The first time I performed user research, I didn’t even know I was doing it.
For context, I was studying computer science in the mid-2000s and worked in a small tourist agency programming web and back-office applications as a part-time job. I was unaware of interaction design and user research at the time.
My supervisor told me the requirements for a Windows desktop application. People in the sales and call center needed something to look up the database and populate a Word document creating an offer for a client. Not a big deal. The problem was that I wasn’t given wireframes or mockups of the UI as was usual for other projects, so I started to build the user interface myself.
As I was moving UI elements around, not convinced people would understand how it all works, I had a “groundbreaking” thought. The people who will use this application sit literally in the room next door. What if … What if I go there and show them what I’m building?
I knocked on the door of the call center. “Anyone has a few minutes to spare? I’m building something for you and don’t want to mess it up.” Without realizing it at the time, that would be the most transformative hour of my future UX career. It was the first time I experienced:
- Carefully observing how people work and noticing that it differed from what I assumed.
- Showing working prototypes to end users and seeing people’s confused faces.
- Getting suggestions on how a different UI interaction might work better, but instead of taking it at face value, asking, “What are you trying to achieve with that? What problem are you trying to solve?”
Of course, I didn’t master everything then, but my career and learning path permanently shifted. That experience defined how I’ll think about user research later on. And who knows, maybe it was the first step toward my switch to UX design in the first place.