Interview with Sarah Berchild, Director of UX Design at Get Satisfaction

Sarah is the Director of User Experience Design at Get Satisfaction. If you would like to contact her, you may do so via Twitter!

Where do you get UX inspiration?

I had to sit and think about this one for a bit. The answer lies in and around all of us. It may sound abstract or a bit absurd, but whenever I need to be inspired, I simply look at my surroundings to get a new perspective, or try and do something new to jolt myself out of whatever doldrums I’m in.

When things get stale, it often means I need change…a switch of focus. This may be as simple as changing the music I’m listening to or as drastic as getting out of my physical space. It’s amazing how walking down the block can do wonders. Personally, I tend to ‘people-watch’ and often a simple interaction I see between two people on the street can spur on great ideas.  

What I can tell you is inspiration is rooted in emotion. Whatever it is, I always know I’ve found my inspiration, when I get that surge of adrenaline through my veins, a tingling feeling, a bolt of energy, or creative lightning and immediately think to myself “why am i still sitting here? I have to get to it!”

How do you recognize a great UX designer?

Recognizing a great UX designer is complicated. 
It is a crossroads of where different skill sets and personalities meet. The foundation, of course is having had some learning in the field of user experience and design, but besides the classes we’ve taken, for certain it is personality that separates key individuals from the masses. 

The people I hire have a curiosity; a thirst to learn more about the customer AND desire to make change. These individuals like to ask lots of questions, tirelessly seek to find new answers, are observant and value listening. 

That’s a lot – I know, but these are the ingredients of a stellar UX designer. Of course, the style and visual approach is also important. The style needs to be in line with our company brand, but in all honesty, this can be learned a lot easier than teaching someone how to listen, have empathy, or be observant. 

What do you think are the 3 most common misconceptions about user experience design?

The 3 misconceptions I have come across in my career revolves around assumption of what UX is (or isn’t). It is that most people don’t understand what we do. Relatively speaking this is an emerging space, so often times there is an idea that UX is form rather than function…when in fact, it is both.

So here’s what I often hear:
1. “make it pretty”
2. “testing takes too long” or “we know our customers” (ie we don’t need testing)
3. “that’s not UX”

In all three cases, what it boils down to is a general misunderstanding of what user experience is. When I hear “oh, just make it pretty” I have to admit my stomach churns and as if I just drank chunky curdled milk. 

In all seriousness though, “make it pretty”, often means the company (or person) may not have worked with a UX practitioner before or isn’t aware of the great resource we bring to the table in terms of garnering customer insight and bringing first-hand customer data insight.

The second fable is the one involving testing, its usefulness and timeliness. If the company is truly using Agile, lean and RITE methodologies, the tasks to test should be small, concise and quick. 

Don’t be fooled (or convinced) into waiting around until your product is coded. This was a mistake that hurt me in my career. Test often, test many people; yes – even external customers and prospects. (testing with only internal employees doesn’t count!). 

The problem arises when iterations pass and there is no testing. Suddenly you’ll find yourself with a lot to test…and a lot to fix, which adds a lot of time and effort across the board. Believe me – it’s not fun.
As they say ‘fail fast and fail early’ (…and for goodness sake don’t be afraid to fail!) 

The third misconception is the definition of UX. To me, the user experience is everything. I’ll say that again…everything. From the first time you (as a company) meet your prospect, interact with that prospect and/or customer and beyond. (the list of every user experience is infinite) 

Every touch point, every interaction, every conversation, correspondence, transaction is a user’s experience. Personally I think Disney does a job well done. Whether you like Disney or not, they make sure regardless of whether you are talking to a person on the phone, on their cruise, at their theme park, etc. – the experience is designed and accounted for…to make it a ‘magical’ experience.

Jeff Gothelf calls copywriting “The Secret Weapon of UX”. Do you agree and to what extent?

As I mentioned above, the user experience is everything. To quote Jeff “good design with poor copy is a poor experience” and it plugs into the notion above. Copywriting is the ‘secret sauce’ these days because quite frankly as a culture in the Silicon Valley, we’ve gotten away from good, well-thought content that is consistent and aligns with the experience. The products that do use this are above and beyond their peers.

Funny timing too; an article I read recently was one on Voice & Tone.  Jeff talks about consistency but fails to also recognize the Voice & Tone. Why is Voice & Tone important? Because this is what distinguishes you from your competition. 

I see that you have experience in UX across several different fields – technology, academia, financial, health care, and consumer. Is there a huge difference in designing for UX across the fields? 

I have been fortunate enough to have worked in different industries and they are, in themselves, vastly different from one another. However, look at it from another angle, and you’ll quickly see that human needs are essentially the same – regardless of industry. So often times the problems are very similar or identical. 

Obviously, there is a bit of a learning curve when starting up a project in an industry you may not be familiar with, but having a solid foundation in user experience, need-finding, and design gives me the tools to adapt. 

Ideas, ways we work and how we communicate are blending and merging. The interesting part is how I can take solutions from one industry and apply it to another.  For example, Mint.com took financial into a consumer realm and today I’m seeing gaming dynamics and Gamification introduced into healthcare. Gone are the days where industry solutions were in silos.