River cruising in Mumbai with the India Immersion team. Photo by Leon Paul Hovanesian II.
Could you share with us your career journey and what brought you to EchoUser?
I studied both English and Graphic design in undergrad because I wanted to consider the design pieces holistically - content and form. For 6 years, I was kind of a jack of all trades; designing banner ads, doing front-end development, managing a printer. I decided to go to grad school because I wanted to drive the strategy behind what I was designing.
I went to IIT Institute of Design in Chicago and spent 2 years re-engineering my design process: learning about design thinking and practicing service design. It was an incredible experience that confirmed my love for design and my desire to work on problems that positively impact people.
When I moved to SF a few years ago, I went to every possible design event, meeting up with anyone I could to understand the design community here. During design week, I came by the EchoUser office and chatted with Aaron and a researcher. I was really impressed.
What’s special about EchoUser that caught your eyes back then?
“Any experience”. Design here is not just about the surface, but it’s about diving into problems and pushing boundaries. While job searching, I was looking for companies that would encourage me to apply service design to real problems and EchoUser really stood out. People here are not afraid to study challenging topics or try new methods, like Hello Toilet or running a 100-people study in a week. I saw a lot of opportunities.
Tell us more about Service Design.
UX design in SF is focused on the product, like digital apps and websites. Service design says you’re actually designing experiences. That product is part of a larger ecosystem of people, physical and digital products and processes.
Take Uber. You aren’t buying a car, you’re buying convenient transportation. Yes, you need an app to access it, but designing Uber requires tools and training for drivers, a sustainable pricing model and working with (or challenging) public policy. You need a lot of people to work together to make that happen and service designers keep an eye on the whole system; they collaborate with lots of different pros in policy, interaction design, visual design and more. to stitch together the whole customer (and driver) experience. We try to bring everything together to make sure systems talk to each other in a seamless way.
What inspires and influences your work?
I get inspired by putting myself in uncomfortable situations. I’m not an early adopter, but I’d like to try things just to see what it’s like. Maybe I’ll discover it’s not that uncomfortable and actually really cool. I’m a person who really likes structure and order, but I still put myself out of my comfort zone.
For example, I volunteered to live and work in Mumbai for 4 weeks working on a crazy fast design project on healthcare innovation in India. It was the first time I’d ever left the country, but an incredible experience about the power of design and how diverse (and awesome!) the world really is. I’ve even participated in a flash mob as part of a dear friend’s week-long wedding in Bangladesh.
Wedding flash mob. Photo by Wedding Chapel for Nabila Nowrin.
Any advice for people who just or want to enter the UX industry?
You can learn design tools and go to meetups, but there are intangible things to me that are more valuable.
Foster curiosity and nerdiness. You should be nerdy in the way that you dive into topics to understand them. If you think biking to work is cool, live that biking culture and contribute to that community.
Do non-design stuff and do it with passion. Learn about different things outside of design that make design more exciting. Because we borrow so much from other different fields - science, art, technology, philosophy - and they impact the people we design for.
How do you tell a great designer from a good one?
For me, a great designer isn’t scared of hard questions and they’re okay living with ambiguity. You can’t solve a lot of problems in a day. Design isn’t easy but these designers have confidence that the problem can be solved. Great designers question themselves: “Are we really asking the right question? Are we caught up with our own ego?”
Great designers know that they are not the greatest. Sometimes designers can have ego when they are really good at something. I really respect those designers who strive to learn from those around them and recognize that design is collaboration.
What are some fun facts that not everyone knows about you?
My high school job was as a PetSmart certified dog trainer and I did it for 5 years. I trained dogs to do all kinds of commands and tricks. Imagine a big hound dog riding a skateboard down the main aisle in a PetSmart.
I knitted all my Christmas presents one year -- it was not the best idea, haha! It was fun, but so much work! All the women in my husband’s family knit and that’s where I got inspired to pick it up. I have tons of projects in the works, but one of my next one’s is Christmas stockings.