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5 min read

My first year at Paper

Happy Paper-versary to me! I have apparently survived my first year as a full-time user researcher and now it’s time to reflect on what I’ve achieved and how I’ve been settling in to the digital industry.

What I learned about being a user researcher

When I worked with Paper as a freelancer we were working on a Discovery project so I felt like I had all the skills I would probably need to be a proper user researcher. I was very comfortable with running unstructured interviews, facilitating focus groups, analysing research findings and presenting them back to my team. I, of course, knew there would be some learning and adapting the methods I used to use to suit digital services, but overall I felt comfortable with my research ability.

In my previous job, I used to do research on my own, write up a report and then, to be honest, basically skip away from that project feeling proud of my insights. I wrote recommendations, I talked about further research but for the most part I did research in a silo and simply handed it over to the teams that would use my insights. My first moment of realisation that I had maybe underestimated how different being a user researcher was when I found that I had a tendency to draw a blank about what my findings meant for the rest of the team.

Not only did I need to adapt the way I presented my findings and adjust to be a constant representation of our service’s users, I also discovered a whole new type of research… Usability testing. I had to learn how to observe people actually doing things and translate that observation into actionable changes we could make to a service.

Gone were my days of working to understand an individual’s attitudes, perceptions and beliefs, and instead I was focused on how we can design a service that allows someone to do what they need to do.

Written down, the differences between my previous approach and my new ways of working don’t seem that wildly different but OH BOY did they feel it. I’ve mentioned in a previous article that I am a huge perfectionist, so this learning curve felt almost impossible at times. I have had more than a few crises of confidence about whether I am qualified enough to say that a service isn’t working for users. Was I just doing my research wrong? Had I found an edge-case that wasn’t representative of our users? Was I over analysing what a user was saying? Who was I to question what the team had designed? The imposter syndrome I have felt over the past 12 months has felt unbearable and never ending at points, but I have experienced nothing but love, support and coaching from the team at Paper. They critique my work, they encourage me to have faith in my ability and they mentor me to help me translate my experience into running user research projects.

I feel genuinely blessed to work somewhere that is as supportive and encouraging as Paper, and to be surrounded by ludicrously talented people who are so focused on doing the right thing for their users.

Rachael working with the team

What I’ve been working on

I’ve spent the majority of my first year on 1 project; a service which offers financial incentives to teachers of shortage subjects working in disadvantaged areas. During this time I have completed over 100 usability tests, ran 28 research playbacks, and presented my work at 2 DfE service assessments (which we passed).

Being able to look back on a year that I have found extremely difficult and see that I have worked on a service which rewards some very deserving people, and that I have had a direct positive impact on that service is incredible. Imagine! I had days where I was convinced that Paper had made a mistake in hiring me, and now I can see that I contributed to something that will pay out around £5m directly to teachers.

I have also had the opportunity to start my own research and development project, which is exploring how we can ensure that our users truly understand the consent forms that we ask them to sign, and that they are confident about what their rights are. Not only does this mean that I get to spend time on a subject I am really passionate about, but that I also get to learn more about how entire projects are structured, prioritised and run. It’s a fascinating challenge for me to move out of my research bubble and into the world of delivery management and service design. The project is still in its early stages, but I cannot wait to see how it develops.

Rachael working with the team

What else?

I can’t write about my first year at Paper without special mention to some of my favourite non-work things…

  • I’m a commuting pro after spending a year working in Manchester - I’m not as organised as Urska so I haven’t kept track of how many books I’ve read, but I think I’m on around 20.
  • We have a shiny new studio and now we have wayyy too much choice about what to have for lunch. Looking at you depot bakery….
  • Faye and Beth joined! So we now have our #gurlgang. We’re very lucky to work in a typically male dominated industry and be surrounded by women. I am especially lucky that the women I work with are talented, generous and so incredibly supportive.

When I think about how amazing this year has been I have to pinch myself, I genuinely love my job so much. I laugh every damn day and I love my team. We face hard challenges, but we do it together and we make sure that we’re happy and healthy along the way.

So, thank you to Cam, Jon and Mark for giving me the opportunity to work with them. I can’t wait to see what my 2nd year with you brings.