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The Value of Asking Questions with Erika Hall

January 1, 2020 by UX-RADIO

The Value of Asking Questions with Erika Hall on UX-Radio

In this episode we talk with Erika Hall about the nuances of research. Asking valuable questions and knowing when you have the answer you’re trying to solve is both difficult and important.

Transcript

Thank you for listening to UX-Radio. The transcript is below:

Welcome to UX radio, the podcast that generates collaborative discussion about information architecture, user experience and design.

Erika Hall is the Co-founder and Director of Strategy at Mule. She’s an acclaimed speaker and author of Just Enough Research and Conversational Design, both from a book apart, EriKa loves helping people overcome the often invisible organizational barriers to doing good
work.

Here are your hosts, Lara Fedoroff and Chris Chandler. Hello, and welcome to UX radio. This is Lara Fedoroff. And I’m Chris Chandler.

Today we have a very special guest with us. We’re talking with Erika Hall, who is the co-founder and Director of Strategy at Mule Design. Hi Erika, how are you doing today? We’re so excited to have you on the show. I’m really happy to be talking with you today. To get us started. I would love to know what was the impetus to start Mule Design?
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Wow, that was such a long time ago, my partner and I started Mule because we really enjoyed design consulting. That’s something that when I went from working in-house in a product company to working in a consultancy, I found that I really, really enjoy that work. And I just love going in and solving a discrete problem. And immersing myself in an organization and being able to bring that external perspective, and then finish and leave and go on to the next thing. And what I realized working in other design agencies and consultancies was that the choice of the client was really, really critical to making you the kind of agency or consultancy you are, you’re defined by who you choose to work with. And because of that, Mike Montero and I said hey, what if we do this thing and start our own agency so we can really decide who to work with decide the kind of projects we want to take on and, and have our own thing. And that seemed like a great idea at the time.

Not many people have changed our field multiple times. You’re one of the people who has and your book, Just Enough Research. I think it has made a huge impact on the field and you’ve recently revised it, there’s a new edition coming out, do you want to tell people what’s in the new edition and why they should buy a new copy?

Thank you so much for your kind words. You know, when you do something, like write a book, you’re never quite sure how people are going to take it or if people are going to find it useful or enjoy it. And, you know, the first edition came out in 2013, which now seems like, you know, an Eon ago, and, you know, people kept buying the book and so I thought it was it was still relevant and the topics seem to still be relevant. But I wanted to make sure that it was updated because six years ago was a long time. So part of it was just putting that, you know, 2019 look at the field. And the other big part was including some things that I’d left out and left out intentionally in the first edition. You know, when I first wrote Just Enough Research, I thought of it as that it was the kind of book you know, there wasn’t the book that I could hand a client who was maybe skeptical and saying, “Can we just skip the asking questions part and get down to the talking about ideas and sketching part?” And that was always fundamental. And that’s, you know, that’s something I learned early on in the first agency I worked at was a very research and strategy-driven agency. And so that’s just how I thought about doing design fundamentally like you can’t do the work unless you have the information you need to do the work. I thought, well, there’s no book that I can hand clients and everybody else is in the same position. So that’s why I wrote it in the first place. And because of that, I left out some topics that I thought were more advanced research topics, because it was meant to be an explanation of the fundamentals of the research process, and a guide that anybody could use to, you know, get more evidence into their design and development and product process and business. And so I didn’t talk about surveys because surveys are, in my mind, a pretty advanced technique. And now six years later, it’s clear that because of the plethora of tools and platforms that are available, everybody is running surveys. And so I thought it was really important to add a whole chapter about what you should think about if you’re thinking about running a survey, some cautions and some pointers on how to do a better job of it.

So I just love the title, Just Enough Research. There’s such a perception. When you’re talking to a client or even internal stakeholders, that research is going to take too much time. They just want to get the thing produced and launched. So maybe if you could talk a little bit about how you came up with the title and why that was important to you.

Yeah, the title was the first thing that occurred to me, because, yeah, those objections like, Oh, it’s going to take too much time, it’s going to take too much money. It’s not really a core part of the work. Or the counter to that at the time was this idea that there was guerilla research or lean research or some like sketchy kind of research. And I didn’t think that was right, either. You know, I really, I object to the term guerilla research because there’s an implication that if research takes a long time, or is very expensive, that’s better research. And that’s not necessarily the case.

The idea is that based on what your goals are and what you need to know, there’s the right amount at the time, and you’re never done. And I think that’s part of the message is that as long as you’re solving design problems or running a business or creating products, you’re never done learning and there’s this idea of like, you do a study, and then you stop and you’re done learning. And I wanted to, to convey the idea that for any decision that you’re trying to make, you can get enough information to make a decision you have to or else you’re completely paralyzed, and that’s what people are worried about. Also, I wanted to talk about the fact that so many of those are objections about budget or about time are a complete smokescreen. Like there’s always enough time to learn things. It’s just that people don’t want to because it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying to be proven wrong, right? That’s what everybody is rewarded our whole lives. You know, in school at work, were rewarded for ideas we talked about, you know, brainstorms or people coming together to have ideas that are valuable. And ideas aren’t necessarily valuable. And even one even an answer you find or piece of information they really excited about a solution has a really, really short shelf life. The world is always changing. And so you constantly have to be asking questions. And even if you ask the same question over and over again, you’ll get new information. So I really wanted to help just reorient people around this to say, if you’re doing it right, you’re always asking questions you’re always learning, and there’s always a point when you say, okay, we have enough information to make this investment to make this decision with confidence at this time, and to and to just reorient people from, oh, there’s a right way to do research, which is based on doing academic research, which is totally different. You know, if you’re conducting a research study to bring new knowledge to humanity, that’s very, a very different goal than publish something in a peer-reviewed journal. That’s a totally different standard and a totally different set of goals from, oh, we want to develop a good successful product that doesn’t have any unintended bad consequences. That’s a different standard. And it doesn’t mean that the research is worse. It just means you’re learning things for a completely different purpose and to a completely different standard from academic research.

That is so true. I mean, I again, I think the title frames the issue very, very well. Right. And that’s like addressing people’s anxiety about that. I love your point about people are terrified. You made that point in an interview I read recently, I think on the Dscout, which I really liked about how, how afraid everyone is all the time. And I think that’s true. I think that’s especially true inside of bigger organizations, where everyone is basically trying to please their boss, or, you know, the highest-paid person and so trying to even suggest that they don’t know something already when they’ve already been told they have to do it is so challenging.

Yeah, it’s, it’s terrifying. And that’s the one thing in all my years of consulting is universal. People are just afraid of each other and afraid of talking to each other. And, you know, even in the last few years, the book radical candor came out like, Oh, we should just be really honest with each other. But then what happened is that content A weaponized, right because people didn’t really address the power structure and the the incentives that make it more or less a good idea. To be honest, you know, you’ve got to have a safe and collaborative environment before you can do research. And before you can have these conversations, you have to make sure that you all have a shared goal that people aren’t secretly in competition with each other because that’s, that’s where this toxicity comes from. And that’s where the fear around doing research comes from is Oh, if I reveal that I don’t know everything that’s going to be used against me, and you have to fix that. And if you fix that, your organization will be much better prepared and in a better position to do innovative things to take risks. Right. If you have that much fear, then everybody’s cognitive, energy, and mental powers are being used to manage those sorts of power relationships and an organism And that’s you can think of that as all that energy going there. Instead of solving the problem better serving your customers creating a better product, like doing things out in the world, the more that people are having internal power struggles, the less collective intellect and design ability you have to do your business or organizational thing.
So you have years of consulting experience. I’m curious, how do you overcome that with clients like is do you have a story of something that works really well?

The thing about being a consultant is what works really well is coming in from the outside and charging a lot of money. I mean, it’s really it’s unfortunate because we really try to be allies to the people internally in a company because often what we find is we come in, and the first thing we do is just talk to people throughout an organization if we’re trying to help them solve a problem. What we find is that a lot of times in organizations, there are really smart people with great ideas, many of whom might recommend things that are similar to or better than anything we might recommend. But they aren’t listened to because of the way organizations work. So if we come in, and we can ask really naive questions, we can walk into a room with the leadership and say, Why do you do things like that? But if you’re a couple of levels down, you can’t walk into a room with a CEO or vice president say, Why do you do that seems weird. That is what used to be called a career-limiting move. But we can come in and say, Hi, that’s our job. Our job is to not know anything about your business and have you tell us and then have us reflect that back to you in a way that helps you work better together and achieve your goals. So I think that the thing that works is listening to people and this is something that can be very effective internally, even if you’re not in a position where you think you have a lot of power or a lot of say, you know, designers have been talking about what we want to place at the table. As though there’s some magical moment when you’re promoted to King Arthur’s roundtable or something like that. That’s not how it works. The way that you develop insight and influence in an organization is you think about your own goals and your own questions and you say what relationships will help me get my job done? What things aren’t clear that I need to be clear. And you just sit down and talk to people and really listen and don’t bring your own agenda. You just start by trying to empathize with them. Like there’s so much talk in design. Now about Oh, you’ve got empathize with the user, you’ve got empathize with the customer. That’s easy. It’s really easy to say, Oh, this person, I don’t have to talk to who’s who buys the things that mean I have a job. Yeah, they’re easy to empathize with. It’s really hard to empathize with the person like Well, I was gonna say it The next cubicle but everything’s open plan, which makes empathy even harder. It’s really hard to empathize with the person having the loud FaceTime call at the next desk, but you have to work together. So you sit down with them and you just say, hey, like, tell me about your job. You don’t presume to understand their job, especially across the discipline. So if you’re a designer, like sit down with somebody in marketing and just say, like, tell me about what you do and, and how my work you see my work helping or hindering what you do you sit down with people in engineering, you know, you sit down with salespeople, you sit down with customer support people, you sit down with other designers, other researchers, like researchers, don’t even think to talk to other people in the organization. They just hope that they write a report and people care about their report. A lot of people are just put in that position in their jobs. But it’s so powerful. Just grab a coffee, grab lunch, whatever, hang out, informal formal, depending on what helps you and to say, Yeah, I really want to understand what you do. What’s important to you where you see your challenges are and then once you have that information, then you have a relationship with that person. And you know, things that mean you can talk about your work in terms that are meaningful to them.
That’s just such an incredible, powerful advice. The idea that you would be interested in somebody else’s problems and how what you do fits into their world, right. It’s such a disarming and powerful approach. If, if listening to this podcast, take nothing else away. Please write that down. That the way to have an influence in your organization is Surprise, surprise, talk to people. Sometimes I think that’s my only trick. That’s literally my only skill at this point is talking to
people. But it’s so important. It’s so hard to talk to people and it but it seems so it seems too simple. Like I feel like I’ve got to give this a named methodology and a diagram to go with it to be like the conversational, corporate empathy method. No, because it just sounds too easy. But it’s the one thing people will avoid doing. It’s like they want to put some sort of collaboration tool between themselves and other people. It’s like, put it on the Trello. It’s like, come on, just talk to people. But it’s terrifying. Everybody is freaked out at every level in an organization.
There are those things, right that is like the third rail topics, the things that are out there in the world in their organization, right, that everybody knows, but nobody will ever bring up in a meeting. And it’s so interesting to see sometimes this little game to see how long it takes to find those. Like, here’s this thing that you do this really weird, but if you bring it up, there’s silence. Everybody gets very afraid to talk about it. I want to tell you that you’ve actually changed my life profoundly. Because I believe I now can accurately describe my self and my work as a conversational designer. I don’t think I actually realized that that was a thing. As a person who came to design late by way of Social Sciences, it took me a long time to even own that title. And especially since I didn’t make pretty visual things, it was always I would, you know, my, my imposter syndrome was very strong. But I feel like I can now say I’m a conversational designer proudly wondering, and you just touched on that. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. And the concerns you wanted to address in your other book about, which is excellent. And everyone should go by that one as well right now.

Thank you. Yeah, that that was kind of supposed to be my first book because I did a talk. My first conference talk was about the importance of language to the interface. And then I realized the issues went a little bit deeper because, again, we’re designing interactions. And we’re country we’re creating these really complex digital systems. That the fundamental to how the business operates. But the way that we think about and talk about design is still so artifact-based. And it’s connected to and I talked about all this in the book, my short history of all of the human communication, at least, you know, in the Western tradition of human communication that goes back for, you know, hundreds of thousands of years, that we have to look at how people interact with each other and talk to each other. Because that’s like the fundamental model for humans interacting with the system. But instead, everybody’s really comfortable. Passing documents around like our work is still really document-based, which is the antithesis of interacting and interaction design like our interaction design is still document-based. And that’s a big limitation. And again, like everything else, it goes back to these things about how humans socialize with one another. Yeah, so as a social scientist, you, you understand. Everything’s in-group out-group, everything’s hierarchy. And those, those aspects of how we interact together, as humans determine how we create systems that interact with humans on our behalf. And so you really have to think about how you interact with other people. And that’s fundamentally what design is – fundamentally a conversation and I was really excited I found Hugh Debroglie is the creator of HyperCard like way back at Apple, he has a design consultancy and he’s been writing I recently found his blog that’s all about how design is a conversation about cybernetics and all this stuff that I had been, like thinking about an interested in. I’m like, ah, he, he’s written like, for the past few years, he’s been writing about it as well. And I’m hoping that more designers start thinking this way and not just in we’re making a chatbot. We’re making a voice system but think deeply about the conversation. But again, freaks people out. Because if you don’t like what do you do if you don’t make a thing, we define people’s roles by what documentation they produce, which is only tangentially related to their ability to help solve a problem.
I’m curious, what you think makes up a good conversation. Like when we look at the user test plan, and we’re writing the research objectives of what do we want to learn? But instead of just getting in there and going through the questions one by one, it’s, it’s just interesting to me how many different attributes come into that conversation, where you almost have to have use your intuition and you silence and really dig deeper. So I think Just curious what your thoughts are around a good conversation.

The two things that make conversation work because conversations kind of a miracle when you think about it, the fact that you could, as long as you speak the enough of the same language as another person, you can walk up to any random individual and be mutually understood. If people do this, when they’re there visiting, you know, unfamiliar towns all the time, you’ll walk up, ask for directions, ask where to get a cup of coffee, whatever. And the fact that you can do that is is kind of a miracle. And it happens because there’s an implicit goal. And there’s cooperation. So that’s those are the fundamental conditions for conversation is you have to implicitly agree on the goal. And then you have to cooperate towards that goal. And the goal might be, oh, we’re friends. And we’re just sort of reestablishing our mutual bond and hanging out together and having a friendly argument about The new Star Wars movie, like your goal, in that case, is just to like, have a nice pleasant interaction with your friend right but you both agree on that. But you can tell it’s fun to kind of practice that conversations going wrong. The linguist Paul Grice came up with some Maxim’s that are further articulations of the way people cooperate. And you can actually go through and then play the part of messing these up, you know, you’ve got it to be to the point, you’ve got to, you know, take turns, things like this. And you can sort of start listening for when conversations go badly and conversations go badly if like one person just dominates I’m sure you’ve been to a party, and you think you’re having a conversation or you think like, Oh, I met a new person at this party. And instead of the goal being, oh, we’re going to make each other feel good. And we’re going to learn a little bit about each other. The little small talk thing that a party, one person just goes into a monologue about their work. That’s not a, like a functional conversation anymore. Unless your goal is I want to learn like if you’re mutually agreed upon goal is one person really wants to like, learn about the other person’s like screenplay in detail. Great. But a lot of times the goals are in conflict. And you know, like one person maybe wants to have a friendly conversation and the other person wants to win an argument. Yeah, that that’s the way it goes badly. So that’s, that’s basically what makes a good conversation. And if you say you’re interviewing somebody, and that’s the context of the conversation, your job is to create the conditions. If you’re more setting the stage, you create the conditions for the other person to help you meet your goal. And that’s what it is to be a good conversationalist is to be alert to Oh, are we in sync? Like, do we have different goals? Am I supporting this other person or am I secretly undermining them? Because some people If you if you have a conversation with somebody and you get that icky feeling like we all get that, of like, oh, what what happened? And sometimes it can happen with a close friend or a partner and you’re like, Oh, I was trying to interact with them and it went wrong. You think and you’re like, Oh, they were, they weren’t cooperating with me. They were like doing the thing that made me feel bad. Or they were talking too much, or they were answering and like, monosyllables answers, you can start to develop a sense for good and bad conversations and what makes those conversations go well, or go poorly.

Yeah, that’s so great. The instant example I thought of which is so common, right? Is the goal of this conversation for me to solve your problem, or to listen in and have empathy for what you’re trying to explain. Right? That is such a classic. What is the goal of this conversation?

Yeah that’s a real classic. And that’s how people close to each other get in trouble. I think in conversations a lot is like, do you just want to let me to listen or Because some people, I’m a solver, like if you come to me, and this is something, it took a while for me to really grasp that, that wasn’t always what was needed. Somebody would come to me with a problem. And I’m like, okay, here, I’m sitting there, like, I just, I just want to vent. And I feel like we’ve, as a culture, maybe developed some ways to talk about that like to say like, I just need to vent and then if the person is really truly your friend or on your side, they’re like, okay, I’ll let you vent. Let me know if you want me to solve. Let me know if you need help. But I’m just going to listen. And I feel like we’ve developed some terms and phrases and techniques to help each other do that better. So the people aren’t secretly super mad at each other.

I’m curious. One of the quotes in your book was talking about directly attacking the high stakes in the conversation and or in your research. And so one of the things that we do in our practice is trying to identify what can make this product or service fail. And kind of address that head-on. I’m I would love to hear more about methods or techniques that you use to identify those high stakes and how you go about really digging into those.

Yeah, I think that’s a real it’s a great question to bring up, you know, how might something fail or how much something go wrong or what the consequences might be? Because I think what happens is, like designers and engineers get really optimistic, especially in more early-stage companies it can, it can feel and collaborative may be to ask questions or propose, like you to even suggest that something might have consequences can feel like an attack. And so yeah, I’d say the really the techniques are just making sure I mean, it’s always it’s so like I said, I’ve got to come up with more named methodologies and diagrams because it’s so the simple thing things that people don’t do, which are, be really clear about your goals, be really clear about your assumptions and everybody’s role in that and your expectations and have an open and honest discussion of our assumptions correct? Are we missing anything? Are there any consequences? that might happen? Because of this? You know, what happens if we’re wildly successful and just, again, the most important part of the design is the talking part. But that doesn’t look or feel productive, right. That’s why the post-it notes are so important because the post-it notes are a way that you can like, have the conversation you need to have and be like, Look, our conference room is covered in many colors of post-it so clearly, we’ve done design here. Like that’s purely symbolic. That’s an excuse to have, the conversations you need to have or those sorts of activities. So you have some tangible output, or else people start freaking out that you didn’t do work and The other thing is really you have to, you have to do your research to see how things have maybe failed in the past. And you have to find the right analogies like analogous research can be so powerful, but so dangerous if you choose the wrong analogy, like, for example, the bad analogy, a lot of companies are choosing now, like early-stage high growth companies are like, Oh, it doesn’t matter if we lose a tremendous amount of money because we’re like Amazon, but the only thing they have in common with the early days of Amazon is losing a lot of money, but not really, and not for the same reasons, because you’re in a totally different business. Right? So you have to be really clear about some of them are like what your model is, what your business model is, what your exchange of value is. And I think just mapping these things out because everybody does now designers do the customer journey or the user journey, and people don’t map that against the business value created at certain points, right. So you’re like, if you do that, if you make After the business value in the customer value together at the same time, then that might reveal that making the customer unhappy is actually the thing that your business makes money from. or somehow putting the customer at risk, or creating some bad situation or making the customer happy is like you’re just spending a lot of money, but they’re not a good customer and you’re not getting business value in return. And so thinking about the business and the customer together at the same time, in the wider world context is something that people don’t really do. Everybody just focuses on one side of it, but you can’t succeed unless those things are imbalanced in a sustainable way.

Another thing that I’m I’m quite fascinated about is your background in philosophy. And I’m curious who are your favorite philosophers who are the ones who are your go-tos, who are the ones that you return to again and again?

Wow. That is really good. He’s kind of underrated.

Who else do we the American pragmatist, I super like him. But I can tell you I never thought trolley problems would would still be a thing, right? Because I took I took a winter like that my senior in college I took a moral philosophy advanced seminar. We’re basically all we did all winter was trolley problems. And I’m sitting here thinking, when in my life is this ever going to come up again? Like, oh, we tie somebody the tracks here, but this person is a Nobel laureate, but we have three children over here. What if you actively divert the trolley, you know what? And then I sort of forgot that and then all of a sudden, here we are, and and everybody’s like talking about autonomy in trolley problems and The Good Place you watch the good place that trolley problems episode was amazing, right? Who knew we’d be out here building killer trolleys, as fast as who knew who now are true,

Erika, I would love to ask you. What advice Would you give to researchers and maybe the person that’s already been doing it for several years and trying to improve their methodology around that?
I think the most important thing, if you’re working in a business context is to be really clear about how your work connects to the goals because I think a lot of you know, people who practice research come from many different paths into it, because it’s still a relative. It’s what’s debatable, like the current incarnation of the field is relatively new, and it’s growing. There’s a lot of enthusiasm. But I think the researchers who come out of more of an academic background are sometimes less well prepared for the political landscape they enter into like if you come from an environment where if you can present the facts and back it up with like strong methodology and rigorous analysis than your peers. Well, you know, okay, we understand like we believe you. And I’ve talked to some people who’ve come from that background who are completely blindsided when they present the facts, and the facts are completely ignored for political reasons. So I’d say the most important thing like there’s, there are so many tools now like the amount and diversity of like tools and platforms and ways of doing things. It just exploded in the past few years. And it really does come down to that clarity and establishing that shared clarity around what do we need to know? And what are we going to do with that information? And how do we make sure that everybody who, who needs that information has access to when they need it and this is a lot of the work that’s going on? in research, ops and forming research requires stories and things like that to make sure that we’re remembering the things we learned. But the most important thing is to make sure that you understand, like, and how the individuals are going to use this information in their work because it’s still too easy to just ignore it. You know, I’ve talked to people in organizations that have hold buildings for their researchers, as they store them in a separate building, the research is going on, and then the designers and you know, the business leaders are kind of ignoring it. It’s like, Oh, great, you’re learning things, you’re learning things. But our business doesn’t depend on whether or not we know those things. And so it’s that building alliances and building that understanding, to make sure that if you’re learning things, that the business as a whole is learning things. And that’s hard and it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of often annoying conversations. But yeah, but the fact that people I get an argument with people sometimes we’re like, it’s who are so frustrated that you can’t change beliefs. with facts, and that’s like this fundamental part of humanity that we’re kind of wrestling with now is like, but we have all the facts. Why don’t people believe the facts? And it’s like, no, people don’t believe facts. So you’ve got to put your facts into a story. And this is offensive to some people. I’ve had conversations where people are legitimately offended that they have to tell a story with their facts. And I’m like, you’re kind of at a disadvantage. If you bring facts, facts are annoying, and facts are usually not ego enhancing, right? facts are usually kind of a bummer. Because the world isn’t like, made for, like convenience. And so you have to even work harder to put your findings into a candy coating that makes them digestible for people.

Yeah, I think there’s such a tension right between people who learned to do research and have this sort of presumption of objectivity. So the more you know about research, right, the more you’re into the methods, the less clear everything gets, right, like the best researchers know how nuanced and how much randomness and noise and count and complication there is in the world. But the research and then the design, right? It’s like, I always feel like you have to have a point of view. If you’re the research lead, and all you’re doing is presenting the results. A, you’re not going to be that effective and be like, I mean, I guess it’s the same thing here. How is anything going to get done just by you offering facts up to the world? You need to have a point of view? You have one anyway, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

Yeah, I think one thing is telling the story. That’s hard. It takes work to tell a good story. You can come away with incremental improvements, but identifying an overarching theme and telling the dramatic story of Hey, we learned this amazing And pivoted this design to bring better experience in the outcome. So I think there’s, it takes work, it takes practice to tell a good story.
Yeah. And the way you tell a good story is by understanding your audience. And that’s why it goes back to having all those conversations. Because the best way to tell a good story is to know what’s already meaningful to people. So you don’t have to, because yet creating meaning is a lot of work. It’s way easier. And this is what like good people who are good at branding are good at is hooking into the existing meaning and existing stories. And you can’t do that unless you understand what’s in people’s like heads and hearts that you’re trying to tell a story too, because then you can say, Oh, the story that you already tell yourself the story that you already like, believe in, here’s how these facts fit into that. You’ll have a much easier time than like I’m creating a whole new life. If you’re like, Hey, I know that this is our company’s mission. And this is how you personally are rewarded. This is your participation. I know this is important to you. And here’s how what I found fits into what’s already important to you. And then you’ll have such an easier time. But everybody has this idea that there’s such a thing as objectivity, which they’re, they’re like, of course, there are facts that are true. But there’s way it’s like you’re saying there’s way more complexity and nuance and way less objectivity and even in, you know, pure research, even in academia, there’s huge, multiple crises now about how research is going because it all depends on what studies get funded. What news about science gets reported? There’s bias and all of this so it’s like even what questions we asked which is the first most important step is totally biased. It’s like how do you pick whatever Learn about and the more that you just sort of having this ongoing conversation. And you’re always sort of interrogating what you’re finding in a supportive collaborative way, the better it’s going to go. But that is work. And a lot of times the problem with the design now is it’s just like this machine of like, produce, produce, produce, produce, you know, so that we can feed the engineers like everything’s being driven by these agile processes. And nobody feels like they have time to stop and think and frame things. But it doesn’t take that much time. It just takes what feels like a terrible amount of effort.

Yeah, so true. We’d like to ask all of the guests this question, which is, what would you like your legacy to be in our field?

Wow, my legacy. I would really love it for people to understand the value of asking questions like that. Really, because everybody’s so focused on ideas and answers and innovation, whatever name it goes by, everybody’s focused on, I’m just going to find the right answer. And I can stop asking questions. And if I help, like everybody to realize that the most powerful thing is, is to maintain that openness, and that mindset, and the fact that the question is always going to be more important than any individual answer, like that, I think is as my legacy. It’s like, my other favorite philosopher, you know, Socrates, but of course, Socrates didn’t write anything down. So you know what Plato said? Socrates said, the only thing I know is that I know nothing. Like that’s a great thing to just keep on your wall in front of you and say, you know, the best thing to keep in mind is that you can always learn more and you should always learn more Which is humbling, but useful.
That’s amazing. I love that. So where can people find out more about you like if they want to hire you if they’re lucky enough to get you? Where can they find more information about you?
Well, I’m on Twitter too much. But it’s good to have good conversations with people on Twitter as a meal girl. And then meal design. com is the studio site. And I write a fair bit like we’ve pretty much moved our blog over to medium at least for the time being. And so I write about stuff there as well.
Wonderful.
What’s your idea of the perfect gig right now? somebody out there has got a perfect gig for you, Erika, what would it be?

Wow, that’s a great question. The kind of work I’ve been doing lately that I’ve really been enjoying is helping companies with their evidence-based decision process because so many organizations have so much Data like everybody got really excited about, like, oh, we’re just going to Hoover up all this data, we’re going to have analytics everywhere we’re going to instrument every part of our interaction. And then they end up with all this data. And they don’t have enough understanding, or they’ve got people kind of working in silos. And so what I’ve been doing is working with organizations to really understand like, how do you make design decisions? And how do you incorporate data and different and qualitative and quantitative data in that process? And so it’s a really, it’s kind of a quick, you know, six, eight week kind of thing. And we can make great like great changes just by having somebody come in from the outside and talk to people and then you’re all like, kind of do this model thing together. And so and that’s really, that’s really fun for me, and I’ve been working with like remote teams and stuff. So that’s, that’s really ideal because a lot of change can happen in like a pretty short amount of time and it helps people work better together. And that’s, like, that’s so much of what Design consulting is satisfying for me, it’s not that I want to create like, because it’s interactive design, right? stuff gets plowed under constantly. It’s not like I’m going to make the interface that stays like that that’s going to be in like the Design Museum. That’s not how design is anymore. But if I can help people who are theoretically working together, actually collaborate and, and like each other more and really understand how their work fits together and be better at achieving meaningful goals, like that, to me is so great. It’s like, Oh, look, you’re all getting together and you’re all asking questions, and you’re not afraid of each other anymore. Like that, to me is is super fun.
Maybe less afraid of each other.

Wow. Yeah, be afraid of me. I can come in, I can be a common enemy to everybody can be afraid of me. That’s also a service I can totally provide.
Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show, especially just around this year out. Thank you tremendously for your time.

Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation and I can talk about this stuff for hours and hours and hours. So it was super fun.

Thanks. And we’re trying to get you down to LA again sometime soon.

Yeah, it’s not that far away. I know I should get back there.

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More about Erika

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