Geeky Girl Reality, 2016, 3rd series

The purpose of our longitudinal study is to develop ongoing insights into girls studying STEM and women pursuing STEM careers, in response to the continuing statistics evidencing the underrepresentation of women in STEM, stereotypical environments and double standards.

GeekGirl

Our 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 representing 16 different countries world wide, focused on developing insights into the current experiences of girls studying STEM at college and University, using a mixed methods approach. Previous series have found links between the impact of early childhood interests and how they affect the pursuit of STEM careers in the future (please see our previous blog) and how higher education affects a woman’s interest and confidence in STEM (see our previous blog)

 

Following on from our previous 2016 findings, this series analyses the relationship between different preparation activities girls undertake related to their STEM careers with their 10 year plans and confidence ‘getting a job’.

Preparation and 10 year plan

Graph 1 shows the relationship between different preparation activities on the horizontal axis and 10 year career plans on the vertical axis; the pink bar indicates the percentage of girls who predict they will be in a STEM career in 10 years and the green bar indicates the percentage of girls who predict they will be in a non STEM career.

[GGR] Blog Post #3 - Visual #1 (2)

Results from Graph 1 indicate that girls who undertake preparations in the form of research and enrollment onto programmes are around 10% and 12% respectively more likely to pursue a STEM career in the future compared to girls who undertake preparations in the form of interview practice, attending seminars and conferences, studying for STEM and taking part in volunteer and internship opportunities. Participants expressed their concern for creating more programs focused on young girls; “Have more programs aimed at the youth” suggesting that Schools and Colleges could provide more opportunities for young girls to get involved with STEM; introducing coding clubs, women ‘role model’  guest speakers and promoting general awareness and exposure to different STEM subjects. In the long run, these early influences could foster stronger STEM identities in women helping to retain them in STEM careers.

Participant #148

Furthermore results indicate that overall preparations for STEM are a good protective factor against attrition from STEM in later life, with more than 60% of girls who take part in preparational activities in total having plans to stay in STEM careers. The findings may suggest that those girls who invest more time into preparation such as carrying out research activities are less likely to deviate away from STEM careers in the future.

 

These initial insights suggest that girls should be encouraged to take part in different preparations regarding STEM.

 

Preparations and Confidence

Graph 2 shows the relationship between the different preparations and the perceived confidence levels of girls ‘getting a job’ in STEM. The horizontal axis indicates the confidence scores and the vertical axis indicates the preparational activity using the colour keyed circles.

[GGR] Blog Post #3 - Visual #2 (1)

Research suggests that low ‘Professional’ confidence is a contributing factor causing attrition from STEM. Interestingly the results in graph 2 indicate a significant association between different preparations and confidence ‘getting a job’. ‘Interview practice’ as a preparation activity is associated with the least confidence, with ‘programs’ being 25% more likely to be associated with confidence in getting a job compared to interview practice, with an average score of 4.2 out of 5.

Participant #18

Moreover, women emphasised their concern that more programs need to be made available to help encourage young girlsThere should be more accessible programs for girls at younger ages and more well-rounded visibility and representation of women in STEM fields in media“ further adding substance to the argument that society needs to be targeting STEM interest at a young age in girls, which may help build their confidence over time and suggests that media representation may hold some accountability for the confidence levels in women. Although more companies are starting to realise the benefit of employing more women in the field (see how Microsoft’s #MakeWhatsNext and Google’s madewithcode are helping to nurture young female talent with initiatives) there is still a long way to go.  

 

‘Volunteering/internships’ were also significantly positively correlated with confidence with an average score of 4.1 out of 5, with one participant emphasizing the importance of internships in creating a more structured career focus, “Internships. Internships. I can’t stress that enough. Getting hands-on experience can be the make-or-break when deciding what field one wants to pursue”. Research was also expressed as one of the most significant preparation methods increasing confidence scoring around 4.1 out of 5, which would suggest that increasing more funding and flexibility for women pursuing research in STEM would help improve confidence and lower attrition, with participants further suggesting “in STEM fields, increased grants and scholarships will entice more females”, “Scholarships/funding for women to take postgraduate courses” as key areas that could be improved to encourage future generations of women to pursue STEM as a career.

 

This would suggest that ‘programs’ and ‘research’ play an important role in both attrition and confidence.

 

These findings may be explained using ‘investment theory’ in that preparations which involve a large amount of sacrifice and investment with regards to time make it less likely to deviate from this path even in circumstances that are adverse, thus possibly acting as a protective factor against the adverse effects to women’s confidence with regards to stereotypes and ‘masculine’ environments.

 

Encouraging more women to continue studying STEM

 

  1. College and Universities can help to encourage girls to take part in different preparational activities by holding different open evenings and information talks about different programmes they can get involved with.

 

  1. Increasing the awareness and accessibility of internships and volunteering opportunities for girls. This can be achieved through social media and student unions at college and universities where students can access different opportunities.

 

  1. More research opportunities for girls to get involved in at College and University. Extra curricular activities could focus on research skills and helping students develop their own interests and small independent projects.

 

We can change the future if we work together.

This has been the third in a series of exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers.

 

Contributors

Andrea Lewis, Raiya Al-Ansari, Molly Goodman

Geeky Girl Reality, 2016, 2nd Series

Geeky Girl Reality is a longitudinal independent study created in response to the surprising lack of women represented in STEM careers. It aims to give voices to women interested in STEM and allows us to construct meaning and data surrounding their experiences as womenGeekGirl

The Continuation of this blog series reflects our findings from our Spring 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 who represent 16 countries from around the world. (please see our previous blog for our findings on the impact of early childhood interests and how they affect the pursuit of STEM careers later on in life).

 

Here we take a look at how higher education affects a woman’s interest and confidence in STEM.

Confidence and 10 Year Plan

Our data indicates that career paths and confidence are significantly influenced during college. As stated by one participant, “Gender stereotypes are still associated with classes and discourage students from exploring their interests.”

This trend can be seen from the bar graph below, which compares our survey participants’ year of study to their 10-year plans and confidence levels in getting a job.

[GGR] Blog Post #2 - Visual #1

 

On the horizontal axis, each year of study is listed along with a bar representing the corresponding 10-year plan responses. The pink bars are the percentages of women planning to pursue a STEM career; the green bars are the percentages of women planning to pursue a non-STEM career, or indicating no career plan. The overlapping blue line represents our participants’ confidence levels from year to year.

Respondents in their first year of college had high levels of confidence averaging at 4.1 out of 5, and 63% of them had a 10-year plan involving a STEM career. However, this percentage dropped to only 37% for those in their second year of college. This year also correlated to a drop in confidence to levels of 3.6.

Confidence levels steadily rose for women in their later years of college, averaging as high as 4.2 in year 5. Meanwhile, women planning to pursue STEM rose in the third year to its highest point at 67%, and then fluctuated for years 4 and 5 between 50% and 63%.

Although the upward trend for both variables in the third year seems positive, it could indicate that the proportion of women who lose confidence in their second year choose to leave STEM fields, resulting in an inflation of these values the following year. What causes the drop in the second year isn’t clear. However, this negative trend may be caused by social stigma, lack of support, encouragement and female mentors for women at College. One participant stated “males in engineering are treated with more respect than females. A girl has to speak twice as loud and work twice as hard just to be recognised on a ‘level playing field’.” These double standards in learning experiences could alienate women making them question their abilities.

Could the hiring of more women faculty members help combat this fall in confidence? Results from our previous series suggest this may be the case, with unrelated female mentors increasing the likelihood of women pursuing STEM careers. Interestingly a recent article found women now have a better chance than men at being hired as professors, which may indicate cultures are changing slowly amongst HE institutions.  

Subject Studied

Class standings also indicated a relationship with our participants’ areas of study. To demonstrate this, we used the line graph below to compare the subjects studied by our participants to their year of study.blog2

On the horizontal axis, each year of study is listed chronologically from 1 to 5. Each subject is represented by a differently colored line that shows the percentages of students studying the subject. The variations in the lines indicate how these percentages change from year to year.

 

46% of our freshman (year 1) participants studied computer science (CS), making it the most studied subject for that year. As the class standing increased, however, the number of participants studying CS steadily decreased to the point where only 18% of women studied it in year 5.

The life sciences (bio, physical, human, and health) showed the opposite trend. Human and health sciences were studied by only 6% of freshman students, but were one of the top subjects for year 5 students at 24%. Similarly, biosciences and physical sciences were studied by 23% of freshman students, but increased significantly for year 5 students, where they were the most studied subjects at 35%.

It appears that women in STEM start out college with a higherinterest in technology fields, but as the years go by, they are more likely to leave college pursuing a life science. Additionally, CS courses could be the cause for the loss of confidence discussed earlier, since the number of CS students begin to decrease in the same year that our participants had a drop in confidence.

These results could also indicate that CS is grounded within a ‘deeper’ male orientated culture compared to the other STEM subjects where women find it more difficult to ‘identify’ and ‘find a place’. One CS participant stated “Women face harsher penalties for their mistakes, from both themselves and their peers.” suggesting women feel at battle internally and externally with the social stigma surrounding their role within the subject. These pressures could provide one explanation as to why more women leave CS.  

Encouraging more women to continue studying STEM

There are a number of steps we can take to improve the retention rate of women in science and tech:

 

  1. Establish college programs geared towards freshmen and sophomores in STEM that provide a safe place for them to share their struggles and get advice.

 

  1. Appoint more women as faculty members in STEM to empower female students and limit their feelings of uncertainty.

 

  1. Increase college preparation opportunities in high schools, so students can be more confident and prepared in handling difficult college courses.

 

  1. Encourage the women you know to become mentors for other women who are just starting out in their college education. If you’re a woman in science or tech, consider becoming a mentor yourself.

 

We can change the future if we work together.

This has been the second in a series of exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers.

Contributors

Andrea Lewis, Raiya Al-Ansari, Molly Goodman

References:

Cruz, E. (2016, July 27). The Gap Between Women and Men in STEM and What You Can Do About It [Web log post].

Geeky Girl Reality, 2016

There are still comparatively few women working in science and technology. Recent studies show that only 23% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals are women, and 27% of these are likely to leave their job within the first year.

So, why aren’t more women entering and remaining in science and technology? What’s causing this gender gap?

Geeky Girl Reality is a longitudinal, independent research project looking at how women’s experiences influence GeekGirltheir interests in science and technology.

We’re drawing on data from a spring 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 from 16 countries around the world.

From their stories, we learn about the effects women’s experiences have on their pursuit of higher education in science, technology, engineering, and maths. We have discovered some interesting insights.

Having a plan

To start, we’ll take a look at our participants’ early life experiences and how their plans are affected by their childhood interests or mentors.

Our data indicates that career paths are influenced very early on by childhood interests. One participant said that, “One of the main reasons why I am so involved in math and CS [Computer Science] now is because I was exposed to both subjects at a very young age.”

This trend can be seen from the bar graph below, which compares our survey participants’ childhood interests to their 10-year plans.

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On the horizontal axis, each childhood interest is listed along with a bar representing the corresponding 10-year plan responses. The pink bars are the percentages of women planning to pursue a STEM career; the green bars are the percentages of women planning to pursue a non-STEM career, or there was no indication of a career plan.

Those who had technology or science-based childhood interests were more likely to plan for a science or tech career

 

 

At least 52% of respondents with an interest in technology or science as a child had a 10-year plan involving a STEM career. This rose to 76% for those with an affinity for tech.

The 33% of young women who lacked exposure to science or technology said they were more likely to go into other areas instead.

Having a mentor

Childhood interests were not the only early life factors affecting their career choices. Mentors also played an important role in their plans for the future. According to one of our participants, “[My mentor] has taught me a lot about being a woman out in the real world and has helped me choose what I want to do.”

We can see this by comparing their mentors (on the horizontal axis) to their 10-year plans.

ggr-blog-post-1-visual-2

More than half of women with no mentor or with an unrelated male mentor did not plan to pursue a STEM career. By contrast, women with an unrelated female mentor were the most likely to pursue STEM, with 68% of them indicating a STEM-related career plan.

It appears that women are most encouraged when they have another successful woman as an inspiration. It’s possible that male mentors are not as easy to relate to, and made them feel like they didn’t belong in the relevant fields.

Getting more women interested in STEM careers

There are a number of steps we can take to get more women in science and tech:

  1. Talk to young girls about science and tech to give them the opportunity to explore those subjects from a younger age.
  1. Encourage the women you know to become mentors for other women and girls who are just starting out on their career paths. If you’re a woman in science or tech, consider becoming a mentor yourself.
  1. Establish a mentorship program within your organization to empower female employees in science and tech.
  1. Implement more science and tech courses in early education to increase young girls’ exposure to these fields.

We can change the future if we work together.

This has just been the start of our exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers.

Contributors

Andrea Lewis, Sabah Rahman, Raiya Al-Ansari

References:

Cruz, E. (2016, July 27). The Gap Between Women and Men in STEM and What You Can Do About It [Web log post].

My trial and error experience of UX

UX is often referenced as a buzzword. In a world where Digital strategy is on every lip, where can we fit UX? Is it the ultimate solution for IT departments? Can it make our products better, faster, stronger without being harder?

I came around UX about three years ago when I started working for Ad Hoc Global. Because of my dyslexia, I continually made reference to User Experiment rather than User Experience for UX (It would agitate my managing director). However, the more knowledge on UX I acquired, the easier it was for me to justify it.

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“We have to improve our customer experiences.” How many times have you heard this during a pitch?

Throughout  life, a human being has both good and bad experiences. One thing that triggers these experiences are experiments. A risky action that moves one individual from a comfort zone to the unknown. Once you get there, the unexplored land becomes your experience, a unique selling proposition for most of the companies. “We have to improve our customer experiences.” How many times have you heard this during a pitch? Iterations through carefully designed experiments give fine-tuned insights into creating experiences. It can be browsing through your latest application or reading signs while driving.“What if I experiment following a sat nav rather than planning my trip ahead? Will my experience become more positive?” UX will make your experiments a success and your experience powerful.    

Renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes that part of our brain makes quick decisions without using intense reflex efforts. Based on this, I see UX as a way to better utilize this part of the brain. To quote another successful writer, and another Daniel, D.H. Pink, we are in a caveat information situation where the user and the product have the same information at a precise instant. We perform actions knowing  what to expect. We are no longer lost with a product and prepared to make the next step in the unknown. Hence, users become the center of discussions. The focus shifts from what the technology allows us to do, to what we want to do in a particular situation. Features are optimised and through end eyes paths toward final goals are defined. The world becomes a two-way communication system with inputs from both sides.

In the end, heuristic reviews are performed, usability is improved, architectures become more intuitive, returns of investments maximise, strategies are in adequation with audiences, risks are managed. Your experiment is an achievement and experiences become memorable.
This is the power of UX.  

An interview with Dr Daria Kuss

Dr Daria Kuss is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Psychology and a member of the Psychology Division and International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University. She has earned her Master’s degrees in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience and Media Culture, and a Ph.D. in Psychology. She has published prolifically in peer-reviewed journals and books, and her publications include 30 peer-reviewed journal articles, numerous book chapters, two authored books, and over 30 international conference presentations. In 2015, Daria has been found to be among the Top 10 publishing academics at Nottingham Trent University, and has won the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Best Paper Award 2015 for her research on online social networking. Her previous experience working with clients suffering from behavioural addictions and other mental health problems in Germany has allowed her to foster her interest and skills in psychotherapy and clinical psychology.

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Daria a few questions and gather an insight into her research:

 

What first drew you to researching the relationship between psychology and the internet?

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“I wanted to understand what motivates gamers to spend so many hours gaming “

DK: I started off researching gaming. Initially, I wanted to understand what motivates gamers to spend so many hours gaming. I had never fully understood how people can be so involved, spending many hours every day using games online. It was about understanding their motivation, talking to gamers to really see their drive behind it. In one of my early studies, one player expressed it was to numb themselves and forget about their real life problems. That really fascinated me. I wanted to understand the psychology behind their motives. Though the gamers use it as an escape it can actually lead to future problems.

From there I began researching into different forms of internet use and ways that it can become excessive. I looked into differences in cultures in terms of internet and gaming use and how social networking has evolved over the years, and in more recent research I’ve been looking into mobile phone use. It’s quite interesting to see how some vulnerable people use mobile phones excessively, as technology is now used in so many ways. If you go out onto the street you will see many people engrossed in their phones that they don’t look up around them. I think that technology has changed society tremendously and the ways in which we relate to one another has changed, and it really interests me to see where this change is going to take us in the future.

 

Gaming addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, how does online gaming addiction differ from offline addictions?

" Recent studies have actually shown that people who game excessively have similar problems as those who are experiencing substance-related addictions such as alcohol or cannabis addiction."
” Recent studies have actually shown that people who game excessively have similar problems as those who are experiencing substance-related addictions “

DK: It’s a very good question, one that we as researchers have been asking ourselves. I think the major differences between them is when an individual is gaming excessively those gaming behaviours don’t directly impact on their neurological systems. What happens is that the impact is indirect, and it might be quite similar to substance-related addictions, however, it is not direct.

Research shows that people who are gaming excessively have activations in brain regions that are traditionally associated with substance-related addictions; there seems to be a crossover. Recent studies have shown that people who game excessively have similar problems as those who are experiencing substance-related addictions, such as alcohol or cannabis addiction. I think it is important to note that the American Psychiatric Association who publishes the diagnostic statistical manual now included behavioural addictions in the addiction classification, whereas previously when we talked about addiction we only referred to substance-related addictions.

I also recall the first time I submitted a paper on gaming addiction, a long time ago, to one of the behaviour addiction journals. I was told by the editor that gaming addiction was not a behavioural addiction because it was seen as a behaviour, it’s not a substance that people can be addicted to. This is paradoxical given it was a behavioural addiction journal. 10 years later, the research landscape has dramatically changed. We have a lot of research on gaming as well other behavioural addictions such as work addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, suggesting people have become aware of potential problems there.

 

Having knowledge of the links between addictive gaming, substance abuse and psychosocial behaviour, do you feel enough is being done to combat this problem by the Government?

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Dr Daria Kuss delivering the plenary talk at the International Congress of Technology Addiction

DK: A lot of research has been conducted across Europe but when I compare the UK to Germany with regards to treatment, what I find is that things in the UK are moving very slowly when it comes to developing therapy approaches for those who are gaming excessively and also when it comes to research in those areas. I used to work in an outpatient clinic for gaming addiction in Germany, which was the first which specialised in that type of addiction in Europe, so I saw first-hand how things have progressed rapidly in Germany.

In the UK we are moving at a slower pace. We do however have a number of people working in this area such as psychotherapists. For example in London a colleague of mine is keen on making sure awareness is raised and those needing the help are being provided with it. So slowly but surely I think we are going in the right direction, but a lot of work needs to be done, particularly when diagnosing the problem and ensuring funding is available for relevant treatment.

A study recently carried out by yourself looked at excessive mobile phone use and its association with potentially harmful and/or disturbing behaviours, known as Problematic mobile phone use (PMPU). On the whole, it was argued that the evidence supporting PMPU as an addictive behaviour was scarce. Do you think as time and technology advance that this will become a known and established addiction with society?

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“whilst lecturing Psychology classes I see that my students are constantly engaged with their phones and laptops.”

DK: We should really refer to our everyday lives as this shows us our reliance on our mobile phones. I see it on a regular basis with my students, whilst lecturing Psychology classes I see that my students are constantly engaged with their phones and laptops. Regularly using mobile phones may not necessarily lead to addiction, but it can certainly lead to changes in the way we interact and communicate with each other. Also, it impacts the way in which young people’s minds develop, in particular with their social development. I think if we continue using technology to such an extent immense changes will occur especially in terms of human interaction.  How we engage with our communities and environment will change. It’s going to be interesting to see the direction mobile phone use will take us.

As the internet and social media evolve so do the numerous channels to harm others such as trolling, phishing and social media, what are your thoughts on these numerous channels? And do you feel that it is another part of society?

DK: To a certain extent I would probably say yes. In the case of social media, what we now find is that people are engaging through the medium of technology rather than engaging face to face. This basically takes away some real life cues, such as facial expressions. This could be the likely cause of certain online behaviours, due to the ability to distance oneself online (more than what is possible offline). This distance formulates a technological boundary which means our communication is less personal. This is one of the reasons why we see more trolling and bullying online, people are able to act out and behave differently on the internet. This is very problematic and therefore I advocate going back to our real life community and real life relationships to counteract this current state.

Over the last 10 years technology has developed rapidly, what are your thoughts on the effects this may have on the relationships between generations?

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“You will see children as young as 3, playing and really knowing the technology, this can lead to potential rewiring of the brain, we have never had such developments in the past.”

DK: What you will find nowadays is that young parents have been raised with technology themselves, and now they are raising their children with it too. Essentially technology has become part of their lives. You will see children as young as 3 playing on their ipads and gadgets and really knowing how to use modern technology. This can potentially lead to rewiring of the brain. We have never had such developments in the past.

However, if we look at the older generations who were not raised with technology – there might be a technological divide between them and their children, in such a way that their children are technologically savvy, whereas the parents may struggle and learning to use technology is a slower and less natural process. But what we are also finding is that many middle-aged people are now starting to use social networking sites such as Facebook. So the age group of 50+ years have started exploring the use of social media more. The older generation is beginning to catch up with those earlier age groups who were exposed to technology from a young age.

Another interesting area of development are the so-called ‘silver surfers’ – individuals of an older age discovering the internet and technology for themselves. In certain aspects I believe this is has a beneficial effect on their lives, as they can connect (decrease isolation) and engage with their communities in a mediated way. It is very important to see both the advantages and disadvantages of technology use across generations. I am a strong advocator of technology use, however I’m aware that in certain cases of susceptible and vulnerable individuals excessive technology use may lead to problems.

Can you tell us more about your future area of research?

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Dr Daria Kuss discussing her research

DK: I’m currently working on a number of research projects. One, in particular, is about mobile phone use and the notifications we receive on a daily basis on our phones, and how these notifications impact on our mood and possibly excessive use. This is a very interesting study we are currently conducting with the University of Kent and Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. I am also working on a couple of cross-cultural projects on internet use across Europe, which we are currently collecting data on. I am also planning another project on cyberstalking and interpersonal violence, to understand the potential concerns when we look at the new governmental policies and development in regards to coercive control. I am also collaborating with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to assess the benefits of using online forums for individuals affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. As you can see, I would like to know more about how the Internet and mediated technologies can facilitate both positive as well as potentially detrimental behaviours.

Bearing all this in mind I think it is extremely important to recognise how important and beneficial technology can be, so not only focusing on the negative aspects but really understanding and acknowledging the positive uses of technology.

 

Geeky Girl Reality

The Geeky Girl Reality is a study that will help us understand the reasons as to why there aren’t more girls in “geeky” fields (science, technology, engineering, and maths!)

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The results of this survey will shed light on how entering a “geeky” field can be improved for all girls, the types of fun tech that girls are into, and why there aren’t equal numbers of girls and boys in STEM fields.

Tidbits from our most current research:

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So, are you a “geeky” girl with a passion for science or tech and currently attending University? Did you love science as a child or did your interest bloom later in life?

 

Tell us about who or what encouraged you and you can be entered into our prize drawing for Amazon gift cards! Who doesn’t like free stuff, right?

GeekyGirlSurveyLink

An interview with Gene Moy

Gene Moy, Principal User Experience Designer
Gene Moy, Principal User Experience Designer

With over 15 years of experience designing products as diverse as military, medical, and consumer-facing systems, Gene is a Principal User Experience Designer. He transforms insights derived from observations of human behavior into strategies that inform critical user experiences with remarkable value.

Having earned an MA in American Studies and a BA in Rhetoric, Gene has worked with many high profile clients including Hallmark, Sears, Borders, Wilton, and Sallie Mae.

Gene uses his cross-disciplinary knowledge, to best find solutions that achieve a balance between stakeholder and user needs. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Gene a few questions and gather an insight into his work and life:

 

 

How did you first get involved/interested in UX?

GM: In brief, many of my generation fell into this work accidentally, and we were helped by good timing. I was no different. In the early ’90s, an opportunity created by technology to do something called “interactive multimedia” emerged. At UCLA, where I was a graduate student in Asian American Studies, history professor Jan Reiff was teaching a course in history and multimedia. Somehow I got a hold of some graphics software, and armed with a copy of David Siegel’s Creating Killer Web Sites, I started making graphics and writing HTML. In those days, there was no name for what we did back then, no schools, no gurus — all of it fell under the rubric “webmaster” or “webmistress”. As the web became more capable beyond mere brochureware, it was shown that efficacy, usefulness, and utility had effects on success metrics. Showing and selling things online progressively became less interesting to me than helping people accomplish tasks, goals, and minimizing their pain points. And that’s how I got into this work.

...each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world.
…each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world.

What aspect of UX do you enjoy the most and why?

GM: I’m fortunate enough to be able to participate at every part of the lifecycle. At Honeywell User Experience, our design thinking cycle looks like this: Understand, where we interview and observe users, analyze their utterances for insights, then synthesize them to produce solutions; Design, where we try to give form to those solutions and map them back to user jobs, goals, and pain points; and then Evaluate, where we see how well our design assumptions, now given form, have met those user needs. This isn’t very different from anyone else’s cycle, say, ISO 13407 or 9241. So each phase, and each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world. This is my life work now. I never tire of it.

In the past, you have worked with many high profile clients including Hallmark, Sears, Borders, and Wilton, to name a few. What projects did you most enjoy working on? Can you tell us about your favorite project and what was so unique or enjoyable about it?

GM: When I think back, common to all great consulting gigs were nice people in creative and sharing environments, with professional respect and behavior, in great places to work that weren’t oppressive. The work is always the same work, it doesn’t change, so it’s important that everything else in context goes well. Yet I feel the most important work we did was at Siemens and User Centric (now GfK UX), where people’s lives were involved, and now here at Honeywell, where we’re building a user experience practice.

...attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you've created cognitively frictionless experiences...
…attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you’ve created cognitively frictionless experiences…

We see from your previous work that you also have substantial experience in designing both military and medical products. Tell us, what are some of the major challenges working in these areas and how much do they differ from one and other? 

GM: The stakes are much higher. In e-commerce, generally, a catastrophic user experience doesn’t result in injury or death to the user or the lives that the user has in their care. And generally in these other domains operators are trying to do many things all at once — true of medical, transportation, finance, and military applications — a lot of integrative thinking going on, what Hutchins termed distributed cognition — so their resources are taxed fairly heavily, even with training. Thanks to Kahneman, Tversky, among others, we now know attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you’ve created cognitively frictionless experiences, which has also led people into trouble.

Why do you think UX is so important for organizations to get right?

GM: Perhaps it is naive of me, but I believe at a certain level people consume products and services to become more of who they are or who they want to be. They are entering into a kind of relationship with your organization. When those products and services don’t help people accomplish those things, the entire reason why people have come to you, it damages that relationship. We’re surrounded by things and services that don’t work for people, that don’t help them achieve their goals, that create pain points for them. And broken promises over time will damage trust, authority, and ultimately the brand story that a company is aspiring to, or trying to tell about itself. User Experience may only be one part of that story but it’s an important part of how the story gets communicated.

A widely debated topic in UX is that all ‘good’ UX professionals should possess the ability to write and understand code. What are your thoughts on this topic?

GM: It’s alleged that when Gandhi was asked what he thought about western civilization, he is said to have answered, I think it would be a good idea. The code question sort of reminds me of that. Isn’t it interesting that people don’t say we should possess the ability to evaluate our models with users instead? Never mind that they focus only on software. This tells you that people in our industry still aren’t focused on users and their needs, only on software production. But our discipline is called user experience and not software engineering for a reason.

...people in our industry still aren't focused on users and their needs, only on software production.
…people in our industry still aren’t focused on users and their needs, only on software production.

Now that our discipline is mature, as a basic skill, like a prerequisite for any generalist, some fundamental production ability is necessary, just as much as evaluation. If you look at the origins of interaction design, what is common to all the pioneers is that they weren’t afraid to make things or get their hands dirty, and then as they evaluated their work with more people, they became more interested in things like user behavior. A good background in production taught me the importance of knowing what are the basic capabilities and properties of the material you’re going to be working with, whether its software, hardware, services, or support. Specialists will continue make things professionally, but as a competent professional you should be able to make a basic model by yourself to assist in evaluation whether it’s physical or digital or a service. But I think it is more important to understand the users’ intent and how well your model achieves that, and not per se in punching code.

What are your predictions about the future of UX, say 20 years from now?

GM: There will be more CUXOs, chief user experience officers, responsible for the UX strategy of the organization, under which all experience efforts of the organization will align. Outside of consumer retail, the buyers may not the ones who install, maintain, troubleshoot your products and services: those are users of your system as well, and their needs must be accounted for in the complete design of any value offering. So there has to be an expansion of user experience efforts beyond individual touchpoints to understand the whole end-to-end journey. And of course it’s my hope that as we do so people will think of UX no longer as bound exclusively to websites or apps, but products and services of all kinds, such as we’ve been directed to do at Honeywell User Experience, and eventually even government policies.

You were a contributor to the book, ‘Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism’. Tell us, what was your inspiration and thoughts behind publishing this book?

GM: Eastern Standard Time was a project launched by the staff of the now defunct A. Magazine, one of the foremost voices during the golden age of Asian American magazine publishing in the 90s. I only contributed, working under a fantastic editor, Terry Hong. I graduated from Illinois with a focus on nonfiction writing, and as a budding Asian Americanist, I was interested in locating how we were historically seen, heard, portrayed, and thought of in North American pop culture. The accessibility of the project really appealed to me. Perhaps that was the start of my career in user-centered design, in a sense.  

My Experience with Sitemaps

I was eager to explore building sitemaps after being introduced to their benefits while learning about the web design process. However, I had an unconventional first experience: I was asked to create a sitemap after the content and navigation were decided. While after-the-fact planning is bad practice (particularly for a UX consultancy website), it was a learning experience in my skills development as a Junior UX Researcher. Most challenging was the structuring of each page within the sitemap in a way that would be understandable to the user. Because the sitemap was based on an active website, I had to do some UX reverse engineering.

figure 1: My First Attempt

On my first attempt, I made the mistake of including all headings and subsections in the pages of the website. In retrospect, its smart to include only the headings that user interacts with. This resulted in an unclear and fairly cluttered sitemap that did not wholly represent the navigational complexity of the website.

It was after this initial setback that I made a mental breakthrough. In order for the sitemap to accurately portray the website, each page link needed to be displayed in a way that was understandable and intuitive for the user.

At first, this task seemed simple as the website did not have a lot of content. Nevertheless, creating an accurate pattern for the sitemap that precisely mapped each website page proved an obstacle. After some experimentation, I discovered that the website pages were all linked in a way that formed a circular navigation pattern.

figure 2: Final Sitemap

After this discovery, I displayed the pattern in an easy to use map. As seen in Figure 2, all of the pages in the navigation bar are linked both to the ‘Homepage’ and the international team pages. (The team pages are listed in a drop-down menu in the navigation bar). The ‘Teams’ page links to ‘Services’, which links back to ‘Contact Us. Finally, the ‘Insights’ page stands on its own with links to the various social media accounts below.

This task has shown me the utility of sitemaps for both designers and users. Sitemaps can be used to help  a user navigate, or allow a designer to structure a meaningful navigation process. In essence, sitemaps are hierarchical models that break down content into specific areas as well as show the relationship between internet and external pages. I now understand how the process of building a sitemap is a fundamental skill for UX practitioners.  

An Interview with Graham Lee

Graham Lee has over 12 years’ experience in content design, managing content for large web migration projects and writing copy for digital tools and transactions.

Having earned a BA in Philosophy and early success in his role as web content editor working for brands such as Pearson Group and the Ministry of Justice, he now provides his knowledge and expertise to Ad Hoc Global as a senior strategist.

Graham has been described by colleagues past and present as a highly skilled and diligent copy designer who cares deeply about the needs of the user.

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Graham a few questions and gather an insight into his work and life:

 

Graham_Lee
Graham Lee – Content designer

Why did you first become interested in UX/content design?Displaying content-designer-at-work.jpg

GL: I wrote blog posts and reviews in my spare time and stumbled into working on websites for a living. It was good to have an outsider’s point of view, as it meant I didn’t take a lot for granted. Official websites can look stuffy and use lots of long words that most people don’t use in real life. I remember thinking, ‘Who are they talking to here, and why are they using such odd terms?’

Was this always the career path you wanted to follow and did you expect to be working where you are now?

GL: Not at all! I always enjoyed writing but the web barely existed whenI left school. It would have been more realistic to dream of being an astronaut, as at least they were around back then.

Can you tell us a bit about your current role?

GL: I’m currently working for a public sector client, writing copy on using government services. It’s very rewarding, especially when you can take something that’s very complex and explain it in simple terms that everyone can understand.

content-designer-at-work
“We do lots of research with users to understand what they need from a service.”

How is user experience content design integrated into the workflow with your client?

GL: User experience and content design are factored in from the beginning. We do lots of research with users to understand what they need from a service. The content person then works closely with the designer and researcher to make sure the service is user-friendly.

In your opinion, what is the most important part of the content design process?

GL: Critical bit is making sure you write for the customer. There’s a lot of research involved in this: understanding who they are, what they need to do, how they’ll access a service and what problems they have going online. And then you have to tailor something bespoke for them. At the end of the day, the suit has to fit!

 

What specific research methods have you used and which is your most preferred method?

GL: I enjoy crunching the numbers on how people behave online, with things like web metrics or feedback data. But there’s nothing like meeting real users in person – for instance, sitting with them and seeing how they use a website. Even facial expressions can be revealing: preferably delighted ones when things test well. You really can’t get that from an email or emoticon. 🙂

content-designer-tools-of-the-trade (1)
Graham’s tools of the trade

What challenges do you encounter when carrying out research for content design?

GL: It’s hard to predict exactly what people will find confusing. You can make a very good guess, but there are always small things that they’ll trip up on which you hadn’t spotted beforehand. I don’t think this is a major problem, though. It just reinforces the need to make the content as clear as possible, and then test it.

What are your predictions about the future of UX and content design, say 20 years from now?

GL: UX and content design will be central. The web will be much more woven into everyday life, so the whole experience will have to be a lot more natural – like chatting to a friend, rather than typing a memo to your boss. This will mean that it’s more important than ever to use natural language and make sure what we design fits in with how people actually behave.

Finally, what do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of your work?

GL: Apart from being a bookworm and film buff, I’m currently trying to learn how to play the piano. I’m not a natural: my wife says I sound like Les Dawson (who played all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order). I won’t be giving up the day job!

Human factors, User Research, Design Research