“I try to make sure that I’m not just seeking answers from people that look like me.”
A Q&A with User Experience Design Expert Jasmine Orange
Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them. In this interview we spoke with Jasmine Orange is a User Experience Design Lead at Ernst & Young based in Atlanta, GA. She is pursuing a Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction and speaks publicly about inclusion, design history, and design thinking. We asked Jasmine about User Experience design, how she started her design speaking career, and diversity and inclusion in design.
Q: What is User Experience Design?
A: User experience design is very broad. It’s basically designing the experiences you have when interacting with different products. Most of the time when you hear ‘user experience design’, it’s connected to digital products, but user experience design can apply to digital products as well as physical products. It’s about the experiences you have interacting with anything: to do work or to do play. It’s just your interactions.
Q: What inspired you to focus on UX [User Experience]?
A: I studied industrial design at Virginia Tech and I got out of school right around the time that UX was becoming a thing that people would say regularly. It was around the time that Instagram became really big. I was very focused on physical products but once I graduated, I was interested in UX. I started an internship at a cyber security company and two of the people that work there were UX designers. They taught me about what it really meant to do UX. Luckily, because industrial design is kind of like the grandfather to UX, I didn’t have to learn as much about the research side or the actual user experience. I had to learn more about UI [User Interaction] and how to build out a user interface.
What I like about UX is very similar to what I like about industrial design. I like the idea of understanding an issue that people have and then building something that helps. It can be delightful. Or maybe it’s something that they just need to start their day 10 minutes earlier. I’ve always been someone who has loved the craft of designing something and the challenge of engineering something, and design has always been right in the middle on both sides: physical and digital. That’s what I love.
Q: What are you working on that’s interesting to you at the moment?
A: I am also a human computer interaction graduate student right now, so the most interesting thing I’m doing is my thesis. But I also am leading a user experience team, dealing basically with everything involving my company’s third party data, so I’m working a lot with data scientists and analysts. It’s very numbers heavy, very analytics driven. That’s been a very interesting thing for me. It’s very traditional form-following-function work, whereas customer facing design is so flashy.
The reason I wanted my degree was that I have the knowledge of industrial design and where the fundamentals of industrial design come from, we had to learn that in school. But with UX, I never learned the history around it, and I didn’t know the principles. I didn’t know where those theories came from, and I didn’t know who they did the studies with for those theories. There were just these guidelines that we were taught to follow. I knew the only way I would learn these things was if I formally looked for them.
These principles inform so much about how design is done and what we deem important in our design process. When you start to look at the principles you think to yourself: Okay, this was made from this theory and that theory and the research that was done was done with very specific groups of people and not other groups of people. Then you realize that it makes sense why you think that this principle should be the one that we uphold all of the time. So I am learning about the history of human computer interaction and where our principles come from, but also learning the system: where there are cracks in it, where there are things that don’t make any sense, where the opportunities for innovation are. I think that one thing academia does well is that it really pushes innovation in ways that industry sometimes neglects.
Q: How did your career as a speaker start?
A: It started off small at local design communities here in Atlanta. It started because of the thoughts that I have about design and the questions I have. It’s never me trying to force my own opinion on other people. I would just walk around and talk to my friends and say, Why are things like that? Why is this like this? You know, even things: cameras. My friends would be taking pictures with their cameras and I was thinking, well, we don’t have film anymore, so why are cameras still shaped like that?
I started speaking because I was just curious; if I could reach enough people, would someone else have that same thought as me? And maybe I won’t come to a conclusion, ever. Maybe it just puts a good idea in someone else’s head, and then they’ll find the answer for me. I like asking the questions. I like putting the thoughts out there, and then I see what comes back.
Q: Could you talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in design?
A: I think that there is something to be said about the design principles that exist and where they came from. There is an acronym called WEIRD, it stands for Western Evangelical Industrialized Rich Democratic. That’s normally where most studies come from. Psychology studies are built around that demographic. When it comes to our design work, I could see if we were just building things for that group of people.
Design is still a job and it has to make money, so you’re making things and it’s supposed to spread across different groups and different cultures…but then you don’t have any interest in learning about those different groups and cultures. Even if you did have interest in it, that’s not the same as being a part of that culture. That’s not the same as you being in it. And so I really try to push for people to think, not just, Oh, make sure you’re designing for everyone. No, no, no. Who else is in the room? Who’s designing here?
We don’t need this to be a white savior thing. We need it to be something that feels as inclusive as the people that you’re designing it for. I think that so often, because we have the privilege of only knowing our own experiences, that it’s very easy not to even think about other groups of people and how they’ll interact with something. It’s powerful when you have other people who are there to say, Hey, I’m from this group, and that’s not how we do things. Or, Hey, we use it this way. You get so many interesting insights and you start to understand what an interaction with the product really means, from the way that they look at it when it’s sitting there on the shelf versus how they actively use it in certain situations. So many times we don’t recognize that by not thinking about other groups of people and how they interact with products, we could be causing harm to them.
Q: Have you seen the landscape of design shifting in terms of diversity?
A: I have. When I was in school for industrial design, it was very homogeneous. I can’t even think of many moments where designers of color were mentioned. I think it’s starting to change but, much like any other large scale change involving people of color, it’s very slow. I think there was a big spike of diversity and inclusion in conversations when the George Floyd murder happened and the protests surrounding it. Now we’re starting to see the flip-side of that, of people saying, All right, we’ve done that for a few years, let’s do something else now. Let’s talk about something else here. I put up the sticker. I don’t know what else you want from me. Diversity and inclusion in many ways can be seen as like this fun little bumper sticker to put on your company to say that you’re diverse, you’re inclusive, but what does that mean on the ground level?
I think that DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] has become something that companies are eager to promote for their own profits and self-interest, but what does that mean inside of the company? Does it really matter if you’re including different groups of people if those people don’t feel heard or encouraged? You can also forget all kinds of people. And it’s not a fault to have unconscious biases. Sometimes the bias is about privilege; not having to think about the plight of so many other groups of people. Even in my own oppressions—as someone who’s black, someone who is a woman, someone who’s queer—I don’t have to think about the plight of trans women constantly because I’m not trans, and I have different impressions than a woman who is trans. Even though we’re both women, we still have lived experiences, and the only way I would know about those lived experiences is if I seek the information out, which many people aren’t going to do. I could also have that person in the room, but I have to have already thought to have that person in the room for that to happen, and I have to have thought about what it means to make a safe environment for that person to want to be in the room with me. It’s very complicated.
Q: What advice would you give designers who want to support DEI?
A: I try to make sure that I’m not just seeking answers from people that look like me. I’m looking at answers from different people. I’m reading the literature and the texts that they have. I also try to encourage people to speak out about these things. I think that it makes it a lot easier to talk about these things with designers because we’re so used to critique. That’s a part of our job, and being able to tell someone, Hey, you designed this form field in a way that doesn’t allow you to have special characters in it, but my last name has a special character in it, so it’s not going to work for South America. It’s being mindful of people who aren’t like you. I would never suggest to someone, especially in a marginalized group, to put themselves in a mentally stressful situation if they don’t have to. I think there are ways for us to make it a part of any other critique. It’s fine for you to say, This handle isn’t going to really work for someone who has arthritis. It’s going to be really hard for them to hold it. I also try to tell people to back things up with research. There’s so much research out there. And then making sure that the research that you’re doing with your users is as diverse as possible, so that if you do get pushback on it, you can rely on the research.
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