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Behind the Scenes: UX Design + Product Strategy at IA

At IA Collaborative, we bring together core Disciplines to collaborate on multidisciplinary project teams. Each Discipline brings a unique skill set to tackle business challenges and contributes to the vibrant culture of IA. This month, we’re going “behind the scenes” with the UX Design and Product Strategy team to hear more about the work they do and what makes them tick. Our conversation with Jesse Wilbur, Rebecca (“Bex”) Henderson, and Josh Epstein follows below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Open Positions – UX Design and Product Strategy

First off, let’s not bury the lead. You’re hiring for some new roles on your team right now, correct?

JESSE: Yes! We’re hiring for several exciting roles on the UX Design and Product Strategy Team. Interaction Design Director, Lead UX Engineer, Principal UX Designer and Senior UX Designer.

The Lead UX Engineer role at IA Collaborative is a unique application of that skillset. Can you talk about that?

JESSE: The role is technology agnostic. So one day you might be coding several iOS prototypes for user testing and another day you might be integrating IOT devices to develop a proof of concept. As a UX Engineer in an innovation consultancy, you get to work at the forefront, more in the ‘white space,’ to explore and prototype with a combination of different technologies to make whatever solution we need. It’s a collaborative and cross-functional environment, so our software engineers are not off building code in a vacuum. They’re collaborating with the cross-functional team from the very beginning of a project, where we’re creating working prototypes of new concepts and testing their viability. The instant you can make something real that people can hold in their hands and see how it works – they can imagine the potential of the concept. It’s so much better than just a sketch or a mockup. That’s a big part of what our Lead UX Engineer will get to do.

Technology @ IA

How does Technology intersect with the work of your team, and IA overall?

JOSH: Technology is horizontal to our organization, not vertical. UX Design has been around – we’ve been designing for mobile for like 10 years at this point. And a lot of the rules are already defined and it’s our job to know the rules. But what’s really exciting is when we get to invent new rules. Using all that we know about traditional UX and translating that into…how would this same sort of interaction work with a robot, to say, signal an alert to a potential obstacle? How would it apply as part of a new AR/VR experience? Or building a new algorithm? We’re applying our craft to emerging technology in these contexts.

Working at IA Collaborative

What originally drew you to IA Collaborative?

JESSE: The strategic nature of the digital work we do. We’re transforming businesses and creating new offerings for them. It’s meaningful when you can see your work creating impact in the world, and even be a benefactor of that work yourself. For example we built this digital safety platform for Allstate, which I use every day for my insurance.

JOSH: Yeah, that was one of the most exciting things for me – the chance to build ‘ground up’ new products and services that make it to market and change people’s lives for the better. Big stuff like chronic disease management, identity protection, financial management, public health and safety. When you see your work launched on Jimmy Fallon, at Apple’s developer conference, CES – or on a billboard in Times Square – that feels good.

BEX: This might not surprise you, but the collaborative nature of our process and the trusting relationships that we build with our clients! We don’t do “big reveals” here. It can be a very nebulous space sometimes, trying to figure out the right problem to solve. We bring everyone along with us. 

The Interaction Design and Product Strategy Team

OK, let’s talk about your team. How would you describe the Interaction Design + Product Strategy team at IA?

BEX: Our team is made up of naturally curious people. We’re very aware of our day-to-day surroundings and always eager to learn, asking what could be done better. It’s what led a lot of us to the UX world in the first place. Many followed a non-traditional path – one of our team members was an English teacher before this. We all got into this field because we had this breakthrough where we realized, my life experience has opened my eyes to a better way of doing things, an amazing experience I could create, and I want to bring that to the world.

JESSE: This is a team that intently focuses on elevating our practice: the way we do our work, not just the work itself. Whether it’s examining topics like ADA compliance, responsible and ethical design, cognitive biases, or complex data; we are committed to shaping the future of our craft. In our weekly huddles, team members are bringing forward really big questions about our practice and our responsibility as designers, and they’re doing so in a positive, generative and mutually respectful way that unites and inspires. I’m grateful for that.

JOSH: Also, everyone’s a little bit of a nerd. And I love it. [Laughs]

BEX: In the best way! We’re very, very passionate about our interests, inside and outside of work. [She says while pointing to the plant incubator in her Zoom background]

JESSE: I’m making you a deep dish blueberry pie as we talk. Josh probably finished a beautiful screenprint before work.

JOSH: And I know the 5 types of sourdough bread Jesse is obsessed with making.

Connection and Belonging

Over the past year, what kinds of things has the team done to stay connected when you’re fully remote?

JOSH: We’ve had several virtual huddles where we’ve taken tools that are normally used for designing, and turned it into a game. For example, we played Pictionary in Figma.

JESSE: The drawings were so awful, because it’s hard to draw in Figma, but it was so fun. 

JOSH: Another thing we’ve started doing is five for five – every week we’ll nominate someone to talk about five things in five minutes. Show us pictures of five things in your life and talk about them. It’s a small thing, but so cool to learn surprising things about new co-workers or people you’ve known for years.

BEX: Something that’s really helped our team during COVID is to be super transparent with each other. Openly discussing challenges we may be having outside of work and supporting each other even if there’s no immediate fix, which is just really nice. There’s a sense of camaraderie around this shared experience.

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IA Collaborative Convenes Fortune 100 Leaders to Discuss
Designing for Women, for the Benefit of All

Cross-Industry Leaders Illuminate Actionable Methods to Champion Women through Design

At IA Collaborative, our mission is to design the future of human experience. With a female Co-Founder and Co-CEO, and a proudly 50% female leadership team, we launched a Design for Women capability to illuminate and address the unmet needs of women – and anyone who identifies with the female gender – through design. Our teams apply IA’s expertise in human-centered design methodologies and integrated business strategy to define and prototype new products and services, and organizational missions and programs, to champion women.

The IA Collaborative Design for Women Roundtable Series themed “Illuminate + Act,” convened  25+ innovation and business leaders across industries including technology, healthcare, consumer products, financial services and insurance representing companies such as Airbnb, Johnson & Johnson, Google, USAA, and more, to explore challenges and bright spots to champion designing for women, for the benefit of all.

Women’s issues are systemic, and intersect with and impact the shared experiences of all genders, and all people. By bringing together this impressive group of leaders, we gained insights to make impact in our organizations, and through our design work – whether it be builds to our process, or the mindsets we use when developing new products and solutions.

-Katie Schlott, Partner, IA Collaborative

Taking Action: Key Themes

Below are key themes from our action-focused conversations with these leaders. They reveal how we can take action within our own organizations and spheres of influence, and collaborate to magnify our impact.

KEY THEME #1: Equity must be a collaboration, not a competition. We should openly share insights, resources, tools and strategies.

We discussed the collective impact we could have if we openly shared and democratized our efforts, and reached out to our competitors as allies. We’ve seen this approach with other pressing challenges facing humanity, including environmental sustainability, where corporate competitors like Coke and Pepsi commit to achieving a shared goal. Imagine if we more openly shared the equitable design tools and resources we’re developing at our own organizations. What if we made internal surveys, or key behavioral insights from research projects open-sourced? 

Another avenue for shared progress is aligning with like-minded partners – who have complementary expertise – to design equitable solutions. For example, to support women returning to work, IA Collaborative facilitated a collaboration between brands Medela, Mamava and Milkstork to improve a returning mother’s experience in the workplace. Together, these partners launched the New Moms’ Healthy Returns program to deliver equipment, advocacy and tools for breastfeeding women and the employers who support them — and they did so by leveraging each other’s strengths and capabilities to make a deeper and greater impact than one company could have done alone. 

Bottom line: Democratizing tools and resources – and collaborating across company lines – will better solve systemic design challenges and create more impactful, scalable solutions.

KEY THEME #2: Open the scope — rethink your “target audience.”

The groups discussed the inherent defaults we currently design for and within when creating products and services. For some, particularly in the financial industry, it is men; and for others, it’s limiting the female target audience to “young women” 18-30. Too often, other gender constructs, races, age groups and ethnicities are left out when companies prioritize what to design and launch next.

The roots of these “default” design decisions run deep, and even the most well-meaning teams can overlook them. Addressing them means proactively building in “bias-checks” in the design process, to address whether your existing designs or services subtly confirm the default. 

Mary Quandt, Director of Experience Strategy at Johnson & Johnson, shared a powerful tool teams use to proactively expand their thinking on “who” a product or service should be designed for. They’ve reframed their creative brief to include a diversity lens and began using “stretch personas” that consider a variety of different perspectives, backgrounds, and needs, which leads to more inclusive design decisions.

Challenging the default can include micro-design decisions—for example the male-wallet icon in an e-shopping experience—a subtle statement about who controls finances. It can also include rethinking UX journeys. Alissa Umansky, Senior Director, Product Design at The Knot, works to prevent bias and assumption in wedding planning.

To avoid making gender-based assumptions in our experience, such as around attire suggestions, we do not ask users to identify as a bride or groom. Instead, we focus on building products that empower every user and every couple, no matter who they are, to plan the wedding that’s right for them.

Alissa Umansky, Senior Director, Product Design at The Knot

Beyond designing for women – new product categories and marketing strategies should address a spectrum of genders and other intersectionalities. And it all starts with rethinking the target audience.

Bottom line: Proactively build in moments in your process – whether it’s initial ideation or design and prototyping – to challenge who your target audience is and what they need.

KEY THEME #3:  Business Prototype “micro-sprints” are a powerful tool to gain Leadership buy-in.

To break through people’s default assumptions and expectations, take baby steps. Experiment. Do a quick research sprint just to gain shared understanding among the leadership team. It’s a great equalizer…customers might kill our assumptions, and that’s great!

Liz Trudeau, SVP of Strategic Design, Wells Fargo

We discussed how many times, big change can take place one small experiment at a time. Gender equity is a systemic issue, and sometimes we let the massive scale of those challenges hinder the effort. However, there are already elements inherent to design thinking and agile development that we can incorporate into our projects to impact women. We can conduct iterative, business prototype sprints to gain early user behavioral insights, metrics, and ROI that can open the door to more funding and successful conversations with Leadership.

In the financial services industry, low-fidelity research on female investor mindsets can disprove assumptions about investment decisions.  In healthcare, a quick “business prototype” of a new service offering, led by IA Collaborative, quickly reversed assumptions business leaders had about user preferences and adoption. And don’t forget internal prototypes, and through them a deeper understanding of employees behaviors and needs. Gaining an understanding of what actions and policies drive real behavior change and thus, real equity, are powerful tools towards progress.

Bottom line:  Start by starting. Gain behavioral insights to demonstrate value and inspire action within your organization.

Design for Women: What You Can Do Next

We all struggle with what is urgent, and what is important. The hardest thing of change at scale is the change, and then the orchestration of the change.

-Hector Ouilhet, Head of Human Centered Innovation & Strategy at Google

The “Illuminate + Act” Design for Women roundtable series brought together incredible leaders across industries to share resources and illuminate areas of opportunity for equitable design. But most importantly, it inspired us to take action on those resources and opportunities. 

At IA, we’re applying these learnings and a design innovation mindset to continue solving equity challenges. We work with business leaders to rethink the role of design in every corner of their organization to design a better future for women, that will benefit all. We can create a world where designing for women is synonymous with “designing” –  whether that be internal processes and tools to support women during their journey within your company, or expand your products and offerings to include women’s needs at the center. 

Do you need support on an upcoming initiative to support women? Are you interested in being a part of a network of design + business leaders uncovering opportunities and sharing resources to design for women? Join our network and send a direct message to designforwomen@iacollaborative.com.