Before Elizabeth Allen PhD moved into UX she was an experimental psychologist, whose research focused on explaining why humans can differ so widely in their cognitive and perceptual experiences of the world.
Which is to say that the move into User Experience really wasn’t much of a move at all.
Elizabeth took her research skills and applied them to working with a range of clients over the last four years or so, focusing on user research and design in relation to commercial customers and business outcomes.
For the past year, Elizabeth has been working with ecommerce provider Shopify, using her expertise to guide product and design strategy for the retail team.
It’s a world where designing effective customer experiences is critical and the competition is intense to hone the processes that will help a customer buy a product or service.
Which is why the focus of Elizabeth’s presentation at Respond 17 is Designing Conversational Commerce. Designing automated, autonomous, machine-based conversational interactions with prospective customers is one of the cutting edges in today’s (and tomorrow’s) ecommerce world.
Elizabeth speaks at conferences all over the world and, at a recent conference in New York she related an anecdote that well illustrated some of the trials the hands-on UX researcher can face.
As it happened, long time UX warrior Steve Portigal was at the same conference and documented it for his War Stories series, a long running feature on Steve’s website in which he records exactly these kinds of incidents and experiences, a series of stories so compelling that it has itself become the focus of a presentation Steve gives at conferences. Truly, pop will eat itself.
Steve has kindly given us permission to re-publish Elizabeth’s anecdote in full for Scroll. It is revealing not only for the unusual circumstances in which researchers can find themselves but even more for the application and commitment of the researcher to fulfil their task.
Elizabeth’s War Story: Ramping Up
Elizabeth Allen is a UX Researcher at Shopify, an ecommerce platform based in Canada. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.
A few years ago, I was working at Centralis, a UX research and design consulting firm in the Chicago area. One of our clients was a public transportation agency, and our project involved testing the maps and signage within and between transit stations by accompanying participants as they completed realistic wayfinding scenarios to try to get from station to station and find their correct train or bus.
As part of this testing, my research partner Kathi Kaiser and I included individuals with motor and visual disabilities to make sure they were able to navigate just as well as those who didn’t have these challenges. One participant, Susan, was in a motorized wheelchair, and we began our session with a scenario that had us traveling to a station and accessing an elevated platform where she would wait for a train.
Chicago summers can be very hot and humid, and this was one of the hottest of the year. We were all sweating by the time we got to the station even though it was just a short walk from the coffee shop where we met to start the session. Now, this station had no elevator; instead, outside the station was a very long ramp to reach the platform. This was probably the longest ramp I’d ever seen at a transit station — it had two or three switchbacks just to reach the top!
We started up the ramp, and when we were about halfway up, Susan’s wheelchair started slowing down. “Uh oh”, she said. “I think my battery is about to die. I totally forgot to charge it before I went out, and steep ramps like this always make it run out faster.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, the wheelchair slowed to a halt, completely dead.