How quick wins can betray you

6 essential and fundamental skills in UX research that you shouldn’t overlook (or delegate to ChatGPT)

A person trapped trying to get a piece of cheese
There’s a trap behind hasty victories. ©Soyeon Lee

I have been running a book club for many years. It started as a small gathering where we would share our learnings and thoughts from the designated book of the month. However, we encountered various types of unwelcome participants. Some people hated reading and joined only for socializing. Others merely skimmed through Wikipedia and pretended to have read the book. There was even someone who attempted to sell insurance during our meetings.

Among them, one participant stood out vividly in my memory. He claimed to have “read the book,” but the more we talked, the stronger I felt that he had no idea what he was talking about. Then he explained that he had obtained an 8-page summary of the book and hadn’t actually read the entire book.

I was shocked.

For me, reading meant going through a book from cover to cover — an act of concentration, immersing myself in the words, and engaging in the process of contemplation. I was facing a new generation that defined reading as “quickly skimming through summaries”, and at that time, I couldn’t clearly articulate why it bothered me so much. I even questioned whether I had become a stubborn old person who couldn’t accept different points of view.

Recently, I have noticed that many people are even listening to audiobooks at double speed while running on a treadmill. For them, the purpose of reading is solely to acquire the information written in a book. They believe that relying on an 8-page summary or listening at double speed are methods to pursue “efficiency.” They view reading as a time-consuming activity and have found ways to shorten it. How efficient, right? Spending hours reading a single book is considered a waste of time by them.

Luckily, there was another person who pondered this matter and provided me with great insight. Her name was In-ah Choi, the former vice president of Cheil Worldwide, one of the largest advertising agencies in Korea. In her recent book, titled “내가 가진 것을 세상이 원하게 하라” (translates to “Make the world desire what you possess”), she compares two types of people: those who always rely on summaries and those who can genuinely read.

Korean book cover of the book “Make the world desire what you possess”
“Make the world desire what you possess” by In-ah Choi ©

If there are two types of people, where one group sincerely does what they should be doing, while the other group spends their time seeking summaries and making it look good as if they have done the work, what would these individuals look like after 10 years?

Some more wise words from her:

If you do not put genuine effort into your work, you will receive an invoice later. While your work history may become longer, if you solely focus on climbing the ranks without developing your skills, you may end up becoming a mere “commodity.”

If you don’t invest time and effort to accumulate experiences and learn from them, nothing truly becomes your own. (…) This is the trap of shortcuts.

If we compare based on a single instance, reading a summary might be the smarter decision because it is more cost-effective compared to reading an entire book. However, what will happen after 10 or 20 years? The gap between someone who consistently invests in focused and concentrated periods of time, and someone who seeks instant wins and adapts on the spot, can become overwhelmingly vast.

I see many people feeling the pressure to achieve something by the age of 30, which leads them to choose the path of minimum effort for maximum effect. However, life doesn’t end when you turn 30. Life keeps going on. We are living in an era where life expectancy reaches 100 years.

It’s important for all of us to use our lifetime fully with a long-term vision. Set ambitious goals and steadily build upon the small tasks that can be accomplished every day. Keep doing that for 10, 20, or even 30 years. Understand how the compound effect works. This is the only way ordinary people can achieve great success. (If you’re a natural-born genius or if extreme luck always seems to be on your side, you can skip this article.)

A graph that shows how compound effect works
Slow and steady will bring you a great amount of interest. ©Soyeon Lee

Alright, let’s talk about UX research now. Lately, I’ve come across many articles that suggest how ChatGPT can replace your UX research work. The more we rely on AI tools, the more important it becomes to discern what should be entrusted to AI and what needs to be handled by ourselves to achieve solid and sustained outcomes. Relentlessly seeking efficiency by prioritizing speed and convenience can often lead to significant drawbacks.

Here are 6 essential skills that you cannot afford to neglect in order to establish a compelling long-term career as a UX researcher (or in any job that requires critical thinking).

1. Learning

The true waste lies in outsourcing your valuable learning opportunities to AIs when you can utilize them to develop fundamental skills. Can a baseball player expect good results by having a machine replace their catching practice? Would a basketball player solely automate their dribbling practice and focus only on slam dunks because they look cool? Absolutely not.

A scene from Slam Dunk, Japanese cartoon, where the main character is practicing simple dribbles
You cannot let ChatGPT replace dribble practice. ©Masahiko Inoue

In the ever-evolving field of UX research, new ideas and methods emerge every day. Clients and stakeholders often urge us to explore new approaches. However, I’ve observed that many UX designers attempt to keep up by reading a single article or relying solely on a Wikipedia definition, and then claim to have mastered the concept. While using a search engine and quickly skimming through the first result may offer a short-term solution, there are significant differences between those who stop at that point and those who choose to delve deeper.

When it comes to learning, don’t pursue cost-effectiveness. Anyone can search on Google and read the first article that pops up. What sets you apart and makes you competitive is what you do next. Seek out more articles, delve into books, follow writers, watch YouTube videos, engage in discussions with colleagues, and initiate learning and sharing sessions. Be more curious. Be hungry for more.

Learning comes with compound interest. It can be challenging to acquire new knowledge, but once you have a strong foundation and learn something additional, you can combine your existing knowledge with the newly acquired insights to deduce ten more new things. Remember that this benefit is reserved for those who have already invested a significant amount of time in accumulating a wealth of knowledge.

2. Listening

Don’t underestimate the value of listening. Listening serves as the cornerstone of any research activity, and it holds particular importance during interview sessions. It is crucial to give your full attention to the interviewee, actively listen, and delve deeper with relevant follow-up questions.

After an hour-long interview session, you can gather a substantial amount of information. While some people may suggest recording the interview and feeding it to ChatGPT for generating a summary, it’s crucial to understand that this task is far too important to be outsourced to AI.

Why? Firstly, the process of active listening itself is a valuable training exercise. In old kung fu movies, it’s common to see masters instructing their new disciples to spend years sweeping the floor before teaching them any martial arts techniques. They aren’t tormenting the disciples without reason; there is a purpose behind it.

For those aspiring to pursue a career as a UX researcher, listening is your floor-sweeping activity. I understand the eagerness to dive into exciting tasks such as crafting a beautiful customer journey, but first and foremost, you must begin by genuinely focusing on and actively listening to others’ words.

Secondly, it establishes the foundation for subsequent analysis and ideation. Being present and fully engaged allows you to absorb valuable information. I’ve witnessed many teammates who failed to fully engage during interview sessions because they were preoccupied, had other tasks to attend to, or were constantly distracted by their phones. Consequently, they suffered from an inability to create compelling insights.

The same applies to transcribing. It’s an excellent exercise to capture every word spoken by the interviewee and record them exactly as they were spoken, without making any tweaks or additions. Listening and transcribing are essential steps that lead to more “fun stuff”, such as identifying patterns and generating insights.

3. Writing

If you’re a writer, you will write a lot of unoriginal work before you write something original. And the time and effort expended on that unoriginal work isn’t wasted; on the contrary, I would suggest that it is precisely what enables you to eventually create something original. The hours spent choosing the right word and rearranging sentences to better follow one another are what teach you how meaning is conveyed by prose.

ChatGPT is a blurry JPEG of the web, Ted Chiang

As Ted Chiang pointed out, the time spent arranging words, refining sentence structure is by no means a waste. Such time accumulates, allowing you to establish your unique writing style. Your individuality and uniqueness, which cannot be replicated by AI, becomes a valuable asset to your career.

UX researchers need to write all the time, including interview summaries, analysis reports, project briefs, and more. With the advancement of generative AI technologies, many people have begun to rely on chatbots for their writing needs without much consideration.

However, it is quite obvious when you use a chatbot for writing. There are tools available that can detect whether your text was written by AI or not. If you work at an agency or consultancy where you offer design services to clients, imagine the consequences if your clients discovered that your work was entirely composed by a chatbot. Would they trust you and be willing to pay for future projects?

Writing skills are too important to delegate to AI. Take the time to develop your own perspective through writing. The time you spend contemplating and refining your work will never betray you.

An illustration of a hand using pencil to write on a notebook
Image by on Freepik

4. Creating a summary

By creating a summary, you need to prioritize and structure a substantial amount of input information. It requires your unique thought process and point of view. While chatbots can generate summaries nowadays, they lack a distinct perspective, often resulting in summaries that are average and lack depth.

It is a skill that improves with practice. For example, writing a brief summary on your blog every time you finish reading a book is an excellent exercise. It will benefit you in the workplace, where you often handle a large volume of materials, accurately grasp their content, and provide concise briefings to stakeholders. This skill is crucial in various phases of the design process when you need to summarize interviews, market reports, survey results, analysis reports, and much more.

5. Analyzing

Through my experience in the field, I have come to realize that there is one main reason why analysis results often turn out poor and shallow. It is simply because tasks that should have been done at the right time were rushed, skipped, or neglected. Situations such as being too busy to participate in user interviews, not allocating enough time to classify data, or prematurely starting discussions on solutions (also known as solutioneering) are examples of this.

Now, let’s consider another cautionary tale: “Delegate all the analysis work to AI.” Once again, it’s crucial to note that AIs are not yet intelligent enough to provide those “aha!” insights. At best, their capabilities are plain and average. Moreover, do you really want to entrust such a critical task to AI?

Take charge yourself. The process simply requires attentive listening, diligent note-taking, and a systematic approach to categorizing information and identifying patterns. Follow the step-by-step process and strive to gain a thorough understanding of how the analysis process works.

6. Solving problems

If you have conducted the analysis properly, problem-solving becomes much easier. At this point, all you need to do is take enough time and rest to generate ideas. It’s also a great idea to gather your team and host a workshop to stimulate their creative thinking.

Some people might consider asking ChatGPT, seeking a cost-effective way to generate solutions, by using prompts like “How to do XX.” While ChatGPT can rearrange content scraped from the web, it cannot create something entirely new from scratch. You will likely end up with obvious answers that make people respond “Who doesn’t already know that? (shrug)”

You may have observed in your workplace that certain people have earned a reputation as effective problem-solvers. Many people seek their advice when facing challenges. On the flip side, there are those who can only talk and struggle to offer practical ideas. What sets them apart?

In my opinion, it must be their approach to problems. The former group approaches problem-solving with sincerity, facing the challenges head-on, while the latter tends to seek quick fixes every time. This difference accumulates over time and can have a significant impact over the course of 10 years.

In-ah Choi’s statement, “Attitude is the key to competitiveness,” during a well-known quiz show in Korea, sparked a buzz.

A scene from Korean quiz show with a caption “Attitude is the key to competitiveness”
In-ah Choi says “Attitude is the key to competitiveness” ©tvN

It is not a traditional lecture on politeness and courtesy. Our attitude plays a crucial role in shaping our actions. It’s not an exaggeration to say that seemingly small actions, such as being sincere, actively listening to others, contemplating deeply, and investing time in learning, accumulate and shape our future. In essence, I would say attitude is everything.

The mindset of seeking cost-effectiveness, trying to invest 5 minutes to gain 10, can never surpass the strategy of consistently accumulating 1 unit per day for 10 years. And that mindset reflects your attitude, how you approach every moment in your life.

I sincerely hope that this article brings positive changes to the way you work and live. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

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How quick wins can betray you was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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