With the upcoming launch of the new ProductCamp website, it seemed appropriate to talk to a UX expert. Astrid is Director of UX at Great Parents Academy, an avid networker, past ProductCamp attendee and presenter. She is passionate about UX and has worked at the intersection of UX and Agile. Here’s our conversation:
Describe your journey into User Experience.
I started out as a Computer Science major. My dad was in the Air Force and both my brother and I had grown up interested in technology. But I was not as much into the math aspect of it. I shifted my major to tech writing, and then in grad school, while studying information design and communication, I fell in love with user experience. I started working with a couple of consulting firms and was on the other side of the fence, advising companies around user experience. But I wanted a bigger stake in what I was building. I joined Home Depot and then Daxko working in user experience. The shift was the perfect for me. At Daxko, I was part of a 3-product owner team – A product manager, a User Experience Lead and the Lead developer. We brought market needs, business requirements and technological constraints to the table and learnt to work very collaboratively.
You mention ‘falling in love’ with user experience in grad school. How did that happen?
I was studying usability testing. The project involved interviewing stakeholders, researching their needs. Seeing the user confused over something – seeing their reactions to the product – was eye opening. My thought was, ‘why don’t people do this?’ And I also liked the other side of it – actually fixing what we found in design and not just stopping with identifying the problems.
What are some of the typical mistakes people make with user experience?
The first mistake is not doing enough user research. There are so many resources out there now, many of them free that you can use for research – quick ways to get educated on your users. You also want real end users – not just people on your team and your company reacting to your products.
The second mistake is doing the research, putting it out there but never going back to fix the issues in the product. Teams struggle with the question – do you add new features or go back and fix the old ones?
What are some of your favorite resources for user research?
One I really like is the Invision App – It lets you create wireframes, mockups, click-throughs, prototypes, mobile app mockups. Users can click through and communicate their feedback to you.
There is also the Marvel App, which is more full featured than the Invision App.
You can send a link survey out to your users through an app like Typeform to get feedback, and then follow up with a conversation.
And then there is Zurb, which has a couple of apps to test concepts and get reaction from users.
Optimal has a set of tools for card sorting, testing out navigation categories, user roles and permissions. It is good to get feedback and tweak it for our own needs, and then test out a different way.
If you had one piece of advice for product managers, what would it be?
On the front end, similar to how development has design or tech spikes, it is a good idea to have UX spikes. Take a week to go back to the design problem and really figure it out. You don’t want to deliver something that results in bad user experience just for speed. Similarly on the backend, keep some time for UX ‘debt’ – attacking design “bugs” and fixing other things that have a less-than-desirable experience.
What have you learnt in product management ‘the hard way’?
It can sometimes be difficult for a UX person to stay away from user utopia. You have to be efficient in managing the process. I have learnt quick ways to get feedback. Start with sketches, and then get feedback and hash out the ideas together.
Being agile has its own challenges – User experience is much more than an image or a web page. In agile, its sometimes as if you are trying to build a house and you are starting with the second floor bathroom door. The UX person sees the experience more holistically, and so brings in a different perspective.
You just moved to a new job, and you are an avid networker. What are some of your favorite events, and what helped with the job?
Meetup.com is your friend. Once you create a profile and state your location, it suggests groups you might like. I like IxDA, Atlanta (Interaction Design Association), ProductCamp,CHI Atlanta, AWDG (Atlanta Web Design Group). Hypepotamus.com has events from around town on their site. For me, these groups are great educational and social tools. But for jobs, its my personal network – my last couple of jobs were all referrals from someone I have worked with.
What are some Apps or website you use and would recommend?
Here are a couple of presentations Astrid made at ProductCamp and other networking events :