I recently spoke with Quinn MacRorie, a Pratt SI alum and UX Researcher at Constructive, which is “focused on helping nonprofit and educational institutions advance their missions by providing expertise in branding, web design, content, and technology.” We talked about Quinn’s time at General Assembly, her workflow at Constructive, and the challenges of visual design; the interview concludes with a list of UX resources for those new to the field.
[Please note that Quinn’s answers in this transcript are not verbatim; the interview was recorded by hand.]
What is your educational background?
I have a BA in History from York College of Pennsylvania and a Master’s degree in Library Science from Pratt. After my Master’s degree, I did a 10 week intensive at a start-up called General Assembly.
What interested you in UX?
I initially got interested after taking [the course] Information Architecture. General Assembly filled in the gaps and strengthened my work process—it was more of a career change and it helped me get a foot in the door. They were great with that [networking]…you’re essentially working with someone whose job it is to help you get a job.
What does a normal work day look like for you?
We [at Constructive] work exclusively with non-profit organizations involved in education; they contact us if they want a website re-design (typically if it’s a new organization and they need presence or product). Then it’s like we have a contract and get to work with them. On a typical day I’m juggling several projects…I do a lot of strategy work and research stuff. I may be looking up the concept of a company or doing some usability testing to figure out where the weak points are on the current website. So I do a lot of that kind of stuff. I also come up with [sitemaps] and more detailed wireframes. I’m pretty involved with the process from discovery up until visual design. We work in a waterfall kind of process. [The day] can depends on the client. [The day can also] depend on what phase we are in on a project.
Have you ever had to advocate for UX? Have you ever been in a situation where clients/higher-ups felt that improving user experience didn’t need to involve any users—they thought all decisions could be made by the so-called “experts?”
Oh, yes. It happens all the time. Especially when people think they understand their users and what they need…but you don’t if you’re not talking to them…generally, in the beginning, we create a strategic brief that tells you different goals of the project (e.g., design goals, technology goals). We’ll have the goals for [the clients’] users integrated into that, what [users] want and need…often if we have disagreements we’ll bring it back to things we decided at the beginning of the project. Once you get into content development you can lose sight of your users…it’s nice to point to something and say ‘This is what [users] really need.’
What kind of challenges have you faced as a UX professional? I noticed that there can sometimes be a disconnect between programmers and UX Researchers/Designers; have you ever had this issue?
One of the great things about my company is that it’s pretty small…we have designers and programmers in the same room together. Sometimes we won’t be working on the same project, but usually we are…we try to get [programmers] involved early on in the project so we can anticipate if there is something difficult to develop. If there is, we can work together and figure out a different solution.
As far as challenges go, I didn’t come from a traditional UX design background—being with an agency is very deliverable-based and sometimes visual deliverables are difficult for me. It’s definitely something I struggle with because I can think analytically about something but getting into the finer points of visual design [can be a challenge].
What advice would you give to aspiring UX professionals and/or do you know of resources that can be useful for those new to the field?
Having a strong idea of process is important…take something from research and strategy and know how to distill that and make it present in a design. Communication skills and being able to present your ideas clearly…[and] going to different networking events (e.g., meetup.com) [are also important].
[The resources Quinn recommended are as follows]:
“Browsing their weekly newsletter is often the first thing I do on Monday. They always have really great articles about user research, testing, usability, etc.”
- The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman
- Interviewing Users: How To Uncover Compelling Insights, by Steve Portigal
- The Elements of User Experience, by Jesse James Garrett