UX Uncensored is a series of blog posts published by NomNom in partnership with Designer Hangout, a Slack community with over 9,000 product and UX people.

UX Uncensored

For this series, we asked the UX community to share their secrets and learnings completely anonymously. In five open ended questions we explore war stories, industry misconceptions, and practical advice.

For the first post, we asked the community to take a look back in time and share what they wish they knew then. Read on for more!

What would you say if I asked you the following question:

In the context of user research, what do you know today that you wish you knew five years ago?

With over 100 responses from practitioners in companies of all sizes, surprisingly, most fell into four distinctive categories: navigating politics, navigating the industry, continuous learning, and execution. Here’s what they said…

Navigating politics: fight for the process

The participants have worked with companies of all shapes and sizes. They all seem to agree that one thing is inevitable: you will come across office politics at some point — even if you never step foot into a physical office.

Understanding how to navigate a sea of personal and organisational agendas can be exhausting but also the key to making progress.

Here are a few responses from the community:

“You’re the user researcher. You know what users are dealing with; don’t let product managers convince you otherwise, even if they know more of the technical side.” UX Researcher — 5,000 person org.
“That the hard part isn’t ‘doing’ the research, but just how hard it is to fight against culture and an organization where Hippo’s the norm.” UX Designer — 350 person org.
“How important it is to spread the value of the work to people in entirely different roles.” UX Architect — 5,000 person org.
“I wish I’d known how important it was to gain acceptance of UX as a discipline inside the company. I feel like I have to fight for everything that I need to do.” Lead UX/UI Designer — 500 person org.
“How to navigate politics, but still get things done.” UX Researcher — 350,000+ person org.
“Having passion for your work doesn’t mean you should be a stubborn jerk to those who disagree with you.” Senior Designer — 17,000+ person org.

Continuous learning: have the confidence to be wrong

You’ll need confidence in your work as early as day one. But a big part of being confident is not being afraid to stretch your comfort zone — to embrace the unknown and explore new options. You have to accept that you don’t know everything and that getting good at things takes time and patience. The community’s advice definitely falls in line with that.

In the context of user research, what do you know today that you wish you knew five years ago?

“That no matter how qualified I was, I’d always feel like an imposter, even if that wasn’t the case.” UX Designer — 10,000 person org.
“It’s OK to not have the right answers. Humans are so afraid of failure and rejection, and it can be crippling when starting out. Before you realize it’s OK to be wrong, it’s just better to be wrong more quickly.” Senior UX Designer — 200 person org.
“Rarely can you debate your way to the best design decision internally — when in doubt, test alternate approaches with the people who use the product.” Senior UX Designer — 60 person org.
“That practice makes perfect, not reading and learning from observation. Actually diving in, as awkward as it is, to ask the questions during an interview is the only way you will get better at it. I was always so nervous that I would practice my testing script instead of just going out and doing it and getting better along the way.” Product Designer — 360 person org.
“It’s OK to feel you’re not that good. Keep studying and working anyway.” Product Designer — 10 person org.
“To focus on the whole journey. Don’t ship beautiful work, ship insightful.” Lead of UX — 25 person org.
“Spend more time on the problem, less time on the interface. What is the minimal effort you can produce for the maximal outcome? Build a skateboard state of mind.” UX Designer — 50 person org. (part of a larger company of 400).
“Don’t be afraid to show that you don’t have the answer to the question. Learning is part of the process. We are not expected to have all the answers yet; otherwise, we are not listening to what the real problems are.” UX Strategist — 38 person org.
“How to listen.” Director of UX — 150 person org.
“I wish I could just import the experience. It is 1,000 little things that you can only know by going through them yourself, by ‘holding a cat by the tail,’ as Mark Twain would say.”Senior UX Designer — 5,000 person org.
“There is no ideal process. You have to invent and modify processes to match your needs.”User Experience Designer — 80 person org.
“That anyone can do user research and that everyone should be doing it.” UX Design Lead — 40 person org.
“How to apply the user research into the development cycle and let everyone see the value clearly.” Design Manager — 60 person org.
“To learn something, you need to try it out, even at the cost of failure.”Senior UX Designer — 100 person org.
“How valuable interactive user feedback can be.” UX Designer — 500 person org.
“That my master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction would be worth it :)” Director of User Experience — 40 person org.

Execution: clear, concise communication is key

The creative process of designing solutions doesn’t happen in isolation. Learning how to get people involved and make the most out of those interactions is a skill that needs to be nurtured over time. Based on the responses we received, a significant number of participants wished they knew more about how to become effective communicators. How to engage stakeholders, users and team members but perhaps most importantly how to communicate the work itself.

In the context of user research, what do you know today that you wish you knew five years ago?

“How important it is to get the person implementing your designs bought in up front.” Lead Designer — 40 person org.
“That you don’t need to prove your concept/idea to every user you talk to.” UX Designer — 30,000 person org.
“I wish I knew how important was to document the value of what you do.” Senior UX Designer — 30,000 person org.
“How to quickly distil disparate concepts or desires into concise, actionable objectives.” Senior UX Designer — 50 person org.
“Qualitative findings don’t always hold up when you test them quantitatively.”Senior UX Designer — 4,000 person org.
“How to improve the odds that I’m trying to solve the right problem. How to tailor communication more effectively by understanding what’s important for each audience.” Product Strategy and Digital Inclusion — 1,500 person org.
“Knowing which activities you can actually afford to skip (or downscale) and which you absolutely cannot.” Senior UX Designer — 50 person org.
“That storytelling sells research.” Director Product and UX — 200 person org.
“How to formulate the right questions, how to synthesize research, the impact of research in the design process, and the impact of research in mitigating risk.” User Experience Designer — 3,000 person org.
“Knowing how to choose the right research method for a particular question.” Head of Product Design — 130 person org.
“1. There is a right and a wrong time to push back. 2. Don’t assume you know anything. 3. There’s no substitute for actual customer research. 4. You don’t learn much more after the 5th person.” UX Designer — 20 person org.
“How critical presenting work often and early is when designing.” Director of UX — 10 person org.
“How easy it is to advance a design when you present it as a solution to a goal, rather than a design you love.” Director of UX and Product Design — 2,000 person org.
“The importance of doing research before each project.” UX Designer — 1,000 person org.
“Lead time on scheduling research is always longer than you think.” User Experience Design Principal — 6,000 person org
“Better ways to share findings. Everything just lived on my computer or in my head.” Director of UX — 100 person org.

Navigating the industry: don’t get caught up in trends

How participants felt about the UX industry yielded the most diverse results from our research. The industry is still relatively young and will always be changing. Trends will come and go. The most important thing you can do is continue to listen to your customers. Here’s what they said about it.

In the context of user research, what do you know today that you wish you knew five years ago?

“Design is hard, because everyone thinks they are a designer. Design is hard, because it is collaborative and subjective.” Design Director — 200 person org.
“How new the industry still is and how lots of people who call themselves ‘UX’ now/then don’t actually do UX. They just pull stuff out of their butts without any testing or evidence.” UX Design/UI Front End — 15 person org.
“I wish I knew that not being a software developer wasn’t a bad thing.” Lead UX — 5,000 person org.
“Expect the unexpected.” Art Director — Team of 10 designers.
“That UX was a field!” UX designer — 10 person org.
“You’re gonna need to play the long game.”UX Lead — 20,000-person org.
“Most things that people are excited about are trends — there will always be new ones. There is no substitute for time with the users.” Experience Design Lead — 4,000 person org.
“That it would be a saturated field and to pursue it with my unique career path instead of trying to fit it with the rest of the UX designers.” Design Principal

Final thoughts: the wrap up

If we take a step back and look at the holistic picture of what our participants wish they knew five years ago, their advice to new UX professionals would be:

  • get team (and/or client) buy-in before executing
  • fight for the process
  • be concise when communicating your design, focus on the end value
  • speak in terms of solving a problem
  • you will always be learning and always gathering data
  • never stop practicing, never stop researching
  • focus on formulating the right research questions — that’s half the work
  • don’t get caught up on trends, always listen to your customers
  • schedule time for the unexpected

Want more? Here’s part 2! UX Uncensored – Part 2: UX and Product People Talk Money