I unravel things, focus them, and create positive change.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. Ok, I also wanted to be a rock star, but that was a phase, I swear! I’ve always been passionate about people, science, art, and business. In college, photography was the penultimate combination of art and science…and running a photography business settled the craving for autonomy and learning about people.
But after 10 years, something was missing. I’d interview couples about their wedding plans, but I wasn’t in a role to ask them deeper questions about who they are and what they wanted in life or why they made different decisions. I started to feel that making pretty pictures wasn’t important enough.
In 2007 I went back to school and took every psychology and physical science class I could get my hands on. My business stayed strong on current clients and referrals. I felt so fortunate to have the luxury to do this! I was searching for the combination of challenging work and a higher purpose than basic profit. I wanted to do research!
But, in academia, there are sides. You must choose between the physical and the social sciences. I hated that. To me, they inform each other just like qualitative and quantitative research. I finally found an organization that did interdisciplinary science with the goal of improving weather communication (warnings and education) in order to save lives. It was perfect and I dove in deep!
My Master’s thesis was an evaluation of the TsunamiReady program. TsunamiReady is an educational program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that helps local communities prepare and educate residents and visitors about tsunami events.
Much of the communication from cities to residents was through road and traffic signage. I was traveling and giving talks about my research. People wanted me to share my data, my findings, and my stories. I didn’t know it at the time, but my thesis was a UX research project!
Careers in science are difficult. A career in interdisciplinary science is even more difficult! I was fortunate to get the choice between doing a PhD or diving into work. I chose to work for several reasons – my friends with PhDs were struggling, the job was more interdisciplinary than the PhD program, and I like getting my hands dirty. I really wanted to roll up my sleeves and make things happen! And, let’s face it, the immediate reward ($) was better than the high anxiety of semester by semester funding.
My UX life “officially” began at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. I did all of the usability research for the ACADIS project and for the Arctic Data Explorer (ADE). Later, I also became the Product Owner for the ADE.
No matter how smart you are, physical sciences love their ivory towers. Without the PhD, I felt dismissed no matter how loud I shouted. Armed with knowledge of Big Data, data analysis, data management, UX Research methodologies, and a history in business, I left academia for industry.
UX Research is very much an interdisciplinary science. That means that each member of a team invariably will have different meanings for the same words. Clarity and the willingness to ask are hugely important. When various components are moving in different directions, change is either impossible or chaotic. Positive change requires a concerted, team effort and tons of tenacity. Interdisciplinary science is all about “moving the barge.” I have the ability to be a PITA and still have people like me.
Business is greater than the sum of its parts. And profits are sweeter when they actually help someone. All too often, organizations lose sight of why they exist – to help customers. They lose sight of who the customers are or how those customers change. It’s all too easy for businesses to fall apart or go astray. The way I see it, it is my job to make sure the organization knows exactly who they are serving, how they are helping, and WHY their solution works.