My first month as the new UX Researcher in a 40-people design team
How onboarding at Nubank set me up for a more collaborative research process
I still keep a copy of my first real usability test script, made out of my interpretation of books and case studies with no real guidance from anyone. Back then, as a Web Designer, I was just starting to explore ways to interact with users here and there. As much as this script is worthy of a good laugh today, it served its purpose of leading me into a path of finding out what I really like about being a researcher. And for me, that happened to be the opportunity to understand and deliver context in consumable pieces.
This first month at Nubank was all about context. In my previous experience, I was the one who had been in the company (and the UX team) the longest, but suddenly I’m the new person around with very little knowledge about the financial world. As the new UX Researcher in the largest fintech in Latin America, where should I even start?
From understanding operations, team structure, product goals and gaining some practical financial knowledge, everything seemed equally important for a researcher like myself to actually start feeding decisions with information. Bellow, I’ll share a bit more about each mental state I went through during this first month, however, for anyone undergoing a similar process, I do want to say in advance: everything falls into place once the culture sinks in.
Getting excited about not knowing things
My first week was booked with a few meetings a day in which designers would present me their teams and what they were currently working on. As I took notes on expressions I’d never heard before, I realized my now-teammates were more worried about giving me a general sense of what was going on while keeping an optimistic outlook (shoutout to every “Don’t worry, you’ll get this when you need to” I’ve listened). Instead of the first month feeling like an onboarding on subjects I’d be expected to dominate, I found it was actually an onboarding on people I’d reach out to talk about these topics all the time. Good news: talking to people about things you don’t know yourself is basically doing research, so sign me up.
Going back to bread and butter
At Nubank, people are organised into “squads” — cross-functional teams that have a common goal or specific task to tackle. Different squads within a product have different maturity levels on what they’re trying to uncover. Also, Product Designers have a broad technical scope and it’s a great thing if their skills aren’t exactly the same (makes for a team that complements itself!). This means the researcher-supporting-multiple-designers-role diverges in approach as the Designers have a more or less of a research-oriented background.
Finding out about ongoing projects and joining in as an extra pair of hands was almost like an ethnographic study on this subject. It was quick for me to hop on an already planned test or interview, but so valuable to understand how my teammates worked individually as well as the expectations each team held for research.
Partnering up and collaborating
Aside from understanding smaller contexts one at a time, joining ongoing projects also taught me the best bit about research at Nubank: people expect to participate actively, so no research work is done alone. Most of the time, designers are the focal point of a researcher inside a squad because, by participating more closely in the squad’s daily life, Product Designers are quicker in identifying research needs. But how much of a research plan will be written, or a method will be executed by a researcher versus by a designer doesn’t matter as long as it gets done when it needs to and everybody gets to have a seat at the table.
Teams diverge in composition of roles and scopes, but so do the needs of every research project. I’ve seen projects build bridges between researchers and roles I wasn’t entirely sure what they were responsible for a month ago. Sometimes these roles even turn into the focal points of research themselves because they have so much to contribute.
Looking at the bigger picture
From keeping a positive attitude towards what I didn’t know, to joining ongoing projects and finally understanding how different perspectives collaborate within the culture, I must admit it doesn’t feel much like a methodical approach to onboarding. But this very organic, people-oriented process backed up by a strong design culture, made me feel very comfortable in looking more strategic research in the eye and pointing a direction I feel different teams would benefit from having more knowledge.
A month’s worth of context may not be enough, and surely I’ll soon acknowledge the existence of complexities I still have no clue about. But, as researchers, it’s ok to be self-aware about context. In a hyper-growth phase such as the one Nubank is going through, product teams will be eager to test and make assumptions about behavior. Context is what sets apart healthy critique and questioning from research being a blocker in an agile environment.
A Quick Recap
- Onboarding on people, not subjects or projects. I’ve realized I came back to read my notes on the names of the people I’ve spoken with more than the actual topics we’ve talked about.
- Hop on ongoing projects. The more I didn’t worry about how they were structured research-wise, the better I understood the teams’ goals, dynamics and maturity level.
- Hands-on work before strategic planning. I got context and gave context on how I could help.
- Make sure you leave open seats at the table. Different roles had great and even unexpected contributions. Having a focal point/partner on each project helped understanding these roles.
- Be self-aware about how much context you actually have. It helps you build what the bigger picture could be without it being a blocker to the product cycle.