From service designer to user researcher

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I started my career at Scottish Enterprise as a content designer. Actually, we were called ‘web content developers’ back then, before we really embraced the idea that there is more to content than just words on a web page. Then I joined the service design team as a service designer, and over the past few months, I’ve been doing a dual role as a service designer and user researcher.  

Why user research? 

When I was discussing career development opportunities with my manager, user research was the first thing I thought of. I’d worked closely with the user research team in my role as a service designer, and I knew that I couldn’t do my job without them. If you don’t ask your customers what they need, you’re going to build the wrong things. It’s that simple.  

I wanted to spend more time talking to our customers and understanding their needs. And with two members of the user research team on long-term leave, the team was struggling for resources. So, a few months ago, I got stuck into all things user research. 

A Microsoft Teams window showing a PowerPoint presentation with a results summary. There are three images at the bottom of the screen of the people who are in the meeting
Catching up with the user research team on Microsoft Teams

What I’ve learned 

There is nothing more powerful than watching people try to use your services 

They’ll struggle with things that you never realised were difficult. They’ll stumble over language that you thought was clear. They’ll point out things that you missed because you were too close to the project. Everyone should try to observe user testing if they get the chance, especially senior managers. It helps remind you why we build services in the first place. 

We’re designing for people 

This wasn’t news to me, obviously. I knew that the services I was working on would eventually be used by real people. But actually speaking to them is a good reminder that they’re not just ‘users’ or ‘businesses’ – they’re human beings.  And a lot of them are struggling right now.

Between Brexit and Covid-19, it’s been a difficult year for many businesses. Listening to business people talk about their challenges helps build empathy, which in turn helps us build more human-centred services. 

Remote user testing can be awkward 

Given that we’re still in the thick of a pandemic and all working from home, all of our user testing has to be done remotely. Cue Wi-Fi issues, screen sharing problems, and children coming in mid-session asking for help with home schooling. Some people don’t want to (or can’t) turn on their camera, which makes it harder to develop a personal connection with them.  

We experience technical issues in about a third of all of our user testing sessions, but we’re looking at ways to fix this, like recording short videos that explain how to access the chat window and share your screen in Teams on different devices. 

But testing remotely has its benefits 

Doing remote testing means that I can take my notes on Miro. This makes it a lot easier to make sense of them later, because I can sort my sticky notes by theme and start to see where the patterns are.  

Sensemaking is one of my favourite parts of user research. I love taking all the insights from customers and trying to figure out what they mean so I can make recommendations to help the project team improve their service.  

The importance of understanding our customers 

I’m still a service designer at heart, but doing user research has given me an appreciation for how crucial it is to understand our customers before we build anything for them. We can create the most technically sophisticated platform in the world, but if it doesn’t help our customers do something that they need to do, it’s useless.  

Want to know more about our user research? 

  • Visit our Github site to see the research timelines for the different projects that we’re working on 
  • If you work for Scottish Enterprise and want to observe any user testing sessions, you can get in touch with the user research team at 
  • We’re also planning to write more blog posts about the research that we do, so keep checking the blog to find out more about what we’ve been up to 

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