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.


Designing the Future Faster: Using Augmented Reality for User Research

How can we capitalize on leading technologies to design smarter user research experiences?

At IA Collaborative, we believe research is creative. We constantly invent new ways to get closer to the user and contextualize yet-to-exist concepts. Lately, this has included the potential intersection of AR and user research.

Augmented Reality enables us to 1.) overlay future-state features on physical prototypes and 2.) place future-state concepts into existing physical environments.

This “augmented research” unlocks new ways to get in-context insight and iterate designs faster. The result is more confident business decisions today on concepts with months or even years of development ahead. 

IA Collaborative team experimenting with AR-enabled user research: Layering multiple hardware and software concepts in-context of an existing Tesla interior.

Helping Business Get to the Future, Faster

By using AR to test new-to-market ideas, concepts become contextualized without the boundaries of producing physical products or technological capabilities.

There is a tension in researching and iterating future concepts: we often want experiences to feel as real as possible, but prototypes-from-the-future can require out-sized time and investment. Add to this that prototypes might leverage emerging or unproven technology, and you see why iterating with AR could accelerate the creation of new offerings. 

We’re starting to leverage AR to overlay the future-state in design research. Some applications we anticipate include: 

  • A medical innovator like Stryker can have surgeons scrub in, put on AR goggles, and interact with 20 interface concepts for pediatric heart monitor; making real a regulated product years before it’s on the market.
  • A housewares innovation company like Muji or Ikea can layer an entire range of yet-to-be manufactured products in living rooms across 5 countries without shipping a single prototype.   
  • A fast-moving transportation disruptor like Tesla can run through hundreds of new interactions and information displays while owners test-drive their latest vehicle. 
  • Global events like Coachella can bring fans to their sites months in advance to prototype a range of on-stage and at-event experiences.

By embedding AR technology into the research strategy, features with market risk can be experienced early and iteration can happen at a fraction of the cost.

Enabling Designers to Rapidly Prototype and Design for Impact

As a research tool, AR enables designers to test for extremes, unlock moments of inspiration, and design the ideal user experience.

Designers can use AR to:

Explore an extreme variety of concepts
Augmented visual and audio cues applied to existing products have the potential to fuel broad design experimentation without incurring extreme production costs. Features can be designed and tested along a wide spectrum of use cases and iterated in great detail. Concepts that may seem too “out-of-the-box” can be plausibly tested, inspiring surprising and valuable insights.  

Pinpoint an optimized experience
Just like a/b testing is used to understand how to design the best digital interaction, AR helps designers pressure-test features in context. Elements can be reacted to holistically or independently, enabling designers to pinpoint an optimized systemic experience.

Gain highly contextual, real-time design inspiration
Using AR gives designers the unique ability to design 3D objects in a 3D environment, rather than on a screen. Previously unseen insights can be uncovered, and new user needs can be surfaced.

We find that iterating in context leads to quicker, human-centered moments of inspiration. Insights are captured, new ideas emerge, experiences can quickly evolve, and learning can be contextualized, all resulting in stronger human-centered design choices.

Accelerating Growth through AR + Design Research

To keep up with the rapid pace of innovation, organizations should explore the use of creative technology like AR to help them move faster. As AR technology advances, research experiences will no doubt become even more sophisticated. Graphics will progress. Hardware will improve. The opportunities to experiment with user expectations, features, environments, and products will evolve, enabling new ways to uncover user insights and unlock business value.

Today, we believe AR delivers unique opportunities in design research, because it enables rapid user testing and real-time design exploration. By implementing AR in design research, companies can de-risk investments, create more user-centered offerings, and accelerate the launch of products, services, and solutions to their most important audiences.

Interested in learning more about how immersive research can help you make informed, strategic business decisions? Contact us at


Nokia Global Factors Human Conference IA Collaborative

IA Collaborative Headlines the Nokia Human Factors Global Conference

#MakeTechHuman: IA Collaborative Founder Dan Kraemer will present at Nokia’s 2018 Human Factors Engineering conference, a private summit broadcasted to more than 100,000 Nokia employees worldwide. Dan will present How to Prototype a New Digital Business, a talk exploring how to bring a design thinking approach to digital innovation. More specifically, he will explain how to combine user experience, emerging technologies and profit models to prototype entirely new and sustainable digital businesses.


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