UX Research and the Wisdom of Moms

Raising a child and becoming an empathetic UX researcher have some unmistakable parallels. In honor of Mother’s Day, here are some tips from moms who research.

Shivani Mohan
May 10 · 3 min read

Happy Mother’s Day!

Any mom will tell you that the experience of raising a child is an exercise in unconditional love, patience, vigilance, empathy, and learning to listen to a perspective that is sometimes at odds with what you want or need in that moment.

As researchers, we too practice ninja-level observational skills and empathy for the people we study. So for Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share a few learnings from moms who research.

I asked them: “What ‘parenting’ tips and tricks do you use in UX research, and vice-versa?”

Here’s what they told me:

  1. Your kid is not an extension of yourself. Neither is your user. Do not assume you know how your kid/user feels, wants, would react to a situation just because you deeply know them. Don’t project your needs onto them. — Funda Kivran-Swaine
  2. Empathy makes me a great researcher, but also a better wife and mom. I believe that by exposing my son to people who are not like him, something we researchers experience often, he will have a greater capacity for empathy and will be a generally better person. — Beth Werner
  3. Make your children — and participants — feel heard. To the extent possible, create a positive environment/feedback loop during conversations, make eye contact, and don’t check your cell phone when they talk (that’s bad form with both participants and kids). — Jill Campaiola
  4. As kids age, you need to become more creative with your “interviews” (dinner or bed discussions). When the answer to “How did your day go?” is “Fine,” you need better questions. This is where I really learned how to set interview context — starting very general (“what happened today that excited you”) and then directing them into minutiae and uncomfortable topics. — Mary Lalomia
  5. Storytelling: get good at it. Our leaders and users don’t have the time or attention spans to connect the dots themselves. Our job as researchers is to take the data and create a good story to bring the relevant truths to life. Kids are the same way. How many times do I have to read that same Thomas story?! — Eryn Taylor
  6. What kids say they want is not always what they really need. You need to get to the bottom of underlying needs when all young kids are programmed to do is to express wants. When people of all ages encounter problems they don’t have immediate solutions for, it can be very hard for them to articulate solutions (wants). As parents, and as researchers, one way to move forward is to deeply understand the problem people are facing — beyond what they say they want — and discover together what they may need to solve it. — Funda Kivran-Swaine
  7. Being a UX researcher was helpful training for becoming a parent. I had already learned that iteration based on observation is necessary for the best results. That’s how we ended up with just the right setup for the changing table, the highchair, and the crib. Of course, these systems will only be ideal for a short while, and then we’ll need a complete redesign for V2. — Anna Howell
  8. You are your kid’s biggest advocate, even though you cannot choose who your kid is. Same with users. — Funda Kivran-Swaine

The most important mom/researcher connection of all might be one that Eryn Taylor mentioned in another comment: that we don’t have to do this alone. We’re much better as researchers and parents/caregivers when we ask for help, share our frustrations and successes, and collaborate. In that spirit, I’d love to hear your ideas (from dads, too!) about parenting and researching.

Author: Shivani Mohan, Director of Research, Facebook Marketplace

Illustrator: Sarah Lawrence

Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

Shivani Mohan

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Digs research, design, travel and cats. Hates clocks.

Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

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