I sat down with Nadaleen Tempelman-Kluit, the Head of the NYU Libraries User Experience department, to discuss her work at NYU and the role UX design plays in her position.
KD: Your background is in academic librarianship. How did your career path bring you to UX?
NTK: Well, I’m still an academic librarian, so it sort of makes sense that I’m working for an academic library, but segueing into UX. So, when I started at NYU, I was the Instructional Design Librarian, so I was creating online tutorials and teaching. And during that time I did a degree in educational communication and technology, and started thinking more about how people learn online, in regards to multimedia learning theories, and cognitive load issues, and like and, visual and verbal channels of communication, and affordances, and it segued into thinking more deeply about how we present information online to our audiences, which underpins all of user experience. work with our community. That largely sort of segued into user experience. So I think that my background in educational technology and how people learn has really helped me with a foundation when I think about how to present information online.
KD: As department head, how much of your role is devoted to hands-on design work?
NTK: Not as much as I’d like, of course. But that’s probably the same thing that every manager would say. But we’re lucky in that we’re a small group, and we’re sort of all hands on deck, and we’re all interested in all things. so wWe have a lot of brainstorming sessions where we’re scribbling on the board and passing around ideas and visual designs, and then I’m able to sort of grab small projects that have visual design elements, and have the whole user experience flow in a very small way that I can tackle. And so I guess we all would like to do more of everything, but you have to pick your battles and, you know, my main role is to lead the department and lead support the team in the good work that they do, so that is my focus. he team, so I have to focus on that.
KD: How does quantitative and/or qualitative research inform your design work?
NTK: You know, obviously deeply in that, we’ve found all of our design work—we’ll brainstorm spontaneous ideas that are based on design patterns and what we know, but we always validate all of our preliminary work with data that we have, so it’s heavily informed. And I think even greater is the selling of the work with the quantitative and qualitative data, because if you don’t underpin your strategy with that, and communicate to stakeholders about it, then the buy-in is a lot less likely to happen.
KD: How and when do you involve your web development team in the design process?
NTK: What we tend to do now is have UX sprints, and then after several UX sprints, when we’ve got some strategies in place, I’ll do a backlog grooming with our Head of Web Development, and they’ll do a sprint, which are stories founded on the UX work we’ve done. So it’s sort of cyclical, and we try to batch load it, but we work fairly closely with them.
KD: And what hard and soft skills do you think a UX designer should possess?
NTK: Obviously the traditional hard skills. I think what we do in this department, and what I think works for us, and works for the profession—not that unicorns, quote unquote, don’t work—but I think that we here each have specialties, and we can all lend a hand in all things. So I think traditional wireframing tools, some sort of quantitative and qualitative skill set, and awareness, at least, of tools. Whether you use them or not, knowing what the scope of these tools are, and assessment skills, survey skills, that sort of thing. And then soft skills, it’s really about how to discuss design, how to be succinct, and back your presentations with enough data that people have respect for your work, but not so much that it overwhelms them. So really in a way it’s reading the audience and knowing what will help people understand where you’re coming from and where your work is coming from. So I think that’s the biggest soft skill—and it’s a very intangible skill. It’s hard to say, you know, can you read your audience if you’re talking to someone, but it’s something you can learn pretty quickly when you watch your people talking to people to know how they’re gearing their communication to the right audience. So in a way, it’s very UXey.