From Psychotherapy to UX Research

An interview with Londa Overbeck, senior UX researcher, mother of two, community advocate, and former psychotherapist.

Tell us about your career journey and what brought you to EchoUser.

As a kid, I was always drawn to giving a voice to people who didn’t necessarily have one or weren’t able to speak up. In my family, I was the one to ask the questions. At school, I was drawn to people who were left out and bullied, making sure they had some kind of ally.

That ultimately led me into my first career as a psychotherapist. It was a valuable experience for me in many ways, but over time it became hard for me to hold so many painful stories and deal with life and death situations.

I hit a turning point where I needed to make a pivot. I wanted to continue impacting people’s lives in a meaningful way, but from a different angle. After a lot of exploration, I discovered UX and user research — I already had the soft skills and it matched what I cared about doing and how I wanted to spend my time. It was a way for me to continue helping to give others a voice.

Do you remember the moment when you decided to pursue UX, or anything that stood out about UX and user research?

I remember the moment when I first learned that it was a field. I was on that path of discovery and I went to a open house at Stanford for the MBA program. When they started talking about the my ears perked up and I was like “Oh, I’m much more interested in that than I am in this MBA.” But you have to do another program to participate in the It ultimately kicked off a rabbit hole of research into the field.

At the time, I was leading a team of consultants at Edgewood Center for Children and Families who worked with nonprofits to help them improve health services for youth. I introduced my team to this user research model and over time we adopted it as our consultation framework. We got scrappy and learned a lot through trial and error. But, we also learned from some pros by developing partnerships with Adaptive Path, a bootcamp instructor, and Catapult Design. I joined a Leading By Design fellowship at CCA to gain a lot more experience in UX, build my network, and lead a healthcare-focused project with Adaptive Path.

What brought you to EchoUser?

I was making a big jump from nonprofit to for-profit, from me being the evangelist for UX in a world that knew nothing about it to being one of many UX practitioners. I knew I wanted to be around other people who appreciated UX and could be mentors to me — on our team here, we’re all swimming in the same water.

Software is a big part of what we focus on and I wanted to gain product experience. I was also drawn to EchoUser projects on education and the BART because they went beyond products and targeted services and experiences. And, I liked the culture – it was just a good vibe when I came and interviewed.

What are the similarities between psychotherapy and user research?

As a therapist, I learned to straddle thinking rigorously about questions with listening for what emerges in the moment. The way in which you ask a question – tone, wording, format – can profoundly impact the response you get. You’re trying to get underneath the problem, understand what’s driving them, what really matters to them, what barriers are getting in their way.

The other thing that comes to mind is that both professions are grounded in understanding people in the context of their lives. As a therapist, you want to understand the larger ecosystem in which your clients live. Seeing couples and families interact with one another gives you a different view than having one person tell you their individual perspective. In UX, when you observe someone using a product or service at home or at work, you pick up on things that you might not see in a lab.

What is your process for interpreting what users want?

People might not know what they want. If you ask them directly they might give you a surface answer that doesn’t fully address the problem. This is where the art of questioning comes into play. Observing people in context, probing and listening for unmet needs and discrepancies between what people say and do. Asking people to imagine what things would be like in their ideal world.

If you could redesign any experience, what would you pick and why?

One area of interest is improving how people access healthcare. In my last job, my team did some work in Western Addition to figure out what gets in the way of accessing mental health care and came up with new ideas for how this can be improved. I’d love to do more projects like this — working towards more of an integrated health model.

I’m also interested in the postpartum experience. There are so many misconceptions and misguided expectations about what having a baby should be like. It can be a really isolating time for many people. I was really lucky to find a core crew of folks to go through postpartum and beyond with. I’d love to find ways to make that kind of communal support more of the norm.

“Immerse yourself in the field in whatever way you can. Read articles and books. Go to events. Be a participant in a research study. Putting yourself out there and meeting people in the field is really important.”

What advice do you have for people just entering the industry?

Immerse yourself in the field in whatever way you can. Read articles and books. Go to events. Be a participant in a research study. Putting yourself out there and meeting people in the field is really important. The CCA community was huge for me in making my career transition.

Do whatever you can to get some projects under your belt. If you’re not in a job where you can do projects, find other ways to do it. Try Code for America or openIDEO.

If you’re looking to make a transition, start with recognizing what you already know. Figure out what your story is and practice talking about it. Being able to communicate what you will bring to the table and why you are choosing this path, is a really important part of being able to land a job.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’ve gotten really into rock climbing lately. It’s what I do for me-time. My daughter recently got over her fear of the ocean so we’re running with our newfound freedom and spending a lot of time on the beach. My friends are like an extended family to me so we end up hanging out a lot on the weekends.

What are some fun facts that not everyone knows about you?

  • I have a fear of flying, but I’ve also been skydiving.
  • I’ve met the most significant people in my life in unexpected ways. When I started 5th grade at a new school, my sister was annoyed that I was following her around and cramping her style. So, she went up to one of my classmates and said “She’s looking for a friend”. Many, many years laters we’re still besties. She just texted me that her daughter came home from school saying “I think I met my Londa”.
  • When I first met my now-husband in college, we went on a date it didn’t work out. Five years later we reconnected. I’d say round two was a success!

EchoUser Team

October 10, 2016

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