Local group explores user experience and interface design
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While I've always been engaged in the local policymaking process, I've never submitted as much legislative testimony as I have this year. As a result, I've become quite adept at navigating the Hawaii State Legislature website.
It's a powerful tool, to be sure, an important channel for government transparency and civic engagement. But it is not pretty. More importantly, it's not especially easy to use. Whether you're looking for an important feature, or trying to figure out the next step in a process, it can feel like a maze that would drive even Rube Goldberg mad.
Thankfully, not every Hawaii government website is as complex. Some have even won awards. But if you've ever been frustrated by the design of a website, app, or even an appliance or a retail store, you have a sense of how important UX and UI are.
If UX and UI are your jam, you should join UXHI, a local community dedicated to the field. If UX and UI are unfamiliar acronyms, read on.
UI stands for "User Interface," and it's the more familiar and established term in technology. It's specific to computers, and how humans interact with them. The concept became mainstream only with the emergence of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), pioneered at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s and introduced to the masses by the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows.
UX stands for "User Experience," and is a more holistic term. While I was surprised to learn it was used as far back as 1945, its modern usage is far more expansive.
"The original definition of UX, a.k.a. user experience, was meant to encompass a user's entire experience with a company, service, or product," explains Kat Duran, co-founder of UXHI. "I think these days, it seems like the term is more tied to digital experience."
"UX considers how a user thinks and feels about a product or service with the intent to design a solution that fits their needs," she continues. "And we're not just designing what people say they want, or make assumptions on what we think they want."
If you're looking for someone to create a flyer with a picture of a cat and a logo in cornflower blue, you're looking for a graphic designer. If you're interested in exploring why people are or aren't coming to your heavily advertised cat cafe, you want a UX designer.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know what a UX designer does.
The shape of things
Akemi Hiatt, Carmen Cheng, and Sean Tango create an 'affinity map' based on UXHI survey responses.
UXHI was founded last summer to bring together people in the UX field, building personal and professional relationships, exploring its many facets, and fostering career development. The group also hopes to raise awareness of the profession, and how it can benefit any business or organization.
Before you can determine whether or not you're making progress, however, you need to understand where you're starting from.
In November, UXHI launched a "State of UX in Hawaii" survey. It was open to practitioners at all levels, from students to established experts to business executives who currently or are considering hiring UX designers.
"This will be the first research report that we are aware of on this topic in Hawaii," the group noted. "The purpose is to publicize this study to leverage support for investment in tech job creation, raise awareness of the importance of UX to local companies, and provide a pulse on the community."
From the survey, the group then interviewed a number of respondents to gain deeper insights into their backgrounds, interests, and experiences.
The group is now working on the final report, which will no doubt include elegant yet informative data visualizations. But UXHI was kind enough to share some high-level metrics, which you'll find below.
UXHI co-founder Kat Duran and co-organizer Jennifer Kumura.
UXHI was co-founded by Duran, who was born and raised in Hawaii and is a Product Design & Experience Manager with California-based Salesforce consultancy Terranox, and Carmen Chen, a User Experience Designer at Walmart.
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Jennifer Kumura, an Iolani School graduate, earned her degree in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She also co-founded DxU, a non-profit dedicated to showcasing creatives. Kumura was able to return home in the midst of the pandemic after landing a job as a Digital Product Designer at Servco Pacific.
I was able to interview Duran and Kumura together to better understand the fields of UX and UI, how they see the profession and their community growing in the coming months.
Q: So UX is not graphic design, where your client knows what they want and you put it together. In UX, your client might not even know what they want, or have the data to know what their customers want.
Kumura: Definitely. I love that you mentioned data, because at the end of the day, all of these decisions that we make should be driven by some type of data, whether that is qualitative data or quantitative data. Even in the beginning of the process, when you're talking to users or people that interact with any solution, it's all about understanding what their needs are, what their problems are, what their pain points are.
Testing is also part of it. Once we create a solution and we put it out into the world, how are we evaluating or how are we measuring how successful this solution is? How are we evaluating how much it meets this user's or customer or person's needs?
Q: How much of UX is the creation of that digital experience, and how much is research and listening?
Kumura: When I was teaching UX design at General Assembly, we would oftentimes explain that 80 percent of the time is actually trying to understand the user. You want to collect as much data as possible. So you're using a lot of that time to figure out if it's even the right problem to solve. And then 20 percent of the time is actually executing on it.
Q: When you are engaged in a UX project for a predominantly digital operation, how do you how do you incorporate the fact that there might also be a brick and mortar component? Let's say an acai bowl shop picks you up for their website. You want to think about the experience even in the store or standing outside of the shop in Kailua, right?
Duran: In the product discovery phase, we do a customer journey map, or sometimes there's other terms for it like service design mapping. We try to track and map out the entire experience — even if it's just a website experience, we track how people gain awareness about going to this website or this shop in general. When we're following the user's journey, we can see the gaps where we can improve. There's a lot of ways to approach it.
Q: So what inspired you to launch UXHI?
Duran: UXHI started during the pandemic as a way for people in Hawaii to connect with other people in Hawaii that are part of the UX industry or making the career transition into UX. I took the self-directed learning route into UX and it can take a little bit more effort to find community compared to those who are coming out of university programs or bootcamps that have access to mentors or dedicated network opportunities.
There are hundreds of online UX communities where you can connect with people from all over the world, but I think that having a more tight knit group of Hawaii people who can learn from each other, share their experiences, and hosting events made more sense. There wasn't a local UX community here yet, so we figured, why not just start one?
Q: And how has it been going so far?
Duran: We launched our first virtual event last summer, and then we tried to alternate between casual networking events and educational webinars featuring guest speakers. Even with the return of in person events, we do intend to mix it up with virtual events so that we don't forget about our members on the outer islands or even on the mainland. We we also have a Slack community for people to connect, ask questions about jobs, and share challenges as we move through our journeys.
Q: Jennifer, how did you find yourself engaged in the Hawaii UX community?
Kumura: I studied at the University of Washington and I got my degree in Human Centered Design and Engineering. I focused in on human computer interaction. I was actually practicing as a product designer out in the San Francisco Bay area, but I knew that I always wanted to come home at some time in my life. I wanted to end up here — my family's here, my close friends are here as well. But the biggest struggle was whether I would be able to practice here? Is there a UX community here? And that was right around the time that Kat reached out.
Q: Why did you decide to study UX in college?
Kumura: I had no idea what this field was to begin with. Going into college, I knew I wanted to go into a career that helps people in some way, and since my whole family is in healthcare, naturally I went down the pre-health track. I was taking all the science classes, I loved science, but what I realized was that all the classes were straight memorization, and that didn't tap into this creative side that I wanted to be a part of. So I started to explore other majors, and tried to take different classes that I wasn't familiar with. And one of the classes I ended up taking was this informatics class.
One of the assignments was to go on a technology fast, to see how long you can last without technology, and then reflect upon it. And I realized that we all have a large dependency on technology, and that freaks me out quite a bit, because I was wondering, 'Who is on the other side creating this dependency? I hope that they are good people.' So through that, I got exposed to the major of Human Centered Design and Engineering. My approach is how to design technology for the better for an individual, for society, and for our community.
Q: And you got a job doing UX in Hawaii?
Kumura: I wasn't actually actively looking for a position in Hawaii — this position just somewhat fell into my lap. I was expressing my goals and aspirations to another designer that's from Hawaii, and I was saying I would really like to end up here, and he said he knew somebody that was leaving their position at Servco and it sounded pretty aligned with I was trying to do.
My position is actually called digital product designer, and part of learning about the role is also expanding the role to uncover the breadth of what UX is, and what I would like to provide. Expanding more from the UX realm and trying to insert that qualitative research as much as possible, which is not typically expected.
Q: And Kat, how did you come to the profession?
Duran: I worked in marketing for about five years, and then got to a point where I felt stagnant and just wanted to do something else, because my job was just about designing graphics. That was it. I didn't really get to talk to the people that I was designing for. I found UX design through a Google search and I thought it was a seamless transition from the current skills that I had in design where I was taking a message and communicating it in a more impactful way. In UX, there's just more interaction with the people who actually use what I design, and that impact was kind of what drew me to UX. That was just something that I wasn't getting out of the work that I was doing before.
Q: And you also found a UX job?
Duran: I currently work in product design at Terranox, which is a Salesforce consultancy based out of California. One of the partners of the company lives in Hawaii and is a mentor at the Purple Mai‘a Foundation and its Salesforce administrator apprenticeship program, which I participated in. Last summer, Salesforce launched their new Salesforce UX designer certification. My company sees the value of having this design and user-centered approach, so I was excited that this is kind of position that they want to incorporate into the company.
Q: Over the last year, what have you learned about the UX community in Hawaii?
Duran: We had a group of volunteers who worked on a "State of UX in Hawaii" research project to help us expand our knowledge about the landscape and growing UX practice here in Hawaii.
Kumura: We're hoping to publish some of those findings really soon. We're making progress and digesting some of our survey insights as well as our interview insights. We're just trying to figure out what UX looks like for the folks in Hawaii. Who's practicing it? Who's from here, who's just temporarily here, things like that.
Duran: Even with the lack of UX jobs locally and just the limited general awareness of the industry, it's actually quite surprising and equally exciting to know that there are so many of us out there, and there's room for many more.
Survey sneak preview
Although the release of the "State of UX in Hawaii" report will be a major milestone for UXHI later this year, Duran and Kumura were willing to share some of the early findings, noting that there are volumes of insights still forthcoming.
More than half currently work in the field of UX, slightly less than a third work in a role adjacent to UX, and the rest are looking to transition into the field.
Most live on Oahu. Only a small number have a degree in the field.
Of those surveyed who are practicing UX design, about a third grew up in Hawaii, and two thirds are not from the islands, moving here before or during COVID.
In terms of gender identity, about 51 percent identify as male, 42 percent female, and the rest non-binary or undisclosed.
Two thirds are between the ages of 26 and 45.
What else can we look forward to from UXHI in 2022?
"Jen and I actually have a meeting this weekend to talk about the strategy and events for the year," Kumura said. "Aside from offering networking and educational events, we have some projects in mind for the future, like building out a mentorship program, and maybe even even offering pro bono services where some of our members can actually build up their portfolios."
Might I suggest the Hawaii State Legislature website?
For more information on UXHI, visit UXHI.community on the web, follow the organization on LinkedIn, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.