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043: Making New Designers with Laura Klein

User Defenders podcast
User Defenders podcast
Product Design
043: Making New Designers with Laura Klein

User Defenders podcast - Laura Klein

Laura Klein shows us how User Experience happens whether we design it intentionally or not. She paints a picture of what the the future of UX Design looks like. She teaches us if we’re too close to a project, we ought to step back and let others do the research. She also uses a really effective medical analogy to remind us of the value of specialization.

Laura Klein fell in love with technology when she saw her first user research session over 20 years ago. Since then, she’s worked as an engineer, UX designer, and product manager in Silicon Valley for companies of all sizes. Her books, Build Better Products, and UX for Lean Startups help teams learn more about their users, and apply that knowledge to make products people use and love. She helps teams build products, advises early stage startups, and consults with companies that want to improve their research, UX, and product development processes. When she’s not working with clients, she’s blogging and podcasting at her site Users Know. Fun fact: She couldn’t use the working title of her first book because there was too much profanity in it.

  • Secret Identity (5:44)
  • Origin Story (10:56)
  • Where is Design Going? (16:04)
  • Do Titles Matter? (24:50)
  • It Just Works? (29:20)
  • Is Everyone a Designer? (32:56)
  • What Drew you to User Research? (39:16)
  • Awkward Testing Story (44:44)
  • Listener Question? (49:58)
  • Habit of Success (55:42)
  • Invincible Resource (59:24)
  • Recommended Book (63:00)
  • Best Advice (65:30)
  • Contact Info (68:55)

Laura’s Twitter
Laura’s Website
Laura’s podcast (What’s Wrong with UX?)
Build Better Products
Mixed Reality & the Future of Design

Sticky notes &

Radical Focus

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Show transcript

Jason: Welcome to User Defenders Laura, I’m super excited to have you on the show today.

Laura: And thanks for having me.

Jason: Yeah would you be able to tell us the name of the book originally and I can do a little KAPOW. I do a little KAPOW’s on that, it’s a family show.

Laura: Sure well I can also. It was “F-ing” ship it already with the original title and it actually started because I wrote on Twitter, I had done a series of blog posts called “F-ng” ship it already and some sort of caveats to it. And then on Twitter I said you know if I just wrote this book would people read it and they said yeah. So I wrote a book but that was my working title for it and we came up with something a lot cleaner; less clear I’ll be perfectly honest explain certain startups this not in the clearest title.

Jason: Oh man yeah you know it’s you got to answer to the man sometimes I guess the publishing house but I love your spirit in that and I don’t want to get more into that too and kind of your background here and I’m really excited to learn more. So as you know I’m taking a fun superhero approach but every superhero has a secret identity and origin story. Let’s talk about yours. I’d like to start the show by you taking a few moments just to give us a look into your personal life.

Laura: Oh my personal life, this is on superhero related? You know I don’t really have much of one- I’m kind of a shut in, I work home which I love and I live on top of mountains in a forest and I do a lot of things with people remotely and I actually really very much like that and I come down off my hill about once a week and I do things with humans. But it’s funny I’m only a digital extrovert. I’m really in real life kind of an introvert, so I don’t interact with people much in real life but it’s good because then I get a lot of focused time which I like.

Jason: That’s cool, whereabouts are you located…where are you residing?

Laura: I’m in sort of Silicon Valley, but I’m sort of on a little ridge up above Silicon Valley.

Jason: Very cool. Sounds really nice.

Laura: I very much enjoy it. It’s quiet.

Jason: Tranquil. Yes. And you know think we can do our work remotely too I mean how cool is that that you can do what you do remotely.

Laura: It is so huge and you know I get a lot of questions from people about you know because I talk a lot about collaboration and about you know co-creation and Balance Team and these are all really important to me and it’s very important that we be in constant contact with you know our coworkers and that we really are all on the same page. And that was always a really hard question to answer because some of the stuff is easier to do in a conference room with your team; it just is. And since I started working entirely remotely, I’ve always done some of my work remotely since I started working entirely remotely I’ve really had to work on my game and making sure- it’s funny I just hired a new product manager and she’s wonderful but I’ve been sort of like OK we’ve got to get you out and you know talking to the rest of the team and she said you know it’s so weird like now that I’m working from home like it’s just so much harder to get out and work with the rest of the team but it’s a different kind of thing. It is not just like you walk down the hall and you talk to your coworker but that’s it.

Jason: Yeah well so how do you manage that? You have to be extra intentional about getting on Skype more often or like how does that work?

Laura: Yeah you do. I think you have to be intentional slack for work, so there’s sort of constant conversations and channels and that sort of thing but you also have to be able to turn that off because of course there are no visual cues for OK I’m going to sit down and design for 4 hours and don’t pay me unless it’s an absolute urgency because you know we do need flow time as well when we’re actually building things. And you know I do now sort of like half management, half actual hands on design work and product management work and all that stuff, so you know there’s sometimes when I’m like OK I’m going to be in meetings for 4 hours and then I’m going to be not in meetings for 4 hours. But you have to just be really intentionally have to not forget that certain people exist because the whole company is remote, so you have to be with people you know in different parts of the country and so just making sure that you’re constantly checking in with folks. And like I said it doesn’t just happen automatically, you have to make it happen.

Jason: Yeah. And a lot of really prominent companies in this area and in your area are actually are succeeding in being remote like entirely remote. So there’s something to be said for that, I think it’s working it’s certainly cutting down on a lot of overhead and I think it’s helping bring people together in a digital way which I think is almost as good. I mean there’s certainly no substitute for actual face to face but I think with the tools we have today it’s almost as good as the real thing. We have robots at work now that have some sort of Skype or tablet built in and they can actually be controlled from a phone. So because we have a corporate office in New York, we also have a corporate office in Denver so it’s been really huge for the collaboration and people have been a lot more intentional about it it’s actually been really nice.

Laura: I think it’s great and I will say that it’s harder in some ways, I think it’s way easier in some ways. I get more done. I don’t have an hour long commute to San Francisco on either side of my day. I can work when I need to work and not work when I don’t need work. I actually fundamentally believe very much in The Walking around part of design which is- there is a part of design for me personally that involves not staring at a screen that’s maybe and so for me like I can go for a little walk in the woods or I can go do a quick errand for 10 minutes or you know like in my house or I can do certain things and let the ideas sort of settle in my head and then I come back and I just design something. And it’s nice to be out of the office environment to just sort of have the freedom to do that and to you know work when it makes sense for you to work and when you’re really efficient.

Jason: That’s so cool. Tell us your origin story Laura, what inspired you to pursue a career in this exciting challenging and ever evolving field.

Laura: Well you know it was a kind of a different field when I joined it back in the mid 90s. It is a really different thing and here’s the thing I mean I would be perfectly honest this was luck; this was entirely luck you know I’m privilege and just being in the right place at the right time. I went to college in this area and when I graduated with my super relevant political science degree I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I had a bunch of friends who had gone into tech and they told me about it and there was an entry level job that a friend knew about, it was very like ministration and like keeping everything going and she said Hey why don’t you come and see if you could do this and I did and it was for a think tank that was looking at sort of the future of technology and I happened to be in the research group which was doing this like ethnographic research so all of a sudden here I am like right out of college and getting exposed to ethnographic research and all these techniques that you know like I said you know my first usability so I just got to go into labs and watch people run usability studies and it was amazing. Actually wasn’t quite right out of college I should say that there were a couple of years of wandering around and playing the saxophone and working retail jobs but after that was my first tech research. And so then I was sort of in tech and then it was in the mid 90s and tech was super exciting around here obviously in the mid 90s in the late 90s. And so you know I learned the program, took night classes, became a programmer, learned HTML and I was doing Javascript, I think like a month after the language shipped and just joined a bunch of startups and had some exits small ones you know but it was fun. And the thing about working for startups in the late 90s is that you got to do everything because you had to because we were all just figuring out how all this stuff works. I mean I don’t know that we have it nailed now but it was much less structured back then.

Jason: That’s true and there was a little weird sort of freedom in that too because there weren’t a lot of rules; so and of course there’s tradeoffs to everything as we know but it was pretty fun. Like everything was being defined and established and so it was just really fun to be a part of that. But there was a lot of I think there was a lot more creativity on the web back then just because of you know business hadn’t really invaded the web yet and the opportunities hadn’t really been foreseen as much of what the Web can do for commerce. So I feel like there was kind of that creative and then of course we have flash and you know rest in peace flash and we had flash to back then I don’t know it’s a totally different time and place.

Laura: Yeah I mean there was just less of everything. I mean there was I don’t know who was more creative it was certainly more creative in that we were creating the thing. But there were also far fewer tools for making things because we were sort of building the tools as we went but yeah it was a neat time to be in tech and I’m glad that I accidentally wound up in it.

Jason: It’s kind of a need to be able to see the snowball effect and kind of where things have gone from where they started. It’s neat to be able to just actually have seen it with your own eyes and I think it can help inform a lot too in this work in that I don’t know just as where we’re going I think there’s just some really exciting things ahead and there continues to be it’s just when I think I’ve kind of learned a lot, there’s like 10 or 20 more things I need to learn, so there’s always a beginner’s mindset.

Laura: And I think you know I mean I have maybe you do I don’t have any idea which of the things that people are talking about and are all excited about are going to be the next web right. Like there are a lot of things that sort of feel like they could be what we knew the internet was. I mean I look back and I’m like of course I knew the Internet was going to be- you know they were all interactive CD-ROMs that nobody remembers what those were right. This was the thing and every move maybe that’s going to be the next big thing, we’re like no it’s going to be the web; we all do that right. Remember push? Nobody does

Jason: I don’t. I remember

Laura: Oh

Jason: With the sock puppet.

Laura: I am literally looking at the sock puppet right now. I have it on my desk I keep it there, I’m not making this up, I have a little it’s not quite that it’s not actually a puppet but it’s like a little doll and I keep it there to be honest and someday I’m going to just attach it to like my chair so that whenever I’m doing a video call people can just see those sock puppet.

Jason: You should just have it up on the podium for every talk you do.

Laura:  Just make you realize that this is what happens to people who overbuilt. We all sort of knew right like we all knew that the Web was going to be big but oh yeah what’s the next thing right, is it going to be cryptocurrency or VR or AR or AI or machine learning like these are all huge right now and I don’t know. I mean VR of course has been the next big thing three times since you know I can remember but I don’t know what- I don’t know what sort of double down the next.

Jason: Well I’m glad you asked. No actually I don’t have the answer but its funny probably2 hours before our time today I just pushed an episode out, a very special episode all about this stuff about mixed reality and the future of design and it’s really the name of the episode and there’s a lot of buzz and when you keep hearing buzz about the same thing, the medium articles start changing a lot, the content you can’t help but to kind of prick your ears up and do a what is it about this, what’s going on here. And I think you know whether I like it or not and frankly I’m still on the fence about it, I definitely see the benefits of VR and there’s a lot of healing properties to it actually for people who are distressed and there’s a lot of really interesting medical things and also let’s see inclusiveness that that’s kind of being explored with VR which I think is really going to help a lot with our biases on our side or any prejudices that people have. And so I can see a lot of possibilities but I’ll be honest with you I get motion sick, I can’t even read a book while in a car and I’ve put on the Google Cardboard that’s all I have and certainly that’s very low fidelity and what they’re finding is that you don’t have the processing power yet to help avoid that latency factor. But I think once that gets going and it looks like iPhone 8 may be kind of a buzz about that having the Oled, you know faster processing; I don’t know. I think we’re in for some really interesting things so that’s an episode I just pushed today. That wasn’t me like trying to force out a promo, i just seemed very organic to push that out.

Laura: I want to listen to it, it sounds like it’s going to be great because yeah I mean I think that I am also excited about- I would agree with you I am also excited about VR within certain industries. This is a problem with any sort of new tech. A lot of times that the innovations come from oh it’s a new technology right, it’s a new way of doing it like the Internet. The Internet is not a product, it’s a channel, it’s a new technology. Same thing with mobile right. It’s oh this is you know we now have the ability to do all of this untethered to a wall; that’s powerful. And so that’s a really big sort of change. But you still have to then find the appropriate applications for those technologies which is a little different from you know a product that solves a problem right. It’s a solution to you know like oh I need to order a car you know I’m drunk and it’s midnight and I’m you know in San Francisco I need a car to get me home. That’s a clear problem that many of us can understand and can relate to and that’s a thing that a company solved by taxis. But it is enabled by mobile technology and you know the fact that we can now use these apps and we have a super computer in our pockets. So this is the thing right like VR is one of these sort of technologies and I think that we have to find the correct applications. And I think that the healing properties are fantastic, I think you know obviously gaming like gaming is going to be huge for it. I think perhaps entertainment; we’re not really sure, we’re not really sure if it’s going to be like maybe that’s the interactive CD-ROM of 2017 I don’t know.

Jason: The little business cards.

Laura: Yeah exactly. Maybe it replaces you know telecommuting or teleconferencing I don’t know. I think there are a whole lot of really interesting possibilities for it but we haven’t figured out whether those are going to be huge or kind of minor.

Jason: Yeah it’s definitely interesting; it’s something that certainly keep a pulse on. I’ll be honest if I’m being honest and I am being honest about this I feel like I am kind of I’m excited about the possibilities but I’m kind of like I totally feel intimidated as a designer. I feel like I’m willing to learn new things and everything but I’m still trying to learn CSS grid right now.

Laura: Or let’s call it fancy tables

Jason: Oh yeah there you go. So I feel like my goodness now do I have to learn 3D? Do I have to learn a lot more code? Because a lot of these experiences are created they’re very code intensive and so I don’t know. This is an interesting time to be a designer and I’m curious like are a lot of designers going to kind of jump ship like this is just getting too overwhelming and maybe just the ones that are just in the trenches and just going hardcore on it are going to kind of be the ones kind of building these experiences. It could be kind of a make or break kind of time for designers I’m thinking.

Laura: That’s fascinating. That’s a really good question right. Like I don’t think we’re going to lose designers because of this, I think we might see some more specialization. Couple of years ago I wrote- maybe because I wanted an excuse to go out and interview a bunch people working in voice design because I do that. I did some voice stuff many years ago and I was like it’s really come a long way sort of recently we’ve made some big breakthroughs in natural language processing and that kind of thing. And I think voice is going to be a necessary input to things like VR and it’s going to have to get I think even better just because we don’t have you know sort of the Natural Keyboard interaction in things like VR and AR and even on mobile. So anyway and also probably other things like you know home and cars and all that you know the Internet of things. So anyway I looked into voice research or designing for voice and it turns out there are a lot of people; not a huge number but like more than you’d think people who have been really focused on voice design and voice user experience design like for 20 years and they are specialists, they are fantastic at it and they know all of the stuff and they have really grown up with the industry in the same way that I sort of grew up designing for the web and that I sort of I made the move- I understand designing for mobile, I can design for mobile but I didn’t start designing for mobile the way that a lot of designers who maybe started you know five years ago did.

And I think that we’ll get new designers and I think that maybe they’ll just sort of focus on other things. Like we need people who are designing for Internet of Things and those people should probably understand physical devices and physical design and spatial design and industrial design as well as user experience design. We will have more people doing surface design. They do it a lot more in Europe but sort of more intentionally but I think it’s moving here now where we’re actually thinking about like how do we move people through hospitals, how do we move people through airports, how do we use technology to enable all of that right. But you’re thinking about sort of the whole experience of a place or of a service that one is delivering and hopefully we’ll get more voice researchers. I know that we already are. I think there will have to be some specialization because I don’t care how good of a designer you are, you’re not going to be designing for like I don’t remember the last time I designed a desktop app; it’s been a while.

Jason: That’s a good point.

Laura: Could I do it? Yeah it’s design right. Like could I figure it out? Absolutely, am I a specialist in it; so could I figure out how to design for a car navigation system? Yeah. Am I going to? Probably not. I’m old, I’m happy with the things I do. Well I don’t know might be exciting but I don’t think anybody will be doing all of it. In the same way that nobody really is what I would consider to be a computer generalist anymore. You can’t know all the languages. There are six new ones every day.

Jason: Feels like it

Laura: Just JavaScript frameworks alone you can’t know all of.

Jason:  Now that’s very true. It’s intimidating. And that’s one of the reasons I started this show is like if I can help even a little bit, even if I can help one person try to navigate some of these waters and kind of be even aware; bring awareness and kind of a little bit of direction I think that you know that’s kind of the goal and all this stuff is just like my head is spinning. And I said that in that episode I released today is I my head is already spending about all this stuff and it’s going to be very interesting to watch everything continue to evolve and to see where this all goes. You made some very interesting points Laura and I think you definitely have a little bit prophetic kind of words and wisdom in and sort of the things that we ought to be really paying attention to like physical objects like we haven’t really had to worry about that too much as web designers; certainly. I mean it’s evolving and you know Fast Company did this article I think it was last year about the five job titles that are going away and one of them was UX designer and there’s other stuff in there but there are just a whole like virtual interactive designer is kind of the ones.

Laura: I’ve been called like four different things.

Jason: It doesn’t really matter.

Laura: Those are just the repeatable things. I was a web master in the 90s so there and in fact a bunch of people I know then who are UX designers  now were web design or in areas or were web masters or were interaction designers or even human computer interaction specialists or whatever. That’s great. They’ll give us a new title and it will be just as useless and over generalized as user experience designer and that’s cool. Product Designer I think is the new one. Well we like a couple of years old I don’t know if that actually is going to be. This is the real problem that I have with it, is that I kind of feel like a designer is a little bit like doctor and I don’t mean that in the like rigorous you know we have to attend school for it because we don’t. I mean it more in the I don’t want somebody who is a heart surgeon operating on my brain and vice versa. I don’t want somebody who is a specialist in diagnosis to operate on anything really. So there are but you get basically the same I mean you start out with the same training. I think there are some basic design things that anybody who considers themselves any kind of user centered designer should know and I feel this way actually about product managers as well right. Like we should know how to understand our users and we should know how to you know focus on their context and the flow in which they use the product and we should understand what our business does and how we make money and what the market is like. So we should be able to do those basic things and should be able to understand information architecture and how one might lay something out. You know the basic sort of design heuristics of if something looks like something else it should act like something else like the real basics right; that works in any kind of design except for voice design where the screen stuff doesn’t really apply. But even then it’s like you know something that sounds like something else should act like something else.

So those are the basics. Those are some of the basics of design right. The rest of it is sort of the equivalent of are you building it in Java or C++ or Python or Ruby or Pascal right. The rest of it is syntax. It’s what is specific to this particular platform for which I’m designing. I do think that we’re going to have to see some designers who are more cross-platform. I don’t think they’re going to apply to all platforms but you know you do have to think about like Amazon is now on every platform. I can buy things on my computer, on my watch which is a terrible idea, on my phone I believe on my television if I had an Amazon echo I could buy it on the Echo. There are physical buttons that I can hit like I’m a laboratory rat and have treats show up….

Jason: Which is you’re right next to the toilet paper.

Laura: That is a terrible idea for me on so many levels because it would not be like useful thing like toilet paper.

Jason: How many toddlers have like accidentally ordered more toilet paper?

Laura: Literally all of them.
Jason: Here’s a button. Toddlers like push buttons.

Laura: Oh sure. Who doesn’t? I mean I always feel like the chocolate button. Yes please. No. Yes. So that’s cross-platform and it’s got to just work and users have this expectation now that things will just work which I don’t know where they got that from but it certainly wasn’t from any of the products that exist in the world because you know they just have this expectation that things are going to just work and that they should just work cross-platform and if I hit the button that it’s going to be charged to the right account and that it’s going to show up at my door and that it’s going to be the right thing and it’s somebody has got to think about that.

Jason: Would you say that users- you made a good point about users just kind of expect things to work and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing I guess it could be in a way because we are designers and we make mistakes a lot and we have to learn but why is that. I mean is that a testament to how good design has gotten why is that why users just kind of expect things they’ve gotten used to design patterns like what’s your take on that?

Laura: I think it’s just what happens when things go mass market. When you start with any kind of new technology, it’s the nerds right. It’s the people who care deeply about it and who love new technology for the sake of new technology and the thinkers and the ones who are going to be in their garage like you know putting together robots and or whatever right.

Jason: You know like the building laser beams.

Laura: Yeah like the kid with the chemistry set and that’s great. We need those people and we need those people who like to figure out when I put when I pour the blue thing into the red thing it explodes and burns down the garage. Those are important things to not happen to all of us. This kind of technology it’s kind of a pervasive technology I think has really gone mainstream and it’s so different from you know the first days on the web when we were like I said we are all kind of figuring it out together. And the thing is that most people, most consumers, most humans have lives and goals and things they want to do; they don’t care about that thing that you love so deeply you can think about something else right. They have a different thing that they care deeply about and that they’re really invested in and that’s great we should all care and be really deeply invested in different things and that’s how we end up with lots of great stuff. But they’re not necessarily tinkerers. They’re not the people who are going to put up with all sorts of nonsense because they just think that technology is so cool. They don’t want the product they want the thing the product does for them. And that’s what is true of like 99 percent of technology users now which I don’t think was true in you know 1994.

Jason: Yeah. You know you said it in your “Stopped Making Users Explore” article he said they’re not buying a drill they’re buying a quarter inch hole. I love that.

Laura: Yeah. I don’t think that was my analogy originally hopefully I credited whoever it was, I think it was- I don’t remember now because brain but yeah they that’s true like if you’re putting together a shelf for a bookcase you might have a lot of tools that help you do that it’s not because you’re a tool enthusiast it’s because you want a shelf and you probably don’t even want like a shelf or a bookcase you just want your books to not be on the floor.
Jason: Right. Exactly.

Laura: I don’t need stuff in piles on the floor that’s my goal, that’s the outcome I am looking for and that’s what the way most of us are. That’s the way most of us approach know technology products.

Jason: You know that’s very true. And I’ve interviewed Samuel Hulick who is focused really on onboarding experiences. And yeah I like how he puts it too, he says you know software is a power and what we’re doing is we’re actually giving people a way to kind of be BA’s right, to kind of be just that version of themselves, a better version of themselves that they envision themselves to be. So I love that perspective. And just like what you said about this building the shelf they don’t really want the shelf as much as they want the problem of books being on the floor solved. And so yeah that’s so true. There are a lot of articles, I think I saw one recently about saying that everyone’s a designer, is everyone a designer Laura? How much time do we have?

Laura: This is one of those dilemma and I could argue both sides of this. Here’s what I will say; often people ask me a question that I find hilarious which is when should we add UX to it? And I’m like just sprinkle a little on at the end. I think that’s what they want to hear. But I think the reality is the U.X. is the user experience it happens whether you designed it intentionally or not. User experience design is about the thoughtful creation of the experience that the user is going to have. And again somebody is doing that design whether or not they’re doing it well. So if you don’t approach these things and you know a very user centric way or if you just sort of leave a bunch of decisions up to people who don’t really know what decisions they’re actually making, then you end up with a giant mess. But did those people design that product? Yes. Did they design it correctly or well? No not typically because remember like this is one of the reasons I am so excited about you know sort of cross-functional teams is that we all make a thousand decisions a day about the product.

When we are on a product team I mean I got an e-mail earlier today from our legal department at the company we are working and they were making some decisions about how the product team works and that’s fine, they were making legal decisions and not as a thing that they are the specialists and they should be able to do that and I should understand what they’re doing and they’re going to have to rely on me to give them enough context to make those decisions correctly. And they’re going to have to give me enough legal context for me to make good decisions right. Same thing with engineers, if the engineers are just told here close this ticket they’re going to close it in the way that’s easiest for engineers. If they understand the context and how users interact with the product and what the feature or thing is meant to do then they’re going to make better decisions. And those aren’t design decisions to a certain extent because everything they do affects how the product works and what the user experiences. So are they designers? I don’t care; they wouldn’t call themselves designers necessarily unless they want to in which case I’m going to demand that they do user research. But you know if they’re making decisions that affect the user experience then Yeah they’re designing; they’re certainly designing.

Jason: You know that’s a really good point Laura. I think that we can safely say OK everyone’s a designer but not everyone is an exceptional designer.

Laura: We’re not all that good at it. But I mean I make decisions that affect engineering obviously. I might make product decisions that affect engineering. Do I make all engineering decisions? Oh god no. Do I make great engineering decisions? Probably not but you know I make them in conjunction with engineers.

Jason: Yeah. And I think you can do that because you have empathy for that discipline, you’ve been around long enough, you’ve been just a type of engineer yourself and doing some code and things and building things, so you have like a maybe a deeper understanding or empathy for that discipline to where you can make an assumption maybe but that you and you kind of at least it’s more of an informed assumption would you say it like that. Does that help having empathy for other departments other disciplines?

Laura: Oh yeah absolutely. I mean that you know in a sense to always say that the engineers are your users too especially when you’re a designer or product manager right like they’re in fact the direct user of a lot of your output right. If I’m writing a story my only goal for writing a user story is to communicate the thing that I want to happen and why and what its intentions are to my immediate user who is an engineer who is then going to take that and do something with it. I mean I want the outcome to be a certain thing but I need to use the engineers to get that outcome and in order to do that I need to produce some output for them to work from. But they are user, they’re not the end user of my product but they are the user of my deliverables of the one product that I’m making.

Jason: And probably clicking the most on it than anybody else too.

Laura: So they are user of mine so I should treat them like a user which means that I should understand their needs and what makes them more efficient and what makes them angry and what kinds of things they’re going to do that are going to make me angry and how they’re going to break what I give them and how to make it less easy for that to happen.

Jason: Yeah it makes a lot of sense.

Now I want to shift gears here a little bit Laura. When we open the show in your bio you mentioned how you became fascinated with this field with your first user research study. What was it about that? I want to kind of shift gears into kind of a user research a little bit, what was it about that study that was kind of your aha moment for you.

Laura: Oh man that was so long ago. I think like I said you know with my super old political science degree, I never really thought about making products and what goes into it. And seeing people using things, I had never sort of studied people using things before and it’s just really fascinating to watch how other people interact with stuff that you or somebody you know has made right into that and see how that turns into better decisions. And to see this product that I looked I was like well that’s a cool thing that you made. I mean it really was very much like a prototype, it was a prototype toy. I was like well it looks neat but I don’t like what happens next. And they were like well now we actually like give it to children and watch them play with it.

We threw that from behind a window which was super creepy but you know it’s like you get to see what they did with it and then to see the takeaways that the designers got from it; was just fascinating and then we did some more research some sort of more ethnographic research where the researchers went out, did these really long sort of freeform interviews with just regular people. But you know within a specific sort of percentage group and just hearing them talk about how they felt about technology and seeing the similarities among fairly different kinds of people and seeing how they…. And of course none of it is relevant now because technology changes. And so people’s relationship with it changes but at the time there were just these incredible patterns that you could see almost immediately you know from people all over the country just talking about how do you feel about these new PCs that are in your house. It’s just fascinating to seeing people who have such different experiences than you.

Jason: Yeah. Totally agree. And I think watching somebody actually use something you created to me there is really no greater litmus test than that.

Laura: Let’s be honest the thing that’s so potentially painful.

Jason: That’s true.

Laura: Come on, nobody likes that.

Jason: But it’s humbling. But I guess in a good way we need a little humility every once in a while I guess as designers because we kind of tend to fall in love with our stuff sometimes maybe too much.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah it is. It is tricky and it’s you really have to just say to yourself Hey I know too much about it to be able to say whether this is like I know what this does so I have no idea it’s looking at it somebody who didn’t know what it does could figure it out. And that’s fine and a lot of times the answer is no you are too close to it and let’s figure out a way to get a little you know just to back up a little. Yeah I’m joking man I do like it now especially now that I’m better at it so it’s not quite as painful. But I also like knowing that the thing that gets out into the world is useful and usable. And I know for a fact based on like sort of initialed designs and tests that that wouldn’t be as true without those designs and without you know the testing and iteration. So I like knowing that whatever gets out into the world has been tested and validated and that I have a better chance of people actually using it and liking it

Jason: Yeah. Do you ever watch that show Silicon Valley? Have you ever seen any?

Laura: I don’t have HBO so I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard a lot about and I’ve actually seen some of the interfaces from it and they are hilarious.

Jason: It’s funny. There’s one episode or there’s a couple of episodes I think back to back where the kind of the Nemesis product company is trying to test their revolutionary app and it’s like this focus group environment; it’s just really funny like the guy that’s conducting the test is just like a typical like I don’t know he’s got the corporate strip and he’s just standing there with his you know and he’s around the room and there’s the mirror behind him and it’s just funny like they really do a good job of making this satire behind it and every time he says something he has to call each of the participants by name like he’s like so who else thinks this product is stupid. You know. And then everyone raises their hands and he’s like Thank you Alan, Lisa, Josh, Joana, Katie, Ramon. And so like every time he answers a question he has to call each of them out by name which is hilarious.

Laura: That would give me flashbacks.

Jason: Yeah it’s funny if you ever have a chance to watch some of those. It’s really funny. But speaking of like user testing and things, I have a feeling you have at least one really interesting story about something like maybe super awkward or weird that’s happened during user testing.

Laura: I honestly don’t know where to start. I have a bunch of them.

Jason: Please feel free to tell us more than one then

Laura: I think Steve Portigal wrote a book it’s all war stories about this stuff, that’s all like Kurtz it’s called doorbells in danger something, it’s Rosenfeld media. It’s funny it’s just stories about

Jason: Oh my goodness I’ve read the book. And I think Steve’s a listener. I want to get Steve on the show.

Laura:  He’s going to be mad at me for not knowing the exact title of this book and I apologize but I always just picture the cover

Jason: Yeah war stories I remember that.

Laura: Yeah it is. It is funny and I’ve read a bunch of the stories; so I won’t tell one that’s in the book. I’ll tell different ones. Yes. So there was one usability study that we did and I always like to throw in the caveat here that I did not design this product, nobody that I know was involved we were just doing the usability study which is another thing I don’t do anymore but it was the thing I did at the time so that we were going all over the country to do these studies and it was retail employees were trying to change their 401 case using voice interface stuff. It was unbelievable. There was a lot of verbal math. There was like I want to move 50 percent of the allocation of the name in the fund would be like IFJX. I would like to move 50 percent of what I have in the fund to this other fund and you had to figure out like was that 50 percent of all the money or was that just 50 percent of the 30 percent that was already; let’s just say it didn’t have a real good chance of success right. So we’re doing that and we ended up doing one of those studies. There was a series of interviews that we did in a lab that used to be a mortuary, they had really sort of doctored that aesthetic. And so they like sort of embrace the fact that this was an ex mortuary with like pictures on the walls of mortuary tools.

Jason: Sounds like a Carcass album cover.

Laura: It was like the slabs were still there. I was so creeped out by the whole process. I will say this, I was in the back just taking notes and there were a bunch of the execs from the company there and by like the third subject or participant who came in people around me were honest to God taking bets and I mean by taking bets I mean they were throwing money on the floor and saying five bucks says they don’t get to task two. Because if they went down one path of the thing like it was over like they would be just lost and they could never come back from where they were lost. It was unreal. So now you understand why I always like to be very clear that I did not in fact have anything to do with it, I was with the product I was just testing it. But I mean it was super painful like I think one of the people almost cried like actually cried. That guy actually became slightly violent like he threatened to throw the phone across the wall.

Yeah it was super awkward and like people in the back were just- I felt so bad for that design like the design was there and I got to say it was not well designed I will say that but the concept I think was not something that was designable right. I mean it would have just had to push back and say like all of these features, all of these things that you are asking for are impossible with the technology that we have. This is not a thing people can do. And I think they pretty well proved that. The fact that it happened to be done in a mortuary was just kind of added creep factor.

Jason: My goodness. I just like I have a visual in my head. It’s like hey you, your body is going to need these tools eventually right. These are talks like that I’d be terrified if I was a participant.

Laura: It was oddly foreshadowing. Let’s just put it that way.

Jason: Oh that is so wild.

Laura: That’s my favorite one.

Jason: That’s a great story Laura and I have a listener question actually. I have somebody from Twitter. Her name is Somia and she wanted to ask you a question about- this is about participant’s so it kind of has a nice organic segue. She’s just wondering sounds like a personal problem she’s encountering currently.

Female voice: Hi Laura, my name is Somia, and I’m a design researcher. My question is if you have any type of advice work arounds or best practices on times when you’ve had to recruit user research participants when you don’t have access to those specific users; I’m curious if you’ve ever faced that constraint. How did you go about conducting the research itself? Thanks.

Laura: Thanks. Well yeah we all face that risk. We all face that contract. It’s a tricky one. I think one of like the top three questions that I get and there are actually lots of resources online for finding participants. I will say this, it depends on the type of user that you actually need. So figure out are you doing for example usability research or are you doing user research, if you’re doing usability testing the requirements for the kind of person you get are a little bit more relaxed like you don’t need exactly the kind of person. If you’re doing user research and you really want to know like you’re trying to understand this particular type of person because you need to like understand their work flow or you need to understand more about their mindset or just you know any of the typical out there graphic stuff then you’re going to have to go where you’re going to be very specific. And again it’s going to be tricky because there are varying levels of difficulty here. There’s you know the oh this product is only for Fortune 100 CEOs like well OK that’s a tough recruit, I’ll be perfectly honest you know. So some of consumer products tend to be a little bit easier but a little bit broader so that can be tricky.

Anyway I will say a couple of things about this. If you are developing a brand new product I get this question a lot from entrepreneurs that say why I can’t find 10 people to talk to you know who are like in this space and I’m like well then maybe this is not the right product for you to be building because if you cannot find 10 people who you think would use your product then how are you going to find a million people to use your product. So think about how you would sell your product figure out if there’s a way that you can leverage that to meet those people. Could you do a landing page with you know Google ads, is there a way that you would get people to sell your product. Could you look at forums or chat groups or off line groups where the kind of people who might use your product hang out, could you start a meet up for people like the kind of people who use your product, could you start a blog that would deliver great content to the kind of people that you want to attract for your product and then ask them to do a little research. Is there something of value that you could deliver to them? If none of those are true do you already have a product, could you do some sort of intercept with something like which is a product I was just talking about this an hour and half ago on a different call that you know allows you to do sort of you know web and mobile intercepts of actual users. Could you go through friends of friends? Could you leverage social media to get to certain groups of people? If none of those are true there are people you can pay; user research recruiters who you can pay to get people. There are things like Validately which you can use to building some of your recruiting for you based on certain kinds of demographic and other kinds of criteria. So you can pay people to find your users. And sometimes that is the right answer because your time has value. And if you find somebody who is exactly perfect there’s a better than 50 percent chance I think that they might know other people who are just like them and who would also be good possible. So if you can even get one sometimes that give you sort of an end to ok where do they hang out or do they find out about products or where do they- who are some other people just like them; so those are all strategies. The real answer is it’s hard. You have to figure out. And nothing works for everybody. That’s the other tricky thing is that any of those things I mentioned will work for somebody. I’ve used all of those, those all work but there are other things that will also work and all of those will not work for you.

Jason: Great advice, Laura. You really touched on a wide spectrum of possibilities for Somia so I’m sure she’s thrilled. I appreciate you answering her question.

Should we avoid Craigslist?

Laura: Not necessarily, it’s quite useful. I mean I’ve done it. Craigslist is useful for a certain set of projects or a certain set of products; generally consumer. Here’s what I will tell you about anything where you are publicly advertising and this is true actually even if you’re doing peer paying like a recruiter to do it for you. Anytime you are offering an incentive just to talk to you, you will get people who just want to talk to you for the incentive so you must screen for lying. So there are specific ways to write your screener that will screen out people who are just looking for the you know Amazon gift card.

Jason: Great advice.

Laura: So look into that and I want to go to all the details but it’s you know like you put in some gotcha questions.

Jason: Yeah. No that is fantastic advice.

Now I can’t believe we’re already coming toward the end of the time here Laura but let’s wrap up the show with the imparting of superpowers. What’s one habit that you believe contributes to your success?

Laura: One habit. Well I mean it depends on how you define success. If you know what I do is successful then you should do what I do. I have a weird approach to my career that I don’t actually know if it’s help me or hurt me it’s just the way I am. And if you are like this I just sort of want to give a shout out to other people who are like this because I think sometimes it can feel odd. I don’t really plan what I’m going to be doing and that’s actually not true, I plan a lot what I’m doing in five years and then I never follow through on those plans, they always change halfway through. But I often have detailed plans of exactly how things are going to go for the next five years and then within six months I’m like oh that looks fun let’s try that. So I can be easily distracted by shiny things. I have never gone after you know like I have to go and work at Google for three years to get the like imprint or you know to get the credibility and then from there I mean go I was whatever. I work at places that have interesting smart people solving interesting hard problems that I want to solve with them. I try weird things just because they sound like they’ll be fun and that I would enjoy doing them. I try to figure out what I’m good at and then I try to do more of that. But then I also try to do some other stuff and see if I’m good at that and if I’m not that I just stop and if I am then I keep going. But I do stuff that I think sounds cool and interesting and fun. And I think by that measure I’m extremely successful because I do a lot of things that are cool and fun. I also do some really weird I’m definitely just like wow 100 percent a waste of my time. That’s learning right. I learned something. I learned something from it. Yes. I failed fast and now I never have to think about doing that big again; it was terrible. But you know don’t worry too much about what you should be doing. Oh I’m not trying to give advice like if that’s the kind of person if you’re the kind of person who worries about what you should be doing carry on. But for me I don’t worry too much about what I should do, I just do stuff that sounds fun and I have found that make me extremely successful.

Jason: I love it Laura and I just love your personality. You’re just so real and it’s a cool glass of water to be quite honest. And I just encourage you just to keep doing that. And I know that you get to do that a lot on the podcast with Kate Rutter as well right and your podcast is called What’s wrong with you UX.

Laura: Yes. What is wrong with UX? That is literally the name of it that comes from so many of our conversations ending with the phrase what is wrong with you which 90 percent of our conversations one of us winds up shouting at each other and the other one. And so we just decided to make it what is wrong with UX and there’s a lot about what is right with UX.

Jason: You guys it’s just so fun. You guys. That’s contagious. You guys have an idea. Are you really drinking every episode?

Laura: I would say not every episode because sometimes we are recording in the mornings but we generally try to work. There are some where we were absolutely high. There was a way that got recorded from a live audience where there was a lot of and at the end of that and gets a little incoherent but we are occasionally drinking you can hardly tell.

Jason: That’s so cool. What’s your most invincible UX resource or tool you can recommend to our listeners and I know this is an interesting question because there’s so many tools out there and obviously we’re seeing a paradigm shift happening but what have you found so far has been your most invincible.

Laura: Sticky notes

Jason: Oh OK. There you go.

Laura: Although I will say that I am experimenting now with which is an online digital way porting tool that I’m playing with and so far I like it. I need to figure out how to sort of incorporate it into the whole product process and bring the team in. So I’m experimenting with different things like that because I do find sticky notes and physical artifacts and you know like being able to quickly sketch things on white boards so useful and that has been the real challenge with being remote. So I’m trying to find a way to bring that more into the remote environment and so that the tool that I’m playing with right now but other than that I think the most important tool is being able to pick the right tool for whatever it is that you’re doing and not over use it you know like if you’re always just going to one thing, if it’s if everything gets designed in Photoshop maybe that’s not the right thing. Maybe that’s not very true, not maybe what you need sometimes is index cards and what you need sometimes is sketching and what you need sometimes is code.

Jason: That’s true. Yeah that’s really good. I love that. A great tool is just knowing what the right tool is for the job. That’s great. So I’m going to go ahead and preface this question with highly recommending defenders listening to get yourself a copy of build better products. That’s Laura’s latest book; it’s incredible, it’s jam packed full of value of building better products just like it basically delivers on the title and the promise of the title. It’s just incredible. I can’t imagine how long it took you to write that Laura but I think you just opened up your head and just poured everything into it. That’s kind of a weird it’s making me think of that it’s like an autopsy.

Laura: Yeah. No. It is honestly I was doing between the time of the last book and the new book. I spent a lot of time going around and teaching some of the Linux methods and the product which- I worked with a bunch of teams and I did a bunch of sort of workshop type things and I found myself drawing the same pictures over and over again and I found myself doing the same activities over and over again and that sort of turned in the book. So the question is like how long it took is not so much like the writing part didn’t take that long, the developing, the workshop tools just sort of happened over time just from doing them over and over.

Jason: Yeah that makes sense. I mean I haven’t written a book so I don’t know I’ve only heard from somebody who I know has and I just know that there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that we readers have no idea the amount that goes into planning and packaging and editing and writing

Laura: And whining and drinking. It’s like 90 percent of it.

Jason: Yeah but it’s a great book. Defenders pick it up; it’s amazing. I love Laura how you have an expert kind of weigh in with commentary too at the end of kind of each section’ that was really an interesting touch to this as well.

Laura: Yeah it was just an excuse to get people smarter than me to write my book for me.

Jason: So in addition to that to your great book build better products. I want to ask you if you could recommend one book to our listeners what would it be and why.

Laura: Again it depends on what you’re trying to do. One that I really like is a book called radical focus by Christina Wodke and it’s a book about which is entirely different than what I do but it’s about setting OKRs which are objectives and key results and instead of setting goals and meeting them. And the thing I like about it’s super fun to read because it’s mostly a story about a startup and it’s very true to life. And you know it’s bit of a fictional story; it’s a fictionalized story let’s put it that way. And then at the end they’re sort of the framework for actually implementing you know the school setting process with you for yourself and that’s a really good one. So I very much enjoy that. I find all the Rosenfeld media titles to be really high quality. So if you’re looking for a specific way to do any kind of UX thing those are really good. But I mean it depends like if you want to make this small canvases then you read that book. A lot of good stuff out there but that just depends on what you want to do, what you want to learn.

Jason: Awesome. So Laura I have one more question for you. On the caveat this has been so inspiring to me and just reflecting on your answer about your habit and it just kind of spoke to me because I feel like I tend to over plan and I tend to kind of like- think a lot of it has to do with just me kind of still building confidence and doing the show and things like that. And so I think what you kind of said there about just kind of just go for it, just be yourself and just you know yes have a plan but be willing to deviate, be willing to just kind of let things happen and that’s just inspiring to me I’m trying to do that a little more with the show. I mean you know I probably e-mailed you about 15 questions that are it’s kind of part of the script and I think I’ve only asked you like three or four of them, so I appreciate your flexibility there but I just want to know you inspired me in that and kind of validated you know some of the things that are going on in my head with that. But also this question here is about advice and based on kind of how we started our conversation, we know titles are kind of interesting and they are always in flux and they really hold a lot of weight, they really truly describe what we do. But I always asked this question of what’s your best advice for aspiring superheroes. And so I could say well what’s your best advice for newer designers just jumping in and just trying to figure out where to go and what to do.

Laura: Yeah. Don’t listen to people like me. This is true though when it comes to your career don’t listen to people like me because as I pointed out I come from the 90s and I mean if you want to follow my path the first step is building a time machine and going back to the 90s and then you can totally follow my path and then you can be me. If you’re also exactly like me which frankly not likely coz I’m a weirdo but so what I would say is find somebody a couple of years older than you not even older a couple of years ahead of you. You want to find the person who’s like 2-3 years ahead of you and who is doing what you want to do and if you can who kind of comes from where you came from. Right like if you’re coming out of design school find you know one of the alarm’s who’s maybe few years out. If you are career switching, try to find somebody who’s a career switcher from something similar to what you did. It can be hard. I mean it’s tricky but you know LinkedIn exists so try to find somebody who can be a mentor for you who is not necessarily Oh they have been doing it for 20 years like if you want somebody who’s been a mentor, who’s been doing it for 20 25 years you know hopefully you’ve got 18 or 20 years that you’ve done and you’re looking to move to the next step right. I’d be great at mentoring a person a few years behind me who is maybe like thinking about writing a book. But I’m not great for somebody who just got out of design school and wants to know if they should start designing VR or the other things I don’t know.

Jason: Yeah. That makes perfect sense.

Laura: I don’t know how did to do that.

Jason: That’s great advice because I think that we all can look to those who came before us and as an example and to aspire to those things and kind of the things they’re doing and certainly the best way to learn is to try to surround yourself with those people. And I’ve found that it’s not asking somebody to be your mentor, is not necessarily the best way to do that, I think it’s it kind of helps just to if you are looking for a mentor to just to reach out to that person and say hey I love what you did here, I’m really inspired you know like you have a book that you’d recommend I read and actually read the book and go back to the person later and say this is what I learn. Thanks so much for that recommendation and just let it happen organically. But that’s a great piece of advice Laura and mentorship is certainly a big conversation piece here on the show and because there are a lot of newer designers and that’s kind of really especially my heart for the show is to try to help guide those folks; so that’s great advice. Thank you so much Laura.

Laura: Yeah happy to help. I like making new designer.

Jason: Yeah. And certainly there’s a lot of design to be done because there’s a lot of really horrible experiences in this world and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Laura: Somebody make this stuff I use.

Jason: Yes. I might drop right there. Laura if I have the timer on I can’t microwave anything. That’s some human being intentionally designed it that way.

Laura: Some person who has never been in a kitchen before. Yeah I get it.

Jason: Anyway thanks so much. Laura this has been so fun and inspiring and value packed. As we close why don’t you tell our audience the best way to connect and to keep up with you?

Laura: Sure. I am on Twitter @LauraKlein and you can also listen to the podcast and not blogging as much anymore but when I do it shows up on

Jason: Nice. Very cool. Yeah and we don’t need to be unicorns anymore but we do need to be slime mold according to Kate.

Laura: Oh do not encourage Kate Rutter. No we need to be Hippogriffs sorry.

Jason: What’s it called the episode?

Laura: UX Beastiery.

Jason: OK we’re going to leave it at that. Laura thank you so much for being here today. This has been a blast and I said it on Twitter and I meant you are really our matriarch of our field. You have been doing this for so long and you’ve poured in so much to helping designers get better what to do in helping to solve the problem of horribly designed products. So I just want to encourage you from all my heart at the bottom of my heart just a fight on my friend.

Laura: Thank you. I appreciate it. You too. Keep making new designers. It’s good.

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