October 18, 2022

UX Researchers becoming Good Design Leaders

Vasundhara Dhar

Times are changing rapidly with the massive adoption of tech in all spheres of life & the researcher in your team is no more playing the role of a ball boy. UX will never be good enough until supported with data-backed research.

Research teams are the usual suspects of being understaffed & are probably the first ones to be laid off during tough times as it was considered a good-to-have instead of a must-have. However, as mentioned, times are changing for the good.

As a UX researcher, what can you do to move up the ladder?

A good starting point to becoming a leader is to start with the following:

1 — Influencing design changes based on research

Most times just a pretty design doesn’t work in improving the usability of a product which is where a UX researcher comes into the picture. This is something that needs to be practiced at scale by the design leaders to ensure we never lose focus on the target of making the product more usability friendly

2 — Keep your personal opinions aside

Design teams usually have a perspective of their own & are quite strong-headed about the kind of design they want to implement. As a design leader, you need to be open to pivoting your own opinions about design based on research data or based on fresh perspectives brought in by new designers/trends.

As a researcher, to be able to change your opinion & being willing to learn new perspectives is your biggest MOAT which can help you rally your team behind for the greater good of those whom we are designing for.

3 — Learn how to budget for maximum impact

As a UX researcher, whether you are managing your research team or managing the budget for running a particular project, you have to learn how to stay within the limits while paying for your research participants, implementing new work tools, etc.

Budgeting is an area where as a researcher you can go creative given the resource constraints for maximum impact. The activity of budgeting is like how you manage your finances, however, when you are doing for a project/organization you have to ensure that rules & guidelines are strictly followed.

4 — Building Empathy for All Stakeholders

As a potential design leader, developing empathy not just for the users whom we are designing for but for the entire team of stakeholders is extremely important to ensure everyone is always on the same page & working towards a common goal.

Apart from the users & the designers, as a researcher, it’s important to include the product & engineering teams in your gambit of stakeholders as they are the ones who will be finally implementing your inputs in the product. Having them on your side greatly improves your chances of bringing a real see change.

5 — Create purpose-driven Alliances

In most teams/companies, there is immense intellectual firepower that often gets overlooked because of the lack of alignment toward a common vision.

As a leader, one of the top priorities is to create a shared sense of purpose & have everyone aligned so you know that is extracting the most amount of creative juices as possible from within your team.

The clearer your vision/goals are, the easier it is to convince everyone & gather the required resources to execute your project. Your stakeholders need to be able to clearly understand the change you are trying for the benefit of the end-users.

What else?

In the spirit to keep it short & non-preachy, becoming a leader has many secrets and some of the points mentioned above are just a starting point.

Leadership is polished with a lot of hits & trials. As a leader, the decisions that you make will end up affecting a lot of people around you. It’s always a good idea to behave responsibly.

Folks around you don’t want to follow your instruction, instead they will follow your actions.

As a researcher, you should never count yourself out for a design leadership role, instead try to develop a blend of frugal & analytical thinking, good storytelling & empathy to be eligible for whenever the opportunity arises.

Empower your teams to make informed decisions with real insights from real people.

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