LJM logo

The therapist wants to understand the patient more. The researcher wants to understand the user more. Coincidence?

The trusty duck scale asks every day, 'How are you feeling?' Not being a 1 every day is OK.
The trusty duck scale asks every day, 'How are you feeling?' Not being a 1 every day is OK.
Tuesday 1 November 2022

Therapy AKA UX research

It's been close to a year now since I’ve been writing about UX design. For the most part, I’ve written little about the craft, the processes and projects, and more about the mental and emotional experiences I’ve had to work with in this role. This might sound like I have nothing to say about the former and that UX is a challenge to my mental health, but for someone who has struggled with their mental health most of their life, it makes sense that my job isn’t off limits to my anxiety and depression – I can’t leave my problems at the office front door.

I think this is due to the fact that this pivot to UX has been the biggest shift in my twelve year design career since I stepped out of university and into my first job – I’ve only been doing UX design for four of those years.

Learning that UX design isn’t just mockups and UI, it also makes sense that I’ve had to rearrange the furniture in my head to make room for user studies, qualitative and quantitative research, business impact, UX strategy, and more.

Another factor at play, I’m a very insecure person, personally and professionally. I could lay down on a Freudian couch and regurgitate my years of therapy as to why this is:

  • fear of authority figures
  • fear of disappointing others
  • perfectionist streak
  • need for order and consistency
  • uncertainty deeply affecting me
  • the list goes on...

And in this overlap between therapy and my job, I’ve observed what UX researchers do and what therapists do; the therapist wants to understand the patient more deeply, and the researcher wants to understand the user more deeply. Coincidence? I thought so too one afternoon staring out a window.

If you’re in a not-so-great headspace, try putting some UX research methods onto yourself, or the situation, and see what insight you can learn.

You are the only user in your life after all.

The 5 Why’s method

Like any great five year old can attest, this one is a sure fire way to get to a fundamental truth, quickly. It works for everything from, why is the sky blue, and why do we have knees, to why did you choose this hotel, and why can’t I do this job?

For instance, next time you find yourself comparing yourself to others, ask yourself why, and be objective with the answers:

  • She’s better at this than me.
  • Why is she better?
  • Because she understands the experiment results and I can’t.
  • Why can she understand them?
  • Because she’s read many of them before.
  • Why has she read many of them before?
  • Because she’s been in this job longer and she’s a senior.
  • Why is she a senior?
  • Because in time she’s learned the skills to interpret data.

There you go, she just has more experience, she’s not ultimately “better”. Maybe you’ll get to a root cause in less than five why’s like I did (woohoo).

Here's a tip!

Dig deeper. Remember, a therapist doesn’t just ask, “How did that make you feel?” and then leave the patient there, they ask follow up questions, and try to understand more. You should do the same with yourself.

Shadowing method

The difference between what someone says and what some does can be polar opposite, this is in parallel to attitudinal and behavioural studies in UX. And any good researcher (given the need) will shadow a user to see what they do, not necessarily what they say they’ll do.

This method is useful when, again, you catch yourself comparing yourself to others. You don’t have to sit next to a colleague with a clipboard in silence and take studious notes. Ask them for an hour of their time to show and tell you what they do around similar challenges you’re facing.

They might approach a user problem in a different way than you. They might go back to the data and split it by user location, instead of the user's last trip. Or they might add to a competitor analysis study with a competitor you didn’t consider.

The point of this is to rid your assumptions of others. Seeing what others do can teach you a lot about where they’re coming from, and they could teach you a practical thing or two while you’re at it.

Focus group method

If you could survey all the UXers in your job (or network) about how confident they feel in their role, my Spidey-sense tells me you might find more people self-report as middling at best (a hunch, yes, but I’m making a point).

If you really want to know the answer to, “Surely it can’t just be me feeling insecure, frustrated, challenged, etc?” Then consider setting up a focus group with 3-12 UXers in your job (or network) and find out if they too experience insecurity, frustration, and challenged in their job.

This is also called “Going for a drink after work”.

Here's a tip!

Don’t turn this into a bitching session or gossipfest about colleagues and managers. If you really want to empathise with others, and understand what they’re experiencing, listen to what they’re saying, ask open ended questions, and throw in some “What would you do in scenario, X, Y, and Z?”

Sentiment analysis method

I’ve been using a mood tracking app for nearly three years now. I record my dominimat mood of the day every day around 9pm. I choose from a bank of words like: sad, anxious, annoyed, tired, okay, calm, joyful, and confident (amongst others). And with each mood, score it from 0-100%. I then try to attribute the factors that led to me feeling that way that day.

This might sound tedious, but it takes about 3 minutes. I can’t recommend this enough.

Over time, I can see trends and changes in my mood. And can directly correlate it to events and situations happening around me. It encourages me to use other words to describe how I feel (something a majority of people could try and learn). The best thing this method teaches me is that work is the source of a lot of my feelings, from anxious and tired, to proud and confident. I have three years worth of data backing this up! And how normal is it that something I devote a third of my day to can bring up such broad feelings as anxiousness and tiredness, to pride and confidence? Very normal in hindsight.

The sometimes loathed NPS ((Net Promoter Score) yes more market research than user research) is a parallel between your mental health and market opinion. If you ask yourself the same question repeatedly over time you’ll start to see trends and patterns in yourself.

Work isn’t some special bubble where we should feel our best every minute of every day. There’s going to be ups and downs there. Hopefully a little more ups than downs of course.


If you liked what you read you can subscribe to my newsletter. I promise infrequent, unspammy career perspective and advice.

Powered by Buttondown

Get in touch