35. Danielle Smith of Express Scripts

This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my interview with Danielle Smith, the Senior Director of Experience Research & Accessibility at Express Scripts.

Something that I’ve really changed the way I thought about since I’ve been at Express Scripts — we are in the healthcare ecosystem. So the experiences we deliver, if they are not of quality, they do have serious repercussions on people’s lives and people’s time. We are ethically bound to measure the user experience from different perspectives. Before something launches. We have prototypes or concepts or ideas, we do our due diligence in terms of user experience research, to make sure that the thing that we’re putting out on the world doesn’t just happen to people. – Danielle Smith

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Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization.

Many years after we moved into our house, we finally hung up our art. Sure, we had hung up individual pieces, something that was already in a frame, say. But it was always piecemeal, a nail here, a hook there. And we continued to accumulate meaningful pieces from travels or family events. And we continued to occasionally pull out the box (a moving box, made for a mirror, I believe) and spread out all the various bits and pieces and just generally fantasize about having them up.

My goal, however, was to have a plan, an intentional way of placing the different posters, prints, photos throughout our home. Every time we would try that, I would get overwhelmed and give up. I tried taking small bites: after seeing homes with big frames and medium photographs, we chose a few photographs from our travels, blew them up, ordered specially cut mat boards, and frames. We mapped out where in our living room these would go; we essentially carved off part of the home and planned the photographs that would go there. I hoped that this would simplify the challenge of where to put the remaining posters, but we found ourselves stuck, still.

Eventually, we opened up that box and made some hard decisions about what to hang and what to set aside, and then – before too much time could go by – arranged to get everything framed. We were inching closer, but sitting with our posters and prints, all framed, we still couldn’t figure out what to hang where and so (this shouldn’t be surprising) I got overwhelmed and gave up.

But buried in that frustration and surrender was a recognition of what skills I’m missing – an ability to reorganize visual information spatially in a few different ways, a set of starting principles for grouping, placing, and so on. Surely someone must have this expertise and be offering it as a service?

It turns out that, yes, there are professional picture-hangers. We called one and booked an appointment. A few weeks later, on the scheduled day, at the expected time, the doorbell rang. We answered the door and before we could finish greeting them, two men were in our foyer, one of them having magically unfolded and gently placed a table (please assume it transformed from a flat briefcase shape to a table with a soft whoop noise).

The guy with the table handled production. The other one handled creative (and the clients). We showed him all of our framed pieces and talked a very little about what they meant, and we showed him around our house, pointing out areas we were interested in and the few pieces we had already hung. Meanwhile he was riffing constantly, throwing out ideas, getting energized, and delegating to the production guy, who began attaching extra mounting hooks and hanging wire to all of our store bought frames. After a short time, we backed off, and we watched them work.

The “creative” began moving frames into different rooms, laying them on the floor and trying different combinations. Like a problem-solving algorithm, the solution began to appear, bit by bit. The floors throughout our house began to fill with clusters and arrangements of different prints, both thematic and visual groupings. We were called in for frequent consultations as the plan emerged. Eventually there was a plan for where everything was going to go. This was the piece we could not have done ourselves and in a short time, they had done it.

Then came the rest of the production. They began hanging up everything. That meant figuring out where each item went – exactly, putting in nails in exactly the right spot, using a level, all the details. Especially because so many pictures were clustered, something being slightly off would really show, so perfect execution was key. This was also something we could have not pulled off ourselves.

The final results were astonishing. Rather than hanging things in a grid, with the top edges aligned and a consistent space between each, they put together a number of clusters where the posters emanated from a central point in an almost-spiral flow. And they chose how to place different prints within that cluster in order to create a kinetic sense, such as having a poster with a bird along the left hand side, with the bird facing to the right, so that the content of the images supported the physical placement on the wall. This was not something we could have even imagined, let alone executed.

It is immensely gratifying to be in the presence of a highly-skilled individual. When those skills are being deployed for your benefit, it adds another layer of delight. I believe that delight is further enhanced when we ourselves have tried and failed. This story is a reminder to me to seek out these magically-talented individuals and take advantage of what they have to offer, whenever I can.

And it’s my goal to be a magically talented individual for the people I work with, someone who brings in a level of skill that isn’t achievable without my help. I strive to conduct user research with that kind of finesse, I hope that when I coach and train teams in doing research, I’m helping them see what that magical level of skill looks like and move them forward on their own path towards achieving that.

I would love to hear from you about what you are working on and how my expertise can support you in moving your effort forward. Please keep me in mind.

Now let’s go to my interview with Danielle Smith. She’s the Senior Director of Experience Research & Accessibility at Express Scripts.

Steve: Well, Danielle, welcome to Dollars to Donuts. Thanks so much for being on the podcast.

Danielle Smith: Thanks for having me.

Steve: Why don’t we start with an introduction from you to say a little bit about what you do where you work.

Danielle: My name is Danielle Smith. I am Senior Director of experience research and accessibility at Express script. And Express Scripts is actually Cigna company. But we are a pharmacy benefit provider. So we help with getting your prescription drugs. If you have insurance coverage, we are the companies that help with that. And my team measures the quality of the user experience from a few different perspectives. One includes user experience research. The other is our NPS program for our digitally engaged customers, and our data science team and some digital metric reporting, oh resides with my team.

Steve: So I want to ask about your team. But I want to just back up slightly, who are the kinds of people that are having this digital experience with your company.

Danielle: So our digital experience is primarily geared towards people who have prescription drug coverage through their health insurance provider or directly if you’re on Medicare Part D, but you are interested in getting home delivery of your maintenance medications. Our website does have kind of general information. If you do have a health plan, you want to go in there and look up a medicine see how much it costs which pharmacy But most of the functionality on our digital tools for consumers really look at the home delivery of medicine,

Steve: and then use the phrase to kind of describe what your team does. It’s about measuring quality. Is that right?

Danielle: Yeah,

that’s sort of the way I think of it.

Steve: Can you pick apart that phrase a little bit? It’s an interesting one. And I’m curious how you think about

Danielle: something that I’ve really thought about or changed the way I thought about since I’ve been at Express Scripts, we are in the healthcare ecosystem. So the experiences we deliver if they are not, if they are poor, or if they are not of quality, they do have serious repercussions on people’s lives some people’s time. So when I think about my team, we are almost ethically bound to measure the user experience from different perspectives. Before something launches. We have prototypes or concepts or ideas, we do our due diligence in terms of user experience research, to make sure that the thing that we’re putting out on the world doesn’t just happen to people. We have some ideas It’s usability, its appropriateness. And we’ve really tried to test a test and air quotes, do research on everything before it hits the site. And some cases, of course, we can’t do that. And I’ll talk about that in a second. But we’ve tried to do, I would say far above 80%, of what hits the site goes through some level of user research related to that. And another aspect of what we do to ensure quality is to make sure it’s accessible. And most of our accessibility work has really geared towards visual impairments or different visual abilities, because we are the digital team. So my team serves as subject matter experts to help our developers aren’t marketers, and to deliver experiences that are usable by people that use screen readers or have low vision just right out of the gate. So we don’t have a separate experience for folks who may be having any sort of different visual abilities. And that was a big point of focus for the first few years of my role here was to just really get that going. But it’s part of our user experience, practice and it’s in our The research team because we do specifically do studies, blind and low vision users throughout the year, to make sure even though it’s something’s technically compliant, it is actually usable by folks that use a screen reader specifically. But following good design practice, and rolling in those things before you launch still does not guarantee good experiences. And so the other parts of my team work to measure how what we build interacts with reality, and to see if it does actually generate a good experience and has, you know, high quality like we want. So the NPS program I know NPS itself is a problematic metric and has its taters in the industry. And that’s fine. I’m not here to defend it. But what it does is gives it lets us speak in a voice that executives and understand and it gives us the leeway to have an open channel with our users. So we send out these monthly surveys for one part of the program. But another part of the program allows users to leave feedback directly in our mobile app on our website. Tell us what’s going on. So yeah, that gave us a score, report the score, executive lift score. But the words that they use when they tell us if we’re on the mark or off the mark have been priceless and making sure that things actually work as intended given reality. And then the other piece is behavioral analytics. So we run a B tests, we instrument the site and make sure that things are working the way we think they should work in terms of people flowing through different funnels or parts of the site and monitor the experience that way. So we work really closely with our product teams to help them understand their metrics, make sure they’re gathering metrics and help them use them and interpret them in the right ways. So when you use the word quality, what does that mean for you? So for me, I’m using quality to be synonymous with a good user experience and healthcare so complicated. I’m not going to be so arrogant as to say we’re going to delight people. I just want them to be able to get their task accomplished which is getting their drugs prescriptions delivered. or checking the status of their delivery. I want them to get their tasks accomplished with ease. And that’s what I mean by quality. Are we not getting in their way? Do we make them feel like they’re part of the process? And do they understand what’s going on? Because it’s complicated enough.

Steve: You also use the phrase, I hope I get this right. working as intended given reality.

Danielle: Oh, yeah. Reality when you’re talking about healthcare is something that we cannot ignore. And we can’t we can’t even formulate all of the scenarios a person might be in at least you can’t do that yet. And people’s realities may be like right now like, Okay, well, now my doctor’s office is closed, and I need a refill. How do I do that? It’s a pandemic, what’s going on. So we have to be making sure that we are listening to user feedback to make sure we update the website, and even communications and talk to our friends in the call center to make sure that we are ready to respond to our users. reality, smaller, like everyday situations happen. As you can imagine, if you’re sick, there are some conditions that give you kind of a transient low vision situation. So you use the website yesterday, I, my team wants to make sure you can use website tomorrow. Just because you’re on this medication or you have this condition should not take away your ability to use certain tools. We also have lots of families, family situations are fluid who has access to your account today, you might not want them to have access to your account tomorrow. And this is your health information. So we have to be always ready to listen and react when people’s contexts change, or their actual reality is way more complicated than we even thought of when we were designing the user interface.

Steve: Can you say a little more now about the word measure is kind of the key verb that you use to describe kind of overall what you all are doing.

Danielle: Sure, and I’m glad you picked up on that because I don’t want to give people the wrong impression that Don’t do discovery or you know the call, but I am of the belief that the work that we do is still measurement. We may not have a type metric, we might not have a number around it, but it is still the collecting of data to get at some underlying construct as best as we can. And I was recently reminded that I came from a grad program that was more quiet leaning. And it’s probably why I did grow my team, the way that it grows more, including analytics, as well as user research and having them live side by side. So it’s not just about things we can put a number one it is about understanding scenarios and understanding people and listening to how we can resonate with our users and more. So I don’t want to miss categorize what we do, but I think of measure in the broad sense of the word.

Steve: I mean, it’s a really powerful frame for what research does and there are lots of different frames for you know, if you have to say one word, what is it that we do and measure is One that I have heard all that often, but it’s very compelling, especially when you kind of explain, hey, there’s lots of different kinds of measurements. And even when you’re talking before about NPS, and part of its value as a way to open up a conversation with other people in the organization, when you say measure overall, I imagine that that is similar that by framing this around measurement, you are positioning yourself relative to your stakeholders and colleagues that this is the kind of guidance and information that you can bring.

Danielle: Yeah, and I talked about it that way I talked about what my team does is x data sounds very superhero like that. It’s like it’s data about the user experience. And just because I say data does not mean it’s all quantitative, and it’s taken a while for our partners and even some folks on my team to get on board with this idea. But we need to be able to have some sort of convergence on the user experience. And convergent validity is a goal of most research teams that I’ve been exposed to where you want to have some analytics show problems and user research give you the other side of it, maybe some survey data to give you some aspect of scale of some of those opinions. And by us all being on the same team, it gives us that ability to be fluid in our methods and speak to the business in a way that allows them to hear us. And sometimes that way is to use NPS or a web analytic metric to get our foot in the door and expand how they view the users by layering on the qualitative and sometimes it’s vice versa. We have different stakeholders that are more interested in in qualitative data and then we overlay some quants to help them understand scale and focus and or if it’s even able to get to that level of maturity given where we are in the process.

Steve: Accessibility is part of the group and for me it’s new to hear accessibility specifically called out, alongside other different roles. How did accessibility end up being part of what you’re focused on.

Danielle: Oh man, it’s hilarious he was just like a line in my job description analysis like that. Okay, and I thought what that meant was, this is literally my first week on the job I thought that would be similar to my accessibility role in other parts of my other jobs I’ve had before, which was its usability person I need to be aware accessibility exists, and I enrolled in some tests in my normal course of evaluation that help the accessibility team, check their boxes, about compliance. However, I did not do my due diligence about looking at the expressor sweb site to understand what that might in my job description actually meant. Just say like at previous jobs at Dell and larger companies have specific hardware interface requirements that come from the accessibility team that kind of get handed to the usability team that we just make sure as we go through development, make sure that they get rolled in, but what I did not notice and Express Scripts with that. Back when I joined the company in 2016. They had two different websites, there was a link on the top of the site that said accessible view. And it took you to a text only view of the site, and during my first week on the job My boss is explaining this to me and how, nobody really wanted that to be the strategy and the teacher. I was like, Oh, so we need to learn how to build accessible websites, she’s like yeah, like, oh, okay, well, let me figure out how to do that. So it was a whole different a different perspective on the same problem, but it gave me that opportunity for us to say that we’re going to build a website that works for folks of different abilities, without having a separate site that was personally offensive to me as a Black person to have something separate for people who are different, really annoyed me. So, I wanted to make that go away. And having more inclusive web experience. So that became part of our world, because at the time Express skip splits really open to having a much more modern digital experience, we came up with a plan to help spread that awareness spread that skillset across the organization, one person on my team really picked up the mantle and dove into accessibility, best practices, compliance. She’s not a lawyer but building relationships across the organization to have that compliance and a network, and then diving into doing research with totally different abilities like specifically people they use screen readers because we wanted to make sure that not only did it kind of pass all the checks, but that it, like I said, was usable, and bring that video and bring those usability results into the organization, so that they can understand what it meant to be inclusive in that way. And that just really fit with the way we do user research, because the whole point. A lot of the point of user research is to bring the voice of the user outside of our walls into our walls to help people inside the company, understand the operating environment of people outside of the company. And by having a focus on accessibility within user research allows us to apply those same principles same practices that folks were kind of used to, but with a different audience, and it just really worked well. And so, I can’t remember the date but it was at least two years ago, we sunset it that outside, we have one experience, and we have a group of folks within the organization that are really passionate about this developers help each other out. Under normal situations we would actually run usability testing on site at the American Council of the Blind. To get more engagement from the community, it actually turned into a natural extension of the usability team meeting over it’s showing my age but user experience team, because, as designers, as researchers, we are responsible for inclusivity and accessibility is one part of that, and in health care, especially cannot, an all good consciousness exclude that important of a population. And so we do have focus on that and we have it in the name of the group, we want to remind people that this is who we are, what we do, and now we have this culture in my work that I almost don’t have to, but I probably sit

Steve: right there, designers who are specifically focused on designing the accessible experiences.

Danielle: Now, every designer is responsible for it. So, we had, like I said, this me and my team helped to make sure that add new designers have gone through whatever training modules that are we have available designed for accessibility is rolled into our design language, and it is part of the core competency of every designer, the content team of the development team to just build it into everything we do. Can you talk a little bit about some of the ways that your team I know your team covers a lot of different functions, but how you work with other parts of the organization. So Express Scripts senior healthcare org it’s a little different than a lot of the technology companies I’ve worked with before the design team, lives in it. So there is one big group that handles all of the external and internal facing technologies, and that’s a little different from what I was used to, but it works out really well here we work very closely with our technical product owners and partnerships within the business.

Steve: How do you plan for what it is that people on your team are going to be working on.

Danielle: So we are aligned to what the technology or so, I’d say that once a year, we hire on our big buckets of work so we know we are going to work on the website, on the site of member experience for these of students who work on the website, we’re going to work on the mobile application, and we’re going to work on, maybe one or two other properties or different experiences. And so, once we’ve aligned on that across the product team, the design team, and the front end engineering team, then we each kind of go off to our own teams and look at how much work can we actually do. So, this is an ongoing area of maturity for us as a leader of people. It’s something I’ve had to learn to take different approaches to doing, and I noticed wasn’t really your question but I’m going to talk about anyway. Go for it. Easy research design content, kind of a big deal of design, we’re all in this field because we have this level of empathy for folks to believe we want to design things that make the world better. And what I admired as a leader of people it’s, who has to manage like resources and organizational requests and put together budgets plants and stuff, it’s hard to figure out how much work we actually can do when no one on the team wants to say no to anything. And, as a leader I’ve had to figure out different ways of training manager, it’s been very illuminating because I’m sure I was this person when I was like fresh out of school to, kind of, I can do it, I can do all this stuff, and then later I’ve my work quality suffers turns out I’m working on the weekends and at night. I might start to resent the work I’m doing, and if I just raised my hand and said hey I know I said I could do all these, all these things but turns out I can only do one of them, my life the good life. So, as a leader of people I try been working really hard closely with other leaders on my team, you know they’re people on the team to help understand how much work can be done in a given situation. To help evangelize a message of how much more impact we can do if we just focus on one or two things that we know we can achieve and say no politely, but start to learn to build the muscle of No, that’s been my own personal growth area as a leader, and as a individual I’m guilty of that too, like I said, but trying to plan the work and where to focus becomes easier as you learn as a UX professional to accept things that you can do, and be cognizant and aware of what you can’t do and communicate that to your, your leadership your peers, so that everyone knows what’s possible.

Steve: You reframe for me when you say become scribing No, as I can’t do it not know as I refuse to do it right, there’s a human limitation that we are always taking into account,

Danielle: right, there’s a human limitation to everything. And we know that our takes time. I mean, everyone’s work takes time, but if you’re going to do a good job. I mean, you know, as a consultant, it’s hard to tell a client No, but you’re not really telling them no or cheese you’re telling them. Well, I could do that, but it would suck.

If you want to do it well. It’s gonna take this long, or we can do, fewer things in a shorter amount of time, having that conversation is a skill that needs to be developed and it will make you much more successful in the long run.

Steve: Makes me think that there needs to always be a flat no but it can be an example you just model. You’re coming back with peers to trade off stickers to consequences. So you’re facilitating something.

Danielle: Yes, that’s my kind of, when I say my personal growth that that’s my, because then my growth is not just no good to say, Here’s why. I don’t think it’s a good idea, or I won’t be able to do these things here’s why. And this is what I mean time, right, this is how I think, engage other options to get this stuff, it’s not a plan now, and it’s not the Yeah, I’ll do it and I’m secretly working out.

Steve: When I asked you about accessibility you went all the way back to your first week on the job and what that was like and we’re talking a little more now about where things are at right now. I wonder, maybe just a stepping back question, if you could describe a little more of that arc, like what you came into how your job is evolved over the years that you’ve been there and up to date where we’re at now.

Danielle: When I came in. It was at the beginning of what we added at our technology transformation. And part of that was building a design team. So they were ugly at hand handful of folks, and I was brought in as a director to build a user research team. And that was a lot of executive conversations about the value of user research building an understanding about how we work. That’s a process where lots of quick and quick in your clips, does that mean it’s really quick, in healthcare, but doing some initial studies that demonstrate the utility of what we do, creating lots of new templates and getting feedback on presentation style so that we can communicate value and consistency and that didn’t take as long as I would have expected and it wasn’t as hard as I was expected. And by that I mean, I come from other organizations that had more or less established UX disciplines for some sort of experience if so, when I had been a consultant for a couple of years. So, what I was expecting coming in and like to have to do a lot of r&d, honestly to talk about how this is important and we needed it. I had to do very little that, and that was a real surprise. So lesson me it looks like it’s not able to super easy, it’s just that doing that work did not take up as much of my life as I thought it would. Because it was mostly an awareness problem, people just didn’t know that this existed, and once they heard about him can understand the work that we did, they became avid consumers. So it was a big we got a lot of fans. I did a couple of presentations to senior leadership, to this day, Express Scripts president we’re waiting in hallway because he back in those days it was a lot of conversations about what users are doing. And I also presented to clients a lot. So the way that our business works, like I mentioned the beginning is that we help with your prescriptions, if you have coverage with health insurance. So, our clients are really good health insurance plans are different businesses if they self fund their health insurance. And because this was a new function within the company, we wanted to make sure our clients understood that we were doing this and that, if I sent some of the survey, and they reached out to their health plan administrator, it wasn’t new news, so that was a different thing for me to have all these client conversations, and I still do that to an extent but now our sales team, kind of knows about what we do, so they can speak to it. I see pulled in a client conversations on a less frequent basis, but back then I was probably going to St. Louis, a couple times a month to show clients our disability lab and talk to them about what it is that we did for the first and probably two years after like the first couple of years, usability practice maturity, we had a couple of folks on my team to start to do analytics and data science lead and have taken over the NPS program to clean it up and systematize it, and now we have a winner I would say it’s healthy analytics practice where we can start to put things in place like a B testing and talking about how that is used in the organization and become consultants for different analysis questions. so we’ve gone from kind of not like having cabbie leaves little pieces of UX that there was a couple UX people bringing across the organization a couple of folks doing usability testing, they started building a website before I got hired, honestly, so they knew they wanted to do this they had executive buy in, but really, rolling it into product and having it not be optional check the box thing really started to happen over the last couple of years, and now let’s say almost gotten to be a management of demand like under this umbrella shield to keep my team from getting silex projects as we call it. So, and my job itself. I started off with a small team as a director. Now I’m the senior director some pretty well removed from doing research. Back then I think I managed a vendor on one project I was pretty well involved with a couple others I might have done a survey to myself, and now like I can’t, I joke all the time like I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know what it is the PowerPoint slides. I’ll barely do it. I just, I listen to what my team tells me, and I make a path for them that have impacted the organization. So my job has changed from building the competency, demonstrating that we have this competency and getting buy in to making sure that what we do the work that we do, is impactful, and I do that by creating barriers helping were a candidate, identify stakeholders and to fix some sort of weird problems in my own cover, to help in my team to understand how the business works, and vice versa. Okay, the business understand how different new parts of the business, understand how my team works and how they may or may not work with us.

Steve: What are sideways projects

Danielle: and sideways projects are, you are I some violence aged some big translate into like the lunch and learn or something, and someone in a different part of the business, let’s say, in our traditional IT department I say they they make dashboards for infrastructure monitoring, I make it so they heard of my team I heard it was their VR thing. They love this idea, they contact any person on my team, ask them if they can help them by running a usability test on their infrastructure monitoring thing, and that is a sideways project. I have to make sure that we don’t say yes to those kinds of things we don’t necessarily say no because they are under Resources they can point people to like I said like the sauce. But we don’t get involved with too deeply was just to preserve our family and focus, and it’s one of those tough ones. It’s not like things are unworthy. It’s just the human limitation, the team’s ability to do the work. If you’re doing that, then you’re not doing something else, because everybody is busy. If we do have spare cycles spare bandwidth, then we do consider those kinds of projects, but you shouldn’t be down.

Steve: So you’ve talked about the healthcare ecosystem, but I assume, when you call it an ecosystem that means you’re sort of outside. You’re not a care provider for example, but I’m wondering if you’re impacted by regulatory concerns as part of your role in that ecosystem.

Danielle: Yes, we are. And that was another thing that was surprised during my first week on the job. I have an academic background, doing user research, or research like this, and I’ve also been in industry for a good 1015 years. So, I understand, and expected that we would have MBAs that we need to put in place with our research participants, we would have to get informed consent, and we’d have to have certain ethical practices about letting people participate and back out and, you know, things that I come to expect is second nature. What I did not understand, was that healthcare is healthcare. There are quite a few laws that come into play, how you can talk about sensitive health information, and I had to get very friendly with all of our attorneys. And I will say all of them but quite a few. So my first week maybe, and that I got introduced to one of the attorneys that set in your mind. At the time, and he was like you did but let me invite people to come here and tell us what, and stuff like that they kicked out a series of meetings as me speaking with our attorney, are different, and they’re several different legal departments inside of a healthcare organization. I also learned, but he was feud with a few of them about what user research is and how we can use the data, and who we can and cannot talk to and what’s very important as a user researcher in healthcare, is that you are not soliciting information about somebody’s health condition, but it is the context of which they’re using our service. So we do have to could, and I learned this in this first couple of months, being on the job, and I now have to teach it to new researchers on the team put this person in place, but we do have to do very specific things to protect the data that I’ll share with us, because they are, as you can imagine, if you are in a usability session about using a prototype to refill a prescription, we have to make sure that none of that data is real, it’s a prototype, so you’re not pulling your health records to build this prototype, but as you get feedback he might start talking about what happened last time, and start talking about your specific prescription drugs, and my researchers have to redirect you. The reason why is because that is protected health information, and we have to be sensitive to that. And it’s just something I never really thought about coming from academia coming from industry, this idea that if we run like a common thing we do and I’m sure people still do, is in a gorilla hallway research where we just grabbed somebody, and it’s awesome sponsor of the project, give me unless you still a feedback or do an interview about how they might manage this certain situation at home. Well, you do that in healthcare, and you’re talking to an employee, and they might, as part of the usability evaluation or interview reveal some of their health conditions, and we have observers present. That might be a breach of their privacy. So, again, we have to be careful of who who observe sessions, who has access to recordings, and how we anonymize and research participant grids even when we send them out to observers we have to normalize, all of these things that I just didn’t even think of before I got you, and we I spent a lot of time with legal. Now the seas that broad term with legal for a couple of years to marginal boundary. So what we can and can’t do, so that we do, you know, he can do research more quickly, but in the beginning, it was kind of a curry let’s, let’s make sure we can recruit these people, let’s make sure that we are compensating them with fair market guidelines and not. And we have often documented the appropriate place because there’s also loss of power. It’s just an awareness of the regulatory environment we’re in how it impacts research that was such a surprise. Same thing applies for analytics, think, certain ways you cannot look at the data because it is not relevant to design, directly or because it uses your pH, your private health information.

Steve: Maybe we can switch gears slightly here. Great to hear you talk about, as you grow the team, what kinds of things you look for in user researchers,

Danielle: because I’ve grown the team in different ways. I look for a few different things, some things are the same. We do look for people that have some sort of demonstrated expertise, either in user research or analytics data science, you know, you can talk about your craft in cohesive coherent way and communication, again, is consistent, no matter where then where we do want to know that you can present data. One of those more intangible things that we look for and I’m can’t say that I have a perfect way of doing this is patience. One of the things that I think I’ve alluded to is that healthcare is we have a lot of rules to follow some things we cannot change very quickly, but we can work towards changing, and it may take a long time. And that can be challenging for some folks, it could be come from an environment that was very fast moving, or look at work worked at the placements where I was in charge of changing the UI so I could literally open a source file and change the words in the application, myself, and just publish it, and be done with it, and we have several rounds of review, to make sure that what we’re saying is legal for lack of a better term, summarize. So that’s something that I do look for is we don’t want to get folks in who just become really frustrated by how slow things move on the other side we also don’t want folks who are okay with slow things. So, it’s a delicate balance. We look for people who have the ability to kind of see the long view and make steps towards it, you know, push boundaries where you can but not just burn out. By doing that, other skills we look for. Honestly, it helps if you are methodologically agnostic from a user research perspective that means that you’re comfortable doing interviews, some ethnographic ethnographic methods and coursework, or something like that. Like you can do a few different methods may not be great at all of them that you don’t like I have met people who have specialized and we only do contextual interviews. That’s how we do. And this team would not be the place for someone like that. And the other thing that, again, that’s more difficult to select for guys some level of empowerment, were mentioned earlier, a little bit where you have the bounds of what you can do, and know what we’re trying to achieve and suggest studies or suggest data sets that may help with making decisions to get us there, and stead of waiting to be asked to do a thing, taking medicine, like being an order taker, like of course as collaboration where you sometimes get requests to do a study, but also having some initiative to be able to see something happening or see a problem, and suggest a way of getting more information to address

Steve: the problem, how someone demonstrates patience, but not too much patience, or empowerment.

Danielle: It’s all been in kind of conversations and interviews and just a description of your past work, and I know it’s very subjective and I, as I said I’m not really saying I’m great at it, and I love a better way, but we do try to ask questions about you know typical questions about like what was your involvement in projects. How did it start, how did it end. What happened with the findings and just listen to what people talk about. And that has helped a lot in knowing if you have a demonstrated history of taking initiative, or if you don’t. And if you don’t, it’s not necessarily the kind of disqualification, but we do try to ask questions to get out if you can, if you’re interested in taking initiative, and being empowered to do certain things. I have met people who are not interested. it’s like they do you really like getting requests for a specific thing and executing against it, and we try to get at in a conversation in different interview settings.

Steve: I want to go back, you talked about some of the kinds of places you’ve worked in, you talked about getting a PhD of wondering if you could talk about if there were some decision points. How did you decide to pursue your graduate degree, and when did you learn about user research.

Danielle: I’m sure my age, I wanted to be a doctor, and I was, and this is a bear with me. So when I was a kid I want to be a doctor, so I went to high school for health professions and he said I went down that path. I started down that path at a very early age, and when I was in high school, I met a psychologist, and it was a difficult time actually one of my classmates committed suicide. And so, the school district brought in, psychologists, and at that time I’ve been in hospitals doing rotations. As a teenager, so take that for what it means and what that is, but I saw this interaction with this, psychologists, much more interesting and helpful there when I was exposed to other other practices. So I shifted focus to becoming a psychologist in high school. That sounds like I have it all figured out. But anyway, so I did that in high school, and in undergrad, I worked as a clinical psychologists research assistant, and I didn’t like about clinical psychologists psychology was not very interesting, and even though they had interesting problems to set that experience was not, it was kind of boring I can’t think of a better way to say it, so I was in my kind of a research methods lab class, and the TA in that class asked if I want to be a research assistant for an applied cognitive psychology professor, and I said yes and started down the path of doing research on eyewitness testimony, and that was super interesting and Smit to two and a half years, my last two, two and a half years of my degree, doing that. My last year, to my senior year of college, I finally got to ask the grad students that I was working with how much cognitive psychologists make, and this was in the late 90s, and he told me like becoming like $35,000, as a professor, and as kind of freaked out because my mom did not do all this like work all these jobs, it could be through college and do this for me to come out and make about how much money she did so, like, I think it might have taken me a week to go back to my professor and tell him I was probably going to have to stop doing my research assistantship because I’m switching my major back to pre med and I was just going to become a doctor because I just needed to make more money than that. And he’s like, Whoa, let me set up some meetings with you with other parts of other professors in the department to tell you about other branches of psychology that are more profitable than becoming the professor of applied cog, and I was like, Okay, well you got a couple of weeks until I have to go to my counselor and change formation. And that’s how I found out about human factors and industrial organizational psych, and I also like I sent a man with a couple of professors to tell him about these other branches, I took a couple of courses, and apply for IO programs and human computer interaction and human factors for a fence for grad school, and I ended up going to rice that had combined IO Human Factors department, and really loved it. I took a couple classes in undergrad, like I said, and they didn’t really have a human factors class I just had read about it, so it’s kind of on the fence about IO psych but Bryce had a combined department, so it’s like okay like he figured out grad school, and took my first human factors class and it’s like, oh, this is my jam. This is my thing. Technology applied to humans, helping design technology to be more suitable to humans. Yes, super interesting I feel like I can help people and, and be able to pay my student loans. So, that’s how I ended up in the field or sticking with the field. And when I was in grad school I did a couple of internships, the one that really sealed the deal for me was, I worked in the habitability and Human Factors department at Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a contractor with Lockheed, but work in human factors department at NASA, Mike helped with disability evaluations of physical print instructions, websites, Space Station habitat layouts and all kinds of different stuff and I did a little bit of design too. So that was the thing that made that convinced me that I made the right choice because it was so interesting, and I could nerd out with all these people, like other key factors folks, and it was like meaningful work, so kind of ethic I ended up leaving NASA because I was taking too long graduate, and so I had to kind of finish my dissertation graduate early, and then around that time was like it was 2006 2007, and that’s when you started seeing kind of user experience jobs show up as call that versus Human Factors engineers or usability engineers and I ended up taking my kind of first post graduation job at Dell, actually I think I was a usability engineer for a while there. My job title change later to be a UX person. That’s how I ended up cheaper. So series of, kind of lucky events, and unlucky events but it’s not something I knew about early on in undergrad, but I do get a sense have a degree in physics.

Steve: What was the topic of your dissertation.

Danielle: Oh man, warning label design. So I was a risk perception and safety person, and my dissertation was about how to design warning labels for over the counter directives so how do you warn somebody to do something that they really really want to do you want to read it.

Steve: I mean, so from this period that you’re describing the different programs and the different, different disciplines that you are discovering and maybe these internships, do you feel like any events, maybe not in the literal sense but you feel like any of that is present in the work that you’re doing now.

Danielle: Definitely. I feel like be wrapped with my experience in terms of different methods, I had a lot of exposure early on to very complicated statistics took a lot of stats classes, my dissertation, it was a mix of ethnography interviews, and lots of regressions, so where I am now is a joining, all those things, so I familiar with offline experiences and familiar with online experiences, since the very extreme in our events in very, they need to design interactions that are flexible for different scenarios and different physical abilities, those are some things that I’ve learned at NASA, that come into play now. My experience doing like usability testing different styles of interviews and accelerate construction like all that stuff that I did in undergrad, our stuff we did at NASA at PayPal, like all the different environments I’ve been exposed to all come into play here, where I’m trying to help different types of researchers, understand work in an agile environment, even though it might not feel so natural. Like, understanding those principles and how we can consistently work to get better is all relevant. And one thing that I kind of consistently kick myself for is dropping the academic chair seconds, are the things that are learned in school that are still relevant today that I really dropped and try to distance myself from and early on in my career. Most cars for funerals, because there is this idea that, Oh, you don’t want to be to epidemic, you don’t want for folks who think that research takes too much time or you need to do all this math, so just drop all that, and I can I can take myself for that because I didn’t have to relearn it in this role. We learned a lot of the stats that I dropped and kind of the research design principles that I use a lot earlier, like a NASA and in grad school, because now we have so much quantitative data at our disposal, and a lot of us do come from a background like I do, where you did learn how to do a lot of statistics and think about the problem from a measurement perspective in terms of like chunking up a problem like okay this part should be qualitative. These are parts of the answer quantitatively these parts, we probably can ignore for a while until we get these first two chunks down, and that level of thinking has been invaluable in managing a team like this where we have to chunk up problems we have to try to answer things as much as he can, and it’s a useful skill but I do wish I could have kept can protect it more. Early in my career, now I get to bring effectiveness in really, really valuable.

Steve: I mean maybe just building a little a little bit new if you look at the profession, maybe it’s your own organization or maybe it’s just the collective profession of user research. Are there things that you would hope to see terms of evolution or growth in the practice of user research, maybe over the next few years.

Danielle: Yes, I do feel like there’s a lot of things that I would like to see, and I hadn’t really thought about this before so answers are not in any sort of priority or top of mind. I know that everything is Software as a Service, but there are some of us that world that’s highly regulated. So, for me tools and methods perspective, I really miss Moorea miss being able to run for having my team be able to run usability session to record things local people to have, like, analysis and work using local tools. I know it’s a crazy thing to kind of tap into a desire to see as a profession, we need a wide variety of tools and I feel us gravitating towards the same solutions that don’t really work very well for some of the hairier. The human existence, and I am going to go ahead and say that healthcare. If you think about the things that we have to design, we have their parts of our lives just people trying it, and trying to figure out your healthcare situation or trying to navigate some aspects of the government. It’s just really hard. And so those are opportunities for a user experience professional to be different, and happy. But another area, I’d like to see. And I believe my other other guests mentioned this too is a maturation and methods. We don’t see a lot of time on coming up with different approaches, and I don’t see a lot of meta analysis, and that term is to be loaded to but before you look at a breath, or even qualitative usability as we really like to see us advanced ways that we’ve looked at across time and across multiple iterations to pull out different insights and patterns that we should be looking into another is on the other side. I’ve really like to see a more user focus when it comes to data science, and this is not an express script statement but just in general, you see a lot of automation in place like bots, to help. Whatever you want, like, fill in the blank you think you’re on your I am in with a person and it’s about for you go to IBM and think you’re going to talk to a person. It’s hot, but like lots of applications of data science, and like user facing automation, we put in place to solve a problem. These are habits have been put in place to solve the problem business habits. So, in terms of user research it’s I feel like we can add a tremendous amount of value in that space to help bring that kind of work along in terms of solving real problems and real Tasks tab, and to do that you need to learn some of that. I will say, learn the methods that that world. Learn how it works at a high enough level to speak intelligently to user centered design in that context.

Steve: Those are great. Is there anything that we should have talked about today that we didn’t get to want to make sure we cover.

Danielle: I think we covered it but I’m away for starting to talk about the broad umbrella, that the experience research, the way that my, my team is made up way that I think is part of our ethical responsibilities, do you think that is come across in that conversation compensation but like I said earlier, we really want to make sure that serious. It’s not just happening to people that they are defined with their voices, considered as part of a solution, and that it’s continually refined. And I do feel like in some scenarios user experience professionals can be laser focused on a new for a few strains within the UI, this, that you. What does this mean in context of your users reality, and I know that can be kind of big and overblown, but you can have an approach that chunks better into reasonable solvable problems that you can then work with other folks in the organization to

Steve: I really like how you brought us full circle from where we started at the beginning to where we ended up. Thank you for the conversation today and for being on the podcast It’s been really excellent to get to speak to you.

Danielle: Oh, great! And I just realized that husband decided to go chop some wood while we were talking. But, okay. I think we’re having barbecue this weekend.

Steve: Great, well, thanks again!

Danielle: Thanks, Steve.

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