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UXR is Having an Identity Crisis. Let's Flip the Script Together.

Julie Norvaisas asked survey respondents to describe artwork depicting the current state of UXR. The picture they painted was telling.

Words by Julie Norvaisas, Visuals by Allison Corr

This year, I had the opportunity to lead a session at the Advancing Research 2024 Conference in New York. I chose to talk about the idea that as our field is in a period of big outward change, we also need inward change.

The beliefs, norms, rituals, and narratives we’ve constructed have served us quite well over the years—but they are fraying. We see this reflected in the themes of every industry event and conference being staged lately, including Advancing Research, which attracted attendees with the prompts:

“Are you frustrated with the state of UX research? Does it feel like things have stagnated?”

UX research is in the midst of an identity crisis. We have internalized a lot of limiting beliefs as individuals, and have left a lot of orthodoxies unchallenged. These issues hold us back.

Based on my findings from a “UXR Landscape” study (more below), I presented the limiting beliefs and orthodoxies that are currently shaping UX research—and what steps we can take to break the mold.

Let’s dive in!

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Key highlights from the UXR Landscape study

Last year I fielded a “UXR Landscape” study using dscout Express to explore where we are and how we got here. I presented some of this at our Co-Lab conference last year.

I asked many questions in the survey, but for now we’re going to focus only on a projective one:

“Imagine you walk into a museum and you see a painting depicting the state of UXR today—describe it.”

I did an analysis of all 90 responses to this question. It’s one thing to read a lot of articles and screeds about how things are, but a different thing altogether to delve into how people feel things are.

The responses illustrated so clearly to me that our limiting beliefs are not just limiting, but harmful. Opening up space to think about things radically differently turned from a thought exercise into what started to feel to me like a rescue mission.

* An important asterisk before continuing

The realities, structural issues, and conditions (sometimes abuses) underlying these themes are very real. I don’t want anyone interpreting this as me saying, “It’s all in your head.”

There are very good reasons why people feel the ways they do, and are painting the pictures they are. We must continue to hold each other and our stakeholders, leaders, and organizations accountable for creating unhealthy, unsustainable, harmful, or chaotic conditions in the workplace. We cannot ignore root causes and underlying conditions.

In this article, though, we will be looking more inwardly at how we have perhaps internalized some things, and how that manifests in beliefs and behaviors that are now contributing to holding us back.

As Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Technically Wrong and CEO of Active Voices said in an exchange with me on this topic, “We can’t heal or change the system until we can see what we’ve internalized and learn to shift those scripts.”

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An overview of limiting beliefs and orthodoxies

First, some definitions. If limiting beliefs are yours internally, orthodoxies are ours collectively. There may be good reasons we hold them, but sometimes they no longer serve us. Sometimes they do. There’s a relationship between the individual and the collective that must be considered here, and is often ignored.

  • Who has limiting beliefs? Everyone. At every level, in every discipline. Getting good at spotting them and questioning them is an important life skill.

  • Who holds orthodoxies? Every field, institution, family, company. Every group or community. These can be helpful and principled, or stifling and damaging.

How can you tell if a belief is a limiting belief?

Common behaviors that stem from limiting beliefs include:

  • Opting out

  • Avoidance

  • Getting small

  • Dismissing feedback

  • Comparing

To make meaningful progress, you have to be fully willing to be three things:

  1. Wrong. If you think you’re right all the time, you’re stuck in a superiority complex.

  2. Open. Alternatives and opportunities abound, as do perspectives to learn from.

  3. Calm. Being wrong and open requires emotional management (particularly the being wrong part, which causes all kinds of physiological triggers).

These are things that we expect from our stakeholders when we share insights with them, right?

Now, let’s go back to that root question of what a painting depicting the state of UXR today would look like. Imagine that you’re strolling through a UXR museum. We’ll take a look at how these limiting beliefs and orthodoxies present themselves.

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5 limiting beliefs and orthodoxies from The UXR Museum

1. UX versus them

The UX versus them mentality and our insecurity in these dynamics was evident throughout the survey results, though this was one of the more vivid descriptions of it. It speaks to a workplace where people feel embattled and battle-weary.

Again, there are many valid reasons we might feel this way. It’s also my experience that executives and leaders tend to use this kind of language, which then infiltrates our thinking and makes the workplace feel like a competition at best, a war at worst. Nod if you can hear me: battles are gravely injurious or fatal, and wars have no winners.

Limiting beliefs

  • I am under threat, operating from a place of fear and scarcity (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode)

  • I have territory that needs defending or conquering

  • There are “sides” in a “war” and I need to pick one

Corresponding behaviors

  • Putting on “armor”

  • Thinking of insights as “ammunition”

  • Seeing colleagues as enemies (and everything that comes with that, including depersonalizing or disparaging references)

  • People pleasing to avoid injury

  • Knee-jerk defensive thinking

  • Hot-headedness

  • Back channel gossip

  • Plotting vs cooperating

We won’t always agree or see things the same way. But if we can break free of these patterns, we can behave cooperatively and intelligently without resorting to mutually assured destruction.

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2. UX versus mother nature

This was a very strong theme in the responses. Other landscape references included rough seas, earthquakes, rocky soils, fires, cliffs and canyons, unattainable mountain peaks, volcanos. The smallness of humankind against the forces of nature is a well known theme in art.

Limiting beliefs

  • I am at the mercy of forces beyond our control

  • I am just trying to survive here

  • Only the sheer courage, bravery, and grit of an extreme athlete can face these odds

Corresponding behaviors

  • Hiding

  • Riding things out

  • Withdrawal

  • Procrastination

  • Giving in to a doomsday mentality

  • Resorting to unsustainable heroics or superheroics

There are more things in our control than we probably think, but this sensation of being overcome can overwhelm us into questioning whether we have any control at all.

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3. Distortion of reality

I am a really big fan of Surrealist and Psychedelic art, and questioning reality in general. But when workplace realities feel slippery, dreamlike, absurd, or distorted, it’s unsettling. Distortion references and metaphors came up mostly in relation to AI, which is shape shifting our world.

Limiting beliefs

  • One more thing is coming for me

  • I have lost a grasp of my reality

  • I am not capable of understanding something this technical

Corresponding behaviors

  • Avoidance

  • Cognitive paralysis

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Disassociation

  • Magical thinking

  • Fearfulness

  • Extreme caution

Surrealism invites the magic of the mundane and summons the unconscious, but also opens us to our shadow-selves and dark corners. Incredible in art, terrible in the workplace.

When you see these behaviors in yourself, take time to learn more about what confuses and scares you and what is altering your reality.

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4. Expressive outburst

There’s calm abstraction and then violent or explosive abstraction—references in the responses to our question fell squarely in the latter.

The abstraction movement was a response to the futility of trying to capture reality at all, an interest in expressing inner realities and emotional landscapes, breaking free of conventions, becoming embodied and gestural, and breaking things down into basic elements that create and make up reality.

This is powerful intellectually, but can keep viewers at a remove.

Limiting beliefs

  • Angst is my only logical response.

  • I am overwhelmed by pressure.

  • I am more focused on my emotions about my work than on my work.

Corresponding behaviors

  • Over-intellectualizing

  • Withdrawing

  • Struggling to manage emotions

  • Knee-jerk reactions

  • Being overly verbose

  • Over reliance on process

  • Confrontations

There are many important artists represented in this oeuvre who changed our world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these impulses. As a reflection of our industry’s frustration, though, it reflects a stance of reaction rather than cooperation.

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5. Active futurism

This last one is different. Some of us are living in this painting already, some of us are still trying to manifest. Though some may debate that there are limiting beliefs embedded here too, it’s bursting at the seams with so much we love about our field—curiosity, collaboration, building bridges, action, empathy, diversity.

There is hope for a better future, as we confront our own limiting beliefs and consider what to take with us and what to leave behind as our field moves through this pivotal moment.

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Breaking free from limiting beliefs

Through reflecting on your own emotional landscape on this stroll through the UXR Museum, I hope that you are ready to challenge any of the limiting beliefs that came up for you.

To challenge limiting beliefs, you…

  • Identify them. Write them down, make them explicit.

  • Question their validity. Do you have evidence to support or contradict it?

  • Consider alternatives. Play around with opposites. A handy technique is to ask yourself what you would tell a friend who confessed to holding onto this belief?

  • Reflect on where they came from. Are they based on difficult or traumatic past experiences, your upbringing, societal norms, or cultural influences?

  • Turn that self-talk around. Replace self-critical thoughts with more compassionate and empowering statements. It’s helpful to find a trusted friend who can work with you on this.

  • Do things differently. Engage in activities that contradict your limiting beliefs. Act as if you don’t believe it anymore.

  • Be kind and patient with yourself. It can be uncomfortable to name these things and confront them, but the process can unlock so much potential for you.

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Challenging industry orthodoxies

As mentioned before, if limiting beliefs are internal, orthodoxies are collectively held. Orthodoxies dictate how problems are approached and solved, how decisions are made, and what behaviors are valued or discouraged—and even who is allowed to participate in the community. They can be either limiting or principled and useful.

You’ll notice that within orthodoxies are notions of power, conformity, and blind acceptance. But as I’ve said, they’re not always bad.

How do we know if something is a good orthodoxy? That’s a trickier one. Some orthodoxies provide us with a grounding in shared understanding. They keep us true to our unshakable values and purpose. Some need to be flipped as they are having a dampening effect on progress.

Think about “always/never” statements you make in relation to industry orthodoxies. What beliefs and behaviors—either principled or limiting—are behind them?

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How to flip the script on industry orthodoxies

Let’s go through two steps to identify some of our industry’s orthodoxies and flip them to change your mindset by:

  1. Writing always/never statements

  2. Re-writing them as behave/believe statements

For example, some of your statements may be:

Our UX team will never

  • Be replaced by AI

  • Have the strategic influence we crave

  • Learn about how businesses work

  • Get the credit we deserve

  • Have a healthy relationship with Product or Engineering


Our UX team will always

  • Be under-resourced and strapped

  • Fiercely advocate for inclusion and ethics

  • Be the best source of deep insight

  • Resist democratization at some level

  • Question what we are doing

Flip a couple of your orthodoxies that you think need flipping. It’s okay to also identify some that you think we need to hang on to, if they are core and serve you well.

Reflect on these behaviors and beliefs, and think about how you can approach these challenges with a new lens!

For example, some flipped orthodoxies may look like…


We will always be slow. We believe and behave as if we can’t keep up with the pace. We believe and behave as if being slow is superior to being fast.


We are capable of anticipating needs and outpacing our stakeholders—just try to keep up with us!


We will never report to the CEO. We behave as if CEOs are magical people. We believe that our work is not worthy to people at the highest levels of our organization.


CEOs are people too! We can articulate our insights effectively enough to move the business.

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Wrapping it up

Respondents from this study showed that many people feel the UX industry has lately been characterized by frustration and stagnation. As we do the important work of changing externalities, let’s also do the internal work we need to liberate ourselves.

Those first steps can help everyone collectively create an industry that paints a prettier picture—and that’s the kind of UXR exhibit I’d like to enjoy.

A special thank you to Katie Johnson for introducing me to the concept of orthodoxies, and Stevie Watts and Kris Kopac for collaborating on writing this article with me.

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Julie’s work in Design and UX Research has spanned decades, as a consultant across industries, in-house as the Head of UX Research and Content Design for LinkedIn, and now as VP of User Experience at dscout. She has cultivated a practice that centers dignity and the complexity of the human experience in product development and leadership—and a belief that it’s okay to have a little fun along the way

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