master of Art in Industrial and Product Design from Savannah College of Art and Design.  Read More

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