My first job, as Deputy Director of an international development charity, was a brilliant start to the world of work, and I was able to learn lots of valuable and transferable skills. I also learned, however, that this career path wasn’t quite right for me, and my needs to be challenged and intellectually stimulated weren’t being met. I had recently learned about the glorious concept of design thinking, and, with redundancy looming, decided to use this method of human centred, rapid design to hack my own career path and establish the best next steps.
Design thinking = designing around your users (not just coming in with your expert knowledge) then quickly coming up with ideas and creating simple prototype solutions that you rethink and redesign with, again, help and input from your users.
With myself as both the user and the designer, I analysed, synthesised and iterated my heart out (see rough workings below) to find a solution to my career challenge, and establish that my skills would be best used and my joy most fulfilled in the role of a User Researcher.
Stage 1: Human Centred Design
In order to really understand my user (me!) I undertook a deep and honest analysis of my likes, dislikes, motivations, passions, turn-offs and red lines. I used historic data by looking back at my academic and professional experience and picking out examples of when I excelled and when I felt demotivated, I asked myself lots of questions to really understand my root feelings towards different activities, and I took into account observations that close family and friends made about my drivers. I used lots of additional material too, to support my analysis, such as Tim and David Brown’s Creative Confidence book, and 80,000 Hours‘ career guide.
Stage 2: Synthesis
After a good old data gathering session, I then looked back through my answers to spot patterns and to synthesise all of the ideas. It became clear that I needed to organise the patterns into different career attributes, and almost all of the data points could be categorised under one of these 4 headings:
1. Communication e.g. networking, public speaking, writing content, leading a team
2. Continuous Learning e.g. learning new skills, working on different projects, travelling, being surrounded by bright people
3. Improving Efficiency e.g. planning, analysing, researching, making connections
4. Having An Impact e.g. making a difference, working internationally, helping people
These 4 headings, especially ‘improving efficiency’ were quite surprising to me and may not have been exactly what I would have chosen for myself, but they make complete sense and I increasingly feel that they’re a good guide for my career change.
Stage 3: Rapid Ideation
The creative stage! Going as wide and as deep as possible, I brainstormed all of the different careers that might suit my list of criteria. The rapidity of this stage is essential – stopping to analyse each idea only slows down the process, and inhibits creativity.
Stage 4: Prototyping
The most fun/terrifying stage; now that I had my ideas, it was time to rapidly prototype the most realistic options. Focusing on my shortlist of careers, I tapped into my network and wined and dined contacts in each of the fields, I read blogs and books, I listened to podcasts, did some internships, and I undertook shadowing sessions to really narrow down which career path was the yellow brick road (huge thanks to everyone who let me buy them coffee and answered all of my questions).
I came to the conclusion (though I am open to many more iterations) that my skills will be best used and my needs best met in the role of a User Researcher. User Experience Researchers are involved in the first stage of the design process, undertaking in-depth interviews, surveys and ethnographic research in order to really understand the person they are designing for. By using human centred design, they are able to work with the design team to create a product, service, programme or system that really meets the user’s needs, and provides them with a joyful experience. My skills in empathy, research, and communication, coupled with my passion for learning new things, understanding human behaviour, and serving people, means that this is a career I’m genuinely excited about, and keen to start pursuing.