DISCIPLINE DIALOGUES: A Conversation with the Interaction Design + Product Strategy Team at IA Collaborative

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 Interaction Design and Product Strategy team to hear more about the work they do and what makes them tick. Our conversation with Hyun Kim, Jesse Wilbur, Whitney Olson Jenich, Rebecca (“Bex”) Henderson, and Josh Epstein follows below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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

HYUN: Yes! We’re hiring for two exciting new roles: Principal Product Strategist, and Lead UX Engineer. Both roles will help us build, launch and evolve new digital products, services and experiences for our clients.

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

HYUN: 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.

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

JOSH: Technology is horizontal to our organization, not vertical. Interaction 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.

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.

HYUN: 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. 

WHITNEY: Yes – no silos! What I found really interesting, going through grad school and then coming here – was the collaborative process was really similar. I’m sitting around a table with these people with different skill sets, but we’re all working together as one team. Also – no assigned desks. I won’t be constrained by a desk ever again.

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.

WHITNEY: Yeah, many people have followed a non-traditional path in getting into UX – 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.

WHITNEY: 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]

WHITNEY: I’m weaving you a tapestry on my loom 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.

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. So now I know Whitney loves birds. And Hyun really loves barbecue. 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.