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Sahar Naderi about Service Design & Simplifying Complexity

Sahar Naderi about Service Design & Simplifying Complexity
Daria Krasovskaya
•  07.05.2024
"The service design part of my brain also loves the opportunity to introduce structure and process to ambiguity." - Sahar

Meet Sahar Naderilead UX researcher, strategist, service designer and a new guest of our Women in UX series! 😍

Get ready to dive into her unique insights and experiences at the crossroads of UX research, strategy, and service design.

Below you’ll find Sahar’s thoughts about:

📚 the art of storytelling within research

🗺️ tips for navigating complex problem spaces and simplifying complexity

🔍 intersection of service design and UX research

💼 advice for kickstarting your UX career

👩‍🏫 insights from her mentoring experience

Let’s dive right in!

Hi Sahar, tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m Sahar, a UX researcher, strategist, and service designer in the Washington, DC area in the US. Currently, I’m a Lead Researcher at Athlon Studio, a global UX agency. My journey into the world of UX began with a Master’s in UX from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, blending my foundational background in Studio Art and Design from the University of Maryland with my process-oriented experience in service design. 

As a researcher, I find immense power in the art of storytelling within research – it’s not just about the insights but how you can meaningfully communicate those insights to inform product and business strategy. Throughout my UX career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in some interesting problem spaces including cybersecurity and aerospace, bringing clarity to our teams. However, my commitment extends beyond the confines of projects.

I enjoy sharing knowledge with teammates, cross-functional partners, and mentees through UX mentorship and education initiatives. Mentorship was such a cornerstone of my own journey into UX and I am committed to “paying it forward” by providing mentorship to junior and mid-level researchers.

Recently, my former manager and I launched Confetti Q&A, a platform addressing crucial topics in the UX field and tech industry. I’m also a mentor through ADPList, Ideate Labs, word of mouth, and my alma mater, MICA.

service design sahar naderi

You mention the ‘the art of storytelling within research’. Can you elaborate or give some personal tips on how you use its power to effectively communicate insights?

In my journey as a UX researcher, I vividly remember the moment when I first realized that being a UX researcher extends beyond conducting research to mastering the art of storytelling and strategic relationship-building. This was a definite lightbulb “A-ha” moment.

While conducting thorough research lays the foundation, effectively communicating research insights is equally essential.

I often find that half the battle lies in conveying the impact of insights to key stakeholders, guaranteeing that the research is used in future decision-making.

This requires a deep understanding of stakeholders' diverse needs and goals, coupled with the ability to articulate how the research directly impacts them.

Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer
Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer

Translating insights into influential narratives is not one-size-fits-all and varies based on the UX maturity level at a company. This highlights the importance of building robust relationships across teams and departments, especially when working with cross-functional partners who have never worked with a UX researcher before.

By cultivating these connections, researchers can gain valuable insights into stakeholders’ goals and how they align with broader business objectives, maximizing the impact of a company’s user research efforts.

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With your experience working in various problem spaces like cybersecurity and aerospace, how do you navigate the challenges of bringing clarity to cross-functional teams in such complex industries?

My experience across diverse problem spaces like cybersecurity and aerospace has taught me the value (and necessity) of bringing clarity to complex problem spaces while also being flexible and able to go with the flow as needed.

Despite not being a subject matter expert (SME) in aerospace or cybersecurity, I approached my work in these industries with a fresh perspective, leveraging my background in research and service design to learn from the SMEs around me.

As a researcher, I love to dive into new problem spaces with a discovery mindset.

During my time in cybersecurity, my manager actually saw my lack of industry experience as an asset, as it meant fewer preconceived biases.

Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer
Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer

I entered the industry with a baseline understanding of cybersecurity, from previous work in federal contracting, but was excited to dive deeper into the intricacies of cybersecurity through stakeholder, SME, and user interviews.

The service design part of my brain also loves the opportunity to introduce structure and process to ambiguity. One of my favorite ways to navigate a complex problem space is to kickstart projects with a problem-scoping exercise involving key cross-functional collaborators.

This collaborative brainstorming session serves as a platform for knowledge-sharing, enabling us to unearth assumptions, address biases, and align on our objectives from the outset. Not only does this encourage a sense of teamwork, but it also lays the groundwork for a productive and collaborative working relationship moving forward.

Service Design & UX Research

sahar naderi service design

Sahar working remotely.

How have service design principles influenced your approach to UX research? What would you say are the main crossovers between those two?

Service design and UX research are often thought of as interconnected or parallel disciplines. Many methodologies that we use in UX research are also imperative to successful service design such as conducting user and stakeholder interviews, performing cognitive walkthroughs, or mapping ecosystems and stakeholders.

Additionally, service design, similar to UX, requires the creation of prototypes. However, in service design, prototypes may exist in the form of storyboards, videos, or desktop walkthroughs. These prototypes serve the purpose of presenting intangible services in a tangible format, facilitating testing and iteration.

Ultimately, both service design and UX research prioritize understanding user needs. In service design, however, the primary focus is often on improving internal/employee experience with the understanding that enhancing internal processes and resources can indirectly lead to improved customer experience externally. This approach reflects the holistic nature of service design.


As someone committed to mentorship, what strategies or methods do you find most effective when mentoring junior and mid-level researchers?

Mentorship, to me, mirrors my approach to relationship-building with cross-functional partners.

Establishing rapport with mentees lays the groundwork for creating a safe space where they can openly discuss their challenges and aspirations.

Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer
Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer

This approach allows me to tailor our mentorship sessions to address their specific needs effectively while also better understanding their pain points and needs.

When mentoring junior researchers, my focus often revolves around practical guidance, such as assisting with job-hunting, refining resume writing skills, and crafting compelling portfolio case studies. Additionally, I offer insights into understanding the field and cultivating the traits of a collaborative cross-functional partner.

Conversely, with mid-level or senior researchers, our discussions tend to delve deeper into refining skills essential for advancing their careers. This includes honing their abilities as storytellers, conducting impact-driven research, nurturing relationships with stakeholders, and navigating the complexities of research buy-in.

Drawing from my past experiences in low UX maturity organizations, I provide practical advice grounded in real-world scenarios, ensuring that mentees receive relevant and actionable guidance tailored to their career stages and aspirations.

By approaching mentorship with a personalized touch and leveraging my experiences, I strive to empower junior and mid-level researchers on their journey toward professional growth and success.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in UX research, especially those coming from a non-traditional background?

In mentoring individuals transitioning into UX from diverse backgrounds such as physical therapy, customer service, fitness, and education, I often encourage them to reflect on their past work experiences. This process helps them recognize the skills they’ve honed that can be applied to a career in UX research.

For example, a customer service representative’s extensive experience in directly engaging with customers to understand their pain points equips them with valuable skills relevant to UX research, even if they haven’t conducted formal user interviews.

Encouraging mentees to reflect on their past experiences serves multiple purposes. Not only does it help them identify transferable skills, but it also fosters confidence as they embark on their UX research journey. This highlights the wealth of knowledge they bring from their previous roles, emphasizing the value of their diverse backgrounds in shaping their approach to UX research.

Career and Confetti Q&A platform

sahar naderi, service design

Could you tell us more about the Confetti Q&A platform you co-launched? What was the inspiration behind this initiative? What are its goals, and what kinds of topics do you address?

Confetti Q&A emerged during a challenging period when my former manager, Tarryn Lambert, and I faced a layoff together. Despite the uncertainty, our determination to continue working together fueled the creation of Confetti Q&A.

Our inspiration was to establish a space for meaningful conversations, guided by empathy and a heart-centered approach. We want to address crucial themes such as layoffs, navigating the tech industry as a woman, growing as a UX researcher, leadership in UX, and more. We hope to facilitate insightful discussions and foster a supportive community where professionals can learn, share experiences, and navigate the ever-evolving tech landscape together. 

Our inaugural event centered around empowerment after layoffs.

We brought together a panel of four individuals who had experienced recent layoffs to delve into their personal journeys, share insights, and answer audience questions.

Rather than focusing on job-hunting strategies, the panel explored the emotional aspects of undergoing a layoff and strategies for self-care and mutual support in its aftermath.

Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer
Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer

What has been the most personally fulfilling aspect of your career in UX research, and what keeps you motivated and passionate in this field?

There are several aspects of my career in UX research that continually excite and fulfill me. Firstly, I deeply enjoy providing mentorship to others in the field. Witnessing mentees grow and succeed in their own journeys is incredibly rewarding and fuels my passion for our work. Plus, teaching others helps reinforce those topics within myself, contributing to my own professional growth!

Additionally, I thrive on untangling difficult problems. The challenge of delving into complex issues, understanding user needs, and sharing impactful insights is both intellectually stimulating and personally gratifying. While problem-solving may seem like a cliche answer in the UX world, it remains a fundamental aspect of my job that I highly enjoy.

Building relationships is also fundamental to my career. As an extrovert, I look forward to collaborating with diverse teams, stakeholders, and users. This collaboration not only improves my understanding of different perspectives but also fosters a sense of connection and camaraderie in our shared pursuit of creating impactful experiences.

Lastly, knowledge-sharing is something I’m deeply passionate about. Whether it’s through facilitating workshops, speaking at conferences, leading webinars, or writing on LinkedIn, the opportunity to disseminate insights and best practices within the UX community is incredibly fulfilling. The more speaking engagements I have the opportunity to participate in, the more my own research reports have improved as a result.

Despite the challenges we may face in the UX field, these aspects of my work are what keep me motivated and passionate. They drive me to continuously learn and grow as a UX practitioner.

Women in UX

service design sahar naderi

What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the UX/tech industry?

Honestly, being a woman in tech can be extremely difficult but one of the most rewarding aspects is the support network of other women I’ve met in the industry. I’ve found that women in UX and tech can be incredibly uplifting and supportive of one another.

The opportunity to connect with other women who share similar experiences, challenges, and aspirations has been invaluable.

Whether it's through the workplace, mentorship programs, networking events, or online communities, I've witnessed firsthand the strength and resilience that comes from women supporting each other in a male-dominated industry.

Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer
Sahar Naderi, Lead UX Researcher, Strategist and Service Designer

What is your message to other people in the UX industry?

The UX field is going through a rough patch so I encourage UX practitioners to be kind both to one another and themselves. As a community, we thrive on collaboration and mutual support. It’s also essential to recognize the importance of self-care and well-being as we navigate through this challenging period.


If you’re interested to read more of inspiring interviews with women from the UX industry, check out our other Women in UX talks!

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