I became a UX strategist and researcher in my typical klutzy Kristine fashion—purely by accident. Oops.
I discovered the journalist in me at a fairly young age—around 14 or 15. It seemed more interesting to me to tell others’ stories rather than make up my own.
In high school, I had my sights set on becoming a NYC magazine editor.
After college, I parlayed my journalism degree into a pretty awesome job as a writer and editor for Best Buy internal communications. I wrote about the latest cutting-edge technologies, corporate initiatives, and company news as well as managed several newsletters.
But I was 24. I wanted to see if the grass might be greener somewhere else, so I quit and moved to another city 600 miles away. In 2000, I was hired as a web copywriter. (Which still blows my mind. That was the golden age of dial-up, people.)
All writing isn’t the same
Around the second day of my new job, I was given my first writing assignment: an email promotion for women’s clothing. In addition to giving me a list of adjectives to work from, the marketing director described the target audience as “someone in her 40s or 50s, but thinks young.”
Ahh… I knew next to nothing about marketing or advertising. (Except that Gap commercials ruled, of course.) I was a journalist, afterall.
Write a promotional email? I don’t think I had ever EVEN SEEN ONE before. People barely shopped online. HTML email didn’t exist yet.
Apparently my copy was so bad, I wasn’t even asked to write a second draft. Fun fact: copywriting and content writing are 2 entirely different skillsets.
So instead of copywriting, I settled in as a web producer (in today’s terminology). I published and managed product copy and images around the clock for 9 different websites.
Then the dot-com bubble popped and 5 of the 9 websites folded.
And then I was laid off.
And then I was hired back.
My UX career begins
But this time, I was put in charge of redesigning the still-standing websites… Something to do with my persistent begging. I just knew the websites were not user-friendly, but all I had was intuition.
Luckily books like “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug and “E-commerce User Experience” by Jakob Nielsen came out around that time. Nielsen quickly became my mentor, and I consumed everything he wrote (or anyone he was associated with wrote).
Over the next several years, I learned a ton about building, optimizing, and marketing websites. SEO, paid search, email segmentation, affiliate marketing, predictive analytics, multivariable testing, multi-touch attribution. My 3-person team grew to 25. Online sales grew from $1M per year to $1M per day.
During those formative years, I became fascinated with usability testing. I loved talking to customers and watching them use the site. They would become confused in ways I had never imagined. It was exciting to discover problems and then solve them.
When I returned to Minneapolis in 2007, I positioned myself as an information architect. (I hadn’t yet heard the term “UX designer.”)
I quickly learned the ropes for what it meant to be a UX strategist — interviewing clients and their customers, reviewing competitor and analogous sites, sifting through analytics, and then synthesizing it all into a findings and recommendations deck.
Later, I expanded my research toolkit to include focus groups, ethnography, diary studies, card sorting, and others.
Journalist skills are UX researcher skills
Today, I use the same research, storytelling, and critical thinking skills as I did when I was a journalist / writer—but now, they’re applied to serving the needs of customers, not readers.
Below are the same skills I use today as a UX researcher as I did when I was a journalist and writer.
Prepping for Interviews
- Learning about the topic beforehand
- Identifying research objectives
- Outlining interview questions
- Mentally rehearsing questions
- Focusing on the subject, not me
- Being empathetic, but objective
- Asking probing questions
- Smiling + making eye contact
- Nodding + active listening
- Using an open posture
Interview Structure + Pacing
- Ordering questions + topics for flow
- Moving through fact collecting quickly
- Typing notes while maintaining eye contact
- Recording sessions
- Tracking my sources
- Pulling out anecdotes + visuals
- Identifying themes or patterns
- Identifying most important ideas
Tips for Switching to UX
If you, too, would like to switch careers to UX, here are two additional resources I’ve put together: