May 23, 2021

Christina Li is Forging the Current-to-Future Advancement of Mentorship and Leadership in UX Design and Research

What are you working on—on the side?

I have two side projects. They are and Leading Research.

I co-founded with my friend, Chris Mears, over 8 years ago in 2013. It’s a User Experience (UX) mentoring program. Our aim is to help designers and researchers to transition into the UX industry and support them in their first UX jobs.

It has evolved over the years and we now offer 1:1 mentoring services (with a monthly subscription).

Over our 8 years of experience, the biggest gap we see is the transition period to your first UX jobs. You might have taken a UX course, but the support and resources drop off when you finish. This is where comes in. We developed a tailored mentoring canvas. This is unique to each of our mentee so we can  chart progresses together.

My second side project is Leading Research which I started with Swetha Sethu-Jones. We started this initiative out of necessity.

In 2019, there was a get-together for the ResearchOps community in London. In the get-together, half of us were towards the top end of the career ladder in user research. And we were asking ourselves questions, like: How do we progress further? Some of us are practitioners who don’t want to be a leader, but then your practitioner role runs out at senior level. As a leader, we also asked: Why is research always under design discipline, could it be a separate branch? Can user research discipline get a seat at the table as Chief Design Officer? Or Chief Research Officer?

For this community is about providing support and networking for leaders. It’s a chance for us to forge a path for the user research discipline. What does the future of user research look like? There are still a lot of unknowns; research as a specialism is grey but we haven’t had time to define it. So, this is an exciting opportunity to answer some of those sticky questions!

Our first meetup was in January 2020, in a small group discussion format to discuss impact. We deliberately wanted an intimate setting. We wanted everyone to be comfortable in sharing their successes and lessons. Our plan for 2021 is to continue to run small events online and curate relevant content for the community.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

Be super-organised, use suitable tools and delegate where needed.

My approach to time management has changed over the years. The main lesson is that if my time is a pie, how big would the ‘side projects’ wedge be? I am a lot more focused and stopped procrastinating once I know how much time I can commit to it.

We have a model that works well for us now for, it is a lot easier to manage my time on that. I know what I need to commit to to provide a good mentoring experience for my mentees. With Leading Research, it’s still a young community we do have to put a lot more time into it. There are some intense periods of engagement as we plan for events or curate content for the blog, followed by quiet periods. So I guess it all balances out at the end!

Trello is a great planning tool. For example, in each of my side projects we use four columns: backlog (ideas we have and want to do), to do (the next things we have to do), doing and done.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Learning when you need help and ask for it is a healthy thing.

Why have a side project?

To me, it’s about giving back to the communities I am part of. With mentoring, it is like holding up a mirror to yourself and asking how you are performing. But it also makes you think on your feet and I quite like that.

As you accumulate knowledge and experience, you may think that some things are so obvious. But, they aren’t simple to others and that becomes useful to someone else. It's also a nice challenge to think about how you communicate complex ideas in a simple way. We want people to digest the information easily!

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Diptych courtesy of Christina Li.

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