In today's episode, I had a chance to interview Jessica Ivins. Jessica is a User Experience educator at Center Centre.
Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I have the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Ivins. Jessica is a Chattanooga native. She is here in Chattanooga with me. We actually had a chance to sit down and talk over lunch before the interview and we just had such a good conversation. Jessica works at center, center and she teaches user experience. We talk a lot more about what Jessica does each and every day. Thank you to today's sponsor, hire.com. If you are looking for a job in the tech industry, hired is a fantastic place to start. We will talk more about what hire.com has to offer to you later on in the show. But first, let's get straight into the interview with Jessica Ivins. Welcome to the show Jessica. Hi Jonathan, thanks for having me here. Absolutely. I'm excited to talk to you because there's so many things that you do and all these different places that you've spoken. Your resume speaks for itself but I'm ready to dive in with you today and talk about user experience and about learning, the process of learning. But first, I'd love for you to tell everyone about yourself and where you work at center center. Just kind of give an overview of what center center is and then you can take the mic from there basically. Sure, I'm happy to do that. So center center is the user experience design school located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We offer a full time to your program in user experience design. Our program is Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 and it blends industry, education and community. And when our students graduate, they'll be well-rounded junior UX designers that are ready for work. And I am a faculty member at center centers. So I do everything from building curriculum to interviewing students, to writing for the blog. I've even put together IKEA furniture. So I do all sorts of stuff there and it's a great place to be and I'm really excited to be a part of it. Who would be like the ideal candidate to go and be a part of center center? That's a great question. So we don't require any previous experience with user experience design or front end development or graphic design or anything like that. It certainly helps if you have that experience. But what we really look for in our student applicants are traits of lifelong learning, tenacious learning. People who are looking to grow constantly because we found that the best designers out there are designers that are constantly looking to grow their skills and adapting to the changes in the field. So lifelong learning is a big thing that we look for, receptiveness to feedback, receptiveness to growth. Also empathy, empathy in the sense that empathy is a word that I think people use a lot and it can mean a lot of different things. But empathy in the sense that our student applicants, they care about helping people. Because as user experience designers, we create products and services that help people achieve goals. That's another thing that we look for in our students. Those are the big things that we look for. And that surprises people when they ask us about what we look for in student applicants. Some people ask me, well, don't I need design experience to apply to center center? And I say no, not at all. We've had applicants from a cosmetology background. We've had applicants from a construction background. We've also had applicants who are already working in the field as front end developers or graphic designers who are looking to get into UX. So we get all sorts of applicants. It's pretty exciting to see the types of folks that are applying to be a part of center center. It's one of the things I love about the digital world in general, digital jobs, I guess, is that they are highly democratized and they're kind of open to anyone. Getting into other fields, you know, typically there's some kind of preset ladder that you have to climb. Or, you know, there's the good old boy system here in the South that I'm sure you're pretty familiar with like I am. By the way, Jessica and I are kind of neighbors. I'm also in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We had a chance to meet over lunch before this interview. And so it's just a really cool thing to get to talk to somebody on this show that I've spoken to in person. And I mean, we had a great lunch, really great conversation. I love this idea of the democratization of jobs. And, you know, user experience is something that you may not even know that you want to be involved in because it's kind of a difficult thing to define at first if you're coming from the outside looking in and perhaps even from the inside looking out. Jessica, could you kind of explain what user experience designers, what their primary function is for a digital agency or perhaps in a freelance role? How does that work? So I'll start by saying there are lots and lots of different definitions for user experience design. And professionals in the UX field have trouble agreeing on what the definition is. But the way that I describe it, I would say that user experience is about how someone feels when they use a product or a service. And that can range from how somebody feels when they use a toaster, whether or not it toaster their toaster appropriately or it could apply to something like, you know, when somebody uses a website or a mobile app, how do they feel? Do they feel like they were able to accomplish what they set out to accomplish? Did they meet their goals? And I would say a little more specifically user experience design usually refers to screen design, right? So you look at something like Netflix. There are many different ways to interact with Netflix. You could watch a movie on the plane, on a plane on your phone. You could watch a movie at home. You could be on your laptop at work, updating, you know, saving the movies that you want to watch when you get home. There are all different ways of interacting with the product. So user experience designers, we look at the product or the service from a bird's eye view, but we do tend to focus on what people interact with on the screen. So making sure that a website is easy to use and understandable, making sure that it's easy to use and understandable on a laptop or a phone or any other type of device, working on mobile apps. It's kind of like my long winded, but hopefully clear answer on what UX design is. It is really hard to define. There was a hashtag actually for a while going around on Twitter, DT-DT, define the damn thing with UX design. So like I said, professionals can't even agree on what it means. But that's kind of the way I see it, and that's typically along the lines of how I explain it to folks. You know, when you're out and you meet people and they ask, what do you do for a living? It's as a UX designer, it's a little bit harder to explain. You know, if you're a computer programmer or if you're a graphic designer, like people tend to understand what that means. But as a UX designer, you usually have to do a little bit more explaining. So that's kind of the route that I take to explain it. You mentioned something that I think is really important to understand. And I want to dive in just a little bit. We didn't plan to talk about this specifically, but the idea of context. So everything that you mentioned about Netflix, for example, you said, you know, you could be on a plane adding movies to watch later. You could be on your phone, your laptop. You could be, you know, in all these different situations. And that is really, in a lot of ways, kind of the fundamental way to think about user experience, right? You don't think about only what the thing is, but rather where the thing is. Mm-hmm. Would you say that another piece of that context is who that user is or, you know, what they are experiencing in that moment? Yes. I would agree with that. So sometimes, you know, I would say often you'll have different audiences for one product or one service. With Netflix, I'm not really sure how many audiences they have. A lot, right? Yeah. I mean, it could be, it could very well be. They might have different audiences with different needs. And really, you know you have different audiences when you start to see varying needs in your customer base. So for example, let's say that I worked at a bank and I was a user experience designer for a major bank. Like, let's just say, Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo, my guess is that they do have different audiences because they might have business-checking audiences, like business owners who want to open a checking account. They might have somebody who comes to the website wanting to open a savings account, a personal savings account, somebody who wants a personal checking account, somebody else who's looking to get approved for a mortgage. So those are all very different audiences. Like if I'm trying to get a mortgage, that's very different from somebody else who is a business owner and is opening a business-checking account, right? So those are things that UX designers certainly need to pay attention to because you can assume that everybody comes to your website or your app or your service or your product for the same reason. Sometimes they do, but that's not always the case. Yeah. You touched on this earlier and I guess that kind of answered the question that it's all about how that person feels. And when we say feels, we don't mean, you know, do they enjoy it or not only, right? It's also, are they frustrated or are they in a situation where they are completely unable to use the application. You know, you talk about accessibility, for example, if you have a design that doesn't take into account that a portion of the user base, maybe they speak a different language or perhaps they're blind. That's a really common thing that developers look past and that's so important for usability and for user experience, right? So there's like a symbiotic relationship between usability and user experience, I think. Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the beautiful thing about accessibility is that, you know, when you make your product accessible to people with disabilities or people on, you know, all sorts of various devices who are accessing your product, you actually make it better for everybody. I actually met a woman here in Chattanooga who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and she knows a lot about offline accessibility because she herself is disabled and, you know, we were talking about curb cuts, which are like the little ramby things at the corner of intersections. You know, it's where it kind of like, it's the sidewalk slides down to the road. You know, those were put in for accessibility reasons, but they're also helpful to other people who don't have disabilities. So somebody who's pushing a stroller, somebody like a delivery guy who's got, you know, a cart full of boxes, like the UPS guy who's, you know, running around 50 miles an hour all day long, trying to cart stuff back and forth between buildings. Like that helps somebody in that situation as well. And the same thing applies for the web, the same thing applies for other platforms. When you make your product accessible, it actually helps everybody. And a big thing that I've learned actually is with writing, I've done a ton of focus on writing for the web since I worked at Center Center, actually my boss, Leslie Jensenenman, she's a fantastic writer and she's been my editor and mentor as I've improved my writing. And one thing that I've learned is that writing simply is actually, when you write in clear, simple plain language, you actually make your content more accessible. Typically, when you write at a fifth or sixth grade level, it makes your content easier to read. And overall, it just, it helps everybody. It helps people, you know, who read at a college level and beyond, even if they can read at that level, it's still much easier for them to read and understand the content when it's written in simple language. People with cognitive disabilities, let's say, or, you know, any kind of whatever challenge you could think of that affects reading. It could be low vision. It could be dyslexia. It could be somebody who's experienced brain damage and has trouble reading. But more clear and simple, you can make your writing the more accessible it is to everybody, which I think is really awesome. And that's one thing that I've learned and really focused on since I've been at Center Center. That's really cool because I actually had a few classes in journalism when I was doing my undergrad. And one of the things they talk about specifically when you were learning AP style is if there is a word that is simpler than the one you are using that has the same essential meaning than use the simpler word every time. Simplify, simplify, simplify. And so as we would write these articles, we would get an article to kind of revise and make it kind of match AP style. And of course, we had these kind of objective things that we had to fix like, you know, if the number was written in a particular way that didn't match AP style, then we had to fix that. But we also had the opportunity to fix otherwise cultured words or things that are, you know, phrases that are really meaningful to only a certain group of people or perhaps they're inaccessible to another group of people. And when you write that way, it's actually really effective. Like the copy becomes so much more understandable. And that's that's strange because we like to think that words, the complexity of a word and all of the things that go along with that complexity, all the extra connotations that we can use those to our advantage. And in some scenarios that may be true, like for example, you know, if you are writing poetry or maybe you're writing a novel, but if you're writing copy for the web, it's very likely that you should use the simplest word possible. Yeah, I would agree with that. And again, it always depends on the audience. You know, another audience that I could think of is an academic audience, typically that tends to use more complex language. But for the most part, I would agree that a simple language makes a world of difference. And at first, I was perplexed by this. I thought, well, you know, why would I write at a fifth grade level or a sixth grade level? Isn't that insulting to my reader, you know, what if my reader has a college degree? And then the more I researched it and the more I learned about it, it's not about dumbing down your content at all. It's just about making it easier to consume and easier to understand. It relieves people of any, you know, unnecessary cognitive strain that it takes to consume your content. Think about typical usage behaviors of, you know, people who consume content on the web. They tend to be scanning, you know, and not in all cases, you know, if you're reading your favorite bloggers blog post, you know, you might be like sitting back with a cup of tea and really absorbing the words on the screen or whatever. But for the most part, you know, users, they're very goal oriented and they have things to do and they're scanning your content. So again, the simpler language that you can use, the better. Yeah. If you think about time as currency, right, they're paying for your piece of content with their time and they're also paying for it with effort, right? And a lot of the time, maybe not most of the time, well, I would say probably most of the time, a lot of the time and perhaps most of the time. Let's put it that way. If you use a simpler word, then it's going to take them less time, like you're saying, and it's going to take less effort. And therefore your product becomes a little bit easier to buy, right? Your piece of content because don't be confused in that free content. Let's say you have a blog and you have a bunch of free content online. Well, just because it's free doesn't mean there is no cost. And so a user, when they encounter your content, they are buying. With some kind of currency, you are trading their time for it, for the content that you have online. And so providing value for the cheapest possible way is important. Now, with that said, there's always going to be the boutique kind of product, right? The one that costs a lot. The long form article is a perfect example of this. If you have the time to sit down and read a long form article, then you are really investing a lot in that. And that's a very specific kind of content, right? But if you're just writing something for the sake of action, which is probably, I would say, like 90% of the web, then most likely writing in this way, the so accessible is probably the best practice. There's a saying in UX design that we always joke about and say, and that saying is it depends. So for the most part, I would agree with that. But I think it does depend. It depends on what your audience, how your audience is consuming your content. Like you said, sometimes audiences really want to sit down and absorb long form content. But for the most part, that's usually not the case. And they're usually just looking for something, trying to accomplish something, and the simpler the language, the better. So I've been in the field for 11 years going on 12 years, and it took me a while to really learn how to create content that achieves that. And I'm still working on it. It's something that you can always get better at. But my writing's improved tremendously, and I'm very grateful that I've had the opportunity to build that skill. Absolutely. Yeah, I want to take a quick sponsor break, and then we will come back. And we're going to talk about learning. We were supposed to talk about it in this first part, but we just got, you know, so many interesting things to talk about with user experience and writing, and so we're going to take a quick sponsor break, and then we're going to come back and talk about learning and choosing your own adventure. So stick around for that. Today's episode is sponsored by hired.com. Now, if you haven't heard about hired, I encourage you to go and check out hired.com. Just read about what hired does. Hired is doing something brand new in the tech industry. They are bridging the gap between companies and the people those companies want to hire. There's over 2,000 companies that work with hired. They have candidates that are either designers or Developer That sign up each and every day to receive salaries that range from $75,000 all the way up to $250,000. You can also get equity stakes in companies. There's part-time jobs, full-time jobs, and you can work all over the world. So companies actually send you offers with upfront compensation. If you get a job through hired.com, if you actually go through the process and you get a job, normally they give you a $2,000 signing bonus. If you use the special link in the show notes, hired is offering a $4,000 bonus for Developer Tealisteners. That's a $4,000 bonus for doing absolutely nothing other than clicking on a link. Go and check out the show notes at spec.fm. If you are looking for a job in the industry at hired.com, it's a great place to start. Again, companies all over the world, over 2,000 companies that work with hired. You actually don't even have to talk face to face with the companies before you get the offer. Go and check it out at hired.com. Again, make sure you check the show notes for that special link to double the bonus from $2,000 to $4,000. Thank you so much again to hire.com for continuing to support Developer Tea. We've been talking about user experience and Jessica Ivin's Works at Center Center as an educator specifically about user experience. One thing obviously that educators are focused on is the process of learning, the meta values of learning. How do people learn? How do they take in information? I'm really interested to talk to you, Jessica, about your concept of choosing your own adventure and this idea. I'll let you explain it. Can you talk to me a little bit about choosing your own adventure when it comes to learning? Sure. I actually learned of the concept of choose your own adventure learning from Center Center. That's how our curriculum is built. Our students will, as they go through their coursework and as they need to learn things for each course, they'll have the option to pick what whatever materials they want to use that are appropriate to learn what they need to learn. Some students might prefer to learn with books, other students might prefer to learn with online seminars or online tutorials. Some students might want to read articles that they find online or listen to podcasts. I think that's made building curriculum really fun for me and it's also taught me a lot about learning. A lot of people ask me for UX advice or they ask me UX questions and I love that. I really love mentoring people and helping people. Traditionally what I would do is I would recommend books to people. They would say, how do I learn UX design or how do I learn something like usability testing or how do I learn information architecture. These are all topics within UX design. I would say, go read this book, go read that book. I stopped doing that because I realized, when I learned about choose your own adventure learning, I realized, not everybody is going to learn through books. Everybody is going to want to learn well through books. They might not be able to make the time to read books. They might struggle with reading. I worked with a really talented UX designer a few years ago who really struggled with reading. I couldn't really recommend books to him. I couldn't but it wouldn't really help him because he wouldn't really learn very well that way. Choose your own adventure learning is about learning in a way that's right for you and also paying attention to how you learn so that you can remember how you learn effectively so that you can learn similar ways next time. As our students go through center center, it's a two year program. By the end of the two years, they won't have just learned a lot about UX design. They'll have learned about how they learn best. That way when they graduate and they become full time UX designers, they'll be equipped to learn effectively and efficiently on the job. One thing I think that our listeners here can do is when it comes to choose your own adventure learning, I would say you can start to think about how it is that you like to learn. Because we often think about what we need to learn or when we need to learn it, but we don't always stop to think about how we learn best. For example, let's say that you're new to web development and you want to learn to be a front-end developer. There are lots of different ways that you could learn. There are so many different ways that you could learn basic coding skills, right? And even beyond, intermediate and advanced coding skills, you could go to linda.com, lynda.com is a very well-known learning resource tutorial site for coding. You could sign up for a membership and take some courses there. You could take an in-person class. Maybe that's an option for you. Google for free tutorials. Try to say that three times fast. There are all sorts of things that you could do. You could join local meetups and try to learn through the community in whatever city that you're in. There are all different ways that you could learn. And I think when you pick ways of learning, that actually excite you and ways of learning that work for you. So nowadays, to come full circle to what I was saying a few minutes ago, nowadays, when people ask me for recommendations, like, so how can I learn to do this thing in UX design or how can I learn that? One of the first things that I ask people is, well, how do you like to learn? And I'll say, do you like to read books? Are you a voracious reader? Do you like to watch online seminars? Do you like to read articles? Do you like to listen to podcasts? And sometimes people come back and say, oh, yeah, well, you know, I typically just read a bunch of articles online until I figure it out. Or they'll say, oh, I love to read. I read books, so I would love a book recommendation. So in that case, I'll try to find something that fits their style of learning, right? And I'll send them that. Whereas, you know, back in the day, I would just send everybody book recommendations. That's what I do now. And I find that it's really helpful, except sometimes it's interesting because I'll ask somebody, you know, how do you like to learn? And they'll kind of like tilt their head to the side, look up and blank a few times. And they'll say, I don't know. You know, a lot of us, we just don't pay attention to how we learn. You know, learning how to learn isn't a skill that we've really worked on. And I think that's something that people can really take advantage of and improve. Sure. Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, getting into the brain and understanding the way the brain wraps itself around new content, that is something that, you know, scientists have done for many, many, many years, first of all. And secondly, we haven't totally figured it all out yet. I mentioned to Jessica in our kind of our pre-discussion, the book Make It Stick. I've mentioned this book on the show before. If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book because it does talk about some practical pieces of the learning puzzle and how our brains actually do kind of bring in new content and process it and store it. And ultimately, learning is, you know, the process of storing stuff in our brains for use again later. And in the way that each of us store new memories, there are some fundamental things that are similar, but there are fundamental things that are different because each of us has, you know, a different type of memory, we have different memories, for example. And that creates a landscape in our brains that we associate things with. The book talks a little bit more about this, but if you associate things well together, you learn them better. So if you have a particular thing, a particular method, specifically of learning, if you are a better listener, then you are a reader, for example. You may have stronger associations with audio books than you do with physical books. Let's say you have a photographic memory, then it's possible that you will learn better by looking at a cheat sheet than you will by somebody telling you all of the same stuff that would be on that cheat sheet. There are a lot of different things to dive into when you talk about the process of learning, but this choose your own adventure, it points to the fact that learning is unique for each and every person, and you have to experiment with learning and take the feedback that you like go through the process of learning and then quiz yourself. This is something that the book talks about pretty in depth as well, is regular quizzing. And Jessica, you use the word reflection for this process of reiterating content. And I'd love to talk to you more about reflection and how that works both with you and your students, but also with respect to quizzing and this idea of practicing. How does practice or practical application fit into the learning process for center-center? And also, how do you think that practice should fit in? You know, I'm really nerdy and I'm constantly reading and learning new stuff. I listen to a lot of podcasts, this one included. And one thing that I struggle with is finding a way to reflect on it so that I remember it. So if you have to learn something that you need to do soon, my guess is that you'll find a way to learn about it, you'll do it. And then in applying what you learn, so you learn about it and you do it, you'll apply it, you'll remember it for next time because you've learned about it and you've applied it and you'll remember. So for example, I just read a book, Josh Clark, I think, Designing for Touch. It's in the Book Apart series. Oh yeah. You know, I used to be a front-end developer, but I'm not anymore. And the book talks a lot about, you know, it does talk about front-end development, but it also talks about techniques that you can use and approaches that you can use for making your designs touch friendly. And since I've been at center-center, you know, I have been doing work for a website, because we don't have students yet and we're not actively working on a lot of projects, I might not have the chance to apply everything that I've learned from that book soon. So chances are I might forget a lot about what I read. So that's something that I'm struggling with, but one thing that we do at center-center to help us, to help learning stick, even if you can't apply it right away, is reflecting. So every day we have a daily stand-up meeting, you know, I think a lot of organizations do this now, daily stand-ups. But one question that we have in our daily stand-up is, what is the most important thing I learned since my last stand-up, and how will it change the way I do things in the future? You know, and we can only pick one thing. I wish, you know, we had all the time in the world and I could share like five things that I learned in the last day. Right, yeah. We did that. We'd be at the meeting like all afternoon. I'm kidding. But yeah, so we pick one thing every day and we share it with the team and, you know, sometimes we discuss it as a team and just the act of sharing it with somebody and talking about what you learned really helps it stick. So there have been times where I'll read a book or I'll listen to a podcast and then three months later, I'll actually need to use what I learned from that book or that podcast. And it'll come back to me because I shared it in one of our daily stand-ups. I shared it I learned. And it's, it just, it helps me retrieve that information more easily. So that's, that's one approach that you can take. And I like the idea of calling it reflection rather than like quizzing yourself. Like if the, if the concept of quizzing yourself works, that's fine. But I feel like quizzing yourself kind of makes it feel like boring work. Like, oh, I have to take a test. But reflection is more like personal and it's more about expressing what you've learned and, and getting to voice what you've learned. And for me, that's just a more enticing way to think about it. Yeah. And, and really the, the spirit of the book is basically that you should practice the recall process because that's really what practical application requires, right? Is as you're, as you're going through at your day to day after you've, you know, taken in some content after you've practiced it for the first time, you know, you go that three months down the road. And now you have to recall the thing that you learned three months ago. And you know, especially for a developer who is, and now we aren't necessarily talking specifically about UX. But for a developer who is learning a language, for example, recall of the syntax for that language is going to be highly dependent on you consistently using that language. But if you need to recall something, you know, further down the road, if you haven't practiced recalling it at all, like, for example, if you're just reading a book about a language and you're not actually writing that language at some point, then you're not going to learn that language. And I venture to say that you would have a massive failure trying to learn a language without actually writing it. It's the same thing as learning spoken language. If you are just reading about that language, it's very likely that the first time you go to try to pronounce a word in a different language, you're going to do pretty poorly at it. Because practice really does have a massive effect on how well we have that information in our brains readily available to use in a practical way. So not everybody has, I guess, ample opportunities to reflect on what they learn. You know, in fast paced work environments, it might not be part of your culture to talk about what you've learned, share what you've learned. I feel like I'm kind of spoiled at Center Center because we're a school we're all about learning. But not every work culture really takes the time to foster learning and reflection. So you know, your listeners might be thinking, well, yeah, that's great, but how do I reflect at work when we're all busy trying to meet our deadlines and get stuff done? And I think there are a couple things that you can do. One thing that you can do is find a learning buddy. So somebody who is geeking out about it just as much as you are and wants to try out or reflection and you could meet with that person for five or ten minutes a day, this could be somebody at work, could be somebody outside of work. And just talk about, share like one thing that you've learned. And you know, by sharing what you've learned, you're not only making it stick for yourself, but you're also helping other people learn. So they're learning from you. So that's one way to approach it. Another way to approach it is a learning journal. You know, you could write in the journal, you know, what did I learn or what did I do today, what's the most important thing I did today and what did I learn from it? And it might be, you know, I haven't done this yet, but as we record this, it's actually approaching the end of 2015. And this is one of my goals for next year is more regularly journaling and figuring out like how to do it in a way that's best for me. But one approach that you can take is, you know, writing down what it is that you did, the most important thing that you did and what you learned from it. And it could be interesting, I think, to see the trajectory of your learning. So if you did that from the beginning of the year and then just kind of like flip back through at the end of the year and you look at what you learned every day, you might be able to see the growth and you might be able to kind of look back on that and be like, wow, that's what I learned. I'm so far beyond that now. And so there's that, there's like the kind of the nostalgic, I guess, aspect to it on the tracking your growth. But there's also just the fact, just the idea of writing it down and journaling it will help it, help it stick. So that way that's something that you can do if you can't find a learning buddy or you don't have a learning buddy. Yeah, I have so many thoughts on this and I'm going to actually encourage everyone to listen to the next episode because I'm going to go ahead and break this episode off right here with the anticipation of talking more about learning. We could go on, I could go on for hours about this subject. But I know that our listeners are ready to probably get to their work days. So we're going to cut it right in half. Make sure you subscribe. So you do not miss out on the second part of the interview with Jessica Ivens where we are talking more about learning and specifically we're talking about UX for programmers in the next episode. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea and thank you to Jessica for joining me on the show. Another huge thank you goes out to hired.com for continuing to support Developer Teathroughout the year. Thank you so much hired for being such a strong supporter of the show. Make sure you subscribe and you're a podcasting app of choice and until next time, enjoy your tea.