From Analog to Digital: A Conversation with Laurie Sadow

LaurieLaurie Sadow is an UX strategist and researcher with over 30 years of experience.  She began her career learning graphic design with a focus on print.  As technology evolved, she learned the UX tools that would allow her to focus on her true passion – optimizing digital channels and products designed for the user to have the best possible interaction

How did you end up at the job you work in today?

I started with certificate in graphic in design in the 80s at a local community college. I learned page layout the old fashioned way as well as photography, printing, and binding.  From there I transitioned into high volume catalogue printing and started looking at converting files to internet from publishing and learning desktop publishing.  I realized technology was the future in order optimize revenue and I enjoyed the control I now had over an entire project from start to finish.  I then started to design for developing (no coding) doing value imaging/interface design.  I taught myself how to produce deliverables by assessing the need and watching what other people were doing.  I then shifted into project management and really enjoyed leading a project from start to finish by establishing a strategy perspective that evaluated the client’s needed and worked with a design team to implement them.   

What is a typical day’s workflow?  

I am now a senior level freelance contractor working with various clients as a UX strategist and researcher.  The first thing that I do when I begin a project is to go in and explain each step of my process and make sure to recap at each meeting.  It is very important that everyone be on the same page so that the stakeholders are invested in your work.  Instead of industry jargon, I often use plain english to explain my process.  For example, instead of saying that I am conducting a card sort, I tell the stakeholders that I am testing potential users of the product to see how they prefer to group information.   

UX means different things to different people, how do you define it within your own workflow and to your clients?

Walking into a new project, I establish what I do and do not do right off the bat.  I am not a developer, I am not a project manager, I am a UX strategist and researcher.  That being said, I define my UX skill set into 3 subcategories:

Customer Experience (CX) is… Any interaction the customer or prospect has with a company at any point in their journey. This Includes; all channels, all touch points at any point in the life cycle.

User Experience (UX) is… any interaction the customer or prospect has with a company’s digital channel or digital product. This includes: digital ads, email, web, kiosk, Apps, products with a computing interface – mobile or otherwise.

Interaction Design... Enables the user to accomplish a task through a digital interface.

10 years ago the hot new thing in business was big data, now it is UX.  I see the discipline as being officially formalized and specialized over the past 5 years and big business is finally buying into it and seeing it’s potential to differentiate them as a company and ultimately make more money.  Investors are now supporting usability testing and stakeholders are finally ‘getting it’ because analysts are telling them how important it is.

The UX/UI field is rapidly growing and includes many different disciplines.  Do you think that it is more important for one person to know how to do some of everything or have experts in each area (research, design, development) all working within a team?

Balance is key.  Technical skills are important in order to have what it takes to implement the design that you are proposing.  But research and product management helps to understand the whole process.  Understanding what it takes to see a project from start to finish is crucial for its success and you can utilize your team members to learn in the areas that are not your strong point.  Working with each other is important because you are only as strong as your team.  

What are the most current and widely used tools/programs that you think are important to know?

For wireframing and prototyping, Axure, Omnigraffle, Visio, and Sketch are the most widely used programs.  The best thing to do is pick one program and become an expert as opposed to trying to learn a little about each.  But the most important thing to do is sketch out your design on paper first.  Learning a new tool while you making changes to your design will only cause you a lot of stress and wasted time.  

What was your favorite project you have worked on and why?

I did a project for McDonald’s corporation where we were switching over their 40 year old design framework to mobile.  I facilitated usability testing with primarily psychology students who got very excited about UX strategy in general.  It was an applicable discipline in human behavior  that they didn’t even know existed.  But the biggest thing that I took away from the project was that the designer should not be the usability tester.  These roles are usually differentiated, but in this situation I had to do both and it was challenging because I had a biased perspective.  

What advice would you give a UX/UI student about entering the job market?

Networking and marketing yourself is crucial.  Looking to others for example will be extremely beneficial and being a student is a critical time when you are able to reach out to professionals in the field without the undertone of looking for a job.  People will be much more receptive to you if they do not see you as competition.  Join LinkedIn UX groups and read articles on current topics.   Building a strong portfolio is important, but more so if you are focusing on interface and interaction design. 

Key Findings

  • Know your design before you attempt to implement it
  • Learning from your peers is your greatest asset
  • Networking and marketing yourself is crucial to your success
  • UX is an evolving discipline and it is important to stay current on the hot topics