Memoirs of a Junior UX Researcher at Mantaray Africa – by Nothemba Hlope

Welcome to a series where I give tips on user experience research to newbies just like me. If you haven’t heard much about user experience research and you’re thinking of entering the field, this is the place where I will tell you what you can expect when you finally bag that role. I will say that I think the work in UX varies depending on the company you are working for. Mantaray Africa is quite a small team where we all help each other where we can, and for me, this means that I get to experience the various steps in UX research and can learn many different skills at a quick pace. What I love the most about working at Mantaray Africa is seeing how our work has a direct impact on how people across the world use and experience apps that we have assisted with. It makes me feel like we are making a difference in people’s lives, even if it may be a small difference.

A look into my first diary study (The truth, diary studies will challenge your commitment and ability to consume and collate very rich and fascinating data.)

What is a diary study?

This is how I understand it: it is one of the longer forms of qualitative research that you get. It spans over a period of time with the same participants recording entries daily to document a trend or change in their behaviour regarding a specific subject matter that is being studied.
The diary study that I did consisted of 18 participants and spanned just under 2 weeks. [You can imagine how much data that yielded!]

Diary studies are especially great if you want to gather information about your users in their natural environments, specifically based on the fact that the diary study we conducted was online and participants would either message or voice note their entries on WhatsApp. This method was really cool for me because I felt that it created immense accessibility to the research because of the low cost of making use of WhatsApp and how most people in South Africa communicate through WhatsApp.

There are 2 main types of diary studies, namely:
● Elicitation studies:
With this type of diary study, participants are asked to capture media (usually a photo) as the phenomenon is occurring. This media will then be used at a later stage to bring about memories and discussion in interviews.
● Feedback studies:
With this type of diary study participants are asked to answer questions based on a phenomenon that occurs while they are in their natural setting, the answers thus perform as a diary entry. This is the type of diary study that we used to gather data.

I had no idea what I was going up against, even though my colleagues warned me that diary data can get the better of you, if you do not stay on top of it. At Mantaray Africa, we all work hard when we are assigned projects, so I didn’t think it would be any different to all the other projects I have previously worked on. Little did I know that diary studies result in an enormous amount of data that needs to be consolidated and written into a report daily. Another thing I enjoy about working at Mantaray Africa is definitely the fact that I am challenged, but this diary study even challenged my expectations. Some (a lot of) tears were shed, both from exhaustion and exasperation from the richness of the data collected. Diary studies are the perfect way to see trends in what is working and what is not working, from the actual user’s daily behaviours. During the diary study I heard from my colleagues that a previous diary study they had done months ago produced so much quality data that the results of the study are still being used months after it was completed and are still adding value to the product team.
I enjoy being part of a study which yields data that will be used for months to come and continuously be used to make features in apps and apps in general better for those who were not previously considered. In this line of work I feel like I am ensuring the voices of those who were never heard, listened to and/or considered, are now being acknowledged and represented.

Tips for anyone who is about to start a diary study and doesn’t know what to expect:

● Know and accept that you have no life outside of the diary study for the duration of the diary study. The only way to stay on track of the work is for you to eat, sleep and breathe your diary study.
● You will not have much of a social life for as long as the diary study goes on, maybe you can have work dates with your friends so that you don’t isolate yourself.
● Ask for help when you need it. A big belief at Mantaray Africa is that you should never be shy to ask for help if you need it. This is something I am trying to get better at because it is difficult to be vulnerable and show your colleagues and superiors that there are skills which you have not quite honed yet, but knowing to ask for help is a great skill that I am so grateful to have learnt.

Exhibit 1- I was not kidding when I said that it is daily work

A little bit about Nothemba, an ambitious anthropologist who found her niche in UX research:

If someone had told me 5 years ago that I would be working in tech, I would have laughed at them. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that an anthropologist such as myself could end up working as a UX researcher, and that it’ll be such a great fit for me. I feel like this role at Mantaray Africa was perfectly carved for me as I get to learn and research various cultures across the globe.

I studied Psychology and Anthropology at UCT. I always thought that I would become a psychologist, because I do have a passion for researching mental health matters, but I then found that I needed to have 2 majors in order to graduate. I then literally stumbled upon anthropology. Having hated it for the 2 out of 3 years that I studied it, I finally fell deeply in love with it at the end of the second semester and decided to do my honours in it. I never thought I could love a discipline more, until I found user experience research, which is something I also found by chance. I have been working as a researcher for just over 9 months now, started as an intern at Mantaray Africa and now working as a junior UX researcher. What I love most about my job and user experience research is that I feel like the two worlds of technology and culture have combined and have brought the need to consider variety and culture into a world where the conveniences of western society were the only things considered.

Graduating during my honours year, not really knowing what I would do after and certainly
not knowing what an exciting role I would end up in.