I believe in starting a conversation with fellow professionals and learning from their experiences. Making their perspectives available to the whole community is one step forward in spreading the message about the importance of UX. That’s why I have started a project of #UXFika – lightweight conversations with inspiring UX, Design and Product leaders over a cup of coffee (or two!).

This week’s special guest is Nannearl LeKesia Brown, UX Researcher at Figma. Nannearl is a compassionate UX Strategist with a love for storytelling and holistic design. A friendly contrarian by nature, Nannearl has typically found herself in the position of having all of the questions and barely any of the answers. That’s why you can find many great stories from Nannearl on Dope or Dead Design blog series where she covers everyday experiences and perspective on various things or listen to Nannearl’s youtube channel Unpacked Angles.

Outside of UX, Nannearl enjoys creative projects, reading, traveling, and exercise. She’s also a huge foodie, hip hop lover, a natural hair product evangelist, and is always down for a dope Netflix or Crunchyroll binge.

Let’s hear Nannearl’s story!

How did you get into the world of UX?

My story is definitely not straightforward. I didn’t even know what UX was until I went to graduate school. I studied engineering science focused on biomedical engineering and biology. By the time I graduated I knew I didn’t want to work in the Biomed field.

As time passed, I got my first job as an analyst in the Pentagon and I came back to school to study systems engineering. While studying, I had a class on human-computer interaction and it sounded super interesting to me. That’s how I started my career without even knowing it and my interest started growing from that time. Eventually, I realized I want to solve problems!

I came back to school to learn more about nonprofit management and stayed close to the UX field as well. Eventually, I got to know a woman who needed help with her app. That’s how I landed my first job as a UX Designer as a team of one.

What does a typical day look like for a UX Researcher?

Sometimes it depends on what is going on and that’s why I also enjoy UX research so much – it’s so dynamic and days don’t look the same. Sometimes I am planning research, trying to figure out what it is I want to figure out, what problems I need to investigate, what are the gaps of the product, finding out who I should talk to, getting answers from stakeholders.

There is another important part of actually doing research, which is my favorite part of work. I feel like I am in a flow, doing different activities that I want to do, getting a sense of what people say and do, so when I report to people I am sure they are getting important information.

Last but not least, there is socializing: advocating for UX, talking to the organization and making sure everyone has access to the information they should have access to.

So it is a mix of things and depends on what is happening!

What does your role entail as a UX Researcher and what are your key goals?

I really want to make sure my team is equipped with the information they need to know in order to make the best design decisions. We should have important questions answered at the end of the day and my team shouldn’t be in the darkness, so providing that clarification is my main goal. Sometimes my team comes with a question, but sometimes we go through things we know and don’t know with product managers, with designers, and in this way we find clarity.

My secondary goal is making sure the way I present information is the way people are ready to receive it. Sometimes it takes time to figure out the best way, but it is a very important step.

Can you share a research project you’ve done in the past and what did you enjoy the most about it?

One of the cool projects I did was about understanding what people experience when buying hair products, how they normally do it, and testing our online buying experience.

It was very interesting because we invited people out for a coffee and did some testing next to the beauty store. People were not required to buy anything – but I was observing how they buy, what they look for and it was very interesting to step into a physical world and be inquisitive on real human behavior, understand so many decisions, considerations taken by the user. We got to learn good amounts about what people do.

How do you communicate insights to others? Do you have any tips?

Sometimes it depends on the study and how much information I gathered. If it is a whole bunch of information I gathered – I try to focus not only on writing a good report but making sure that the key findings are highlighted early on. I still try to get creative while doing easy to digest presentations, I record videos presenting the actual research and share it with the team. Sometimes I make interactive presentations where they can click through what they want to see as well!

It is important to always think outside the box!

Any advice on best practices when doing user testing that you have learned throughout your career?

I think communication is the key. Overcommunication is something I am still learning, especially when working remotely as well. That could mean stating things over and over again even if you think people know about it. There are so many messages you are getting through a day, so I sometimes think it is also beneficial to repeat, say something before, share that link once more, and that many people actually appreciate it.

Typically people think you have to advocate for the research because many times people don’t know what you do. You have to make sure to think about where you can contribute and I believe every UX Researcher can train the muscle of doing that. I also think we should learn more about telling a better story, become storytellers to engage listeners more.

What do you think is the most challenging part about being a UX Researcher?

Sometimes a challenge could be integrating well in new teams or teams that are new to research because you have to figure out how to fit in or find conversations where you can contribute. I often hear the question: what if my team doesn’t see value in UX Research? Of course, you can try to advocate for it, but it is a lot of extra work and you have to decide if you’re willing to do it.

Also sometimes imposter syndrome gets in the way and stops me from being creative, trying a new way of doing things, presenting UX research. I try to notice when I am feeling that way when I am less confident – and understand how I am feeling to push forward. I also like to remind myself that I have been in a situation like this before and found a way out of feeling down. It is very important to be conscious of your feelings.

How do you cope with the challenges mentioned above? What type of rituals, habits help you?

Education and participation. Make sure people understand the purpose of your work and what you are doing through education and participation. Invite people while you are planning the research, debrief them about it, and while you are doing research itself and synthesize. Making your work visible is also important: so that people are aware of the work needed.

Do you think that the number of startups, Silicon Valley culture, and speed of new products coming up every day impacts the value of UX Research?

I think so. Silicon Valley has a mentality of moving fast, not taking the time to figure things out, doing, failing, and learning as you go is definitely a strong mantra here. Even though I agree that you should learn as you go, I hope that the tech industry slows down and becomes a bit more aware of itself and what is the effect of products they are building. There is a whole hussle culture – and sometimes it can be very unhealthy for a person.

Do you have any advice about time management when doing UX Research?

Historically I used the Pomodoro method to focus and manage my work so that I put enough time for various tasks and block time for it. What I try to do now while working remotely is to go to sleep if I am tired – I will take a power nap, it helps me to regain my focus. I want to listen to my body and take breaks when I need to. I also taught myself how to play the violin and it helps me to relax a lot. I would step away from my computer and practice violin. I also became better at signing off – not to feel like being at work all the time. There are many times I want to go on and continue working – but it is important to disconnect and have a time when you finish working. So take some time off – it is very important! Your mind is like a battery: we don’t have unlimited energy.

Here are a few more ways how to stay mindful according to Nannnearl!

Extra bits

One productivity killer for you:

Social media most probably! I should reduce how much time I spend trying to learn and listen to interesting conversations.

Recommended book or recent read:

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

One thing you would like to change this year:

I would love it if people would be more open to listen without reacting or speaking. I think that would get us much further than where we are today.

About the UX Fika Series

In UX Fika series of blog posts, I talk with people that inspire me and whom I look up to as my role-models. The motivation behind doing this is, you might see some patterns and hopefully you’d be able to learn from the amazing people that I have had a chance of learning from.

For my international friends, FIKA is a Swedish concept, a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea). With no rush, full immersion and being present in the moment. That’s why I thought “UXFika” is a perfect name for meaningful conversation with UX leaders I look up to.

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