This interview is part of an on-going serie we are conducting with UX researchers. The goal is to shed light upon this role: its diversity, practices and the people moving it forward.
Marie is a UX researcher from Germany based in Paris. Currently working for Docusign, she started her UX journey at Blablacar. She is also a mentor and trainer, at Hexagon UX and The Design Crew.
I chatted with Marie on March 30th about how she came to UX research, the role of mentoring in her career, the differences between B2B and B2C UXR as well as international research and field work.
A natural journey from product to UX
Marie’s journey into UX was born from curiosity, self-created user empathy and the growth of her organization’s UX maturity.
She started at Blablacar in 2013 as a member relations agent, working on a new market for the company: Germany. While member support processes existed in France, they did not exist for Germany and Marie had to start from scratch.
She had to dive deep into the product to create appropriate answers and solve users’ problems.
Little by little I came to know the product like the back of my hand, I had tried all existing user flows. […] I wanted to give useful answers, and to do that, you need to understand the problem.
The product expertise she grew this way helped her transition to a tailored role: member voice/product specialist within the product team. Her job was to priotitize users’ problems for the product team. She called this task “experience QA”.
I like to help people, make their lives better.
She then started conducting more formal research with a designer also working at the company before joining the newly founded UX department where she began to actively gather feedback.
She learned on the job, reading books and articles.
When asked about what might have led her interest for user experience, she mentioned studying movie direction with a focus on documentaries. She likes to compare UXR and filming a documentary: in both cases, she has the opportunity to learn about people, to understand and maybe help.
I studied documentary direction. The excuse of the camera allowed me to ask many questions and understand people.
Mentoring made her a UX researcher
Marie did not know about the field of user experience. She discovered it existed thanks to the mentoring she was benefiting from.
I was so lucky to discover this field and role I enjoy.
It is now important for her to share back, hoping to inspire people to advocate for users and understand the value of user research.
She mentored for Hexagon UX for 2 years, working with women and non-binary people. She now works with The Design Crew for one-to-one mentorship and trainings.
When asked about what she looks for in a mentor, Marie talks about the importance of an interpersonal fit as well as expertise. She advocates for having different mentors for different aspects of ones life: a manager can be a great mentor but it can also be important to have someone outside of work, someone with whom there is no personal and professional stake.
I was lucky to have managers who were also mentors. […] Mentoring is incredibly important, it is about helping and supporting people on their journey.
A mentor shouldn’t have any personal stake. Their only objective is to help.
Complexity and empathy: the differences between B2B and B2C UX research
Having worked both with B2C and B2B products, Marie explained how different the experience had been for her.
Blablacar was a B2C product she was used to, she could relate being a user herself. According to her, this has both advantages and disadvantages for UX research.
Being a user of the product you work for can help create more connexion and empathy with users because the experience encountered is shared.
However, it can also create bias: having assumptions or jumping to certain conclusions, using one’s experience over the users.
In order to reduce this effect, she advices to work with stakeholders to externalize their hypothesis before the study is conducted. This helps to reduce confirmation bias and stay aware and open to non-formulated ideas.
Another difference of B2B and B2C UX research is the complexity of the product tested.
In her case, Docusign is a complex tool with many different features and she had never been in the position of her users: having to request signatures online.
I transitioned from knowing the product by heart to not having any clue of how I would even test the product. […] I was a bit scared.
She explained how difficult it was at first, she felt her ability for empathy had been harmed, that maybe she had made a mistake choosing to work for a B2B tool.
But she soon was able to overcome this challenge, discovering that her newness to the tool could benefit her: it allowed her to question users with more open mindedness, challenge status quo, ask obvious questions.
I was relieved when a top manager told me that after a year, he barely understood the basic features of the product.
She hypothesises that the learning curve is longer for B2B products but enjoys this complexity and the variety of users: freelancers to big corporations with very different use cases.
Outside of the comfort zone: international research and field work
Marie has worked in different international settings: conducting in situ research in Russia and France in addition to remote research in the US, the UK, Germany and Italy.
She has experienced how cultural differences impact the interpretation of user insight and thus the result of UX research. For example, she warns against using NPS to compare the experience across different countries because people use notation systems very differently. A mix of qualitative and quantitative data is necessary in these cases. She discovered that a good NPS in Italy could be associated with comments similar to those of someone with a low NPS in Germany.
We decided to conduct the research, not only with a translator, but also with a local researcher to help add more context.
In some settings, she has found it important to work with local UX professionals to add some background and insights to cultural differences when talking about money and ones revenue for example.
I am lucky to have people in my team from different backgrounds who can help me support my understanding.
Marie also reflected on the positive impact the pandemic had on remote research practices. When a product is used by people in their homes, she finds it useful to interview and test in a remote setting so that people interact more naturally with the product: reducing observation bias and adding more context and situational elements (someone ringing at the door, a phone call or the reception of an email).
In situ observation adds so much value. People don’t completely realize what they do, you have to observe it from yourself.
To learn more about Marie.