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025: UX Designers Work with Users with Ashley Karr

User Defenders podcast
User Defenders podcast
User Research
025: UX Designers Work with Users with Ashley Karr

User Defenders Ashley Karr

Ashley Karr teaches us that we can’t be exceptional at generalizing. She encourages us to always work with the people for whom we are designing. She motivates us to always trust ourselves and our instincts. She shows us how planning and organization are key contributors to success. She also inspires us to give back by teaching what we know.

Ashley Karr is an academically trained human factors engineer and anthropologist focusing on human computer interaction, user experience, research and design. She has her B.A. in anthropology from UCLA and M.S. in human factors and systems engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Included among her many published writings is a behavioral psychology textbook for Oxford University Press. She has worked with organizations, such as: Walmart, Frontier Communications, and The Veteran’s Administration. Currently, she teaches and designs instructional material for User Experience Design Immersive courses with General Assembly and manages all immersive courses at General Assembly Seattle. She is passionate about teaching tech and encouraging creative confidence. She also happens to be a descendant of Kind Edward the 1st and Queen Eleanor of Castille.

  • Secret Identity/Origin Story (2:58/3:58)
  • Has Your Varied Background Helped You? (8:54)
  • Specialize or Generalize (12:05)
  • Biggest Superhero (15:01)
  • Second Career Choice (18:38)
  • Biggest Failure (21:04)
  • Awkward Testing Story (27:37)
  • Design Superpower (32:02)
  • Design Kryptonite (37:41)
  • Design Superhero Name (37:55)
  • Fight For Users (40:41)
  • How To Get Involved (50:37)
  • Future Of UX Design (54:10)
  • Habit Of Success (56:21)
  • Invincible Resource (56:47)
  • Book Recommendation (57:16)
  • Best Advice (57:49)
  • Most Excited About (58:09)
  • Contact Info (58:31)

Ashley’s Twitter
Ashley’s Website
[VIDEO] Sailing by Christopher Cross

[BOOK] About Face
[BOOK] Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction

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Artwork by Cesar Lemus | Editing by Chris Combs | Music by Wyman Gentry

Yeah so this is my favorite story to tell. We were using a third-party recruiter for participants for usability testing and they ended up sending us this guy who was an ex-con fairly recently released. He had the teardrop tattoo on his face and a couple other facial tattoos. I was the primary moderator for the test. Everyone was super nervous but I wasn’t at all like I didn’t get any kind of bad feeling from the guy. It was also on the company’s campus and we had security guards at the front and yet it’s a temporary security pass. There’s an observation room where other people can watch that test. I only let that happen when I able to train the people that are gonna be in the observation room and this is actually one of the situations and honestly it’s because of the chatter the talking that goes on in the observation room. The participant can’t see and can’t hear what’s going on in the observation room. But people are really mean and really caddy if they know that the participant can’t hear what they’re saying and there are a lot of people that will sit in and observe and just say really mean things about the participant and it just doesn’t bode well, and you have like the designers and developers and project managers in the observation room and these mean things that people say about the participants, it ends up subtracting from the empathy that we’re trying to build with our users. So I just have zero tolerance for any mean or catty or petty behavior or words directed towards participants at any point in the process, whether the participant is there, or they’re long gone and it’s sanitized data. But this ex-convict, he was wonderful he was an excellent participant, and we got a lot of excellent data from him and he actually was in the products target demographic so it fit what we were doing. I was definitely a little scared, give me pause, but there was security around, we’re being filmed live, there’s other people watching, there’s absolutely nothing that can happen. And this guy probably needs to hundred bucks more than any of our other participants so that was probably the craziest thing that happened during usability testing. But the craziest thing was he wasn’t crazy at all and he was a great participant and it was a great experience.

Organization and studying.

Disorganization and lack of studying.

So this is a funny thing. In the past I’ve actually printed out something called Smith & Mosier which is an Air Force report that was the research was done and written up for it and like the 70s or 80s I believe, but it’s basically an Air Force Report about user interface design but it’s really nothing about user interface design, other then how to literally operate illustrator, or how to write CSS. Anything conceptual about user interface design is in Smith & Mosier If you printed out it’s like 500 pages so you have this massive stack of paper and then I also really like Deborah Mayhews Usability Engineering textbook, and this is also kind of like a little more old school a little more engineering-esque version of what UX is. This is part of my training as a human factors engineer. I have been known to when I’m coming into meetings with people who don’t want to listen to the user data kind of like my valuation of it and in meetings I am the advocate for the user. So for people who don’t want to listen to me, I bring in this textbook and I bring in this 500 pages printed out of Smith & Mosier, And I make sure that the timing is right for this I will accidentally on purpose place/slam them heavily on the desk so it makes it very imposing noise. I’ve done this before and it scares people they turn and look at me and I just smile and whenever I start talking about some of the principles behind what I’m saying or explaining to them why it’s important, I’ll just kind a point at usability engineering, or point at Smith & Mosier and maybe casually flip through like I’m going to open a page and people are like, “Oh no no, we believe you.”

I hope it’s a lot more heavily regulated. And I hope there’s a lot more understanding as to what it is a UX Designer should actually be capable of doing. And that it’s clear across across the board with everybody whether you’re hiring manager, a CEO, a product manager or someone calling yourself a UX designer, that if it is UX Design, we work with users during our design process. If you don’t work with users, you are not practicing UX design and you won’t get the ROI. You have to work with the people for whom you are making this design. And if you don’t work with them…it’s client experience design, stakeholder experience design, business experience, design personal experience, design designer experience design, it is not User Experience Design. Any UX anything, department, team that cuts out usability testing, user research, is not practicing UX. And every time I say this, people come back with, “we don’t have the money, we don’t have the time”. Look at all of the teachings about UX. If you take the time to work with users upfront and frequently…you save time and money. It’s a Catch 22. The reason you don’t have time and money is because you haven’t done usability testing and user research.


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