Interview With Darren Hood

Darren Hood Image

How did you originally get involved with UXPA? 

The first thing I think about is membership. I was a member when it was the Usability Professionals Association. So I go way back. I don’t remember exactly, but I believe I was a member dating back to the early 2000s.

How have you personally benefited from or contributed to the Michigan UXPA community?

I used to attend the meetings. They were scheduled monthly. I would attend any time I could, when my schedule didn’t prohibit me from doing so. I would always be a fly on the wall to give ideas whenever I could. I was also a small part of (if I remember correctly) the team that was trying to get the Midwest UX conference in Detroit.

Why did you choose to run for UXPA International when you have so much on your plate with 14 different roles already?

It’s funny… I wasn’t going to. Someone posted that there was an election coming up and they were calling for people to run for office and for nominations. Someone posted the info to LinkedIn and said, “Darren, this is you.” It was like they were saying, “Please run.” I looked at the office. I looked at what the responsibilities called for. Knowing that I was already doing a lot of what the role called for (I was just doing it on my own), I thought that it might be a good idea for me to do it in an official capacity with the support of the UXPA, especially since it was already my passion. I got into UX through the world of education and instructional design. Part of the reason that I’m serving as an adjunct professor now is because I had always wanted to marry my passion for education with my passion for UX. These things became the driving force behind the why. 

Could you speak a little bit on your background in education and how you think it’ll contribute to your success in this role?

I can actually come at it from two different angles. I have been training people since 1983 in corporate environments. My history goes that far back. So that’s one angle. The other angle is that my background from an educational standpoint is that I have five instructional design-related certifications. I’m a certified instructional designer, a certified training manager, and a certified master trainer. In addition to that, I also have a grad certificate in educational technology from Michigan State University (Go Green!!!). I’m also getting my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Northcentral University. I am three courses away from starting my dissertation as we speak. Additionally, I’m an adjunct professor at Kent State University. I teach in the Masters of UX program. I teach UX-related courses for Lawrence Tech in Southfield, Michigan. I am in the process of taking on an adjunct professor role at Michigan State University, where I’m helping to design content and courses for the CX Master’s program. I’m in talks to become a professor at Syracuse University in a forthcoming master’s of HCI program. I’ve also been in talks for becoming an adjunct at yet another university (name withheld). These things help illustrate and demonstrate my passion for education. 

Some people ask if you have 14 things that you’re doing, why would you want to do anything else? And then other people say, how do you do all the things that you do? Some people ask. Some people watch. Some not only watch and see me doing all the things that I do and recognize that I’m excelling at all of them. As a result, there are some that don’t ask me why. They just ask me how I do it all. They want to hear how in the world I’m able to pull it off. Some people are smart alecks about it and some people are genuinely asking. It’s all about organization. When you’re organized, you can get a lot of things done. And so I’m able to teach at two universities now, work a full-time job and run workshops from time to time at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit because I’m organized and because I’m structured. From an educational perspective, I know the importance of sound pedagogy and know how to operate from an educational perspective to deliver a sound learning experience. Some engage in education, but don’t know anything about pedagogy. These folks think that anyone can teach, but this reminds me of how I was always trained to understand that a subject matter expert is actually the wrong person to teach a course or lead a learning experience. The only way I’m able to do it is because I understand the science behind education, as well as the science and the other elements associated with UX. Therefore, I can properly marry them. But when somebody doesn’t really know, and they’re a subject matter expert, they dive into it. People buy into it. But you have to know the scientific aspects behind education in order to really drive a proper learning experience. Just throwing that in. 😉

You mentioned the responsibilities of the Director of Education role and how they aligned with you, could you expand on what some of those responsibilities are?

Some of the responsibilities for the UXPA role include defining relevant educational content for the UXPA community. That’s something I already do, I’ll just do it for UXPA now. I’ll be responsible for identifying and contacting webinar and course presenters and instructors. This basically involves coordinating learning experiences, securing the talent, and arranging the right people in the right place at the right time. That’s something I do for my podcast. I’ve helped organize other conferences in the past and tentatively planning my own conference in October of this year. So, I’m familiar and comfortable with such things as scheduling meetings with potential instructors to discuss content, coordinating scheduling of webinars and courses with presenters, and leading a webinar and course updates on the website. As I reviewed the various responsibilities, I continued successfully “checking off the boxes.” When it comes to coordinating course finances with the board and director of finance, that’s something I have a long with based on my history of business acumen. Surveying webinar and course attendees and identifying opportunities for improvement of the initiatives are responsibilities I’ve always performed as an instructor and something I’ve done from a research standpoint. So that’s piece of cake coordinating video captioning and making recordings available for members. These are just some of the responsibilities, but as I perused them all, I continued recognizing they are all things I already do, so I couldn’t come up with a reason not to pursue the office. 

Can you expand any more on what you hope to accomplish as Director of Education?

I’d like to stabilize educational goals and expectations throughout the discipline. I delivered a talk recently called “The Trouble with UX Education.” In viewing it from a hypothetical, it’s pretty broad in that a lot of people view education from the perspective of targeting the content, the topics, and the curriculum. They don’t target the overall strategy and the associated mental models of the learners. Ironic, isn’t it — UX people overlooking mental models?  

One thing I shared during that talk focused on our learning paths as children. When we were kids, we all of us did the same exact thing. Whether you’re homeschooled going to private school, public school, it didn’t matter. When we first go to school, starting with preschool, it’s time to get ready for school and you get dressed, you go to school, and you get on a school bus or whatever it is, and we embark on our day. We repeat this process regularly. It’s not until high school, pretty much, that we start making decisions. It’s not really until we go to college that we start making full decisions regarding our direction and then even then it’s partial. We don’t make full decisions about the entire framework really until we get into grad studies. A lot of things are pretty much handed to us. Prior to all of this, most of our decisions are made for us. Why is this relevant? We’re used to somebody telling us where to go and what to do, you don’t know how to make the choices. We have what I call “baby bird syndrome.” We trust what others offer us. When deciding to head into UX and to embark on this journey, many don’t know how to make their own choices.  The problem is that the world of UX is chock full of misinformation. And a lot of times a person who comes up to the person with baby bird syndrome will drop something in that they’re later going to have to get flushed out by way of a cognitive enema. So, when I talk about some of what I want to do with education it’s to make education more reliable, educational paths more trustworthy, and to help people to understand and be better equipped because each individual is now in charge of making the related choices — choices we didn’t have to make when we were 5, 15, or even 25 years old in some instances.

Now that choice is ours, people are opting for the wrong things because they’re making choices without having the proper knowledge level, without having filters, and without having connections to real mentors. Consider, again, the baby bird. The baby bird comes in eyes wide shut and mouth wide open, trusting that whatever someone tells them is correct, reliable, and trustworthy. Knowing many are in this state, helping to foster and provide sound educational environments and experiences are critical and I feel the UXPA should be a reliable source and solution regarding this matter.

Do you feel that your election into the UXPA international board will benefit the Michigan UX community?

I would hope that it does. A lot of times for a lot of UX professionals today, the UXPA (and other professional associations and affiliations) are not on their radar. It’s sad, because a lot of educational resources are not really talking about the importance of professional associations, not when it comes to UX. In the PM world, they are. In the CX world, they are. In a lot of other disciplines, people talk about the importance of professional associations. Professional associations, for UXers, have practically dropped off the radar completely. I think that it’s important we continuously inform people about what professional associations are out here, what we should hope to get, what’s in it for each of us individually, and what benefits people should hope to gain and experience. So, I would love to get UXPA on people’s radar. I would hope to get the Michigan UXPA on people’s radar, but from a holistic perspective — always echoing the benefits. If we don’t do this, then we’re just repeating the “sins” of those who went before us. I’ve seen that a lot in my lifetime. Therefore, I realize I can’t just hold a position. I need to be an active occupier — a force, if you will. This is a great association and has always been a great association, but it has also been under-promoted. I want to change that.

What you think are some of the large benefits of being a part of this association?

I think the biggest benefits I’ve ever had over the years have been resources — tangible resources, such as an article, a blog post (or the equivalent of a blog post) that existed on a UXPA reference. The biggest thing that ever impacted me from the UPA/UXPA was an old illustration that looked like the game Chutes and Ladders. When we were kids, I think we all practically all played Chutes and Ladders. It looks like a giant ladder or pathway. It curved and swirled, just like Chutes and Ladders, and it identified different things that happen along the design journey. Whether it’s a good experience or a pitfall, they identified it, instead of giving us that toxic positivity approach to things and just talking about the blue-sky mindset. They talked about the challenges. They talked about the things that we needed to be aware of. That really impacted me. I used to have it on the wall in my house. I love that old illustration. There were some awesome articles that were posted from time to time.

Ironically, until I was about to take office, I never saw all of the old talks and recordings. I know is that good UX content has a long shelf life. I plan on doing some content strategy work in conjunction with my position. In other words, I’m going to systematically reshare some of this content, helping make sure people are aware of these old talks. People are so star-struck, they want to know about Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, Susan Weinschenk, Alan Cooper, and Richard Saul Wurman, but what about people such as Chauncey Wilson, Paul Sherman, Larry Marine, and Nathan Shedroff, people don’t always know these names, and they should. Truthfully, the discipline is still “a baby” and, therefore, needs to be managed. Its diapers need to be changed sometimes. And it’s been going, has been unintended too. And so part of my educational drive is to make sure people are aware of viable resources and (again) benefits. And no matter where one is in their career life cycle, they are in need of cultivation, maintenance, and growth, and always impact the discipline. There are a lot of people today who are getting into UX that don’t care about the discipline. This is detrimental  all of us. So, when we educate people about these things and about these people, then it gives a sense of accountability and responsibility. I think that it also helps people to take what they’re doing with UX a bit more seriously. You can’t just “break into the discipline,” as many like to say. You have to get into it and take ownership of the fact that what you do regarding this discipline is going to impact it for the better or for the worse. I want to encourage people to impact UX for the better. Education serves as such a vehicle.

Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to share with the Michigan UXPA community? 

If I would say anything else because I just said so much, let’s just go onward and upward and let’s build, let’s forget about where we’ve been, let’s continue on an upward trajectory and get involved with the organization, let’s make sure that we’re supporting the discipline. Let’s make it a point to build all those around us who want to be built.

Shortly after joining the UXPA International board, Darren resigned. This interview represents several interesting issues with UX education, so we are keeping it online for others to benefit from.

Interview with Ben Lauren – Director of Publications

Ben Lauren Image

How did you originally get involved with UXPA? 

When I first started at Michigan State in 2014, I was brought in as their first hire in a new major called Experience Architecture. And so I was told, “Hey, we’re trying to build this major. We’ve got some students who have already said that they’re interested in the major. And so, you know, it’s upstart, it’s brand new, it’s UX in the context of the humanities.” And I was like, oh, that’s cool. My Ph.D. is in technical communication and rhetoric and from Texas Tech University. And I had been doing UX, in the context of “tech com”, that’s what we call technical communication. So I’ve been doing UX in that context for a while via usability testing and document design and some research. But I didn’t fully know that, for instance, contextual inquiry was a UX method. At the time, I had a lot of dots left to connect. 

So I taught our first Introduction to Experience Architecture course that fall semester. The students came in and they were like, so what’s this, what is Experience Architecture? And I was thinking to myself, we have this new major, it’s not called user experience, it’s called this other thing. So I really sort of set out that semester to learn as much as I could about all the different organizations and groups that were involved in UX. And I already knew what they were in tech com and I had served as president of a local chapter of the Society of Technical Communication. And I lived in Florida and I thought, what’s the equivalent of STC in UX. And so I discovered UXPA and I discovered that they were having a conference and this was in San Diego, I think in 2015. So I went to the director of the XA program, Liza Potts, and I said I found out about this organization UXPA, and she said that UXPA is wonderful, it’s like the premier organization in UX, you should definitely engage and said we will support you in presenting and all the rest of that. And so I went to that conference and I presented a poster and I just kind of remember walking in and I don’t really know what to expect, but I met and talked with Jakob Nielsen about studying UX and the humanities alongside rhetoric. And I’ll never forget. He said to me, studying rhetoric and UX is a really good idea, so I gave him a flyer for our program, and I went to an Intuit presentation and I just remember walking out feeling really energized by the really cool and engaging work that was kind of at the fringes of my field. And I felt that I had found a home in that people weren’t doing this in the context of their office, and then it didn’t impact daily lives. The scale of it drew me in immediately like, wow. Watching Intuit talk about how they tried to transform the way their company thought about empathy from top to bottom was the most energizing thing I had seen because it was all sort of change management and I saw the potential of UX at a broad scale that I had never seen before. And I saw that at the first UXPA conference. 

So that’s kind of how I ended up getting involved and thinking to myself, wow, I really want to be more involved in UXPA. And then over the years, I just had more opportunities to engage. I got to write for the magazine and other stuff like that. I got to present at another conference with other colleagues, that was the Toronto conference, so I got to do that. And I wanted to stay more involved and then the pandemic hit. So that’s the long version. And I suppose it just literally started as me going, “What are the different organizations in UX?”. Then finding UXPA and saying, I think I want to present at a conference, actually getting in and getting the opportunity to present. Then just going to sessions and feeling energized and saying, I want to stay involved with this organization in some way. And so I’ve managed to, over the years of my career, engage with UXPA at different moments by writing magazine articles. I’ve always wanted to publish with the Journal of Usability Studies (JUS). That’s something I’ve never gotten the opportunity to do yet, but I’ve always thought I want to publish with JUS one day.

Why did you choose to run for this role in the UXPA International Board of Directors?

There’s a couple of reasons. The first is that it gave me an opportunity to work with UXPA in a capacity that I hadn’t been able to do yet. And I am at a stage of my career where doing so is expected of me. So working with international organizations in different capacities and serving is part of what my job entails as an associate professor, at least that’s how I see it, so the timing was right because I’m tenure.

Three years ago, approximately during the Toronto conference, I was talking with some board members about possibly running for different positions but the timing wasn’t right, because I wasn’t tenured yet. And so, as I thought about it more, I didn’t pursue it at that time because the timing just wasn’t right. So I had been thinking about this actually for a while but I didn’t know what the clock thought. I also didn’t know there was a Director of Publications. Having published in UXPA magazine and knowing about JUS since I was a grad student and reading articles and assigning articles to people in JUS I was always thinking to myself, wow, I really loved those publishing venues. And so, I didn’t know there was a Director of Publications until they advertised it, and I thought that’s a job I would want to do. That’s a job I feel compelled to do. 

You get to help shape conversations about UX. And that’s kind of where my work has been living. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in trauma-informed design and institutional change in UX. And so I thought this would be a really good moment to bring in conversations about anti-racism, trauma-informed design, anti-racist peer review practices that people in my field have been taking up in thinking a lot about, accessibility and disability. And so those are just some of the things that I ran on because I feel passionate about them. And I feel that it’s a good moment for steering conversations into new directions. And I thought, well, maybe I can help to do some of that with existing editorial teams that are really good. Although now they’re looking for a new magazine editor I just saw too. So, you know, I’ll get an opportunity to help bring on a new magazine editor.

So the opportunity to shape those conversations, the timing of the moment, the organization itself, and how much it energized me as a young professional, and now as somebody who’s kind of approaching mid-career, how exciting I still find the work, it just was something I felt like I couldn’t pass up. Not to mention the people in the community have been really welcoming, and kind, and that’s one of the things that really drew me to UXPA. 

Sometimes you ask yourself questions about whether you belong in a space, and I’ve always felt that at UXPA, I’ve found like-minded professionals who are interested in getting better at what they do. And so that’s something that I felt really compelled by and felt, well, I can work in this space. I can be effective and I can do good work. And so I threw my hat in the ring to see what would happen if people would agree with me.

What are some of your specific responsibilities as Director of Publications?

So one of the things that I’ll be doing is we’re trying to get the Journal of Usability Studies into the Web of Science. And so there are some steps that have to be taken in order to do that, so that’s one of the big things that I’ll be working on frankly is trying to get the journal indexed. 

I’ll also be working on some special issue topics that I mentioned, and I’m still early on in it. So there’s lots that I have to learn. I also want to be careful that all the excitement that I bring isn’t about interrogating and saying bad things about the people who’ve been there. It’s not that at all. I think it’s just a continuation of the work. But I would love to find special issue editors or help people locate authors who might be doing work in particular areas that haven’t been published before. And so that’s something that I’m really interested in helping do, but then there are other things like helping them manage processes behind the scenes, editorial processes, and stepping in when people need help to get work done.

I also serve on the Board of Directors, which means that not only am I helping to think about the conversations that we have in the publications, but I also get to think about the organization as a whole and contribute to that discussion, including conferences and things like that. So there’s a lot of opportunities to have an impact and to participate in UXPA international as an organization. So that’s something I’m also excited about.

Did you want to expand any more on your platform or your goals as Director of Publications?

If I were gonna expand on the statement that I shared when running, I would say that three years is a fast period of time and I don’t aim to disrupt the good work that people have done, nor do I hope to upend all of their editorial processes. I hope to step in and be seamless in that. What I do hope to bring is that mindset of, we’re better off when we learn from each other. I think academics and academia, and industry often see themselves as these two separate entities. And I like to think of us all as people who work in UX but just work in different spaces. It’s like I consider myself a UX professional that just happens to work in an academic role and so it’s a more community-focused approach to thinking about UX and I hope that my influence over publications will create opportunities for more academic-industry collaboration where we’re trying to foster more across-silo collaborations as much as possible and I would say that that is my central mindset in approaching the work and in wanting to do the work well. So I walk in saying what can I learn and what can I share that will be helpful, and how can we make this a productive relationship and so that’s kind of the way that I’m thinking about it. But I do have an agenda in terms of special issue topics and things like and I do want to ask the community to think along those lines so that we can publish on it. I think that trauma-informed design is an emerging form of thinking about the work that we do in UX and it’s really important because we work with humans, many of them have experienced trauma, and sometimes our protocols for doing that work is not trauma-informed and it’s harmful to people, and maybe we don’t even know it. So those are things that I’m really interested in. 

Do you think that your election in this role will have an impact on the Michigan UX community? 

That’s a good question, I don’t know if I can even predict how. I guess I could say, briefly, when I came to MSU in 2014, the community largely seemed to be around the University of Michigan’s program in information, and it’s a great program and it’s created a lot of really amazing UX folks. That first year I also went and presented at, I think it was the very first Ignite UX Michigan. I met so many amazing people at that and now it’s an annual thing that all of the XA students go to which I think is really cool. What happened is that the first time I went it was me and one or two other MSU people and we all were like oh wow, there’s MSU people who care about UX. I remember thinking to myself there’s a real opportunity here for us and now over time, XA students are a regular feature there, and Michigan State has had a real sort of renaissance in terms of its UX footprint I would say. So I think if anything it’s really a cool moment because I’m a core faculty in XA and now here I am on the Board of Directors for UXPA and I really think that that speaks a lot about the MSU program and I’m hopeful that I can represent it well to people at UXPA because I think that the UXPA local chapter is an important part of the UX community here in Michigan. And I know Darren is serving and Darren works at MSU as well so it’s a good moment for MSU I think in terms of UX and I hope that it contributes positively as a result to the local community. 

Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to share with the Michigan UXPA community? 

I’m really excited and I’m also open to hearing people’s ideas and thoughts so I want to be accessible to folks, so if people have ideas or thoughts or are interested in publishing, or they themselves are interested in getting involved in the publication’s or in UXPA to let me know so that I can help get them involved. I don’t want to be somebody who’s distant, we are still in a pandemic so even saying here’s my UXPA email address where people can reach out to me or find me on social media and talk to me. I’m really always interested in students writing stuff too, I don’t think it has to be limited to someone who has a degree, or an industry professional, I want to be very open to folks getting involved in and help to facilitate that and I will, so I just want to encourage people to engage me in those types of conversations too. 

Interview with Brian Phelps on User Interface Prototyping Tools

This interview was recorded on December 3, 2006.

Brian Phelps, an employee of Pfizer in Ann Arbor, presented to the MIUPA on “A Survey of User Interface Prototyping Tools” in August of 2006. Four months later, Timothy Keirnan caught up with Brian to review what Brian told the chapter about GUI prototyping in that meeting.

Continue reading “Interview with Brian Phelps on User Interface Prototyping Tools”

Interview with Robert R. Johnson on Teaching Usable Software Design

Usability Education in the Copper Country: Teaching Usable Software Design at Michigan Tech

Timothy Keirnan spent part of his recent vacation to the Keweenaw Peninsula of upper Michigan talking with Professor Robert R. Johnson, Chair of the Humanities Department at Michigan Technological University. In this interview, Dr. Johnson talks about a National Science Foundation project to teach user-centered design to software engineering undergraduates.

Continue reading “Interview with Robert R. Johnson on Teaching Usable Software Design”

Interview with Paul Green on Usability-in-Driving

The following interview was recorded on April 19, 2005.

Dr. Paul Green hosted MIUPA’s December 2004 meeting at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Besides describing UMTRI’s mission and projects, he took us upstairs to let us try the driving simulator. Tim Keirnan caught up with Dr. Green four months later to discuss more usability-in-driving issues, current projects at UMTRI, and the value of side-impact airbags in today’s new cars.

Continue reading “Interview with Paul Green on Usability-in-Driving”