Dorelle Rabinowitz

Senior Director of UX for PayPal’s Next Gen Commerce

Dorelle Rabinowitz

Senior Director of UX for PayPal’s Next Gen Commerce Episode 26

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode 26 of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing topics concerning the state of interactive design education at institutions of higher learning. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Today’s guest is Dorelle Rabinowitz. Dorelle is an experienced design leader, information architect, and storyteller. She is currently Senior Director of UX for PayPal’s Next Gen Commerce team, a small, cross-disciplinary group that tackles strategic contextual commerce and financial services initiatives. Previously, Dorelle was the design strategist for Intuit’s Harmony Design System where she helped teams design across an ecosystem and be increasingly design-led. Before that, Dorelle directed UX teams at eBay, Google, and Yahoo!, was an Information Architect at Razorfish, and produced Oxygen.com’s “Our Stories” site. Dorelle has a deep expertise in system-level creation and development of design languages, as well as a passion for solving complex business problems with great design.

Welcome Dorelle.

Dorelle:
Thanks for having me.
Gary:
I’m excited to have you. So, we’re just going to dive right in and my first question is, what is Information Architecture, or for the interactive design educator, how is Information Architecture different from having students draw wireframes with the content that we hand to them?
Dorelle:
Hmm, well, Information Architecture is basically the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable; it’s about organizing information and IA is an important skill within the entire user experience disciplines such as content strategy, library science and interaction design and creating the Information Architecture and the wireframes are linked together. You have to figure out what the information is before you know how to arrange it, but the hierarchy of the information also heavily influences the IA.
Gary:
All right, so, then where does content strategy fit into the Information Architecture process?
Dorelle:
It’s just so tightly intertwined. In many companies, there’s a Content Strategist who also does the Information Architecture or there’s two people and they work together. One of the things that Information Architects do is actually do a content audit and that’s the same thing that a Content Strategist would do, so there’s a lot of overlap between all of the UX disciplines and sometimes there’s multiple people doing each of these…sorry I’m blanking…sometimes there’s multiple people doing each practice, but sometimes there’s one person doing everything.
Gary:
All right, so it’s a discipline that has its unicorns but also has its…
Dorelle:
Sometimes you want to have deep knowledge, right, so there are Information Architects who are really strong in things like taxonomy and who understand how to label different types of content and what kinds of content works with other kinds of content and then there are other Information Architects who are more generalists and who are good at figuring out how everything works together and you might actually call them, say, an experienced designer and they practice IA as part of that.
Gary:
OK. So, I’m a little unfamiliar with the process and I’m sure others are as well, so what type of process will an Information Architect go through to arrive at the end result and what is the end result? What do they deliver?
Dorelle:
So, most Information Architects practice what we like to call user-centered design and that means that they really want to understand who the users of their product are, but there’s also…you also need to understand what the business goals are of what you’re creating and there’s kind of an intersection between user needs and business goals and to get to that intersection, you need to do design research; speak and talk to users, observe them, do contextual interviewing, stakeholder interviews to understand the business goals and once you have that, you might actually say OK, for this target user, I want to think about what are the tasks that they need to do to accomplish this business goal and you might create what we like to call a user flow, Task One to Task Two to Task Three and for each of those tasks you might break that down into sub-tasks and already now you’re kind of building what we like to call a flow or even a site map; you can do Information Architecture for apps and sites, all sorts of different things, and as you’re building out what the steps that that user is going to take to accomplish the goal, you’re figuring out, hmm, I might need to wireframe this screen or maybe this can all be done on one screen.

Then there’s the practice of thinking about OK, if it’s a whole site and I know that there are multiple tasks that users have to do, there’s multiple kinds of content, I’m going to have to figure out what that content is so that’s where you start with an existing content audit or make an audit of the kinds of content that you think you need to accomplish the goals; I would do that in a spreadsheet and literally lay out: here are the sections. But what’s really interesting is that in my brain, how I might organize something might be really different than your target user: I’m really technical and I’ve worked in a lot of apps and I know my way around, but your target user may actually be somebody who rarely uses their smart-phone or whose work involves a whole different way of looking at things, so you need to put yourself into their heads to understand how to organize it and we often do something called a card sort with actual prospective users of whatever it is you’re building and that helps organize the information, so you make cards of each piece or chunk of data and you ask the users to organize it into buckets and those buckets could actually become the navigation of your app or site.

Gary:
It’s a great explanation. I have…so, the process that you just described makes perfect sense for when there’s existing content. How is Information Architecture’s approach different when there isn’t existing content or it’s a new product or a new service?
Dorelle:
So, that’s really where the content strategy comes in and the collaboration between the Content Strategist and the IA, so now you have to figure out, OK, if I want to accomplish a particular task, what kinds of content do I need to accomplish that particular task, and/or is there a business goal in this scenario as well, so maybe I’m adding a new way to pay for something…I work at PayPal…maybe I’m adding a new payment product but I also want to highlight some other products that we have, so in that case, maybe I need to figure out how important is Task One, adding a new payment product, related to I’m trying to up-sell another kind of product and how do I write the content for that and so typically, it’s a matter of collaboration, of what do I need, how do I describe what needs to be accomplished or what kind of content needs to be written?
Gary:
So, in an ideal world, how involved will the Visual Designer be in working with the Information Architect, and vice-versa, in those early stages?
Dorelle:
So, it’s really interesting to me because every team I’ve been on has been slightly different and you adjust how you work depending on that team but once you start getting into wireframes and I have to be clear: I would work on a wireframe at the same time that I’m developing the site map and the navigation and I’m going back and forth between them because they influence each other. But once I have a really clear idea of what’s the most important information on the screen, that’s when I’m going to bring in the Visual Designer and we’re going to talk, because I’m hopefully making a wireframe that is close, visually at least, in hierarchy to what the final design would be, so that’s when I talk to the Visual Designer about what’s the goal we’re trying to accomplish and what needs to be highlighted where, and that’s the collaboration to begin with, so they can even start thinking about that while I’m still working on the wires.
Gary:
All right, so that perfectly leads into my next question. Generally in most BA, BFA Graphic Design programs, students are given a design brief with a list of requirements and they’re probably given the content, so this method of delivering projects to students skips the important step of Information Architecture and encourages students to immediately start focusing on the visual aspect of the design. How should educators be managing this process while still leveraging and trying to be leaning towards strong visual literacy for students?
Dorelle:
You know, I was thinking about this because I did actually study Graphic Design as an Undergraduate and I never even thought about who would be using what I was designing, but what I did think about was, because I was thinking a lot about systems design and if I’m designing, say, a book, I do have to think about all the pages that exists everywhere versus the separate content on each book page and how do I divide the book up and that’s actually what led me into Information Architecture because all of a sudden, I was designing the structure of the information and so there’s a really tight relationship between Graphic Design and Information Architecture but I wasn’t really taught that in school and the thing that I see with new students, especially in visual design coming out of programs, is that they don’t have an understanding of the user-centered design process, so they aren’t thinking about the end user and they aren’t thinking about what goal you’re trying to accomplish as much as they’re trying to think about making things beautiful and trust me, I think that’s very, very important, but there are other goals to what we’re designing for the real world in terms of making something usable or selling something, so you need to understand your end-user so I would try to encourage educators to think about maybe having the students talk to some actual users: start at what is the problem. Oftentimes in my world, I don’t even know what the problem is. I have to think about what my client is asking me to do and actually figure out OK, really, what do I need to solve here, before I even jump into a design.
Gary:
So to just kind of follow up on that a little bit deeper: essentially, the visual designers, kind of the way we’re training them now is they’re going for making it visually, esthetically pleasing and easy for the user to see, but now…so what they are missing is the fact that they’ve got to realize that that content that they were given, that hierarchy wasn’t an arbitrary decision that they can just go…that trumps…that their visual can trump the importance of that information.
Dorelle:
That’s right.
Gary:
So that’s what they’re missing, really.
Dorelle:
That’s right, that’s right. And also that’s where the collaboration comes between the Visual Designer and the IA in terms of no, the purpose of this screen is to have users click on this button and everything else is less important. Or, everything on the page has equal importance. It could be the same information, but you could design it in multiple ways, so you need to understand what the problem is you’re solving.
Gary:
OK, and that really actually cleared it up, crystallize it more in my head; I’ve been wrestling with in the classrooms, how do I introduce content so they can start designing on it, because you want to give them the freedom to visually arrange it but I feel like I’m just going to start saying no: these things are non-negotiable; these are what users have determined is the most important thing, so you can’t change the importance! It has to stay there. So, based on your experiences, what are interns and entry-level Interactive Designers missing that design educators should be addressing in the classroom?
Dorelle:
I think there’s a bunch of stuff. The first thing I’m thinking of are soft skills. When I look at a designer and a new designer, I look at their core skills: can they figure out the hierarchy? Do they understand the visual literacy and how to use typography, etc? But around the…the core skills are their soft skills, so, communication, compromise, negotiation. In my world, this is really, really important. You need to be able to articulate your design decisions. You can’t just say here, look at what I did: you need to say, I made this button large and blue in the left corner so that your eye would go to it first and there’s a reason for that and that articulation of the design decision is something that people, usually a Junior Designer doesn’t quite understand. Telling the story of what the user’s going to accomplish when they’re using this design as opposed to just showing the design because frankly, everyone on my team is going through multiple designer views with various what we like to call stakeholders, even within the company, and so if you’re explaining something to me, and you dive into the typography details or something, that’s fine, but to my boss, really is only concerned with business results, so that designer needs to be able to explain how this design is going to affect those business results, so that’s one thing. And a lot of that they learn on the job by mentoring and just watching.

The other thing I think that’s really important to think about is that there’s no perfect project in the real world. Often you have conflicting requirements: lots of different people to talk to, pieces everywhere and sometimes you’ll do something really, really beautiful and the head of the group or company will be like, I don’t like yellow. Well, how do you even respond to something like that? So, there’s a lot of I guess unknowns in the real world and so being able to handle last-minute changes, being able to deal with ambiguity, is really important and my pet peeve is making your deadlines. If you can’t make your deadline, don’t tell me five minutes before you don’t make it. Tell me maybe the day before and I can save it, I can do something about it, but if you tell me five minutes before you’re about to present to the bigwig that you’re not going to do it, I’m not going to be a happy camper.

Gary:
Yeah, that seems to be a problem that I can’t quite understand because it’s pretty obvious: just get it done on time! And I’m glad you mentioned that thing about yellow because I think that’s another thing that I think educators in general, but I say I personally don’t do enough to stress that you’re going to get that but if you have the research to say why it has to be yellow and you can articulate the facts, it becomes a much less tougher sell.
Dorelle:
Which is why we do do a lot of different types of research from fast prototypes to AB testing to say, actually this version worked better and here are the stats, so the more you can use data to back up your design decisions, the happier you’ll be and there’s lots of different kinds of data and research too. There’s quantitative, so a big amount of responses. But there’s also the qualitative which is, I talked to eight people and eight people were able to accomplish this task compared to the previous design, etc.
Gary:
And that really, really difficult for educators to…for students, when they’re doing a project, they don’t have that nuts and bolts research data in a Graphic Design program to be able to back up their decisions; it’s kind of one of those Catch-22s.
Dorelle:
It is.
Gary:
We could spend so much time on research that we’re not going to spend time on visual.
Dorelle:
But you could do some really fast guerrilla research on the street. We even do it all the time. Here’s my prototype: what do you think? Can you do this? Sit at a train station and ask people walking by.
Gary:
Yeah, and that’s something that we need to start, educators need to start doing a better job of. So, I have time for one more question. Specifically, what type of projects or experiences would you like to see design educators incorporating in the classroom that maybe you don’t see right now?
Dorelle:
I think it depends on the program, but I would love to see a little more understanding of the entire user-centered design process, so the fact that there are multiple disciplines working together on a team and I think some team projects would be really helpful. I had somebody as an intern come in though, and he had been working on a team, but it wasn’t really clear what he had been doing on that team and sometimes you get a team of all leaders and sometimes you get a team with a strong leader and so as somebody that hires folks right out of school, I often need to really suss out what was their role on the team project.
Gary:
So, clear…that’s easy enough to do, to give them clear roles so they can articulate them as well.
Dorelle:
Yeah.
Gary:
All right, is there anything that you are working on personally that you would like to share or is there something that you want to promote within PayPal or personally?
Dorelle:
I have two things I wanted to say. If you’re interested in learning more about Information Architecture, there’s an organization that I’ve been lucky to be part of from the beginning, which is the IA Institute and there’s a website: iainstitute.org. You can also read what we call the Polar Bear Book, which is called IA for the web and beyond. These two will really give you a background in all the things I’ve just said. And personally, I think I’d love everyone to go check out harmony.intuit.com which is the project I was working on before I came to PayPal and it’s just tears and sweat and it’s basically a design system and if you’re interested in all aspects of design from visual to interaction to content, it’s all there, our guidelines for Intuit Small Business Group.
Gary:
Great. And I’m going to actually say, I don’t know how long you’ve been at PayPal but over the past couple of years, they’ve really stepped up their usability game because I use PayPal!
Dorelle:
That’s good to know!
Gary:
And the product is really…as a designer, you can tell when something’s been getting a lot of love and you can tell it has been recently.
Dorelle:
Yes, I think everyone should use OneTouch. That’s what we call…there’s a little button when you check out with PayPal that says that you can click on and say, remember me, and then next time you check out it’s one step.
Gary:
Cool! I’ll check it out.

So that’s all we have time for today on Episode 26 of Design Edu Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Dorelle Rabinowitz, for being so generous with her time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the Design Edu Today hosting sponsor, Digital Ocean, and CDN sponsor Fastly, for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. Finally, I want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that led to this podcast series.

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