Book Recap: The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley

TL; DR: If you want to do user research but don't know where to start and could use a collection of no-nonsense tools that focus on practicality instead of formal correctness, consider picking up this quick read.


The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley is written for a specific kind of person.

If you're a part of a mature product team or your company has one, this book might not be for you.

But if you need to be able to go from idea to a solid, research-backed product spec without much help and don't have a ton of experience, this is absolutely the book for you. A few scenarios where it will come in handy:

  • You're working on a side project and want to take it to the next level without leaving your day job.
  • Everyone is suddenly asking you to "provide a strong vision" and a "crisp roadmap" without giving you a lot of specific direction. You're not sure where to start.
  • While you historically relied on your intuition to figure out what you (and your team) should work on, for whatever reason, that is no longer working.

If this sounds like you, you could benefit from this book.

If you don't have the bandwidth to read an entire book but would still like to learn a bit about how to do user research in the next five minutes, read my Poor Man's Product Research Tips post instead! ūüėŹ

Format & Contents

The majority of the book is a collection of practical UX research and design tools & practices, organized based on where in the overall process they come in. There are also a bit boilerplate-feeling, "what is user research?" and "how can I grow as a UX person?" chapters that seem safe to skip for most readers.

The parts of the process the tools & practices cover:

  1. Planning & Discovery introduces methods like UX Project Plan or Strategy Workshop to help you set the overall project goals & rough direction.
  2. Research lists methods that take you through conducting user research and information synthesis.
  3. Design goes over essential design tools like Wireframes and Task Flows.
  4. Testing and Validation helps you validate your designs through Black Hat Sessions, UX Health Checks, and more.
  5. Evangelism shares tips on leveraging artifacts you produced throughout the process to spread the UX gospel in your organization.

Altogether, the tools & practices portion of the book is around 140 pages.

The Good Parts

The User Experience Team of One is a great book to give you a quick sense of the glaring gaps in your UX design process. It also helps you patch them by providing practical tool ideas you can quickly put into practice. After finishing the book, you will likely walk away with a few concrete ideas you can try in the following weeks or months.

The book presents all tools with a consistent structure that makes the book a great reference. I especially appreciate the inclusion of:

  • _Average time¬†-_ Being explicit about how long something should take makes it easy to prioritize where to put your effort.
  • Try it out -¬†Step-by-step instructions make a bulk of each tool's description. The steps are always clear and easy to imagine.

If you suffer from imposter syndrome as a product manager, this book should help. You are likely already doing a fair amount of the activities mentioned in the book. Seeing that you are not that far off in your process from someone who has written a book on the topic and most of the gaps in your process are relatively straightforward to patch should make you more confident about the level of your product work.

Lastly, if you like paper books, do yourself a favor and get it in paper format. It's full color, quality paper, and lots of fun to leaf through. Mine arrived only after I wolfed down the ebook, and I wish I had waited for the paper book as the ebook doesn't contain any of the visual flourishes of the paper edition.

The Bad Parts

The book was written in 2013, and part of it feel stale. Picking up the book, I expect that the problem area will lend itself to evergreen content well, but there are two areas where the book shows its age:

  • If you work remotely... - These sections are written in an era where working remotely meant you were working alone, detached from the physical office where the rest of your team is located. Therefore, the tips presented are impractical for fully remote organizations and doubly so for async ones.
  • Mentioned software tools¬†-¬†Figma¬†has taken the world of design by storm, and many of the tools mentioned in the book feel a bit obscure at this point.

The second thing to mention is that at 39USD for an ebook, the book feels relatively expensive given the rather casual nature of its content. At the same time, this is a book for a particular market, which makes the price feel more justified.

Note to Europeans: Avoid ordering from Rosenfeld if you can. They are very slow to ship and send books from the UK, making it likely you will need to pay a not-so-small import tax.

Biggest Takeaway

If you're not talking to your current or prospective users, find someone to talk to and schedule a call this week.

Before you get your bearings, ignore articles about selection bias, unrepresentative sample sizes, etc. Instead, focus on getting the ball rolling. Remember that since your research techniques are not rigorous, you still need to apply your product taste to check them, and you'll be fine. Once you feel comfortable scheduling calls and talking to real people about your product, you can gradually add more rigor to your process.

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