Crain's Tech 50

I'm extremely flattered to be included in Crain's Tech 50 this year!* I'm proud of Chicago's tech scene and it is truly exciting to be in such esteemed company. Though, as many people have already noted, it is disappointing that only nine women appear on this list. I wouldn't be where I am today without the support of many generous people, and those that have been my strongest mentors and allies have been other professional women. I will continue to do my part to continue to encourage other women to enter the tech field and I look forward to the day when having a "Wise Men" category on this type of list (seriously, wtf?) is no longer even a comprehensible option.

(*I'd like to note that while I wish it was the case, I did not learn to program as a child. I also wish they had mentioned the Chicago UX Book Club and my MLIS degree, not to sound ungrateful :)

Emerging Trends: Firefox Research in Southeast Asia

Every good UX researcher has the ability to become totally engrossed in even the smallest research project. Yet, one of the amazing things about working for a global, mission-driven organization like Mozilla is the opportunity to take on some truly big research challenges. The Mozilla UX Research team is about to embark on such a project as we begin our Firefox Southeast Asia research in Thailand and Indonesia.

Research Goals

The primary goal of this research project is to understand how people in specific emerging markets experience the Internet and learn about emerging trends that will provide insight into new and current product features. We are particularly interested in learning about the context of Internet use, values related to the Internet, and specific Internet usage.

So, why not just send out a few surveys? Mozilla believes that there are valuable insights that can only be generated by in-context, ethnographic research. We recognize that many of the people involved in creating new technologies live in a fairly limited tech bubble and we truly value learning from a global community of Internet users.

Why Thailand & Indonesia?

One of the more challenging decisions researchers have to make at the beginning of a project is how to appropriately limit the scope of the research question. For this project, we have decided to focus on Thailand, Indonesia, and India. (India is slated for early 2014.) Both Thailand and Indonesia have rapidly growing economies and relatively low internet penetration rates. Interestingly, the Firefox market share in these two countries is dramatically different. Firefox holds 64% of the browser market in Indonesia, yet only accounts for 23% of the market in Thailand. We believe these two countries will provide valuable insight into understanding user needs and improving the Firefox market share.

Project Planning

A small team of user experience, engineering, and marketing Mozillians will be traveling to Thailand and Indonesia to conduct user interviews and ethnographic research in August and September. We have partnered with SonicRim, an awesome global design research firm, on this research project. Our research is divided into three phases: Planning & Recruiting, Fieldwork, and Analysis.

Brainstorming exercise at our project kickoff with SonicRIm.

Phase 1: Planning & Recruiting

  • Recruitment: Mozilla and SonicRim created a recruitment survey (aka a "screener") to identify the participants for our interviews. We will be interviewing people who are moderate to avid Internet users, who use a range of different hardware and software, and who come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. We then selected two cities in each country to focus our efforts: Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand and Jakarta and Bandung in Indonesia. Our local recruiters will identify 6 participants from each city to participate in formal interviews.
  • Research Activities: Before we arrive, each participant will complete a "homework" assignment that will document their experiences of life and culture through photos and written descriptions. After we arrive, we will conduct 2-hour interviews in each participant's home or place of work. Each participant will select a friend or relative to join them during the in-person interview. Interviewing "buddy" pairs instead of individuals can facilitate a deeper discussion and often results in more detailed data. In addition to these formal interviews, our fieldwork teams will visit locations that may provide interesting insights related to culture and technology like electronics stores and shopping areas.
  • Community Events: Mozilla is a global organization with community members all over the world. We are looking forward to hanging out with some of Mozilla's awesome contributors at the community events we are planning in Thailand and Indonesia.

chiDUXX: Chicago Women of Design & UX

Interested in "empowering the women who design the web?" Consider joining the new chiDUXX meetup group. We are having our first meeting tomorrow (3/5) to get to know each other and define our goals. I'm interested in:

-Seeing fewer local conference line-ups that look like this.
-Encouraging more women to consider speaking at conferences, writing articles, and highlighting their professional achievements.
-Making mentorship connections.
-Having an excuse to get together with some cool ladies in our professional community.

What I've been Reading

Books I read in 2012*, in no particular order:

Tender Buttons by Stein

Heroines by Zambreno

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Frankel

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Northrup

Canal House Cooks Every Day by Hamilton & Hirsheimer

Let My People Go Surfing by Chouinard

Bossypants by Fey

The Road by McCarthy

The Tipping Point by Gladwell

Why Have Kids? by Valenti

Wanton West: Madams, Money, Murder, and the Wild Women of Montana's Frontier by Morgan

Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park by Shultz

My Man Jeeves by Wodehouse

No More Dirty Looks by O'Connor & Spunt

UX Books

Ethnography: Step-by-Step by Fetterman

Designing for the Digital Age by Goodwin

A Project Guide to UX Design by Unger & Chandler

Agile Experience Design: A Digital Designer's Guide to Agile, Lean, and Continuous by Ratcliffe & McNeill

Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook by Greenberg

Storytelling for User Experience by Quesenbery and Brooks

Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences by Anderson

Understanding Comics by McCloud

Design is a Job by Monteiro

The Elements of Content Strategy by Kissane

The Shape of Design by Chimero

Mobile First by Wroblewski

Cadence & Slang by Disabato

*Resolving to read more fiction in 2013

Book Update

The Chicago UX Book Club finished out 2012 with 5 more great books. If you are local, consider joining the discussion in 2013!

Design is a Job: A thoughtful book on what it means to make a living through design work. This book provoked a great discussion on a variety of topics including when (if ever) to work for free and things to remember when starting a freelance career.

The Elements of Content Strategy: A fine introduction, but more of an argument in favor of considering a content strategy rather than practical information on how to go about the process.

The Shape of Design: I wasn't crazy about this book while I was reading it, but I was blown away by the discussion. I'd definitely recommend reading this with other people. The chapters discussing "how" vs. "why" tied in perfectly with some of my thoughts on current UX-oriented graduate programs. More on that some day soon.

Mobile First: I'd been meaning to read this book for a long time. Wroblewski does a good job of succinctly making the case that your digital strategy needs to include mobile and provides a number of UX insights to consider during the design process.

Cadence & Slang: We finished the year with our first author event! Nick Disabato joined us for a great discussion on his UX work, his book, and the writing process. Be sure to check out Distance, too.

What I've Been Reading

It's been a while since my last UX book review. I hope to find the time to go into detail on the following titles, but for now I'll simply recommend them with a few notes. Many of these books were Chicago UX Book Club selections. If you are local, consider joining the discussion!

Agile Experience Design: A uniquely detailed attempt to integrate experience design into the agile process.

Designing for the Digital Age: This is a fantastic handbook for practitioners.

Open Here - The art of instructional design: A fun collection of visual instruction.

Seductive Interaction Design: How to motivate users with the principles of seduction. Some nice examples here.

Sketching User Experiences: Instruction and exercises for various sketching methods used to facilitate design.

Understanding Comics: The history of comics and how we understand visual language.

UX Book Club Chicago


I've been missing the Champaign-Urbana UX Book Club, so I decided to take over the Chicago chapter!

The Chicago UX Book Club was founded in 2009 by Gabby Hon. She decided to take a break from organizing and has passed on the reins. We will be organizing meetings through our Meet-Up page, but you can find more information on the UX Book Club Chicago website and by following us on Twitter.

Join us for monthly discussions and the opportunity to interact with students and professionals looking to share their passion and knowledge of UX, IA, UI, IxD, etc.  Each month, we will choose a book or article to read and discuss. You don't have to read the book to attend -- just come with an open mind and an interest in the subject. We are also open to discussion suggestions and presentations by members related to their own UX research, writing, and professional expertise.

"Fleeting Little Universes of Delight"


Last night I had the pleasure of attending my first Chicago Women Developers Meetup to hear Marcin Wichary of the Google Doodle team give a talk on building doodles. Marcin has worked on memorable Google doodles like PAC-MAN and Jules Verne.

Marcin centered his talk around some of the tension inherent in user experience design:

Oversight vs. Freedom
Embracing Familiarity vs. Habitually Trying New Things
Looking Forward vs. Looking Back
Code That Feels Nice vs. Code That Gets the Job Done
Art vs. Technology

Marcin hopes that the, "fleeting little universes of delight" that the Google Doodle team creates will get people excited about what's possible on the web today and inspire people to use tools in ways that weren't originally envisioned. They treat the Google home page as a place for fun and exploration, not a platform to show off. It's about using new technologies to "do something that will delight the user."

It was a great talk. If you missed it, check out Marcin's talk on Google PAC-MAN from Google IO.

(Image Credit: Google)

Library School

Two years ago, I sat unhappily in my office at a Chicago nonprofit and wondered what was next. I had spent the better part of my working life committed to social service endeavors, but the last few years had really put my idealism to the test. I decided to apply to the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library & Information Science and I'm happy to report that this was an excellent decision. Here are some highlights (I'm sure I will be adding to this list):

-I was lucky to receive one of a fleeting number of Graduate Assistantships where I worked with Professors Jim Evans and Joyce Wright to manage an extensive agricultural communication archive in exchange for reduced tuition.

-I had the opportunity to work as a reference librarian in a University of Illinois Library where I learned the valuable lesson that traditional reference work is not for me.

-I met dozens of fascinating people and new friends.

-I took 15 classes over four semesters with a number of excellent instructors. (Straight A's - too!)

Information Organization & AccessReference & Information ServicesAdministration & Use of Archival MaterialsRare Book & Special Collection LibrarianshipFoundations of Information Processing (Python Programming)Introduction to DatabasesE-GovernmentLibraries, Information & SocietyPracticum - Sears Taxonomy & User ExperienceGeographic Information SystemsApplied Business Research (Knowledge Management & Competitive Intelligence)Independent Study - User Experience RAW Photography (Art & Design Department)Interfaces to Information SystemsMetadata in Theory & Practice

-I spent my winter break last year working for the American Library Association where I had the opportunity to manage content strategy projects for two divisions.

-I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA where I learned a lot and had an amazing time hanging out with Julia, Ron, Will & Jeanne.

-I ran the spring Illinois Marathon and beat my previous PR by over 13 minutes.

-I had the opportunity to spend the spring working with the Sears Taxonomy & User Experience department as a practicum student where I learned a ton and got to know the awesome  Jenny B. better.

-I spent the summer drinking beers in the sunshine and discussing user experience research with Melinda and our great advisor Jenny E.

-I helped found the first Champaign-Urbana UX Book Club with Melinda, Meghan & Dan. I learned a lot from all of the members and it pushed me to read some great material.

-I got to take my first art class since middle school. (Thanks for taking a chance on me, Professor Scott!)

-I lived in a beautiful house with two great roommates and friends, Meghan and Maria.

-I started bike commuting for the first time since I lived in Portland.

-I enjoyed some incredible summer bike rides with library friends, thanks to the Bikes & Beers club Andrew founded.

-I made sure to visit Mirabelle Bakery and the Urbana Farmers Market frequently.

-Had an amazing time in Ann Arbor meeting the marvelous Beers and working in the incredible Janice B. Longone Culinary Archive over my spring break.

-Ran the Kentucky Bourbon Chase relay with Nick and nearly a dozen new, awesome friends.

Hooray! I'm officially a librarian!

(And I have a job - more on that soon!)

Remote Research


Bolt, N., & Tulathimutte, T. (2010). Remote Research. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 266 pages.

We selected Remote Research for discussion at the November UX Book Club CU event. Nate Bolt is the president of Bolt | Peters, an interaction research and design firm. Tony Tulathimutte has left the world of user experience research and is now a fiction writer. This book is written for a broad audience, but primarily for readers who already have a general understanding of how conventional user research works.

Remote research is user experience research that is conducted through the phone and internet rather than in person. Bolt and Tulathimutte explain how to organize, recruit, and run moderated and unmoderated remote research studies. The book includes a thoughtful and necessary discussion on privacy and consent, methods of analysis, and remote research tools. You can find a similar list on the Remote Research website.

My initial assumption going into this book was that Remote Research would be a cheap way to include a large number of test participants in a study. Interestingly, Bolt and Tulathimutte argue that remote research is not necessarily cheaper. Our UX book club wondered if this assertion was partially a symptom of an agency-only perspective. While this seems like a sensible claim for a commercial researcher billing clients for their time, it seemed to us that remote research would in fact be a cheaper method for an academic researcher trying to get the most out of their grant money, for example. One of our UX Book Club members is currently designing a research study that will require remote research methods. It was interesting to discuss the practical considerations with her as it related to her upcoming project.

The most convincing argument in favor of remote research is that this method is able to intercept test participants while they are performing tasks of interest. By catching users in their natural environment as they are performing a task flow they intended to pursue anyway, remote research allows for more authentic insight into the user experience. Similarly, remote research allows researchers to test participants all over the world, rather than just a new batch of local residents.

This book convinced me that remote research is something every UX professional should be learning about. There's no question that the future of user research will incorporate many of these methods. However, the main issue I have with remote research is part of its largest selling point - What type of user would agree to participate in a study in the middle of a frustrating experience? How many non-tech savvy people will be interested in the added challenge of navigating a remote test? How can you be confident in the integrity of your test sample? Of course, these aren't new issues in user research. Similar things could be said about participants in traditional testing. (Is it an issue that all our participants are free on a Tuesday morning? - for example.) Yet, I want to believe that there is something important about in-person research. That observing facial expressions provides unique insight. That greeting a participant and talking them through a study provides valuable information about how humans interact with technology, in a way that impersonal communication does not. Though, perhaps I'm reading more into in-person user research than I should be.

For more information on the topic, check out the Bolt | Peters Remote Research website, this 2010 article by Kyle Soucy in UX Matters titled, "Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing: Good or Evil?" and Soucy's 2011 IA Summit talk by the same name.

Student Status

My December graduation date is arriving quickly. Since this is the last time in my life I expect to be a student, I'm hoping to take advantage of any associated perks before I receive my diploma (and read all the library articles I can). Some of the best include:

Adobe: Up to 80% off software. Amazon: Free Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping). Apple: Education discounts on hardware and software. Axure: Popular wireframing and rapid prototyping software. Good students (3.0 GPA or higher) receive a free license. Lyric Opera: Discounted tickets to Chicago opera. Professional Organizations: Many, like the ALA, offer steep discounts to students on membership dues and conferences. WebStore: Free and discounted software. UI-specific, but many universities have something similar.

Anything else I shouldn't miss?

Community Fabrication Lab

I had the opportunity to tour the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab this afternoon. This amazing resource is part of a network of digital fabrication labs around the world. SocioTechnical Systems Professor Betty Barrett gave us a tour of the facility. The lab is primarily operated by volunteer staff and is open to anyone in the community. In addition to open-source software work stations and a huge variety of tools, the lab also houses impressive machinery including a Roland Servo Desktop Vinyl Cutter and an Epilog Helix 350 Laser Engraver.

Fab Lab

A few things I learned:

-The laser engraver doesn't require extremely advanced design skills or obscure file formats. It uses PDF files (exclusively) to engrave areas up to 12" x 18." Users must determine the size, speed, and frequency of the laser. An initial test run is always conducted on cardboard to ensure an acceptable final product. You can read more about this machine on the Fab Lab CU site.

-Inkscape is an open source scaleable vector graphics editor that is popular in the lab (SVG file format).

-It's possible to make inflatable steel furniture (not in the lab, I just thought this was neat).

-The lab occasionally hosts workshops. I'm disappointed that I'll be missing their workshop on wearables this weekend (there is still space, if you want to sign up). We were able to check out the amazing textiles they ordered from Inventables, like temperature sensitive polyester, conductive elastic fabric, and glass fiber metallic mesh.

Fab Lab Art Annex 2 1301 South Goodwin Avenue Urbana, IL 61801

Storytelling for User Experience


Brooks, K., & Quesenbery, W. (2010). Storytelling for User Experience. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 320 pages.

We selected Storytelling for User Experience for discussion at the October UX Book Club CU event. Kevin Brooks is a researcher at Motorola Labs and a professional storyteller. Whitney Quesenbery is a user researcher and usability expert. This book is written for a broad audience and would appeal to both designers and researchers.

It's no secret that I tend to enjoy books published by Rosenfeld Media. They are well-organized, beautifully designed, and generally provide concise and clear treatment on timely topics. While I'm glad I read this book, if I hadn't been leading a book club discussion on the material I probably would not have finished it. In the first nine chapters Brooks & Quesenbery make a compelling case for using stories throughout the user experience design process - from communicating specific requirements to design teams to using stories to craft usability tasks. In the remaining six chapters the authors provide detailed instructions on how to create stories - discussing elements like perspective, plot, and delivery. Embedded within the main text are stories and anecdotes from the authors and other UX professionals. While some of the information contained in the later chapters is useful, I expected a book with more detail on how to use stories in user experience research, not a primer on basic story structure. I think this book could have benefited from stronger editing and could have 150 pages shorter.

Search Analytics for Your Site


Rosenfeld, L. (2011). Search Analytics for Your Site. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 224 pages.

We selected Search Analytics for Your Site for discussion at the first UX Book Club CU event in September. This book by Louis Rosenfeld, co-author of Information Architecture and founder of Rosenfeld Media, will appeal to anyone that works with a searchable website or intranet. Rosenfeld persuasively argues that organizations are sitting on mountains of useful data in search logs, yet few are analyzing this valuable source of information. Search log data can be used to better understand who your users are. This data comes directly from users, highlights user expectations for your site, and best of all describes user activity in the their own words. The book provides a clear and concise introduction to search analytics along with recommendations for interpreting this data to improve your site. Rosenfeld also provides an informative introduction on how to retrieve and understand search logs. This book is a quick read and is packed with useful information. I highly recommend it to anyone working with searchable websites.


My first substantive post to this website garnered a bit of attention back in June. At the time I was reading Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and becoming increasingly disillusioned by the lack of relevant course offerings in my program. My short post was picked up by none other than Peter Morville himself:


This exchange sparked the beginning of a conversation with some GSLIS administrators and I'm hoping to get involved with the Curriculum Committee this fall. In July, the Library Journal referenced my post in the article Putting the UX in Education | The User Experience and Office Hours by Aaron Schmidt & Michael Stephens. They write,

"User experience (UX) thinking was born at information schools but hasn’t found a home in many libraries. Why not? The answer is simple. Many LIS programs haven’t integrated UX coursework into their curricula, and libraries suffer as a result....  LIS schools reviewing curricula may want to shift some of the focus placed on materials and process to user needs, behavior, and creating experience."

They go on to recommend specific coursework (like interpreting and employing user research and usability testing), while suggesting that elements of UX should be part of the overall LIS curriculum.



Do you live, work, or study in the Champaign-Urbana area? Do you have an interest in user experience, information architecture, user interfaces, or a related field?

Join us for monthly UX Book Club discussions and the opportunity to interact with students and professionals looking to share their passion and knowledge of UX, IA, UI.

Find us on Meetup!

Fall 2011

After a calming two weeks of backpacking in my favorite place in the U.S., I am back in Champaign-Urbana for my last semester of graduate school. I will be continuing my work as a Graduate Assistant in the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, an agricultural special collection located in the University of Illinois ACES Library. This is shaping up to be the most exciting of my four semesters. My courses include:

Fall 2011 -Metadata in Theory & Practice -Electronic Publishing: Technologies & Practices (XML) -Interfaces to Information Systems -RAW Photography (yes, an undergrad art class!)

Courses I have completed at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science:

Summer 2011 -Geographic Information Systems -Applied Business Research: Competitive Intelligence & Knowledge Management -Independent Study: Information Architecture, User Experience & Taxonomies

Spring 2011 -Foundations of Information Processing in Lib & Info Science (Python programming) -Introduction to Database Design -E-Government -Libraries, Information and Society -Practicum: Sears Holdings Corporation Taxonomy and User Experience Intern

Fall 2010 -Information Organization and Access -Reference and Information Services -Administration and Use of Archival Materials -Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship

ALA Interview

In June I attended the 2011 American Library Association Annual Conference. I had the opportunity to meet a number of fantastic library students and recent graduates from other programs.  Micah Vandegrift, one of the contributors to the wonderful blog Hack Library School, asked me to take part in a brief interview about my MLIS program. You can listen to it here. (I've been a bit remiss in posting about my experience at the conference. I hope to soon, but in the meantime feel free to read about the food and beverage side of things on my other website, Pro Bono Baker.)