Ji Su Hiatt

Experience Designer at Capital One

Ji Su Hiatt

Experience Designer at Capital One Episode 44

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode forty four of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing what is necessary to be a successful designer in a contemporary, screen-based interactive world. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In this episode we will be discussing the difference between user experience design and service design and just how much visual designers need to embrace these disciplines. We also cover more in depth the different types of user research and how it’s used at Capital One, and discuss the role bootcamps such as the Iron Yard and Generally Assembly play in the education of user experience designers. Finally, we talk about what makes a good user experience design portfolio.

Today’s guest is Ji Su Hiatt. Ji Su is a digital product designer specializing in user experience and service design at Capital One. Ji Su used to be a lab researcher studying the neurobiological and molecular mechanisms of appetite control, but now Ji Su applies the problem solving skills she gained in the lab to designing and creating innovative products.

Welcome Ji Su.

Ji Su:
Hi Gary, thanks for having me.
Gary:
I’m excited to have you. So, the first thing I wanted to ask you was, in your bio you mention the term “Service Design”. Can you explain what service design is? And also, where does the graphic designer or visual designer fit into the grand scheme of things of service design?
Ji Su:
That’s a really good question. So, well, when you think about UX design, service design, so there are lots of parts that make up an experience and when you think about somebody offering a service, rather than a single object or thing, like a bank or an airline company or a restaurant, part of that experience that a user or customer will go through is the service and all the things that make up a service, so service design is where you figure out all of the back-end operations and infrastructure, all of the front-end and the back-end people involved and all of the touch-points where the user interacts with the business and kind of orchestrating it so that all of these hidden parts of a service is smooth so that a user has a streamlined experience. I’ve heard someone say it’s bad news to show your corporate underpants, which is I guess what happens when a service feels disconnected to a user and you can see something wasn’t figured out all the way through, so that’s my view or definition of service design. Anyway, so at Capital One, we are a services company, so service design is a huge aspect of what we do and that’s part of transforming our design team and the thinking around designing services was how we…why we brought in adaptive path, our own special in-house experts on service design. As far as how graphic design fits into service design, I just think of service design as part of user experience design and so it would just fit in the same way that I think graphic design would fit into UX, if that makes sense?
Gary:
Yeah, and so the reason I ask that is it’s kind of hard for me to articulate but when I’m teaching a UX process to my visual design students, OK, let’s see the back-up; basically I’ll show them maybe how to do some heuristic testing on an app and visual designers, the students are really good at figuring out where a screen is needed, where a touch-point is needed or where a touch-point isn’t necessarily needed, and they’re really good at identifying those; at least it seems to me. So that’s kind of where I guess I was coming from, is, do they just design the visual that they’re told to or do they get a chance to look at things and see, hey, a visual isn’t necessary for this step that you thought was? I guess: does that make sense?
Ji Su:
Yeah, that makes sense and I think that, visual designers, if they are thinking through the flows like that, I would consider that part of the UX process as well because user flows and thinking through all the steps that a user would have to go through, so that the visual designer could figure out what steps and what screens that they need to design. I feel like they are, I don’t know, UX and UI are just so closely inter-twined in that aspect and so you can’t really do just one part or the other part; you kinda have to do both.
Gary:
OK. So, also in your bio, you state that “I used to be a lab researcher studying the neural biological and molecular mechanisms of appetite control but now I apply my problem solving skills I gained in the lab to designing and curating innovating products.” I’m asking this because I don’t think there is a formula for teaching UX and a lot of people become UX designers from radically different backgrounds, so can you give specific examples of what you learned in the lab or what processes you learned and kind of let the listeners know how you apply that, what you learned in a lab, as a UX designer?
Ji Su:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I guess it’s really in reference to my skills that I learned as a scientist and my overall approach to solving problems rather than specifically my lab skills; obviously I’m not running lab techniques all the time as a designer but more of my thought process that I gained while trying to be a scientist I use more often as a designer than one would think. So, I guess some parallel or translational skills could be…so, if there’s one thing that you have to be able to do as a scientist is to ask good questions and this has helped me a lot. Good designers are naturally curious and ask a lot of good questions about their user and also I guess just being able to pass through a lot of information and coming up with something understandable from all that information. I guess backing up design decisions with data and in science we often defend our own science and projects a lot when we present and then you feel like your intelligence is being judged by a bunch of other scientists, so you have to make sure that you can back it up and I think this aspect has also helped me to handle taking critique really well and also just when we’re presenting in general, just being able to persuade somebody in a presentation, whether you’re presenting designs to your team or you’re teaching non-designers at your company about design, which will happen, just that skill is very important and part of that is being able to tell a story or a narrative so that you can persuade them and I don’t know, I think just overall being able to take a more methodical and strategic approach has been really helpful.
Gary:
OK. So I’m going to follow that up with just…so it sounds like many of the skills that you just mentioned, it sounds like they’re parallel to what I would call traditional UX skills, but they’re just coming from a different perspective. On your experiences with other UX designers, is there anything that your lab skills gave you that is just not part of the normal UX process, kinda like a UX super-power that you got from being a scientist?
Ji Su:
Not really. I think…maybe there are UX super-powers I think just coming from a more of a scientific background and just being able to think through all of these things more methodically. It doesn’t even really have to be from a scientific background; I think people can attain all of these skills from any background.
Gary:
And I think what you just, kinda like to follow up, just add a little insight to what my own views on what you just mentioned is I think that’s why so many people come to UX from vastly different paths, because it’s the process; there’s a process to UX that a lot of other professions, a lot of other things tend to share. It’s just it takes the person who has those skills to make that realization that, I can apply it. And so I think that’s what I’ve been seeing a lot of.
Ji Su:
Yeah, for sure. I can definitely tell you that it’s been really interesting to see all of these UX designers come from so many different fields and they bring really valuable insights from their fields but it’s really mostly a similar thought process or being able to think through a problem like this; maybe with a little bit of spin from whatever, wherever they’re coming from. Yeah, I know what you’re saying.
Gary:
So, you’re an experienced designer at Capital One. Can you talk a little bit about what you do at Capital One to help give the listeners an idea of what an Experience Designer is and especially embedded within a large company like Capital One?
Ji Su:
So, I’m going to back up and just kind of talk about what Experience Design is to me, so I guess when you think about a product or a service, the experience is how that product or service makes you feel and your journey throughout using that product or service, so for example, if there are two exact same clothing stores that are physically exactly the same who carry exactly the same inventory with exactly the same prices, the experience is what makes a person go into one versus the other; I guess that’s how I like to think of it. A UX or an Experience Designer is somebody who designs that experience and so in my case, I help design experiences for digital products and services at Capital One and so at first I thought, why would you need UX for a bank. And I guess that’s certainly what I thought at first but our mission on the design team at Capital One is to make people’s lives easier by lessening their stress around using their money, since money can be a source of stress for a lot of people, so in my case specifically, I work on the commercial bank side, the business to business side, so I help people do their jobs easier is how we like to think about it and so specifically how I might design an experience would be doing…conducting user research and various strategy activities that help them form the final design and I try to make things more understandable and intuitive for the user. We conduct usability testing to make sure that our designs are…we try to validate our designs by taking them to the user and seeing if they work.
Gary:
OK and there is a big difference between user experiences for financial institutions. And I think Capital One is one of my credit cards and they do a really good job of…so it’s my personal credit card but sometimes I use it for when I travel and my Institution will reimburse me for some things; it’s super-easy to go in to Capital One and just get a screenshot…not a screenshot but I can click, download, get a pdf of a specific transaction that I can send off to our department accountant where other banks I’ve had to take screenshots and because it doesn’t have enough information on it, I gotta jump through flaming hoops to get the financial information off to the accountant, where yours is…so now I always use the Capital One card when I’m traveling because I know I can extract that stuff super easily. Those things are important!
Ji Su:
Yeah, for sure!
Gary:
So, you mentioned user research. Can you talk about the user research: how do you conduct it? What’s the process for it?
Ji Su:
So, it really depends on where we are in the project and what questions we need to answer, but generally there are a few different kinds of user research we can conduct: one kind is mainly for discovery and trying to understand the user before we start coming up with solutions and this is what we, I guess what some people call the problem space and this is when we are still trying to pin down what the exact problem that users are facing etcetera, and the other research happens later when we’ve done some ideation, spent some time in what people call the solution space and we’re spending time thinking of solutions, we’ll have done some prototyping and so then this is when we would do some usability testing, taking our designs back and testing it with the user to see it in action. So, in the discovery phase, again it all depends on what we’re trying to figure out. If we’re starting from scratch and need to understand our users and their needs, current pain points, we might do user interviews and observation studies and we just try to find users out there. We have user labs at Capital One who take care of a lot of, I guess, the logistics of finding people and so a lot of design groups utilize user labs for that. For us, it’s kind of a difficult challenge because our current end user for B2B, the commercial banking side, are a lot of very busy CFOs or account payable specialists who might not have a lot of time so it has been more of a challenge to find those users to interview, so we’re still trying to figure that out but lately we’ve been trying to utilize our personal networks a little bit more to find more users. So, besides user interviews, so if we’re trying to figure out, let’s say the information architecture for our website, we could do card sorting activities to see how people mentally group content in their heads to inform how we organize our IA and then…which ultimately informs our navigation. So, things like that.
Gary:
OK. So, all that information that you gathered, the visual designer is then going to act upon it, I would assume, if it’s following that kind of process. So, how do you package everything that you just said and give it to the visual designer so they can make a better button, so they can…whatever it is that they’re tasked to fix, visually, to achieve the goal?
Ji Su:
Yeah, for sure. So, ideally I like our visual designers to be looped into the process, the research process as much as possible from the beginning so that they can ask all their questions too and are informed about what’s going on. But with that said, I know with the resources constraint, I know that when the UX designers own the research aspect, we usually take all of our data that we gather from our interviews and observations and whatever the activity was and distill our findings into themes and take-aways and make UX recommendations, kind of. We might just do that in a meeting or just kind of present it or it could just be a conversation with our visual designers and then we could all have several brain-storming sessions together with the UX and the UI designers to turn the insights into maybe a set of general guidelines or principles that we want to stick to so that all of the visual designs kind of are coherent and are generally sticking to the same overall look and UX principles and then we might sketch out what solutions might look like based on those but it’s rarely ever I type up an outline of, this is what it has to be, and it’s like a waterfall process of me handing it off; it’s a lot of collaboration and discussion between them.
Gary:
I’m glad that was the answer because…maybe it’s just me personally but I feel in design education in general, we do, in graphic design or visual design, we do a lot of handing, as an educator, we do a lot of handing off to the students. Here: design a poster; here’s the content. Here: design a website; here is the content. And there’s a neat set of instructions and everything’s kind of…but here it sounds like it’s more of the designers better be taking really good notes, paying really close attention to the information you’re giving them because you’re not going to neatly package it for them.
Ji Su:
Right, for sure, yeah. And later when the visual designers have something that they came up with, we’ll usually do design reviews and then the UX designers can also give feedback and give…hey, this wasn’t really in our data; what about this? Yeah, it’s like a lot of back and forth in the process.
Gary:
Sorry, I’m just laughing about…this wasn’t in the data, because students do that a lot: they tend to really design…it’s hard but they design for themselves.
Ji Su:
Oh yeah, for sure.
Gary:
It’s really hard to break that. So, how much training or exposure to user research do you think is necessary for your visual or graphic designers?
Ji Su:
Well, I may be biased because I have a research background but I think it’s always good for visual designers to be at least somewhat familiar with the techniques and have conducted research a few times. They don’t need to be experts in it but if they’re going to be part of a team that conducts research to inform the design, I think they should at least understand the process and be involved with coming up with questions and stuff like that, since this output of this part will really inform the entire direction of the design, possibly.
Gary:
Yeah, and that’s the trouble I’m having as an educator because design should be working alongside UX, visual design should be working alongside UX, but it also should be working alongside with developers too, so it’s just like, how much do they need of those two ancillary but deeply connected professions? It’s a lot of work.
Ji Su:
Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge and I’m still trying to figure that part out, to be honest!
Gary:
So, something I recently decided I want to start doing, because like I said, I’m in the mode where I hand things off like, design the website, so what I wanted to start doing is giving my graphic design students kinda like more detailed briefs that would consist of the type of information a UX designer would collect, instead of just assigning a project. OK, so this would be in lieu of…yes, I also believe that they should be conducting their own research but they can’t conduct, in a visual design, graphic design program, they can’t conduct research for every project because they do nee to focus on doing visual design. But they still need to be able to work with the information that’s handed to them from a UX designer. So, what type of information would you suggest I include in a brief to get my students thinking more holistically about their design projects. And did any of that make sense?
Ji Su:
Yes! That made sense. I guess the kind of information that you might include…well I guess it always depends on the scope of the project but in any case, information about the user that you usually gather during the research phase is probably the most important since UX designers are concerned about the people they’re trying to solve problems for; things such as user behaviors and frustrations, pain points, motivations, their needs, stuff like that. But if you don’t have time for students to spend time on going out to conduct research and even guerilla research, maybe instead of giving them a list of spelled out user behaviors and frustrations, all of that, you could actually give them maybe a sample script of a user interview and have them pick out their own insights of what they perceive about the users. And also this makes it a little bit more real to them about…with having to distill all the information and interpreting it for themselves and also the user feels more real to them because they’re actually reading their dialogue and stuff like that and I think also this part of distilling all of this information from the research is also the hardest part of research. So I think that would be good to do.
Gary:
All right, so before I ask my next question, I want to mention, and this is for the listeners, something I’ve been avoiding talking about on this podcast is, I haven’t talked really anything about…and I don’t even want to use the term Trade Schools, because I don’t know enough to know if that’s a fair term to use, but institutions like General Assembly and The Iron Yard that I think immediately come to mind, they offer user experience design training and so I haven’t really been talking about them because I don’t know much about them, but they seem to be viable option and I’m coming across more and more people who have that training and are working in the field, so my question to you is, you were a UX design apprentice at Designation Labs, so Designation is a twelve week in-person and with an additional twelve week virtual UX-UK training program. So, Designation, going for this UX-UI training is a totally different subject than what you went to school for. How does the experience of a twelve week in-person and twelve week virtual program compare to a traditional four year training program? Could you get away with just having that…we’ll say it, a year of training, or did you…because you took general education requirements; there’s so much other things that you took at the four year program; do you need both? Or would just the training at Designation be enough?
Ji Su:
So, how do they compare?
Gary:
Yeah.
Ji Su:
Obviously, with programs like Designation and General Assembly, the bootcamps, I guess, what they call it, they’re a lot more condensed, very quick, lots of information, very little time; we had maybe twelve, thirteen hour days between lecture and just hands-on working time and they’re usually taught by people who currently work or have worked in industry so they teach us about what’s current, what are the current practices, best practices in the industry right now and I think they are a lot more focused on getting real world experience during the bootcamp, so part of the program that we had was where we had to work on a real world project with start-ups nearby and actually doing a portfolio piece through our project with them. As far as your question about whether both traditional school and whether that’s still required…
Gary:
And I thought of another way to ask it, if that helps?
Ji Su:
Yeah!
Gary:
So, like I said, I don’t know anything about these programs so I’m asking out of ignorance on my part but let’s imagine you’re a High School Senior who just graduated: would going to one of these bootcamps be enough to get you into a career or do you need that holistic training that you’re going to get at a four year institution or…does that make sense, a different way to ask it?
Ji Su:
Yeah, for sure. Well, two parts to my answer I guess. First part is I think I’m a little bit biased towards more holistic education, holistic training and I think my traditional education has definitely still helped me, even if it’s not directly related to my work right now, I think it’s just helped me just be more, I guess, aware and just more generally just more educated I guess. I think it always helps. With that being said, I don’t really personally know if there are any…there’s anyone out there who hasn’t gone through the traditional program, regardless of whether it was design focused program or a non-design program and they just went through the bootcamp or a similar program like this: I don’t really know how…well they’re doing, maybe they’re fine; I think just personally for myself, I just like to be more well-rounded and more…have a better grasp on other areas, I think that always helps in the workplace too.
Gary:
Yeah, and so that’s the one thing that I’ve noticed that…it seems like, for lack of better word, like I said, the bootcamps are perfect for people who want to transition careers that don’t need…they’ve already got that well-rounded education, have experience and now they need that focused training, but I haven’t, like you said, I haven’t met anybody who’s done the straight…the only formal education was one of these bootcamps and then all of a sudden started in the industry. I’d love to hear from those people how they’re doing or what their challenges were.
Ji Su:
Right.
Gary:
So, I’m going to ask you, like I said, I don’t know much about them but the only negative thing…and I haven’t even personally heard it; I’ve just seen it bandied about is some employers are having trouble knowing how to handle it because it’s not a named brand, they don’t have, these bootcamps don’t have the history that traditional four year, or even community colleges have, so they don’t really know how to evaluate them. Obviously, Capital One took a chance on you. So, what type…what type of portfolio or proof of your skills did you get from your UX-UI training that got you your job, or got your foot in the door?
Ji Su:
So, I made an online portfolio as part of my work for the bootcamp and we worked on it through the bootcamp to put our UX and UI skills into play and I also learned front end development, so I coded the website myself to display some of my skills and when I talked to my recruiters, they said that the strongest aspect of my portfolio was how in-depth my case studies were, or at least just that one, the personal one on my website, and how it told a complete narrative and showed my design, I guess, thought process and so if your perspective employer can understand how you think and how you solve problems during that interview process, I think that’s really what’s important: they need to know how you think.
Gary:
Yeah, but that’s the…and I think that’s tough for any institution and for any student to do is visually show that UX-UI process because, how do you visually…OK, so the portfolio: everybody is looking at it but the end result is kind of what you see but showing that you interviewed somebody. How do you visually show that interview? How do you visually show…I mean, I guess it’s a UX-UI program, how do you get the prospective employer to look at your online portfolio to realize that you did this…here’s my research, here’s how I interpreted the research; here’s how I applied my research. That’s just…that’s complicated!
Ji Su:
Yeah, and it was really difficult for me to figure out how I could do it in a thorough way while trying to be still succinct because I know hiring managers don’t have that much time to look at all of these. So, a lot of it was trying to find that balance and trying to test it with different people to see if they got the main point from my case studies and I also know that a lot of hire managers are different in what they prefer because there are some people that I just talked to that said, just take all of the text out: they don’t have time but some of the other ones that I talked to said, this is great, I wanted to know all of this and so mine is kind of in a semi-essay format, not really an essay but I do have paragraphs of text and kind of try to visually show what I did and then try to transition it to, OK, from this part, from this research, we came up with this and then we came up with this. It was then more of like a story format to just show them my thought process. But yeah, I totally agree with you that it is very hard to sometimes convey.
Gary:
Yeah, and I think that’s, as an educator, I could do a better job of doing that, of helping my students prepare their work, so that the research, that the thinking behind the final piece is more obvious than it’s just…because there’s not anybody who I’ve interviewed during these podcasts who’s said, oh I just look at the visuals, I don’t care how everything was arrived at. They want to see the process but what varies is, how willing they are to dig through everything to see the process.
Ji Su:
Right, well I think it also depends on the role that they’re interviewing for, so for UX designers, I think the hiring manager or recruiter might be more interested in the UX process whereas for visual designers, they want to see more UI work, more visual work and so they aren’t as concerned with the UX part.
Gary:
Yeah. And that’s…you can kind of split it along that line but even the visual folks, the more predominantly visual, still want to know that there is…they want to know that there was a thought process behind it. They just don’t want to spend as much time finding it! Anyway, I liked your portfolio because I was looking at it and I like the story narrative part too because I thought that was a really good…not that you need my Capital One already affirmed that that worked, but it made sense to me, it helped me wrap my head around that problem. So, one last question before I let you go. Well, second to last. From these bootcamps and I know it’s not comparing apples to apples, but is there something that you really liked in these condensed programs that you think just traditional universities, colleges, community colleges, could take from the format?
Ji Su:
I think the biggest thing for me was a bigger focus on getting at least one real world project and working with real clients and I think designation…so, designation is located in 1871 which is a co-working space in Chicago, so we were co-located with lots of start-ups and start-ups are usually strapped for design resources and welcome any help on that aspect, so we had pretty much very easy access to getting work to put on our portfolios so I think a traditional four year design program, at least for me, I would benefit a lot from just having an internship kind of experience, just working with a real company and gaining that experience out there because even between my bootcamp experience and working at Capital One was a huge difference and also, I think that just goes for any four year programs outside of design, I think for my science major, I would have benefited a lot from just doing an internship related to science, just to see what’s out there and how people actually work instead of just being siloed into the everyday lecture and doing the lab kind of stuff at school is very different, so that’s what I would say, just more focus on real world stuff.
Gary:
OK, so just one quick follow-up to that, what are your thoughts on it? I’ve talked to my students about that all the time and one of the problems that I come across with that is that students don’t…I don’t like them working to give their work away for free and I don’t think the start-ups are probably (a) are they really even paying anything? I mean, even if they’re paying a dollar at least they’re actually acknowledging the value. And so I know a lot of students just don’t really like that. So, how do you feel about it, I mean, where do you fit on the spectrum?
Ji Su:
Well, I definitely understand because students are strapped for resources and so you could definitely use that somewhere to work and get paid rather than doing an internship for free but I still think it is valuable to even do it for the portfolio piece and I know that a lot of students don’t realize what real world experience means until they get to the workplace and they realize, oh, I didn’t…this is very different from what school was like, so I do understand both sides but I still think that it is very important and it should be encouraged.
Gary:
Yeah, and it’s the one thing that eventually I’ll pick a side but right now I don’t…
Ji Su:
Yeah, it’s very hard!
Gary:
All right, so before I let you go, is there anything that you are personally working on that you want to share or is there something that you wanted to say, any advice that you want to give? Basically, free mic!
Ji Su:
Well, nothing personally that I’m working on right now but just one thing I just want to share is that Capital One design team is doing awesome things and we’ve got really awesome and talented people here and I’ve been really impressed with the team so far and how committed everyone is to transforming this bank to a tech company and so if anyone’s interested, the team has a Medium blog called One Design and I can send you the link afterwards, Gary…
Gary:
Yeah, please do.
Ji Su:
But we publish stories of the impact that the team has had and they’re all really good so you should check it up.
Gary:
Yes, and Capital One has been stepping up their game; like I said, since I’m a customer and because I teach design; trust me: I love watching how everything…it’s not too long ago that they did a huge re-design on the consumer end of the consumer products and it was really well…I like it, I’ll just leave it at that!
Ji Su:
Awesome! I’m glad.
Gary:
All right, well, that’s all we have time for today on Episode 44 of DesignEDU Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Ji Su, for being so generous with her time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the DesignEDU Today hosting sponsor, Digital Ocean, and CDN sponsor Fastly, for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. I also 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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