Women in UX: An Interview with Sarah Doody

Sarah Doody talks to UX Jobs Board about storytelling in product design and advice for aspiring UX professionals

Read the full interview for a interesting and insightful perspective on Sarah Doody’s UX career.

Q. How did your UX Path begin?

I didn’t even know UX existed. Long story, but after being accepted to a neuroscience program in Canada I ended up getting into graphic design and web designer. After working on a few teams I naturally fell into a role that bridged the design and development teams. I was always the one thinking about the big picture and the experience. Then, I read the O’Reilly book, Information Architecture for the Worldwide Web, and the rest is history.

Q. What inspires you the most about a career in UX?

I’ve stayed with UX because I like the balance of right and left brain thinking that presents me on a daily basis. I love solving problems. I love being creative. And I love working in different industries and taking what I learn from say a business to business finance application and applying it to a consumer mobile app.

“I don’t truly think that it’s a good idea to try and master everything. Our industry is changing too fast and that’s why I think it’s impossible to truly be great at everything…”

Q. In the nicest possible way, you could be described as a bit of a UX unicorn! That is, you research, design and write. Do you think it’s essential for all UX professionals to be this diverse? Or is it important to have a core skill?

Well, I don’t love the word unicorn because of the stereotypes that it implies, but I see what you mean and I’m flattered! I don’t truly think that it’s a good idea to try and master everything. Our industry is changing too fast and that’s why I think it’s impossible to truly be great at everything. I think when you’re starting out, it’s good to explore being a generalist so you can get a feel for what you like and don’t like. Then, depending on what type of company you want to work at, you can consider whether specialization is for you. For example, if you want to work at a big company such as Amazon, you’d have many opportunities to be a dedicated researcher, or information architect, or product designer.

Q. You mentioned in a recent newsletter that you see yourself as a storyteller. Why is this important in a UX profession?

A product is part of someone’s life. It fits into their story. As such, that’s why I think that storytelling is so crucial to a product designer. It’s not just about designing the product. It’s about seeing the whole story, understanding the people in the story, the setting, the problems, the interactions, and hopefully providing a solution. Storytelling is also critical when it comes to more tactical parts of the product design process such as user research interviews as well as collaborating with stakeholders. For example, a skilled designer knows how to create context, through story, and set up product and design review meetings. Here’s a helpful article I wrote about the role of storytelling in UX.

Q. You’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies to start-ups. Which type of organisation do you enjoy working with the most and why?

I like both for various reasons. Startups are exciting because I love the discovery and prototyping phase. But honestly they are challenging because startups often get married to their idea a bit too much. So as a designer, I’m often trying to push research so they can truly validate their ideas rather than operate on assumptions. Also, startups are challenging because they don’t always have budgets or want the “startup discount”! Large companies are exciting because they’ve likely been in market for a while, so there’s more data to work with and you can really get into making data driven design decisions. Of course, you do that in startups, but it’s different when a product has a massive user base. One of the challenges of large companies is that you sometimes play the role of referee because as the UX team, you inevitably force teams to start talking to each other and sometimes those teams haven’t been talking. So the design process can often bring up a lot of conflict and politics.

Q. Service design has piqued the interest of many UX designers recently. How much of your work involves re-thinking a client’s service? Is this a distinct discipline or can it be integrated into the UX professional’s role?

A while ago I worked on a project where we were redesigning the experience of signing up for and then choosing your cable, interview, and phone services. It was a massive project and I was part of a big team working on it. But, we did step back and not just redesign all the screens. Instead a lot of thinking went into the services themselves and the bundling of them. I wish I did more service based projects. For example, I would love to work on designing physical experiences such as security at an airport, hotel check-in process, or the experience of being at the emergency room. I would love to design beyond the screen!

Q. You’ve recently launched a course called UX Research Mastery. Can you offer any tips for how UX professionals can build a case for investment into research from their organisation?

If you encounter pushback about doing research, then you have to treat this like a UX problem. Don’t let “no” be a dead end. Figure out why your team is resistant to research. Do some interviews and get to the root problem. Another tip I have is that you have to start small. Don’t expect to get people on board to do research for the entire product. Instead, consider doing usability testing on the next feature that’s released. By starting small, you will build trust and also be testing things that are fresh in people’s minds. After you do some smaller research, you can, hopefully, get your team into more of a habit of continuous research.

“I think creative people by nature are a little more prone to doubting themselves and imposter syndrome. “

Q. Is there anything you wish you knew at the start of your career that you know now?

I wish I had known that “there is no there”. As designers, we’re always learning and I think that causes us to always question our skills. I think creative people by nature are a little more prone to doubting themselves and imposter syndrome. I wish I’d known this earlier in my career because I sure did spend a lot of time in the beginning trying to reach that “there”.

Q. A UX career can be challenging at times. How have you remained inspired, fresh and productive in your career?

I look outside the field of UX for inspiration. There are parallels to what we do in so many fields such as architecture, medicine, journalism, film, and art. A good place to start would be checking out TED talks and the 99u video archive. I like hearing the stories of other problem solvers, makers, and people who think about big problems.

Q. What more would you like to achieve in your UX career?

I would love to do more work in the medical field. In the beginning of our interview I said I was accepted into a neuroscience program. I’ve always loved medicine and I see so many opportunities for technology to improve the patient experience. Also, because my mother and sister are nurses, I know that medical professionals want to adopt electronic medical records, but as they exist right now, they’re creating a lot of friction and taking away from patient care. I would also love to write a book as well as start doing more in house workshops for larger companies.

“Do good work. Be humble. Tell the story. Good candidates need to get better at apply the UX process to creating a portfolio or approaching the interview process.”

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring UX professionals?

Becoming proficient in UX takes time, and by time I mean years. If you want to pursue a career in UX then you have to also be dedicated to continuous learning. Yes, there are quick get started programs. But, they’re only a starting point. So if you honestly think you can study for a few weeks or months and be ready, you’re in for a surprise! The education of a designer is never over. You’ll spend your entire career learning about people, learning about technology, and learning about yourself. So if that appeals to you, then go for it! And if you want to learn more about UX you can check out some of my resources: Facebook Page for UX NotebookYouTube Videos, and the online courses I’ve created.

Q. As the UX industry becomes even more competitive, what can UX candidates do to stand out from the crowd?

Do good work. Be humble. Tell the story. Good candidates need to get better at apply the UX process to creating a portfolio or approaching the interview process. Just treat it like a UX project. Do some research, understand who will be looking at your portfolio, and design it for them, not you! A big mistake people make is that they design their portfolio in a vacuum – but it’s not for you! I taught a class that was recorded and in the class I give designers 10 questions to critique their own UX portfolio. Another tip I have is that designers should write more, I explain why in this post.

Q. How will the UX industry evolve in the future & how can UX professionals prepare for this?

As more and more companies recognize the value of UX and also invest in UX, we’ll naturally see more and more people who don’t have “UX” in their titles contributing to the experience. The experience isn’t just the screens we design. Every department has a chance to influence UX — customer service, marketing, technology, etc. We all play a role. Anyone that directly interacts with a customer or makes something the customer interacts with is influencing the customer’s experience. As designers, I think we need to embrace our role as educators of our peers and colleagues about what makes a great UX.

Check out Sarah’s course on UX Research Mastery:

Sarah’s Profile

Sarah Doody

User Experience Designer, Consultant & Writer

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