Smashing Spotlight: Amanda Parkhurst, Senior UX Designer

Ever wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Amanda Parkhurst, Senior UX Designer, to talk shop, her take on whether UX is more of an art or a science, what the next new trend might be in UX design, and her epic European vacations that result in hiking through the Italian Dolomites.

 

User experience is very broad – what does it mean to you and what should it mean to everyone?

To me, user experience is the entire experience that a user has with your company. While much of the focus appears to be on the UI, there needs to be an understanding of every point that a user will interact with your company and/or brand.  It can range from downloading your app, completing a transaction, calling customer support, or using an armband to move to the front of a line.  It shouldn’t be noticed by the user since it should feel effortless and intuitive to how they think they should be able to interact with your product.

 

What would you say is the next big trend in UX design?

I’m not sure if there is a new UX trend that is necessarily in our future, but there will undoubtedly be new technologies that we haven’t thought about yet that need UX process and principles applied. Take the automobile industry as an example; with so many self-driving cars trying to enter the market, this is a new frontier that we haven’t really given much thought to. The car company that can understand the user and how they want to interact – or not – with their car will be the most successful at the end of the day. This will expand the current paradigm of what a car’s purpose could be. Would your car then shift to an entertainment/relaxation/workspace and away from the need to be focused on the road and others around you?

 

What would you say are the differences and the alignment between UX and strategy research?

UX and strategy are very closely aligned, as you can’t design an experience unless you have an understanding of the user, the competitive environment that a company lives in, or where the company is currently struggling with their customers. I think the line between these two areas is fairly blurred and I personally have trouble saying where one ends and the other discipline begins.

 

When a client gives less than positive feedback and wants the design or direction of a product changed, what do you normally do?

I start by asking questions. Why do they feel this is not the right direction? If it contradicts with user research, I will advocate for the user to make sure there is a voice in the room that is communicating the user’s needs. If I have already done user research, I can reference a quote or statistic (i.e. 5 out of 6 users interviewed had frustration when trying to find xyz) which adds statistical support to focusing on the users’ needs first and how that will ultimately make a positive impact on the product. More often than not, when I speak for the user and not as myself, it can help turn the conversation around.

 

Favorite app?

One of my favorite apps is Duolingo.  It is a language app that has become my go-to when I’m planning a trip to another country. I’ll hop on the bus, put on my headphones, and pull the app up for 20 minutes of language immersion. One of the things that stood out for me on this free app was the way the app attempts to teach you through several different angles. I will be prompted to read, hear, write, and speak a particular phrase so that it doesn’t seem one dimensional and keeps me on my toes. They have gamified the way info is presented to keep me coming back daily and avoid sliding backwards.

 

What is your ideal work day as a UX designer?

My ideal day would involve a variety of activities. I would start off with some design inspiration and go to the Kusama exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum to get the creative juices flowing.  If I had a problem I was trying to solve, I would want to brainstorm with a strategist, visual designer, and developer to collectively figure out how we could find a solution(s).  We would sketch out these possible solutions on a whiteboard and talk through the pros and cons of each to settle on a final path. I would then create a rough representation of the design and put it in front of users to test where our assumptions fail and where we can improve the design. Then I’d repeat it all again the next day to settle on a design or flow that works well for the user.

 

Is UX an art or a science? Can it be UX engineering?

I feel that UX is a science. In essence, you define a problem, develop a hypothesis based upon research (user or desk research), design an experiment (prototype testing with users), review the data, and repeat until you are satisfied with the results. This methodical approach ensures your designs will be successful in the wild once it is launched.

As for UX Engineering, is this a thing? I feel that the entire team needs to focus on the user and be empathetic to their needs. So, we could and/or should all add UX in front of everyone’s titles.

 

How do you know if a product has good UX or not?

I think you have to look at how the user uses it. Do they intuitively know how to use it? Do they find delight with the experience in ways that they were not expecting? Does the UI fade away so that the experience is the most prominent thing that they remember? Do they want to tell someone else about how easy it is to [book a flight, buy shoes, find a meal to have delivered to my office]?

 

How do you talk about UX concepts with your kiddos?

When they were young, I liked to read them bedtime stories about UX methodology – jk.

However, I do like to point out things in the moment to start a conversation about what could be improved. Like a billboard that you’re driving by that has so much text crammed in that you could never read it while driving 60 mph down the road. Well, maybe it is just a rant and they happen to be in the vicinity.

 

I am, hands down, the best ___________ that I know.

Travel planner! Every year we take a trip to some location in Europe. We usually pick our place in December or January based on where we can fly to for the least amount of money. I like that this gives a bit of serendipity to the decision of where to go. I then spend months pouring over travel sites, to determine where we can make the best memories. The sweet spot is to plan enough so that we’re not burdened with research while we are on the trip, but to leave room for spontaneity once we arrive in a location.  Our best trip to date has been a trip to the Italian Dolomites where we hiked from hut to hut and covered 29 miles.

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