What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a user researcher?
Balance theory with practice. Someone who spends all their time on theory and never risks it in the real world goes nowhere (outside academia, which is a totally valid path). But the opposite is also true – if you are getting experience that’s great, but if you’re not constantly filling your head with new ideas then you’re going to stagnate. There are many places to find new ideas – books, videos, mentors, meet-ups, blogs – find what works for you and pay attention to it.
Make sure you read books. Many young designers and researchers don’t want to read. They think they can get it all from blog posts and videos. The quality of ideas that you find in a book is much, much higher than anywhere else. If you struggle to concentrate, work on it until you stop struggling. It will power you more than you can imagine. Oh, and like Dan Saffer says, make sure you read fiction too. Other worlds expand your mind.
Learn your discipline, then dive into others. When you start out it feels like there is an infinite amount to learn about your discipline. But pretty soon you start seeing the same things over and over again. At this point, stop looking at your own discipline and dive into related fields. They end up making you a much better designer or researcher.
Be more organised than those around you. No one wants to hear this. I get that. But if you are on top of your stuff – files, versions, appointments, emails, to-do lists, commitments – then people will trust you instinctively. It will go a long way to giving you a successful career. Don’t believe in or perpetuate the myth of the disorganised creative person.
There are, of course, exceptions to all of these. Find your own path. Good luck!
This article is part of a feature on Government Digital Service.