Kate Chadha is a research practice lead at World Wide Technology Asynchrony Labs in St. Louis. In this two-part blog series, Kate shares some of her insights about User Experience. In part one, we’ll find out a bit more about Kate and how and why she became a UX practitioner. In part two, we’ll get some of Kate’s thoughts about what it takes to put forth a successful UX project.
Is there anyone who has shaped your career, either an author or mentor? How did they aid your development?Dr. Robert A. North, owner of Human Centered Strategies. When we both lived in the Twin Cities, in the early 2000s, we worked on a project with medical device makers and the FDA/CDRH. It was amazing to learn from a man who spent 25 years leading Honeywell’s human factors lab. His vast knowledge of human factors and engineering psychology have forever changed the way I talk about design and research. He has always been an inventor and innovator, and he was that crucial role model for the kind of researcher I wanted to be.
What is a book that changed your professional life in general?The book that sparked my passion for human factors and human-computer interaction (predecessors to “user experience”) is “Understanding Computers and Cognition”. As a student of social and cultural theory, any book about technology that is grounded in the philosophy of understanding and Being – with the big B – had my attention.
How do you sell the value or Agile and Lean UX to customers and leadership?In “modern agile,” the four guiding principles are:
- Make people awesome
- Make safety a prerequisite
- Experiment & learn rapidly
- Deliver value continuously
Lean user experience (UX) allows us to break the user research and usability testing into smaller pieces that can be conducted and delivered when the results will have the greatest positive impact and save hours or days of design churn and recoding. Approaching UX in smaller, faster flights of research and testing means that we’re not waiting for all the research to be done before we design, and it allows us to test before all the design is complete.
It’s hard to argue with a product design and development mindset that strives to delight the customer, while delivering working software in short cycles, that reduce overall cost of research, design, and development.
What advice would you give someone starting a career in user/customer experience today?First, read some of the foundational books about usability, user-centered design, and user experience. Three I would recommend are “Design of Everyday Things,” “Quantifying the User Experience,” and “Lean UX.”
Once you have an understanding of theory and practice, spend part of every day observing what people around you do. If you’re sitting in a coffee shop, spend time watching the workers and customers, and how they approach and complete their tasks.
Eventually, start up conversations with others to learn what, how, and why they’re doing a particular activity. What and why will tell you about their goals and concerns. The more you observe, the more you will recognize common behavior patterns and motivations that you can draw on as a researcher and designer.
What are the biggest unsolved problems in Lean UX? Where can someone improve on the process?I think there’s a lot of confusion about what customer or user experience involves. A lot of business people still think it’s only related to how a digital design looks on the screen. In addition, many projects still expect experience designers to design screens and interactions without any design research – without the ability to observe and study the end users.
Design thinking is predicated on empathy with users. Empathy requires a deep consideration of context and human behavior, and an understanding of context of use and human behavior requires the time to observe, reflect, and synthesize learnings. This doesn’t require months – or even weeks, but it does require time and access. In Agile, how do we do the latter without it becoming “waterfall?”
Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” developed the “jobs to be done” framework by observing and interviewing McDonald’s drive-thru customers who were buying shakes for breakfast one day. What his team discovered was the “job” the shake was performing for the customer. If you don’t know the story, you can learn about it in “The ‘Jobs to be Done’ Theory of Innovation.” If the UX community wants to evolve how we work with product and development teams, we need to move the conversation from one of “wants” and “likes” to one about the “job to be done.”
What are the core people and talents every user experience team needs?At WWT Asynchrony Labs, we have recruited explorers, designers, experimenters, and front-end engineers as core people for our teams. For talent, each member has profound knowledge, expertise, and passion about UX, and our Agilist philosophy. Self-governing software teams empower each of them to continuously explore and develop new skills and expertise. We could be the expert in field research and design on one project and then pair up and partner with another teammate to learn a new front-end framework or technology.
This model also allows the delivery team to determine the best research, design, and development approach for each new software project and client, ensuring we deliver a thin, vertical slice of the working software in small increments depending on the project.
Editor’s Note: In part two, we’ll discuss with Kate a few strategies and techniques to consider for developing a successful UX project.