Women in UX: Lija and Serena Interview

We are wrapping up our Michigan Women in UX series by featuring two very successful women who have more than 40 years combined experience in the user experience profession: 

Lija Hogan

Lija Hogan

Serena Rosenhan

Serena Rosenhan

Lija is a Customer Experience Consultant at UserTesting and has over 20 years of experience in the field of UX, beginning as a User Experience Architect in 2000. As a UX leader and educator, she enjoys the challenge of helping others through impactful and meaningful action.

Serena is the Vice President of User Experience Design at ProQuest with over 20 years of experience in the field. Serena uses her experience as a designer, information architect, and design leader to understand the problems of users and deliver solutions. 

Although Lija and Serena have never met, you’ll see that their careers and work approaches share many similarities.

They Came To UX From Different Paths…

Journeys into UX are always fascinating, especially since user experience combines so many different disciplines together. Often, no two paths are alike, especially with the early UX pioneers like Lija and Serena. Both Lija and Serena became interested in UX from disciplines that relate to UX.

Originally, Lija wanted to be a Slavic and Eastern European studies  librarian, but job opportunities in that field were limited. Instead, she worked in a computer lab and the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor library and attended classes at the University of Michigan School of Information. As a Customer Experience Consultant at UserTesting, Lija enjoys the challenge of connecting with people to understand their needs and goals to make the case for impactful and meaningful decision-making. 

Meanwhile, Serena was always fascinated by how we perceive, understand, in influence and communicate. After earning a PhD in Rhetoric, she became an information architect and saw how these principles applied to web sites. In her role as Vice President of User Experience Design at ProQuest, Serena loves sitting in on usability sessions, understanding user problems and problems within the company.

Finding Inspiration

Both Lija and Serena find inspiration through their UX interactions and thought leaderships. During their day-to-day lives, Lija is “inspired by listening to people” while Serena finds inspiration from UX in everyday interactions. Serena encourages you to “pay attention to UX experiences – enjoy the good ones.” 

Both women also turn to other authority figures for UX inspiration. While Serena looks to individuals such as Christina Woodtke or Tom Greever who speak on design thinking and design leadership, Lija is particularly inspired by Adam Grant, a psychologist who explores how people can get to a better psychological space through listening and empathy. 

Excelling In Their Professional Careers

In a field flooded with flashy new tools and technical skills to master, it’s easy to forget about the importance of interpersonal skills. 

When asked about their greatest accomplishment, both Lija and Serena mentioned accomplishments that leveraged and/or bolstered their interpersonal skills. For Serena, her greatest accomplishment has been playing a pivotal role in creating a Center of Excellence UX framework and design library.  When the original sponsors left the company, the project was only a concept. She became determined to make it a reality and within six months found the right resources to deliver it and succeeded in winning wide adoption across the company,  which benefited users and product teams alike. Meanwhile, a personal accomplishment of Lija’s has been to become a better listener through using the signals found in both qualitative and quantitative data because that holistic perspective better informs the meaning behind what people say.

Both women serve as great examples, demonstrating that we should strive to grow and leverage not just our “hard” skills, but the “soft” skills in our UX careers.

If I Could Change One Thing…

Hindsight is 20/20, even when it comes to your career, but we can learn from those who are further along in their careers, such as Lija and Serena. Lija and Serena each have more than 20 years of experience in the user experience profession. 

We asked both ladies: what is one thing you wish they knew or a skill they wish they had earlier in their UX career? They responded as follows:

Lija: I wish that I had understood earlier that critical thinking does not equal text  – or literal thinking)  versus subtext – figurative thinking. Critical thinking takes a variety of forms – creativity, the ability to make connections between data points, and to understand the emotions or motivations of others, for example. All of these have value and should be leveraged appropriately in different settings. Critical thinking is also hard to teach; I have found that most frequently, repeated experience and coaching over time leads to that “a-ha” moment. Patience, and working alongside many people to develop these skills has been invaluable to enabling me to understand the complexity of the people I do research alongside, lead, and educate.

Serena: More and more, I find that visualizing information is much more effective than written descriptions. I wish I were more fluent with design and drawing tools to make that a more efficient process. 

Make sure to check out our other Michigan Women in UX interviews:

Michigan Women in UX: Stacie Sheldon Feature

Interview by Abrielle Mason, April, 2021

How was your time at Michigan State University?

I loved being a student at Michigan State University. I grew up in a small town in Northern Michigan and it seemed like a big city to me. And it was a time of discovery for me as I think it is for many. My time there also coincided with an exciting time in Tech (1993-1998) where the tech bubble was growing and in the fall of 1995 I landed a work-study position with H-Net, Humanities and Social Sciences Online. It is there that I learned UNIX, HTML, Photoshop, Perl, and how to partner with and work with people to build technology solutions to solve problems and build online communities.

What was your inspiration for a BA in Literature?

First, I am a total bookworm. I have always had the ability to get lost in a book. I was well aware early on how powerful an impact a book could have on how I experienced and saw the world and thought of myself and how it could do the same for others. This was solidified for me in high school literature classes. Langston Hughes led the Harlem Renaissance from his unique perspective on a shared experience. He created that moment in the context of a certain place and time. To Kill a Mockingbird has lessons for every generation but it came from a moment in time in the history of this country. Hemingway can make us feel the sun shining on the Two-Hearted River. I could go on forever. That is what got me in the door.

How has a BA in Literature helped you with software development?

When you study literature you learn to study people – what motivates them, what is the context of where they live and when? How does that impact the choices they make? In drama, most of the greatest plays come down to one decision a character makes or one thing they do that is irrevocable – that changes everything. And let’s take another example: Mysteries. Mysteries are really small journeys from uncertainty to reassurance (when the puzzle is solved!). Software systems and their designs are similarly often a journey where you have to find all the pieces and how they fit best together. Literature builds on the skills required for this – including exercising the imagination to deal with the complexities of the workflow and process and the ability to understand people and where they are at, what their intent is, and what their goals are. It all comes down to curiosity and wonder.

You started your professional career as a developer – what was the transition like from your Literature studies to a developer career?

For me it was seamless because I had that work-study position at H-Net and was already working in excess of those program hours because I loved that work so much. I never liked coding though – I liked working with people to solve problems but jobs like that (UX jobs) were not really available at that moment in time. 

What sparked your interest in UX? What was the transition to UX like? Was there much of a transition in your professional career or was it already incorporated in your work?

In the late 1990s I was doing every aspect of software and website design. I knew I was drawn to the discovery and design phases of work the most though. In the year 2001 I ran my first usability test and loved it and my understanding of user experience evolved with what was happening in Tech at the time. It was very organic in that sense. I think in 2006 I finally managed to get a position where I could just do information architecture and UX design (lots of wireframing) and no longer had to code. I was so happy at that point but it turned out to be a long road ahead (and still is) with individuals and companies not understanding UX or not understanding how to support it or leverage it.

What was it like working for Global Team Blue (Team Detroit back when working with Keith Instone around the year 2013)?

That was long ago enough now to think of as the good old days at Team Detroit! Those were fun times where Ford was able to invest a lot in research and brand campaigns were sort of unlimited fun. I loved working with the Creative team there. And it was very fortunate for us to have Keith there working with our team as he has always been a source of industry excellence and an advocate for User Experience.

What is Slalom? What was your role there? 

Slalom is a modern consulting firm focused on creating experiences through strategy, technology, and business transformation. There are globally 8,500 employees in 39 markets. Their shared goal is to build a world in which everyone has the opportunity to love their work and life. We exist to help our clients reach for and realize their vision.

I work for Slalom Detroit in the Customer Strategy & Experience Design practice. My favorite thing about Slalom is it’s genuine commitment to values such as authenticity, justice, and equality.

How do you incorporate inclusive design into your work? 

There are a number of ways to incorporate inclusive design in your work, here are just a few ways of doing that:

  • Determine who has been excluded from your design process (including user research)
  • For your next design sprint or cycle strive to include this group that was previously excluded
  • Seek out research or design process participants with a diversity of perspectives/life experiences 
  • Be self-aware and wonder about your own unconscious biases and identify your assumptions
  • Embrace accessibility standards
  • Attend meetings on this topic as this conversation grows and evolves
  • Use your IA labeling and form design super power responsibly
  • Demand transparency in algorithms whenever and wherever you can

How has this experience writing the “From Scientific Racism to Inclusive Design” article impacted your work? 

It allowed me to gather my thoughts and think critically about many aspects of UX that I have encountered over the years. And I think it helps me with figuring out how to share, teach, and advocate for better research practice. For example, I frequently encounter companies and organizations that value quantitative data over qualitative data. Everyone wants everything to be data driven and “right” and they are positive that quantitative studies are the way to get there. But humans are more complex than that and a single research method will rarely if ever tell us everything about an experience. Mixed methods (and knowing which method best serves a specific context or problem) will always be most valuable. And I hope my article can illuminate how great harm can come from our desire to want to measure everything without considering the context and impact of our measures. 

What was it like to start a new job remotely during the pandemic? What techniques/tools have you used to overcome the issue of face-to-face interaction during a pandemic?

My last two jobs have both been remote positions so this was old hat for me. I haven’t worked in an office environment since 2017. I find that turning your camera on is the biggest factor for connecting. It doesn’t need to be on all the time – that is too exhausting. But it does help build trust and rapport to have it on most of the time. There is nothing worse than presenting your work or giving a talk to a screen of icons.

As for tools, I use Miro or MURAL a ton for sharing and capturing ideas, affinity diagramming and collaboration. They are easy to use and even enjoyable.

How has the UX remote work been like for you? 

For the most part, I am really happy with working remotely in UX. The pandemic has made tons of people more comfortable with video conferencing which is a helpful thing for user interviews. Tools like Maze and some of the testing platforms are evolving quickly as well as demand for remote research grows. Workshops take more patience but there are great white-boarding tools (Miro and MURAL again) out there and it is possible to make it work. Being able to travel and do an ethnographic study though is something I miss. For the different customer segments I’ve been working with over the last few years I know there would be value in going to the kinds of places they work but it is not worth the risk right now.

If you are comfortable with it, would you mind sharing more about your Native American roots? I would love to hear more about your experiences identifying as a Native American female in today’s day and age.

I am Ojibwe or also called Chippewa. The name we call ourselves though in our language is Anishinaabe. We are a Native American tribal nation made up of these three groups – Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi. Our confederacy, which is called the Three Fires Confederacy spans Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario, and even parts of Alberta. There are currently 12 federally recognized Anishinaabe tribes (sovereign nations) in the State of Michigan and our language, which we call Anishinaabemowin, is the first language of Michigan and these other areas. I grew up in northern Michigan, in Cheboygan.

I also grew up without getting to learn my heritage language. Until the Native American Languages Act was passed in 1990 we were prohibited from speaking and teaching our languages. And in my spare time now myself and a good friend run a website called Ojibwe.net that is about preserving and advocating for our language – it is essentially a cultural revitalization resource. I have also authored a bilingual (Anishinaabemowin and English) children’s book called Bebikaan-ezhiwebiziwinan Nimkii: The Adventures of Nimkii. A second edition is due out this summer! 

Every tribe in the United States is in a race now to save their language from extinction. We are in a place in time now where it is understood and accepted how much a culture lives within a language. Without a language, you don’t have a culture. And we also know that language and culture and well-being are connected. This has a big impact on how our youth are faring – so this work of preserving our language is very important to me. 

What was it like living in SE Michigan? Ever wanted to move West or East coast?

Here in Southeast Michigan I enjoy living in Ann Arbor. However,  I do miss the landscape and geography of northern Michigan and much of my family. My hometown of Cheboygan is near the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet and also has Burt and Mullet Lakes (the 4th and 5th largest lakes in the State). There is water everywhere and I miss that too. Sometimes I think I might like the mountains and sunshine of the American West but in many ways, Anishinaabe-land is my country as much as the United States is and I wouldn’t want to leave it. 🙂

Be sure to check out Stacie’s article From Scientific Racism to Inclusive Design.

This interview with Stacie Sheldon is a part of our Michigan Women in UX series. If you have a story you would like to share in our series, contact us at michiganuxpa@gmail.com.

Michigan Women in UX: Diane Bowen Feature

Photo of Diane Bowen

Interview by Katie Oeschger, May, 2021

Tell us about yourself (e.g., hobbies/interests, etc.).

I love spending time with family and friends. It’s especially fun when we are solving a problem or tackling a project. Game nights with friends and family are fun, too.

What are your Michigan roots? Why do you live and work here in Michigan?

My father’s family were long-time Detroiters. I grew up and met my husband here. Much of our family still lives in Michigan including our adult children. We live in farm country now.

To you, what makes Michigan great?

Michigan has a rich history, unequalled lakes, and a good standard of living. The forests of the UP are gorgeous and the farmlands in rural mid-state pastoral. But the people are what really make this state great. Michiganders are hardworking, responsible, celebrate diverse heritages, flexible, creative, and resilient.

How did you get started in UX? Tell us about your UX career journey.

At the Michigan State University lab I studied behavior modification techniques with pigeons. After graduation I became an intervention counselor for at-risk youth. My personal guiding mission statement developed at that time: Help people improve their lives. When my husband and I started our family, I stayed home to raise our children full-time.

When I re-entered the workforce, I began in Customer Service at a Tech company focused on behavior change. Since I was working with customers to address concerns and answer questions, I had a unique opportunity to design solutions for everyday issues. I would share these designs with developers and the UX Team, eventually joining the User Experience Team. UX was a perfect fit for my personal mission statement. I earned a Masters in UXD from Kent State University in 2018 and am grateful for the many authors, mentors, and others who have invested in me on this journey.

Where do you work and what is your role there?

I am a Product Designer at Covenant Eyes. I define and solve problems, match business goals with user needs, engage in user research, and prototype solutions through information architecture, interaction design, information design, and interface design.

What is a typical day (or week) like for you?

I may be engaged in user research, creating UIs in Sketch, animations in XD, building information architectures, or interaction designs. I might be writing up design documentation so that implementation matches intent. I could be facilitating a day-long workshop or preparing a presentation. Although each day is different, the focus of my work remains the same: provide an exceptional end-to-end experience.

What do you like most about your work?

Every day I get the chance to make a difference in the life of someone battling addiction.

You worked in UX research before transitioning to product design. How did a research background help you become a better designer?

I am so grateful for the opportunity to focus on research before moving to a role in product design. Research, and customer service before that, allowed me to hear first-hand the jobs real people were trying to accomplish, the pains they experienced, and the gains they hoped to achieve. This was fantastic ‘insider information’ for a product designer.

In addition, a background in research makes me painfully aware when I am asked to design from assumptions rather than the needs of real users.

What’s your favorite part of UX? Why?

The activities surrounding matching user needs with business goals.

  • Defining problems through stakeholder and user interviews
  • Collaboratively identifying and proposing solutions
  • Testing solutions and building the winners.

Building products born from a business goal starts with understanding customer needs. Testing designs with customers ensures designs meet those needs.

But if I had to pick a single activity, it’s probably information architecture.

Where do you go for UX design inspiration?

For design inspiration I turn to the apps I use, Pinterest, pttrns.com, my colleagues, and Google searches. I also subscribe to several industry email newsletters and blogs.

What are your favorite UX tools? Why?

  • Adobe suite is a powerful, integrated set of design tools.
  • Sketch is lightweight and easy to use.
  • WCAG color contrast checkers for basic accessibility checks.
  • EZTexting for communicating with interview participants.
  • Usability Hub for super-fast unmoderated testing.

To you, what has been your greatest career accomplishment thus far?

A technical team was updating code infrastructure to ensure security for the user-facing account management portal. At the same time, the Customer Service team had a goal to reduce contacts related to user account management such as update credit card, update email address, and reset password.

Both goals could be addressed by reworking the account management portal. I was one of two product designers on an agile development team. While my colleague collaborated with development to build a design component library, I coordinated and executed requirements gathering and user research to craft a new information architecture, interaction designs, and UI design.

The information architecture and interaction design revamp were critical to meeting the project goal to measurably reduce contacts to Customer Service within 3 months of deployment.

A surprising and delightful result was the breaking down of silos between Customer Support, Development, QA, Marketing, Accounting, and UX.

What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?

We homeschooled our children from 1998 – 2014, an incredibly rich experience.

Is there something you wished you’d known or a skill you wish you had when you started out in UX?

I wish I would have had a better understanding of how various user experience activities work together and why.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in UX?

How have you benefited from and/or contributed to the MiUXPA Community?

MiUXPA has been a presence in my UX journey from the beginning. There was always someone from MiUXPA present at any UX meetup or event I attended, encouraging us as professionals, providing opportunities for networking, offering resources, and sharing information about other UXPA events.

Moving forward, what would you like to get out of the MiUXPA Community?

  • An opportunity to mentor or be mentored to guide through the career development process
  • Events to discuss and discover career interests, goals, new industry stuff, recognitions, and friend-making
  • A support system of advocates

This interview with Diane Bowen is a part of our new Michigan Women in UX series. If you have a story you would like to share in our series, contact us at michiganuxpa@gmail.com.