Interview with Sara Khan, UX Researcher at Reach plc
We interviewed Sara to ask about why she studied abroad in Nagoya (my home town in Japan), how did it help her to work while studying, her project at the Egyptian Museum in Turin as a UX Researcher and how she decides what methods she uses for her daily UX practices. Enjoyyy! 🌝
1. You seemed to have successfully split your time between studying and working, how does it help your research/ professional career?
It’s not super easy but I don’t regret it. If you have this experience, it helps to speed up the process of becoming part of a team in your next role.
It also depends on the experience you will gain, for example, if you can experience processes in the professional world you’ll learn how to manage your time and not rely on overtime and, also to appreciate every team member’s effort.
If you have this experience, it helps to speed up the process of becoming part of a team in your next role. Additionally, it means people don’t form unrealistic expectations about work.
2. You went to Nagoya (my home town!) to study Sustainable Design and Visual Communication! How was your experience there?
You always have to adjust your expectations and take a reality check on the things you have to do yourself. I’m very happy that I went.
I spent almost one year in Japan. It was a bit of a jump in the dark. I didn’t know much Japanese, but I love Japanese culture so I’d always wanted to spend a bit more time there. I’d been to Japan a couple of times on holiday and I wanted to understand the culture as much as possible. As a tourist, there are things you never really get to see, but if you live there, it’s another story.
I never regretted that decision because I loved Nagoya. I chose it because it has a similar mentality to my hometown, Turin, which is also a car producer. Also, Nagoya is not super far from Tokyo if you want to visit on the weekends. One thing I loved is that Nagoya is a place where not everyone speaks English so you have to push yourself to understand. I like to make an effort, so I tried all the dishes — ogura toast [sweet red beans on toast], Yabaton [a restaurant famous for its pork cutlets]. I also learned how to eat natto. I love them.
— What was it like to study as a university student in Nagoya?
It was challenging as I was one of only a few foreign students so I had to make an effort myself. To be honest, I’m a very curious person so I learned to research that way. The first month was a bit of a challenge, and I thought about going back, but then I said to myself: “I’m here and I need to make an effort, so I should just enjoy the good parts. The hardships will become easier if I make an effort to get to know people and find things to study and say yes to things offered to me.” You always have to adjust your expectations and take a reality check on the things you have to do yourself. You have to understand it’s a different culture. That’s what I went for and I’m very happy I went.
3. Could you tell me what your experience was like at the Egyptian Museum in Turin? I am studying Curating Contemporary Design and improving museum visitor experience is one of my dream jobs!
Museums are a passion of mine — physically seeing artefacts creates empathy in people.
I was working at the Egyptian Museum in Turin at the same time I was doing my research. The museum at the time was under renovation: not only the exhibits, but also the internal team was changing, and I saw an opportunity in a branch that was not very new, but still not that well known.
Museums are a passion of mine — physically seeing artefacts creates empathy in people. It’s much better to see an exhibition of Egyptian art rather than looking at it in a book. While in the museum I had the opportunity to chat with members of staff and archaeologists, and we started to think about why people don’t take an interest in these things. It was a work of personal passion and I enjoyed it very much. From this personal passion, I realized my interest in research that eventually led me to my PhD.
— You said you are passionate about trying to engage people with showcased objects and collections in museums. What has been your biggest challenge while doing that?
The challenge is to create powerful storytelling to say everything about the objects but also, to leave a bit of mystery for the visitors.
I think I can say that generally, it is very hard to find new ways to engage visitors and to understand them. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is to understand the users and connect content creators and designers to meet the same goals. For example, there are many things that can be said about specific artefacts, but only a few might be of interest for the greater public. The challenge is to create powerful storytelling to say everything about the objects but also, to leave a bit of mystery for the visitors. So I think the most challenging part is to decide what to tell and what not to say about the objects in the showcases. There are many types of visitors, sometimes people just want to stroll around and occasionally skim through the artefacts, while other visitors will be happy to read every single tag in detail. But as a general rule, eventually, if they are interested, they will read more by themselves at home about what they just saw in the museum. If they do, any exhibit could be considered a success.
4. In your everyday life as a UX researcher do you apply qualitative and quantitative research? What sort of methods do you use?
I usually mix them both. Coming from a scientific background helps me not to panic in certain situations and to be grounded on what can be really improved by being honest with my findings.
I usually mix them both. Qualitative is more for one-on-one interviews, also panel studies and lab studies for a specific segment of people.
As a general rule, qualitative studies allow us to understand the motivations and behaviours that lead people to use products in a certain way, i.e. why they read this App at a specific time of the day? Why do they read celebrity news?
Quantitative studies are also helpful because they could help us understand how certain segments of the population are represented in the bigger picture of the whole user pool of a certain product. As an example, with quantitative methods, we identify a certain group like celebrity newsreaders, but with qualitative methods, we define how many there are out there among the entire group readers.
In the past, I’ve also used co-design workshops as a means to create an experience with designers, content creators, and other researchers, as well as management teams.
As a researcher, I think that finding a solution is good, but it’s not necessarily a researcher’s job to make decisions. To let people make informed decisions is a priority for me, and a responsibility itself that adds up to my personal scientific responsibility. Coming from a scientific background helps more not to panic in certain situations and to be grounded on what can be really improved by being honest with my findings. Sometimes being honest is hard but science is honest.
Sara has a Ph.D in Human computer interaction and currently works as a researcher for the UK’s largest commercial publishing company.
Misato Ehara is founder of The UX Review, former design Strategist at Gensler. She is currently completing a Masters in Curating Contemporary Design and is a UX Researcher at Honest Research.