Working as a UX Researcher in India can be challenging in terms of finding a job. The awareness of User Research is quite low in Indian companies. Hence, as a fresher one tends to join an agency compared to a product company as they demand work experience. Furthermore, working for an agency can be a life-learning experience for your career. In this article, I will share 8 key lessons I have learned working for 2 agencies in India as a UX Researcher.
1. Clients can be great mentors whilst being difficult to manage
When I worked for a UX agency I came across various kinds of clients. However, most of them were based in US-Europe rather than in India. These clients are the ones who do not have a local design-research team and hence look out for agencies that can conduct research for them. The point of contact that you would usually have will be a researcher from the company and potentially a designer. In terms of a client, I can think of three major personalities. These, however, may not be individual characteristics but a part of the whole ensemble.
a. The one that wants to be on the field with you
There are clients who travel with you on the field and want to dive in deep along with you. Incidentally, this provides you with a key opportunity to learn from their experience. Apart from the project you are working on, engage in a conversation about the work they have done so far and anything that they have learned while travelling with you. This helps you look at things from a different perspective. For example, I once had a client who had flown in from London to work with us. This was a project where we were conducting a usability test for a new app design. She was surprised by the fact that most of the participants responded positively when we asking them to fill up SUS even though they struggled with the app. She mentioned that this was very culture-specific and if the same questions were asked in the UK, people would rate positively, however you would understand by their expressions that they were not happy about the experience.
b. The one that trusts your instincts
These are the kind of clients who trust you as a researcher and are very open to your feedback. It is an excellent opportunity to implement what you have learnt and grow as a researcher as you have to back-up every suggestion you make with a strong rationale. Additionally, if you think something will not work out in your location, be sure to point it out. It is better to perfect the study than turn a blind eye as you won’t get the quality of results otherwise. I was part of a study that was conducted in multiple countries and the script I received was made with the intention of it being standard internationally. In this case, however, there were a few questions that would not have gone down well with the Indian audience in particular. So, I was given the opportunity to tweak the script accordingly.
c. The one that wants to dictate your process
Once in a while, you come across a client that has a set rules for everything. This client will give you direction from how the recording screen should look to how you should sit as a moderator. This may feel like you are being limited to act. However, try to understand the rules that person sets and try to go along with it. Not everything can be a learning experience but you can always pick and choose what you can incorporate into your process. I was once given a pre-decided note-taking guide by the client, and from that experience I can honesty say that it is really difficult to adjust to someone else’s note-taking method as it’s so dynamic in nature. However, once I took notes for a couple of the participants I realised a few of the variables she had asked me to put in would eventually help me analyse the data better.
2. Deadlines can be super tight but they help you be more efficient
Deadlines are the golden rules in an agency, everything works around them. Even though nobody explicitly told me I realised it sooner rather than later that missing a deadline is not an option. The ground rule here is whatever time you take working on a project is already pre-estimated in terms of timeline and is billed for. Hence, if you miss your deadline and have a spill over, it is the agency’s resources that are being used in that case. This makes the environment very stressful. However, you tend to get better projects if you deliver before your deadline. You need to explore your working style and perfect what you are good at and improve upon your weaknesses. Gather some tricks under your hat which will help you generate great results in lesser time.
3. Under-commit but over-deliver is the motto
An ex-boss once mentioned that while pitching to the client, he and his sales team would always under-commit but when the time came he would always over-deliver in terms of results. This, initially, I felt was a waste of my effort because I used to always deliver more than what the client expected. But a happy client equals a happy manager and a happy you. Nonetheless, it is expected in an agency to over-deliver because the expectations about you keep building up as you outperform in your projects.
4. The only thing that matters are the results
When a client hires an agency for a project they are thinking only in terms of results within a specific time frame. It is already taken into consideration that you have the required skill set to produce those results. This thinking eventually trickles down to your manager who would want to get the best out of you within the given time. It does not matter that you had an issue with recruiting participants for a particular study or that you had to sacrifice your weekend to complete a report. At the end of the day, the final findings are the ones that go out to the client and that’s what matters the most.
5. Be open to challenging projects cause they help you grow exponentially
Agency is one of the best places to grow as you would come across a spectrum of various projects. As these projects hail from different clients, you would gain experience researching different kinds of users along with different products. In terms of projects, I have worked on projects such as all-India persona creation, understanding the farmer’s ecosystem, understanding customer-merchant dynamics, and so on. These helped me learn the nuances in interacting with a range of user segments. In terms of products, I have worked on e-commerce, home-automation, social media, payment portals, etc. These aided me to improve my understanding of how individual products work.
6. Observing and learning goes a long way
During my post-grad was when I thought about entering user research. I was highly inspired by 2 electives I took then: Ethnography and Service Design. As both were introductory courses, I did not receive any formal education in it. Once I joined my first job, I was directly thrown into projects without a formal training. As I came from a design background, I had an idea of how things might work. However, in real life, it’s another ball game. I realised I had to be quick to adapt to the new job and the easiest technique to do that was observing the seniors. As you start off, you would be assigned a mentor under whom you work. I was given the same, however, found it easier to find my own mentor in the company and learn from her. My mentors changed as I kept adding onto my skillset.
7. Learn how to tell a story
In a world where data is represented by graphs and charts, it is very difficult to portray users. How would you justify that the problem faced by one user in a small town is important? That’s where storytelling comes into the picture. It is your job to portray that user to be a human being more than just a number. It starts with who the user is, how their day looks like, what are their hobbies, etc. Then comes the needs and behaviours that you conducted the study for but in the voice of the user. This would include their experiences and opinions. It usually helps to use verbatims and highlight clips of the users to portray your data so that the clients can relate to your users.
8. Reputation is built over time
I learnt from my experience that reputation is built over time while working for a UX Agency. You have to do amazing work time and again, and be consistent with it to show your skill. It works in a binary format in an agency to show your impact: happy vs unhappy client. Hence, proving it time and again would mean that it wasn’t an accident. Reputation is built on work and results like a sport. You need to have constant, consistent wins.
Hence, do great work and then be patient.
Closing thoughts on working for a UX agency
Yes, it seems stressful and yes it seems a lot of work but you’re not the only one in the same boat. Everyone in your agency is facing the same challenges you are. I was fortunate enough to have had amazing ex-colleagues who make such a stressful environment fun. Of course, we had cribbing sessions once in awhile but it was a blast working in an agency. Furthermore, once you get used to the rhythm of an agency, you start liking it and you will keep learning at a much faster rate. An agency helps you discover your potential and you would be surprised at how much you can handle. In the end, I am quite grateful to the people I worked with and the lessons I learned, it helped me grow, get better and become resilient.