Though trained as a computer scientist, Jamika Burge admits she does not have the heart of a programmer; rather, she’s interested in surfacing and connecting with the humanity of the technology we create. Jamika has taken that approach in her past work, including a stint at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), where she studied the impact of games on learning. Jamika now leads AI Design Insights at CapitalOne, and is also one of the Advancing Research 2021 Conference curators. Here she shares the story of her career path, and the work she is doing with blackcomputeHER.org (pronounced ‘black computer’), an organization she co-founded that is dedicated to supporting computation and design workforce development for black women and girls.
Gendershades.org, a project by Joy Buolamwini, Lead Author and Timnit Gebru, PhD, Co-Author
Dr. Jamika D. Burge leads AI Design Insights at Capital One. Her team uncovers learning & research insights across multiple platform experiences, including conversational AI, which supports Eno, Capital One’s customer-facing intelligent assistant. She’s an authority on intersectionality of Black women in computing and co-founder of blackcomputeHER.org (pronounced ‘black computer’), an organization dedicated to supporting computation & design workforce development for black women and girls.
Prior to joining Capital One, she served as a research and tech consultant to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in the Information Innovation Office. While there, she provided technical and management consult for innovative DARPA programs which were funded at over $70M. Jamika is also Founder and Principal of Design & Technology Concepts, LLC, a tech consultancy that focuses on computer science education, tech research, and intersectional design. She has consulted for Google, the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT), and the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). Jamika holds a PhD in CS from VA Tech.
During our “Ask Me Anything” with Indi Young, author of Mental Models and Practical Empathy, we touched on subjects ranging from opportunity maps and research repositories to Jobs to Be Done and empathy as a design concept. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: I’m wondering if you have any thoughts to share about using empathy as a concept to design for not just people but also the environment or any larger system. -Behnosh N.
A: I have used it and seen it used for designing systems for people, but not environmental ecosystems. Several government digital offices are using my approach to understand people more deeply, to see the differences in approach, to see different thinking styles … and to think in the problem space so as to discover people they’ve ignored.
Q: I’m curious about using the thinking styles approach in developing key archetypes within a body of population health research. Often, patients tend to get heavily sorted by demographic characteristics because they map to certain physical and social determinants of health conditions. But these don’t go far enough to capture attitudes, beliefs, behaviors etc. How have you used the thinking styles frame for rather large and diverse populations? – Jeremy B.
A: What I’ve done is framed several studies by “a person’s purpose.” Often, with health, their purpose is to “cope with,” so for example one study was “coping with my three ongoing conditions.” You must frame by a person’s purpose, so then you can get deep. (either in solution space or in problem space). You can go deep in listening sessions where you help the person trust you and get into their inner thinking, emotional reactions, and guiding principles as they were pursuing this purpose. Here’s my course on listening deeply.
Q: Research ultimately is about learning what we don’t know. Often we’re so focused on who our customers are that we forget that the real work in understanding how we’ve lost or who we’ve failed to win.How do you find, recruit, and drill down to the why of those who were near loses or recent loses? – Arpy. D
A: I would like to see us quit measuring by “engagement” altogether (“hey, someone looked at me through this glass pane!!”) and start measuring by how well we support each thinking style within each slice of their mental model toward accomplishing their purpose. I encourage people to do listening sessions with stakeholders, over and over, like monthly with each stakeholder at first, to develop rapport and trust. But you could totally make thinking styles if you do enough of them!A: “Repository” as a neutral word … that’s needed. My opportunity maps are research repositories in visual form. But “repository” as in a software product … I’m very wary of those. A file system with folders, or Slack, or Basecamp … those ought to work. Truly, what it takes is the team to engage on it. A tool won’t do it. Equally, I distrust the software tools that claim they can go through your data and analyze it. Nope. I’m not buyin’ it. I spoke to a guy very involved in AI and speech understanding a year ago, and the best example is STILL KEYWORD RECOGNITION. Hah. That will not bring understanding. Keywords <> sarcasm, irony, laughter, hesitation, depth…
Q: Is there a place where we can find examples of opportunity maps and read about use cases? – JessA: Best bet is on my site, and even better bet is my course on using mental model diagrams as opportunity maps.
Q: Jobs to Be Done intersects with much of your work. Your Thoughts? – Scott. WA: Yep!! Here’s a good diagram to get you started. I speak to this in my course on using mental model diagrams as opportunity maps. Basically this is a deeper method that provides a more solid foundation for JTBD … the diagram shows how the concepts map easily back and forth. I do talk about it in some podcast appearances that are listed on my site.
Q: I remember attending a talk you gave referencing the image below. A challenge I have is to group various user types based on thinking-style. Personae have been used by Agile coaches. I am having a hard time to convince folks to frame users based on thinking style instead of job titles. any thoughts? – Chika A.
A: You can totally use the word persona to mean thinking style, if that works better for your context. Or you can use “archetype.” There is a problem with any archetype that uses demographics to describe the group: invites subconscious bias. (Unless those demographics are related to a context of discrimination, physiology, and a couple of others.) When you explain to someone how demographics cause assumption, they don’t need to be convinced further. Here are two helpful articles: Challenging the Make-Believe in Personas and Demographic Assumptions.
During our “Ask Me Anything” with Tomer Sharon, author of Validating Product Ideas, we touched on subjects ranging from product testing, to lean UX and how to change a company’s perspective on how to do usability testing. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: What are your thoughts on adding more features to an already somewhat complicated tool that there is potentially not much helpful use out (according to past studies) but is something the higher up’s have said needs to be implemented. I was thinking of doing some prototyping and having interviews with users to see how they interact with addition to help potentially build a case for potentially not adding the feature. I personally think based on my research, they’re not addressing the root use – but the symptom of a larger issue.
A: Proceed with care, but if you are trying to make a point to higher ups, consider running a usability test with them as participants. Sometimes they need to literally be put in their users’ shoes to understand the effect of their requests and decisions. I tried it once and it worked like magic. But I can see how it can go south. If you have data to back up your recommendation, that helps.
Q: I’m wondering what you would recommend for starting out with sharing atomic insights with teams that are more familiar with traditional decks or reports? I would love to start developing and leveraging a research repository, but I’ve been asked to demonstrate a proof of concept using our existing software suites (i.e. Microsoft).
A: I would argue they are eager to get answers to their questions and that the format/tool is less critical. Sway the discussion away from the tool to the essence.
Q: What are some books you’re currently reading that you’d like to shout out?
A: When I read, I always read several books simultaneously. I’m now reading these:
- Thinking in Systems: A Primer
- Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness
- Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively In Business
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Q: What have you found to be most persuasive in convincing a team to invest in getting a pulse on competitive research insights?
A: Your best success in persuading people will be to convince them about something they are already invested in. Start with their questions; what do they want to know? Why? What is the knowledge gap? Once you identify it, answer the questions and fill the gap with knowledge. If the gap is about competitive research insights, so be it.
Q: As a UX’er who wears many different hats, do you have any advice on how to reduce fear or anxiety from others who may think you’re overstepping when trying to validate ideas – when you’re really just trying to complete a project that was given to you by your boss? In my case, I’m not a manager but an internal consultant – and as I get more high priority/impact projects – my boss expects me to ask these difficult questions. I’m sensing a bit of annoyance and animosity from those I was originally close with. I’ve explained that I’m there to understand and work with them to improve where necessary and that we’re a team who impact thousands of users so working together to deliver a validate product is really important.
A: It sounds as if you are doing the right thing. My advice is to continue communicating with people directly and openly. Talk with people, not about them.
Q: For a new product, what questions are you typically using to validate interest vs. likelihood to purchase vs. likelihood loyalty?
A: I don’t. I am not interested in questions about the future. I am interested in problems of the present and recent past, motivations, and behaviors. What people tell us about their future interest and behavior is not trustworthy. Not because they lie to us, but because they have no way of correctly predicting their future behavior. Especially in a research situation, when people want to be perceived as helpful, smart, and friendly.
Q: I’ve just started working as a first user researcher in a company where designers and product managers are doing the research. I am not supposed to replace them, I should be leveling up their research capabilities and start with reops stuff. I was told they were doing lots of discovery but soon realized it’s all about usability testing. It seems to me the it comes from Marty Cagan’s book Inspired (simplification to discovery and delivery). The book is the company’s bible and I am not sure how to approach the change of the mindset so that we can do more exploratory research.
A: If they already do usability testing, that’s a great start. I would recommend you run one such usability test (off to help someone who is stressed out in time) and dedicate some of it to traditional usability testing and the rest to exploratory research. My experience is that at first they won’t understand why you do that, and then they’ll be more interested in that than the usability test.
Q: Are there any successful Lean approaches at regulated organizations (e.g. financial services, healthcare, etc.) where you can’t just experiment and measure live as some Lean UX methods advocate?
A: Yes, experimenting in heavily regulated companies is hard. But if there’s a will, there’s a way. Might take a lot of time and effort to make it happen but it’s doable. If Goldman Sachs did it, anyone can. Trust me…
During our “Ask Me Anything” with Laura Klein, author of Build Better Products, we touched on subjects ranging from how to define “agile,” whether “scope creep” is something we should really consider a mistake, to recommendations around how to scale an agile team. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: Scope Creep is what you call a product choice that was a mistake, yet in every other scenario we would call it Innovation and Entrepreneurial. How do we manage that risk and maximize the possibilities? -Arpy D.
A: Thanks for the question. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to argue with your framing here. I don’t think Scope Creep is a product choice that was a mistake. I think Scope Creep is what happens when we don’t really understand the specific thing that we’re building and we keep just adding things onto it. That has nothing to do with innovation in my opinion. Some of the most innovative products are very small and well scoped. Also, scope creep was specifically more of a pre-agile thing when features were 100% scoped and estimated ahead of time. Then, when we did a bad job of that (as we always did because it’s hard), we would start saying “oh, actually, it also needs to do x” and “oh, now that it does x, it won’t work without y”. Again, that’s not innovation. That’s just bad planning.
Q: What advice and/or book recommendations do you have on scaling product teams and ensuring they remain agile? Also, I saw you recently tweet about design in agile teams. Aside from your article any other recommendations on this topic? – Cynthia C.
A: The trick is that you need to be outcome driven for each of your teams so that teams can remain semi-autonomous. You also need to have a strong commitment to iteration. The thing I’ve learned from research on this is that There is no Agile! There are a lot of models to this. There’s the team of teams and dual track and scrum vs kanban and guilds/squads, etc.
Q: Do you have any insights or advice around how designers can work better on agile teams?
A: I’ve been doing a ton of research on this.The extremely UX answer is that it depends. It turns out that when people talk about “agile” it actually can mean one of about a dozen different things, none of which are really terribly agile. Frequently, people introduce Agile because they just want to go faster, which can be really exhausting and burn-out-inducing for designers and researchers.
If you read the Agile Manifesto, it’s not that complicated. The problem is that it is very high level, and it comes out of a bunch of competing methodologies that have very specific instructions and rituals, and those often get very confusing (ie. kanban vs scrum).
Q: Do you see any reason not to go dual track? -Ben M.
A: Sometimes! First of all, I’ve found at least three different in the wild interpretations of “dual track” which makes this a hard question to answer. A lot of dual track seems to be aimed at developing (and validating) biggish new features. It’s probably overkill if what you need are small, incremental improvements, which is actually true of a lot of products. You also have to be careful that you don’t split things up as “this team gets to do cool new innovative stuff and this other team has to maintain our crappy legacy system!” But that’s more about your particular implementation of it, rather than saying you should or should’t use it. If you do use it, use it responsibly for the things it’s good for. The different types of dual track I’ve seen, by the way, are the ones where there’s a team that’s actually focused on discovery of new opportunities and testing out more risky new things vs one where ux and research are all on the first track. That second one is AgileFall, not dual track.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Laura Klein, author of Build Better Products. She’ll be answering your questions live on Tuesday, November 10 from 2-2:45pm EDT in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Tomer Sharon, author of Validating Product Ideas. He’ll be answering your questions live on Tuesday, November 17 from 2-2:45pm EDT in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here.
Join us on Slack for an “Ask Me Anything” with Indi Young, author of Practical Empathy and Mental Models. She’ll be answering your questions live on Tuesday, December 1 from 2-2:45pm EST in our #rm-chat channel. Join our Slack here.
Cheryl Platz—Rosenfeld Media author, emcee of our Advancing Research and Enterprise Experience conferences, puppeteer, and Principal UX Designer at Gates Foundation—shares the inspiration that drove her new book Design Beyond Devices: Creating Multimodal, Cross-Device Experiences (due out in late 2020). If you’re an interaction designer, you’ll want to listen as Cheryl dramatically expands our understanding of one of interaction design’s final frontiers.
- Wired for Speech by Clifford Nass and Scott Brave
- Follow Cheryl on Twitter
- Get updates on her new book
We live—and work—in difficult, punishing times, and designers need more support than ever before. That’s why resilience is our theme for DesignOps 2020; we’ll explore design operations’ role in helping individual designers, design teams, and entire organizations adapt, survive, and thrive.
The DesignOps Summit 2020 program takes place over three days, and each will focus on a critical constituency that DesignOps people are helping to sustain:
- Day 1: The Resilient DesignOps Team of One
- Day 2: The Resilient DesignOps Team
- Day 3: The Resilient DesignOps Organization
We’re confident that you won’t find a better-designed virtual conference experience; here’s why.
During our “Ask Me Anything” with Steve Portigal, author of Interviewing Users and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries, we touched on subjects ranging from how to handle difficult clients, Steve’s favorite band, and his recommended reading, to dealing with “heavy topics” in interviews and how to improve your skills. Read on for a recap of the session, and please join our Slack here to stay informed about when our next #rm-chat author AMA will be!
Q: What book except your own would you recommend to read for UX designer? -Natalia H.
A: There are so many things to learn about. For design, I think this recent book by Scott Berkun is a great examination of how design is everywhere and in everything. It’s a quick read, it’s fun, and it’s empowering for designers I think, telling us again about all that we do, we have done, we can do.
Q: I often deal with “heavy topics” such as life, disability, cancer etc in my line of work, so it is not unheard of that we have someone break down and cry in interviews. We try our best to mitigate and avoid unnecessary stress (participants health and safety is our primary concern and we tell them in advance about the topics that we will be discussing), but can you talk about some advice how to mitigate these situations or what to do when this happens? -Fabian B.
A: Of course the stress and the emotion is going to impact all the people involved, say the participant and the researcher. I think researchers need to keep in mind that they aren’t (in most cases) trained for this, and that they need to find ways to take care of themselves. Often we will emote less in the interview than we might want to, so we want to leave space for ourselves to have feelings, to have reactions, to have someone to talk to. Work out what that is going to be. Who are you going to be able to speak with? When will you be able to speak with them?
For the participant, I learned something new to me from Sarah Fathallah at the Advancing Research conference when she talked about referral paths, something that if you are doing academic research that has an IRB ethical review needs to be put in place (someone correct me if I have this wrong) – where you identify things that might come up, like if someone reveals they are being abused, or is going through addiction, or having suicidal thoughts, you already know what your action is going to be.
I don’t know that we need that level if we aren’t doing say specifically traumatic research, but it’s the idea of planning for that. I’m also not saying that we need to DO anything; I think well-intentioned but under-informed do-gooderism is potentially worse than doing nothing in certain situations.
The complexity here is you can’t come up with every possible thing that might come up. But you can come up with SOME. I am also intrigued by sort of a generational shift in how we see our role; from “we need to observe, listen, empathize, not judge” to “all those, but we must also help.”
Q: I suspect a lot of us always did at least some of our research remotely, but now with covid, we’re seeing way more remote/virtual research. What are a couple of your top best practices for doing remote research well and getting high-quality information from respondents? -Amy B.
A: I think it’s worth co-opting that thing I see tweeted all the time “you aren’t working from home, you are working from home amidst a global pandemic.” Same for research, right? All the parties are living through an emergency. So yes, there may be dogs and kids, and construction noise, and someone may be in their garage so they can get some privacy. And as we’ve adapted our tolerance for informality in terms of focus, energy, duration, attention in work, we can apply those to these interactions with strangers. A guy I spoke with yesterday put us on pause as his daughter asked for the car keys, she just got her license the day before. It was fine. I didn’t get ruffled like I might have in another time (no that’s crazy I’m nothing if not entirely cool and rolling with the changes). I don’t have a good answer for how fully remote research locks us out of getting to certain people. I just had a brainstorm with a colleague who was thinking about how to understand how people were or will be using transit, given that we can’t go on transit right now, and that the people who he’d want to learn about are possibly not sitting at home with a room with a laptop and a webcam and a good internet connection that is available all the time for them to just get on a call with us over Zoom. So who are we excluding even more so now (as society is excluding people in those circumstances even now) ? I know people are trying hard to deal with this, but I don’t know?
Q: Which musical group has had an interesting impact on your life and how? -Corey B.
A: I’m going to say The Tragically Hip. Being an expat Canadian, when the Hip would come to town it was always an interesting gathering of the community, at least a bunch of fellow Canucks. You’d go to a show and see hockey jerseys and University leather jackets, and just stuff you don’t EVER see in the US. And as time passed, we all got older, the fans got older, the band got older, and how we expressed ourselves and our identity shifted, gradually. I haven’t really moved through an era of my life as clearly in common with other people, not close friends, just strangers, but to feel it so tangibly through ANOTHER experience has impacted me. And of course the ultimate end of aging is death and the loss of Gord Downie still impacts me every day pretty much. I listen to the band and my many bootlegs and think about them and him, constantly. Perpetually.
Q: Do you have any tested tips/tricks on working with difficult clients? I recently had a challenge of convincing the client to use our approach when they wanted to do something else. Curious to hear what you do in such situations. -Kama K.
A: I don’t know enough about the context, and the power dynamic, as I think it often comes down to that. Two big directions, though: Empathy/Walk away. For the first, and I don’t mean to tell you stuff you already probably know and do in all your relationships, but there is that weird power to detoxify some broken interactions when you just listen, when you ask more, when you acknowledge, etc. Probably this has some buzzword for leadership people, I don’t know what that is. It sets you up to say authentically “Yes, And, and not No, But.”
For the second, if someone is a client, then you aren’t in a full-time job with them. Of course as someone who also provides services to clients, I want to do a good job, I want to be appreciated, I want to bring value, I want to be employed, and brought back in, etc. So I don’t like that framing that design people in agencies sometimes like to espouse which is making the client the enemy. But we can walk away. And even if we just hold in our head that we have the OPTION of walking away can making a less desired choice perhaps more tolerable. I’m CHOOSING to do this which I don’t agree with and which distresses me but I could and may at some point choose NOT to do it.
Q: What are your most counter-intuitive insights about research as it propagates through the product development process? -Scott W.
A: I don’t know that I can claim counter intuitive as a goal, if you agree with me then it’s probably not THAT counter intuitive? I think there’s this desire to create models and visuals that say if you are here do this, if you are here do that. Whether that’s the double diamond model or (VERY HELPFUL) recommendations for methods based on a stage in a process like Christian Rohrer’s.
I just am not that organized, I am just not able to constrain myself to a discrete stage, maybe I’m trees and that’s the forest and I just can’t do the forest well enough. That all being said, I think there’s something about how these processes are a continuum, a gradient, and not stages. I know Software Development Lifecycle Methodologies are all about gates, and stages, and review cycles, and (ugh) sprints, but I think in terms of where we are in terms of certainty, of belief, of ideas, it’s a much more creative process, I can’t control what thoughts I have in the shower in that way we have of considering and being inspired about what it means, what to do, what the opportunity is. Some of that is always happening for creative people – and research is ABSOLUTELY a creative process of sense making and understanding.
Q: Are there any topic(s) or technique(s) you hope more places of instruction cover for individuals entering into research? -Randolph D.
A: As you know, I love storytelling, and I think it’s such a powerful tool, but it’s just kind of considered to be something that is maybe part of your personality, your own personal toolbox. But obviously it can be taught, practiced, developed. Research is about gathering stories and creating new stories, and “story” is of course an ENORMOUSLY broad construct so one can take it however one likes.
I mentioned ethics in another question, I think as a field we haven’t reckoned with it sufficiently. I’d like people coming into the field to have a perspective on it. I know a researcher who wrote up their own research philosophy, not even as a document to publish but as a way of working out what they were trying to do. I was extremely impressed with that.
Research as a practice to me is a constant consideration of who we are in the world, as people, how we relate to other people, how we judge and don’t judge, and just how we move around and exist and perhaps make and help. So, being intentional about what you believe and what you want, damn. It’s a brilliant activity. I haven’t ever done that and hadn’t ever thought of doing it. So philosophy isn’t ethics literally but is adjacent?
I’d like something in training – and I don’t know that the places people are learning about research are the right environments to be considering this aspect – about what the researcher’s role is relative to the rest of the people they work with. I do not like the idea of research as “support” – you hear “oh I support three teams” – I know research is a helping profession like say librarians, and I don’t mean to squelch that strength, but I think we are partners and leaders, and if we don’t believe in the value we can bring in the role we can play, no one else will. I think it’s a hard field to break into and there are a lot of entry level people and so if they are told they have to be subservient, that can set a long running pattern for their career and for the practice.
Q: Someone interested in working with us recently asked how we recommend she improve her interview skills. I recommended your books, but are there any classes or seminars you might recommend as well? -Amy B.
A: I’m going to pitch my upcoming workshop. Also very very good is the cycle of “do, observe, reflect.” (which probably has a smarter name than I’m giving it). Listen to Terry Gross – listen to her technique. Reflect on her technique. Print out a transcript and mark it up. What choices did she make? What other choices could she make?
Listen to your own interviews. Print them out. Listen to a colleague’s interviews. Same same. Have someone ELSE listen to your interviews. Have someone else mark up Terry Gross (or anyone who does a lot of interviews).
I think training will get you further than you are, but practice, man practice is the way. Do a lot of interviews. A LOT. Reflect and analyze!
Q: What are some tips for building rapport in remote interviews? (with camera and without camera) -Erika
A: One avenue to explore is pointing to the medium, just acknowledging that you are doing what you are doing. And not pretending that you are as smooth as you are when you are in the same room. I did an interview yesterday where I had to share screen from Google Slides (not what I normally use for giving talks) and see speaker notes and it’s just a mess, and so I stopped and said what was going to happen, and then you heard the “unprofessional” sounds of me, saying, “Okay I’m going to hit share screen…yeah I think it’s shared now, okay, now I’m doing this, can you see this?” It just normalizes the interaction so you are both having a similar experience.
One thing I think needs to be explored is around shared sensory experiences. I saw Alice Waters talk recently and she described how she’d meet with people and she’d put a piece of fruit or something else down in between them and they’d just eat it beforehand and it created these interesting connections and well, rapport.
I don’t know how to operationalize this for remote research but I’m imagining having everyone pet their furry animal before starting and just sharing that moment that is about the senses, even though we are having our own experiences, we are having similar ones together. I think there’s probably some work to do to create that in a non-weird-sounding way.