The Role of UXR in the Philippines’ Rising Startup Scene

July 17, 2020

This article was originally published on Medium.

"Tech is really fucking it up", one of Sekai Farai's iconic quotes in the UXRConf Anywhere 2020

Awake-up call in the 21st century–Sekai Farai urges those in tech to scrutinize ourselves, our processes, and our environments.

In the Philippines, our tech ecosystem has been growing, now comprising more than 400 startups, 50 angel investors, 40 venture capitalists, 35 incubators and accelerators. Yet the only Philippine-bred startup that has achieved unicorn status to date is Robbie Antonio’s Revolution Pre-crafted–albeit with its accompanying controversies–which highlights how there is still untapped potential in the country.

Transcending the lack of access to capital and conservative business dynamics, local startups are emerging and establishing themselves as competitive players in various industries, mainly fin-tech, e-commerce, entertainment, and corporate solutions. Cultivators of this scene include gov’t initiatives, incubators such as QBO and Ideaspace, and increasing foreign investors. However, in terms of investments, we are billions of US dollars behind our counterparts in Indonesia and Singapore.

As we continue along this collectively exciting, non-linear path of creating innovative and human-centered technologies, it is imperative to reflect:

Are we truly as empathetic as we say we are?

This is the opportunity that UX researchers fill. They are chief drivers that direct and move companies forward grounded on a holistic, data-backed understanding of users we are designing and engineering technologies for, which is an understanding that people, particularly executives, so often carelessly replace with their own intuitions and assumptions.

Much like situations abroad, UXR has not yet been integrated as a necessary organizational component of businesses in the 21st century, which is quite self-sabotaging as it limits the business in terms of scale and impact.

Currently, most UX researchers are multi-functional designers and having UXR as a sole department within a company is rare. On top of this, our local situation is more complex given that UX itself is still in the process of growing, as a discipline and in perceived business value. As this continues to develop, UX researchers are gradually increasing as well, from specialized interns to actual employees.

At the start, the responsibility may seem daunting and understandably so considering the ambiguity in UXR. Distilled from the conference are three actionable insights that anyone could take as their first steps.

🔑 Reflect on the integrity of ‘empathy’

Reflect on the integrity of 'empathy'

The first step to doing good research is grounding efforts in meaning. One way to do this is by perpetually questioning ourselves:

Are we practicing research ethically?

Alba Villamil suggests that tools and methods have evolved to the extent that ethical violations are not always intentional or obvious. As qualitative research is often gleaned from innumerable interactions with real people, it is quite easy to treat our work too systematically rather than as humane, unintentionally exposing the participant’s vulnerability or experimenting on their existing ones. For this reason, it is crucial to be self-aware and self-conscious whilst doing our work.

Alba advised that throughout the process, understand that every individual is unique, therefore every individual is uniquely vulnerable — whether it’s their socio-economic status, mental illness, sexual orientation, immigration status, or more. Moreover, participants should always have the option to say, “No.” One best practice that she shared is data anonymization to protect sensitive information.

Sekai also takes us further into this concept and tells us that empathy requires “continuous work and awareness on the self, process, and organization… an ability to locate yourself, your biases, and your limitations within multi-modal ecosystems. You must be meditative and mindful, with the capacity to clear your head on demand.” Definitely worthwhile for everyone.

💡 Strategically plan for greater scale and impact

Strategically plan for greater scale and impact

Not many business people or people in general understand the value that research brings to the table. On this account, it is our duty to make it as easy and clear as possible for them to perceive. There is no one-size-fits-all scaling plan for everyone, but there are guidelines we can follow.

Snigdha Diehl shared with us her 30–60–90 day plan for incubating impact: start with a vision. Entering a new problem space, be curious and ask all the questions. Get into conversations. Identify what brings value to the company, and understand how that variates or becomes more specific on different levels. Perform in alignment with that. Understand the dominant language used in a company as Eran Ben-Ari advised, and translate the value of your work into terms that those people will understand. Take the path that hits two birds with one stone, optimizing business value and ease of effort. Involve others in the journey, whether it’s co-researching, co-analyzing, co-ideating, or co-presenting. Be mindful of how UX research fits in the bigger picture, then continually reassess and expand on that. Further realize our vision.

💗 Be responsible for building and cultivating a community

Be responsible for building and cultivating a community

It’s honestly difficult to make it far alone. Monal Chokshi, however, grounded in a long-term vision for her company, managed alone and through increased credibility and impact, eventually earned headcount to build her own team. She illustrated the importance of growing and dynamically structuring a UXR team using work models suitable for different phases of growth.

Work Model #1: Embedded

One of Monal Chokshi’s work models

One of Monal Chokshi’s work models

Advantage

  • UXRs are involved throughout so they have more autonomy and impact

Challenge

  • Takes an entire UXR team
  • Must avoid becoming siloed
  • Must ensure formal holistic research practice

Work Model #2: Centralized

One of Monal Chokshi’s work models

One of Monal Chokshi’s work models

Advantage

  • Ability to always focus on the highest priority projects across teams that you serve

Challenge

  • Often difficult to prioritize requests and needs
  • Might be difficult to build relationships and have sustained influence considering stakeholders change in each project

Work Model #3: Democratized

One of Monal Chokshi’s work models

One of Monal Chokshi’s work models

Advantage

  • Being able to empower others, which also allows researchers to free up time for higher priority and more advanced research work

Challenge

  • Ensure that stakeholders have buy-in and enough time
  • Ensure proper infrastructure and resources to train and advise non-researchers to do their own studies
  • Help provide access to participants and protocols, and hopefully ensure an adequate, quality bar for that work

Monal emphasized that throughout each stage of our growth journeys, it is helpful to modify and even create hybrids of those work models according to our changing resources and standing. Our devotion to expanding UXR is a worthwhile investment, albeit not an easy one.


Thank you, UXR Collective.

Ultimately, UXRConf Anywhere 2020 was surreal and eye-opening. Conversations with leaders in UXR drew us into profound contemplation on challenging and enkindling what we know. More than being an unforgettable and transformative event, it was also a first-rate celebration of its impact and tremendous, often unrecognized efforts devoted to the industry.

My favorite tweets are below:

In the Philippines, there is still so much work that can and should be done in venturing into technology with a users-first approach in mind (as opposed to a solely profit-oriented one), one change that scales small ideas into wide-reaching, global success. Thus, the urgency of our role:

Mel and Jeana's quote, "Researchers must not only present the problems, they must also present the possibility for change"

This, I believe, should be the reframed essence of ‘fucking it up’ in technology.


I would like to thank the UXR Collective team, who ensured every participant had the opportunity to feel inspired, connected, and enlightened together in one space, hailing from different walks of life.

I would also like to express my gratitude to UXPH not only for their generosity in providing us with this opportunity but also for their mentorship throughout this entire experience. It was even lovelier to learn alongside women who inspire me very much, Jeanette and Pauline.


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Sources

Ichimura, A. (2020). An In-Depth Look at the State of Startups in the Philippines. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/money/industry/startups-in-the-philippines-a00304-20200225-lfrm



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