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“Digitally Human” – Crafting UX Strategy With Cathy Wang

In the News:

Interviews with UX Strategies Summit Speakers – by Grant Crowell

Cathy Wang, Director of User Experience for the EPAM Empathy Lab in London, shares about her personal journey to becoming a UX Designer, the fundamentals of Experience Strategy and the role it plays in business, along with the importance of designing for the multi-screen and building empathy into our digital devices, and into our our own selves.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Grant Crowell: Tell us about your personal story. How did you come to make a career for yourself in User Experience?

Cathy Wang:

It’s actually a really fantastic story. When I was 12, there was a this telco in Canada called Telis; and Telis has a tagline called ‘The Future is Friendly.’ It was touted as a very nice marketing campaign, yet it didn’t feel to me to be very friendly, because when you are calling them, and then they would say, your call is very important to us, please wait 45 minutes. Or you turn on your TV and look at the EPG and they always say, “programming information not available;” and you go to the website and login to see your bill, and you see a lot of mumbo jumbo words like OGT and IPT and other words you don’t really understand.

Then you go into the store and interact with the people, and it’s a different experience every time. So even when I was at that young age, I realized this is such a disconnect in this kind of experience, and that there’s so many different touch points for how experience happens from an organization to the end customer. This was something that I found so fascinating from a young age, so luckily enough they started having this user experience thing as an industry, so I jumped right into it.

Grant Crowell: Your presentation was about Experience Strategy. Can you share an example of how you would explain what that is to non-UX professionals, and how it affects them?

Cathy Wang:

I talk a lot how Experience Strategy is about being very systematic in our [business] thinking on how to really look at experience from all the different angles. We live in a world that you kind of have to experience that is not just on your one single screen, it’s not just on your phone, it’s from all the different touch points.

It’s really about how to actually reach the people in the end, and there are so many different ways of reaching people. That’s the part I really enjoy the most, it’s about the subtly of that. Of not really knowing where the information is coming from and how it’s reaching you.

It’s a very nice experience in a way, and this is the kind of experience that I encourage people to explore from a user experience point of view because it’s about the micro-interaction that happens, but that actually creates so much emotion in the end.

Grant Crowell: Tell us more about these “micro-interactions” you’re referring to.

Cathy Wang:

I call them micro-interactions because like the multi-screen experience, you are most often never designing or looking at just one screen, it’s more about how two or more different devices interact with each other as well. A lot of my focus is telling people we’re designing a much bigger system. However you are experiencing something, that there so much more behind it.

For example, having your phone and being able to talk on your phone, calling someone – there is actually so much more infrastructure behind it. There is so much business logic behind it, to actually use — watch Netflix on your tablet for example. I’m pretty sure it seems very simple in the end, you are holding a tablet, you are watching it or you can actually use it on your phone as well, but the process of actually getting it out there, so many different moving elements, such as how does the capability of the organization to be able for Netflix to be able to produce this app. The third party provider of this video, and all this and just being mindful of that bigger picture, it allows us to be able to appreciate things a little more; and in my field specifically it’s more about if we don’t see the bigger picture, we cannot actually design the specific details.

Grant Crowell: What you’re basically saying is that we can’t just design a customer experience for one device anymore?

Cathy Wang:

Yeah, that’s a very big part, is that we don’t just do things on one device anymore. If you are doing online shopping, you could be actually be doing online shopping on your computer and you will probably go back and forth on your phone; and it doesn’t happen in just one day either. That’s kind of the experience spread out to a different day and I think people who make bigger purchases, it will take them longer to research it as well.

It’s also about understanding that shopping, or most customer journeys for that matter, is a very non-linear process these days, and that’s because of all the technology in our lives. For example, when you are switching between digital devices, there’s that little micro-context of how you are going from one stage to another; but at the same time you are switching devices, you are browsing on your computer, but then you decide to buy on your phone, for example. There is that emotional tie-in between. The challenge for businesses is, how do you have this transition to be very smooth? Because that is a very big spot of where that emotion could possibly happen; and it is a very tricky part.

Grant Crowell: Your presentation did focus a lot on the emotional aspect of experience design, including what you referred to in one slide as the ‘emotion journey.’

Cathy Wang: This is why I brought up the emotional experience part in my presentation as well, is that when we are designing within such a big system, emotion is really something that will really be able to tie the experience together, regardless of the device and the touch point. It’s about that there’s a coherent emotional feel to the service or the product itself, so that it will feel coherent and it will actually use that emotion to carry the users through the journey itself.

Grant Crowell: It sounds a bit like you’re teaching businesses how to build emotional intelligence, or ‘digital empathy,’ through experience strategy as well. That can be quite the challenge considering we typically get far less emotional ‘cues’ online than we do in person.

Cathy Wang:

Actually it is very hard to perceive emotion from just online activity; and that when we do user research for example, we have to see the people. Emotion is a very personal thing and I do believe in that we can actually engage users and then promote emotion through the things that we design. It’s about how to actually trigger it as well.

A very big part of this, the topic of empathy is quite interesting, because one of the very big things to be a good user experience designer is you need to have empathy. We design for people, we study people and that we are always thinking about the users, so it’s very important that we have that empathy and to tie it back as well. Kind of like a soft skill for UX designers is that it’s having a good sense of self-awareness as well. Understanding other people’s emotions is one thing, but it’s more about that if you are sensitive and sensible to your own emotion, it’s more likely that you will be able to be sensitive and sensitive to other people’s emotions.

Grant Crowell: When you spoke in your presentation about ‘The Internet of Things,’ I thought that we are also seeing our own digital devices communicating and acting more like little digital humans, even being mindful of other digital devices around their human owners so they can talk to each other and help us out.

Cathy Wang:

Yeah and that is actually one of my other big interests. ‘The Internet of Things.’ Basically it’s about how machines talk to each other and how the machines will have the intelligence of each other, and perhaps even that they can share emotion among themselves as well.

I’m always talking about the future. I dream about the future. Because for my work I have to envision the future for the client, and then build a future product for them; and very big part of it is treating the devices and technology as if they were human as they are evolving in a way into that direction.


Original publication is here.