From Diplomacy to Research: The Road Less Traveled

Many people ask me, “how did you get from studying Political Science as an undergraduate, to working for a software company testing the usability of their products?” Well, the truth is, it wasn’t a straight path, and I had no idea I would have come down this road to usability research. However, what really happened was that I was pursuing different careers, and checking them off my list for various reasons. So here is the truth – three stories of what pointed me to working in research instead of law, public affairs, biomedical libraries, etc.

Story #1: Working in a Public Affairs Firm. Just before I graduated from college, I decided I would like to put my degree to use by working on public affairs campaigns at a PR firm. I was put to work as their “media monitor,” and it was my job to clip articles that their clients were featured or mentioned in. I also had a part time job at the UC Santa Barbara Davidson library that started at 1pm, and I could not be late. However, the media clipping took me a while to grasp, and I could not finish the work in the time given to me. I found myself stressed with deadlines daily, and that everyone around me was the same way. After coming home crying too many times, I decided to try working for a law firm instead.

Story #2: Working in a law firm. After I graduated from UC Santa Barbara, I started working in a local law firm. I was a receptionist and clerk, and wanted to see what it was like to work in a law office. I was also studying to take the LSAT exam at the time, and working part time in the UC Santa Barbara Davidson Library. What I remember most from that experience was how inferior some of the attorneys treated me. When I’d try to transfer calls to them, they would yell at me, telling me not to disturb them. I over heard another say I should be replaced because I couldn’t scan their “evidence” into the machine fast enough. And another told me that I would never make it as a lawyer. I had so many negative experiences there, I decided to try another field.

Story #3: Working in a Corporate Library. I applied to UCLA’s Information Studies program, and the following summer started working for Amgen’s corporate library. I was put on several projects to updates web sites, and create demo videos to teach scientists how to use the library databases. I enjoyed the energy of the business world, but found it was really challenging to make change happen in the company. They also didn’t have very much funding, which told me the company didn’t value the incredible work the library offered to the organization. This troubled me, and I really wanted to find work where the value of the work I was doing was evident.

I took a Human Computer Interaction class at UCLA, and learned how companies test products they make with customers first before releasing it. I learned how this research informed the design process, and helped make the product more user-friendly. The research was actually making a difference. I had been so frustrated in so many working environments, being treated as though my work was not making a difference, but it seemed like if I could work in Human-Computer Interaction, my work might actually mean something.

I started working as an intern at Citrix Online, and have loved working there ever since. The company truly values the customers, and is truly customer centric. I’m incredibly lucky, and grateful to have found a company like this.

The UX Ego – Non-violent Communication

Many times, I find that User Experience professionals have to debate and argue over their design decisions. They have to take full responsibility for mistakes or failures, and will do everything in their power to justify their actions. Whether they are designing an interface, a system, or the tasks for a usability study, they have to be able to defend why they made all the decisions they made.

What is interesting to me is how this debating permeates into other parts of the job. We find ourselves debating over why we scheduled a meeting, or over what the project plan will be. We are constantly in a state of debate, argument, and justification.

I find being in this state exhausting, ineffective, and inefficient. It is much like the “design by committee” situation, where there are too many stakeholders involved, and too many opinions to manage. I think a much more powerful way to approach issues, problems, or decisions is to bring understanding, and an ability to express ideals. Instead of fighting over what is the best approach, we really need to understand what the rationale is behind each others’ thoughts. Everyone’s thoughts are valuable, good, important, and deserve recognition. We may have this intention, but it certainly doesn’t come off this way.

We are all in this together, all fighting for the best for the user. We just need to play nicer with each other, encourage each other, and try to understand where each other is coming from. How do we do this? Well I think the message of non-violence might help us take a new perspective:

Experience Mobile Platforms

My husband and I have been very reluctant to purchasing smart phones, mainly for the monthly expense. But after I attended the 2010 IA Summit my perspective changed. So many fellow professionals, colleagues, and mentors use smart phones, and experience the web very differently than I do. I realized that not getting a smart phone was depriving myself from learning a whole new platform that we now need to design for. Not having experience with a smart phone, is like not having experience with a computer.

This compelled my husband and I to switch to iPhones. We are excited to learn this new technology, and how it helps improve lives.

Talking too fast

“…Studies show that people that talk too fast tend to be insecure and suffer from low self-esteem.” Sindy Martin

I think this quote best applies to several speeches I’ve done, and many other people I know. We dull down our talks with ums and ahs, distracting the audience from hearing our thoughts. I worked with a public speaking coach who recommended speaking slower, because when I talk too fast, and run out of things to say, I fill the silence with ums. One way I learned to overcome this is to speak s-l-o-w-l-y and enunciate clearly.

Also, consciously punctuating your sentences with gestures helps too. Punctuating a spoken sentence at all is really important – avoiding connecting thoughts together too much with “and…so…”

Thirdly, if I am prepared with some kind of outline, I know what thought to move to next. Even when I am not prepared, retrospectively thinking about it, I will quickly outline something to say, to be prepared for next time.

Speaking slowly exudes confidence in yourself, and helps others be more confident in you.

“Keep true to the dreams of your youth” – Schiller

Many of us think about the dreams we had as a child, and work incredibly hard to make them come true. People who can achieve these dreams tell incredible stories of ambition, endurance, triumph, etc. However, from my experience, the most exhilarating experiences of my life have exceeded my dreams and expectations.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. But if you seize opportunities that come to you – with all your heart – you will experience accomplishments beyond your wildest dreams.

2010 IA Summit

I’m very excited to speak at the 2010 IA Summit next week! Three years ago I attended my first IA Summit in 2007, where I met Kristen Johansen, Senior UX Manager for Citrix Online. Soon after that I started an internship with Citrix Online, and became a full time employee in 2007. Working for Citrix Online, with Kristen Johansen, and her rock star UX Team has been one of the best experiences of my life!

At the 2010 IA Summit, I will be sharing some breakthroughs some colleagues and I made on a project we conducted last year. Elizabeth Thapliyal helped co-author the presentation, and will be there for Q&A as well! I’d love to see you there!

http://2010.iasummit.org/talks/9751

“Killing two birds with one stone.”

Multi-tasking may work for some people, but rarely is it effective on human beings. People want you to pay attention to them – it’s a basic human need. If you try to serve two different customers at once, it may cause one or both of the customers to lose interest. You will frustrate yourself because you expect to win them both over, but when it doesn’t work, you will lose momentum and motivation.

If you try to kill two birds with one stone, you will run the risk of wounding the birds, and not really killing them. Your customers will not be happy if you promise duck on the table for dinner, but serve birds that aren’t even dead yet. I always appreciate someone who devotes the time and attention to each customer, report, task, — and still manages to ship on time. They may serve one customer at a time, but they certainly don’t lose momentum, or motivation.

Hand Gestures and Distractions

One thing I tend to do a lot is two-handed gestures when giving a talk, speech, or presentation. I somehow don’t know what to do with my hands, so I claspe them together, or wave them around, etc. But from watching other speakers – one handed gestures seem to be not only less distracting, but more effective. It is so much more obvious that you are making a point. I don’t know why this is, but perhaps ‘less is more.’

Simpler is Better. Only one hand is necessary, and more likely to get your audience to focus on your message. There’s a reason why pedestrian stop lights only have one hand to tell you now to walk.

The Tribes We Lead

The Tribes we lead are both internal and external to the organizations we serve. Internally, we lead tribes of people who care about the work we do. These people continuously find value in our work, and keep coming back asking for more.

Externally, we lead tribes of people who care about the good work we produce. They care more so about the end result of what we do. These people care more about what difference it makes for them as consumers, customers, or buyers.

We must find creative ways to give back to both Tribes.

Inspired by Tribes, by Seth Godin.

Gorillas and Public Speaking

“There is a reason that the number one fear reported by most people is public speaking.” Seth Godin, Linchpin

About two years ago, my husband and I visited the gorilla exhibit at the Santa Barbara Zoo. It was sort of inside a covered cave, and there was big glass window that separated humans from the gorillas. Most of the gorillas were hiding, but one was walking towards the window. I said, “He’s coming – let’s say hi to the gorilla!” I got down on my hands and knees, and flexed my arms and muscles like a gorilla would do, to sort of play with the gorilla. I looked right into his eyes, which were the sweetest little eyes, and then BAM! Before I knew it, he had taken his big fist, and pounded it against the window, right at my face!

In his new book, Linchpin, Seth Godin uses this gorilla analogy to illustrate why humans are so freaked out by public speaking. He illustrates how eye contact is threatening to gorillas, and has lead to attacks. Then he goes on to explain that:

“Eye contact all by itself is enough to throw your lizard brain into a tizzy. Imagine how scary it must be to set out to do something that will get you noticed or perhaps even criticized. There is a reason that the number one fear reported by most people is public speaking.” – Seth Godin, Linchpin

Gorillas may never overcome their fear of eye contact. But I think humans can.