Whitney Hess Discusses User Experience Design

This post is by 2011 hackNY Fellow Cemre Güngör, who interns with Etsy.

Whitney Hess is an independent User Experience professional, speaker and blogger who lives in New York City.

Whitney Hess joined hackNY at the New Work City coworking space to talk to us about the field of User Experience and working as an independent professional. Having suggested her as a speaker, I was very excited to get to meet Whitney. Only two of this year’s hackNY Fellows identify as designers, though all of the Fellows showed an overwhelming interest in Whitney’s talk. Whitney inspired many Fellows to learn more about design and user experience, which made her talk a success.

Whitney started her talk by telling the story of how she ended up in the field of User Experience. She told us that her empathy towards users was the most important thing she learned in the Human-Computer Interaction program at Carnegie Mellon, and having studied professional writing helps her express her thoughts clearly, which is a very useful skill in her profession. “User Experience is more than a collection of methods”, Whitney said. “It is a philosophy about how to treat people”.

The most informative part of Whitney’s talk was when she walked us through a recent project she worked on. We got to see the process in its entirety, starting all the way from user research, interviews, defining personas, planning features all the way up to designing wireframes and running usability tests. Seeing a systematic approach to getting to know the users and defining the product helped us understand what doing User Experience entails.

One Fellow asked Whitney what she thought about companies like Apple and 37signals who claim to design products for themselves, as opposed to researching what their customers want. Whitney said she thinks this “designing for yourself” philosophy is just marketing, and that “people like Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive constantly observe society”.

We also heard about what it’s like to work as an independent professional. Whitney talked about the difference between working with startups and big companies, coworking communities, and how she pitches clients and paces her work.

While she likes having different projects and working with different companies, she pointed out that one downside of being an independent is that one doesn’t always get to see projects finalized. Whitney told us she’s very lucky because she gets to pick her clients. “I’m not in the business for convincing companies to care for their customers,” she said.