Digital collective


Adele Gilpin

Hey user researchers, how are YOU feeling?

User research is hard! There, I said it…

Whilst it is one of the most rewarding parts of my role (and I love it), it can sometimes make me feel exhausted and emotionally drained. As user researchers, we put ourselves out there and connect with people to hear their stories, empathise with their pain and question the status quo. It takes a lot of grit and resilience to do this and we need to look after ourselves in order to stay at the top of our game.

I have just experienced a fairly intense period of research for the “Best Start in Life” project and it really got me thinking about this. I received a phenomenal response to my plea for research participants on social media and it was great! However, I utterly burned myself out trying to speak to everyone and I didn’t allow time to personally reflect on the emotive subjects we talked about.

Don’t do that! Learn from my experience and bear these tips in mind…

Don’t overload yourself

User research comes with a lot of competing demands and it can be easy to feel like you can power through the interviews, the write-ups and the sharing sessions in order to do a good job.

Are you really doing justice to your participants if you are too tired to relay their needs back to the team? No!

Doing good research, at a sustainable pace, is always better than trying to please everyone all the time and burning yourself out.

If you’re lucky to have an engaged group of users who want to speak with you, that’s amazing! Consider breaking the research up in to chunks (or sprints) and don’t try to reach everyone all in one go.

Use people’s time wisely and most efficiently for your project. There are only a finite number of hours in the day, and, however much you want to speak to as many people as possible, you have to be realistic about what you can achieve.

Doing good research, at a sustainable pace, is always better than trying to please everyone all the time and burning yourself out.


You don’t have to provide all of the answers

Research is often conducted with people in tough situations and sometimes the participants can be emotional, vulnerable and struggling to get the help they need from government. You may be one of the few who hears your participant’s story as they are too afraid to talk to their friends and family about it. That’s quite a responsibility and it’s perfectly natural to feel the need to take on those problems and solve them yourself.

Remember, you are not alone. Use your position as a researcher to explore your participant’s feelings and how they might go about getting the help they need. Sometimes just talking it through with a stranger can have an amazing effect on someone and empower them to try new avenues. After all, how many times have you discussed a problem with a friend and ended up seeing it from another perspective?

Take time to download your brain and talk

Below is a trace of my stress levels on a day that had 3 back-to-back interviews at 9am, midday and 2pm. I think it’s fair to say it was a stressful experience! I had arranged to meet my participants in nearby coffee shops and even before the interview I had various worries about whether the tables would be available or there was pushchair access (even though I’d been for a recce a few days earlier!)

Doing good research, at a sustainable pace, is always better than trying to please everyone all the time and burning yourself out.
Adele Gilpin
Digital Business Analyst
You have to be pretty resilient as a researcher but it doesn’t necessarily mean always toughing it out and ignoring emotions and stress. Resilience can be built by taking care of yourself and understanding your strengths and vulnerabilities.
I personally found that taking the time to download after each interview was a great way of recording thoughts and feelings in the moment. If you do this as soon as possible, it will be a really accurate record of what happened.
Speak to your colleagues too if something is bothering you; share how you are feeling because it’s likely they will have also been in a similar position to you. I would also advocate a relaxing run (!), or a walk, to help to clear your mind.

You are human

Be realistic about what you can and can’t do and ask for help and support when you need it. Watch out for signs of stress and don’t feel like you personally have to solve all the problems.

If you’re in the middle of user research, you have my full permission to grab a tea and biscuit and take five minutes to just breathe.

Look after yourself, you’re doing a great job!