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A Year in User Research at Futuristic Labs


Swarali Pandare, our User Researcher, working on Semi, recently celebrated her first work anniversary at Futuristic Labs. We sat down with her to learn more about her job, projects, and favorite activities to do in Hyderabad.



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What was your journey to becoming a User Experience Researcher?


When I first joined Futuristic Labs back in January 2022, it was as an Industrial Design Intern for my final year graduation project. I was pursuing my bachelor's in Accessory Design from NIFT Mumbai. In my degree, we learned about designing furniture, interiors, handbags, and jewellery, but my interests were a little different, and it was with those interests that I applied to Futuristic Labs.


My thinking behind joining here was my interest in Futures Thinking, which is a cross-disciplinary approach where you try to think critically about what is going on today and what happened in the past, in order to see what possibilities we will have in the future, and use that to open discussions about what we want the future to look like, and what to do about it through divergent thinking and acknowledging uncertainty. The other thing was, I had polished my craze for food during the pandemic. So joining Futuristic Labs was as if all the stars were aligning in my favour.


During the internship, I learned that I’m much more interested in finding out what users want, understanding their situations, and how we can improve them than fiddling with the intricacies of products and machines. After the internship, I had two choices: either to continue specializing in Industrial Design or do what the organization was looking for at that point - improve my skills as a User Experience Researcher.


For a bit, I was conflicted, because although I had imagined myself to be an Industrial Designer, I didn’t feel much interest in going forward in it. Zeeshan and Goutham were instrumental in guiding me toward understanding my hidden potential. I basically owe my career to this opportunity. At first, I was a little unsure, but through the past year, as I studied books, attended webinars, and did a few projects here as well as outside, I got to understand that User Research is a big and emerging field, and very fulfilling. Soon, I started to feel at home in it.



How do you explain your job to someone?


I help designers find out about the users they are making stuff for so that what they make is of value to the intended users. Whenever you want to make something - whether it’s an app, a product, a business idea, or a service, you need to start with why you are making it, who it is helping, and how it should help them. Finding out those answers will help you ensure that you are solving a real problem that exists and that the end solution is achieving the objectives you set out with based on what the real need is.



How is your work different from a User Experience Designer?


The first step in User Experience Design is research. You start with understanding the problem, understanding whom you’re designing for, understanding the why, and then you go on to creating ideas, testing, and prototyping. UX Designers may specialize in designing for the web or apps or the user experience for anything - but User Research could do research for any of those products, services, or experiences. It’s very related to social fields like Anthropology, Psychology, and Behavioral Science, but it is also embedded with a design mindset. It’s different from UX Design because as a UX Researcher, I wouldn’t necessarily be the one to design and develop solutions.



You recently conducted UX Research for Semi. What surprised you the most about your findings?


That was the first big project I did here. A lot of validation was dependent on it. It has helped us make some decisions about the product, or at least be satisfied with our prior decisions. I definitely felt pressure during the project to ensure that my findings were honest, unbiased, actionable, and as transparent as possible so that if my team wanted to check out how a finding was formed, they could easily do that. I created a structured guide and resource tree through which one can quickly trace how we’ve come to an insight.


Regarding the interviews, I try to go into research with fewer assumptions and fewer attachments, which enables me to take everything in stride. But what surprised me during Semi User Research was the gap between what we as the development team thought was easy or difficult to use or understand, vs. what the users felt was easy or difficult to understand. Case in point: the power and temperature controls on Semi; I thought understanding how to cook with Power Mode would be easier than doing so with Temperature Mode, but this wasn’t the case.


In the end, I enjoyed seeing people happy when they successfully made a dish. Seeing the feeling of accomplishment and joy was quite fulfilling for me as a part of the Semi Team. I was expecting people to want to onboard their own recipes, but most of them were happy about just cooking recipes on our Klynk App.



What skills should one improve to be a UX Researcher? Any book, course, or lecture recommendations?


Having empathy and being able to leave your biases at the door is the first requirement to being a UX Researcher. It begins with identifying and being open to finding out your biases. You shouldn’t let your ego stop and hold you back. There is a phrase that I really like, “Strong opinions, lightly held”. In UX Research, you shouldn’t lean on your opinions as much as the users’. You have to really understand things from their point of view, and try to see how it fits with your frameworks. Practice and experience are the key because social skills are not developed in a day.


I found Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal, courses from Indi Young, UX articles by Nielsen Norman Group, and blogs by People Nerds on Dscout really helpful.



Your presentations during meetings are on point. Can you share your process?


For any presentation, in terms of content and flow, it’s always difficult, because at first, the ideas are very vague. But I try to think about how to frame questions, the takeaways, and the points I'm trying to get across. I collate the information I already have.


A couple of things I try to do are: First, organizing all the content into sections, then those sections into bite-size information, and having a hierarchy. Second, I look out for any sequence, flow, or story. Third, I think about the takeaways. Then I convert the structure I have into a structure that makes sense for the listeners. To do so, I need to have an understanding of what they are looking for in the first place. I try making presentations interactive and fun, but mainly, I ensure that the flow is logical and that my points are communicated clearly. For user interviews, note-taking is an important aspect as well. For visuals, I do try to do some justice to the 4 years I spent in Design School. 😅



How have your team and Futuristic Labs contributed to your growth?


The list could go on and on, but to begin with, I’m here today as a very satisfied and happy User Researcher because two (very important) people in the company thought I would be good at User Research. My career started with Futuristic Labs, and that’s not a small thing. I’ve worked with Zeeshan most closely, who taught me to be goal-oriented and to understand why we are doing a certain thing in a certain way. Once you are really clear about what you’re trying to do, once you have the map in your mind, you can take that knowledge and craft a method. It’s very logical, but I didn’t really think about it as much as I did once I joined here.


The people at Futuristic Labs have helped me see how to be professional and yet pursue our work with passion and communal harmony. We always encourage each other and guide each other when we do anything wrong. I’ve been entrusted with big projects which helped me understand User Research. It was my foundation. That was my foot into the doors of User Research.


I’m really grateful to Futuristic Labs for giving an Industrial Design Intern a full-time opportunity as a User Researcher. It has been a great place to start my career. The culture, how to manage time, how to treat others with respect, how to collaborate, I’m glad to have learned all that here. I’m a User Researcher and have a direction in life because of this place. The dedication to work people show here has always inspired me. This place has set a benchmark for me about how you should approach both work and life with sincerity and a mood to party.



What has been your proudest moment so far here?


I feel really honored to have the responsibility of doing Semi User Research, which has had some impact on how we think about the product. When I gave the presentation, I had a lot of insecurities. The scope was greater than the projects I had done before, and there were teams depending on my findings. There will always be room for improvement but I’m glad I was given the space to make mistakes and iterate, leading me to be proud of the outcome.



What can we improve?


Something that we’ve been trying to do in the organization, but it hasn’t been completely successful is appreciating each other’s work openly. I know it’s our job, but I think you still need to be appreciated for it. Knowing that others are watching you, they know what you’re doing, and what challenges it involves, getting acknowledged about it is important for everybody, and there’s nothing shameful about it. Everybody here is going above and beyond. Moving forward, we can acknowledge it in a more open, less self-conscious way. As a positive reinforcement, it will help us keep going when the going gets tough.



Outside of work, what other projects are you passionate about?


There’s a lot. I’m passionate about Human-Centred Design for marginalized and underprivileged communities because they need it the most. In the future, I would like to continue learning Japanese and playing violin. I passed JLPT N4 and N5 and cleared my ABRSM Violin Grade 5. I look forward to clearing JLPT N3 and Violin Grade 6. There are a bunch of other things I want to explore like art and craft with fabric, data science, and creative coding.



Your go-to places in Hyderabad?


It’s not really a go-to place, but I really like how Hyderabad has so many parks in pockets. Just in Madhapur, an extremely busy place, there are 4 parks within a 5-minute distance. I like having greenery and common public places. I enjoy taking more walks around the neighborhood, and seeing what kinds of life is going on, getting a glimpse into other’s evenings. You can see someone buying milk, the sound of fans at home, and a bunch of teenagers squeezed together on a bench just chatting. It’s nice to get out of your own head because we’re always stuck up on our laptops.



Any favourite dishes on Semi?


We cooked Honey Garlic Chicken during Semi EVT so many times. It’s a memorable dish for me. I’ve liked almost everything that Ashna has made. I’m just waiting for the day when all of her recipes are onboarded on Klynk App so that I can go back and create some of my favorites.



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We are working on great products with great teams. #BuildWithUs at Futuristic Labs.


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