Becoming a UX Researcher: insights for a big career change

Meet Maria Loureiro, UX Researcher at Emergn!  

Maria is passionate and curious about peoples’ behaviors, motivations, and mindsets – that’s why she started her career as a psychologist. Because of her curiosity about the world around her and people’s minds, she undertook an exciting career change, pursuing a new role as UX Researcher. For two years, she has been researching and talking to our clients’ users to better understand their pains and motivations and support the creation of products that truly fit their needs.  

Are you looking to make a career change in tech but don’t know where to start or fear the challenges you may face along the way? 

In this interview, you will learn more about Maria’s psychology and UX research path and about embracing the fear and uncertainty of pursuing a new role.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Emergn

Hi! I’m Maria, and I joined Emergn as a UX Researcher almost two years ago. 

My role consists of understanding users’ motivations, expectations, pains, and goals – so our teams can create and help build products that truly fit their needs. It’s also about understanding how people interact with products already in the market and assessing if these products are meeting their expectations and needs. In case they are not, we should be focusing on improving and adding more value.

Another side of what I do is more focused on usability: assessing if products or services meet usability best standards and practices.

How did you get started with started in the User Experience (UX) field?

Before entering the UX field, I practiced psychology. I took a bachelor’s degree in Psychological Sciences and a master’s degree specializing in Forensic Psychology. I worked in this area for a few years and really liked it.  

My first interest in UX sparked when I was working in a prison for young offenders in London. I used cognitive behavioral techniques to help young people recover from drug or alcohol addiction. It involved a lot of conversation – one-on-one or on a group basis – to understand their experiences, history, and past. 

When my team was planning more programs to support the recovery of these patients, I realized we were missing a key piece to this process: involving the users for whom the programs were being designed. That’s how I first got interested in UX and user-centered design – trying to understand the user by bringing it to the center of everything we do and involving them and their perceptions.  

I left that job, moved back to Portugal, and started exploring this area. I took a user-centered design course and started working as a designer at a design agency. It was an incredible experience for me. I worked with many experienced people that taught me a lot and allowed me to develop my skills in the field. And that pushed me to learn more about UX and user research till I crossed paths with Emergn.

Why did you choose Emergn?

I remember learning about the principles of Value, Flow, Quality (VFQ) at my second interview. I felt an instant connection with the mindset and that many of the company’s principles resonated with my own – from focusing on delivering value to enhancing experiences through recurrent and specific feedback. I was also amazed by the great work with the clients. 

Learning about VFQ and the Emergn Way made me realize that this is where I wanted to be and that I wanted to work with these amazing people who believe and connect with these values.

What is the greatest challenge for switching careers? What advice would you give to someone facing it?

It can be scary. I started with no academic background in UX, so I only knew a little about it. I did a course to learn more – and it taught me a lot, but it’s different from a longer and more in-depth university degree. It was important for me to embrace uncertainty and be open to learning everything I could.

When we’re motivated to get something, we adopt this mindset of being completely open to learning and experimenting (and fail sometimes and learn even more). We want experienced people to show us how to do things and to share what they know so we can soak all that knowledge. The key to learning a lot is to ask for feedback and learn step-by-step what we do well and what we need to improve, and how.  

My advice is to, even when scared (which you’ll most likely be with a career change), embrace that feeling of uncertainty and trust that you can learn if you’re open to seeking that knowledge and using feedback in your favor.

What is the main challenge you face as UX Researcher?

There are some people that struggle to embrace the mindset of continuous research throughout product development. Research work must continue even after the launch of a product or service.

Things are constantly changing, and users’ needs are no exception. If we seek to know more about our users and implement continuous loops of feedback with them, we can adapt and prepare a response to those changes.

The challenge is not for clients to appreciate the value in research – they see it and understand how it improves the product. It’s more about making them realize that research shouldn’t be a one-time thing at the discovery step but carry on through the product lifecycle.  

Show your stakeholders that research is a continuous activity that could always bring value. It doesn’t need to be something that takes a lot of time and effort; it could be short, easy to implement, and still valuable.

What makes you feel proud?

Being a UX Research at Emergn is an amazing experience. I’m proud of the work we do as a team to grow and improve the Product Design Practice – I have been lucky to get involved in internal activities that create cooperation and are valuable to the whole team. I’m happy and proud to contribute to a better workflow for everyone.

Our work with client engagements is also a big motivation to keep improving. I worked on a project for one of our biggest clients in the pharmaceutical industry, and it was a fantastic opportunity to explore a slightly new field.

I learned a lot about the whole product development process (from the initial idea to the final product), and I supported the client’s team with research, skills, and capabilities. It was very fulfilling because, by the end of the project, the team had implemented feedback loops with their customers to get valuable insights into the ideas they were developing. They were ready to continue their research successfully, even after our partnership was completed.