Finding Nemo: My First UX Research Expedition

Elaine Grobler
September 4, 2023
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Dipping my toes into UX Research felt much like Finding Nemo.

If this reference caught you left of field and you have no idea what I’m talking about, there’s no judgment. I have a deep love for animations. Basically Nemo, an adventurous clownfish living in the ocean, ventures a bit too close to the surface and gets caught. He lands up in a Dentist’s fish tank. His overly cautious father, Marlin, and arguably the star of the show Dory, a quirky, optimistic, blue tang fish with memory lapses, brave the vast unknown waters determined to find and return their little Nemo home.

An orange clownfish is at the forefront of an aquarium full of several different species of underwater creatures. Behind the main subject are yellow fish, blue fish, and other clownfish, as well as multi-coloured underwater plants.

Like the ocean, UX Research can easily feel daunting in its enormity. There is so much to learn, so many different routes one can explore, and numerous best practices to familiarize yourself with along the way. My research journey was a healthy mix of Dory’s optimism, some of Marlin’s fear, a few challenges, and ultimately finding Nemo.

A mindset shift

When confronted with problems we tend to quickly jump to the solution space. It almost happens automatically and although this is necessary in some situations, the discovery phase in UX Research almost requires one to do the opposite.

As I was framing the research problem statement for my project I noticed that I was involuntarily starting to fire off ideas. I took the opportunity to pause and anchor myself in the problem space. Yes, some of the solutions might have been decent, but they were framed using my previous experience as a reference. As we keep being reminded — we are not the people we’re designing for, so this can be counterproductive. It’s important to learn from and gather the experiences of others to broaden and restructure what we know to be true so that we might come up with solutions that innovate and excite.

Things that helped along the way

Creating my own UX Research repository

Seeing as this was my first time entering into the world of UX Research I needed to take a deep dive and learn as much as I could in a short period. The course that I’m taking (shout out to Mento) provided an amazing starting point. I created an Easel (an awesome feature from Arc Browser) where I collected snippets from various sources helping me understand all of what UX Research entails, the methods used, best practices, and anything else I found relevant or interesting. As I came across new things, I would add to it.

This became my reference point. Whenever I was unsure, stuck, or needed to understand how to go about doing something I looked at my Research Easel.

Rows of white, wooden bookshelves with books along either side of an aisle in a library.
Recording my curiosities

Sometimes you have a mentor session that just unlocks something for you. It was in a session like this where my mentor, Pia Klancar, suggested I create a document recording my curiosities.

I was just getting started with desk research (collecting existing data and familiarizing myself with the problem space). It was the perfect time to give it a go. I created a table with two columns:

  • The first was dedicated to curiosities and hypotheses. In other words, anything I wanted to explore, learn more about, or had assumptions about that I wanted to test. When any of these curiosities or hypotheses came up during desk research or the competitor analysis I would write them down here.
  • The second column was dedicated to questions I’d ask the people I’m designing for. I would consider the curiosity or hypothesis I recorded and think about what question(s) I could ask during the primary research stage to uncover the curiosity or test the hypothesis.

It’s simple and effective. It acted as a guide and by the time I got to primary research I had a very good idea of what I wanted to explore and learn more about. Better yet, I already had my questions ready to go.

A white chalk drawing of a table divided into two columns on a blackboard.
Using Calendly to schedule interviews

Conducting in-depth interviews was a part of my primary research. It was important for me to try and make the process of scheduling interviews hassle-free and easy for the people I was recruiting. Calendly did not disappoint. It was my first time using it and it made scheduling a breeze.

It enabled me to create an event that I could name, write a short description for, and set the duration of the call and the date range that people could book. What I loved about it is that I could easily set my availability within the date range given and edit it at any point. A link was provided that I sent to whomever I wanted to schedule an interview with. What’s great is that they could easily see when I was available within the date range. They could then decide what time and day worked best for them.

As an additional measure, I changed the invitee question on Calendly, allowing invitees to choose their preferred video conferencing platform. I’m really glad I did this because all but one person requested Google Meet and I would probably have used Zoom.

A screenshot of a Calendly Webpage on a laptop screen, displaying a user interface mockup illustrating the booking process with options to select date and time.
Creating an evidence board

I came across an article written by Aaron Christopher talking about creating an evidence board. I loved the idea of creating a centralized space to visualize the most important bits and pieces of information and insights collected at each stage of the research process.

I used Miro to create my evidence board. In the middle of my board, I have my problem statements. Around it are the main insights gathered from desk research and competitor analysis as well as my affinity map, empathy map, and persona. This is something I will continuously refer back to as I start designing.

A detective board with a red question mark drawn on a white piece of paper in the middle and evidence pinned all around it with string connecting the evidence.
In closing

I have now ventured into what was the daunting, unknown ocean of UX research and found my proverbial Nemo. I met challenges with Dory’s “Just keep swimming” approach and celebrated moments of clarity and insight. All and all the journey required an inquisitive mind, a playfulness, and a certain sense of determination.

If you’re new to UX research, know that you are not alone and that although it may seem like an immense task to undertake it is well worth it. May you take what you need from my experience and may it hopefully help you on your quest to find Nemo.

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