Smashing Spotlight: Anna Ho, Strategist

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Anna Ho, Strategist, to talk shop, how creativity kicks in when finding prevalent patterns in user research, and the most hotly debated question in the galaxy: Star Trek or Star Wars?


What does a strategist at SI do, aside from devise plans to take over the world?

Let the record show that SI strategists use their powers for good, not evil! While we get to wear many different hats as strategists, everything from user researcher to content strategy, if I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say that the role of a strategist at SI is to uncover actionable insights. Much of our job entails identifying critical questions at various stages of design and development and figuring out how to answer those questions. One of the parts I enjoy most about my job as a strategist is unearthing insights that the team at large can use to enrich the user experience or better achieve the business goals of a product.


You’ve lived and worked abroad in South Korea. What was the most exciting thing about that experience?

Seoul is one of those cities where past and future meet. It was definitely a trip to live in one of the most wired, technologically advanced cities in the world, positioned amidst historical palaces and a culture steeped in tradition. This intersection of tradition and technology meant that Seoul was a city in constant transformation, and I felt lucky to get a front row seat to the renovation and innovation that came out of Korea.


What was one of the most surprising things you learned while conducting research?

In this era of tracking apps and connected things, the general consumer has become a lot savvier about what their digital devices can do for them. I was surprised to see how savvy the average consumer has become. Consumers are no longer just satisfied with pretty data visualizations or extensive line graphs. They want insights. They want trend repots. They want to know what they should take away from all the data we’re giving them.


What do you believe leads to the most successful digital products?

The most successful digital products speak authentically to the needs and intrinsic motivations of the user. User-centered design is increasingly becoming more prevalent as a concept, so it continues to surprise me how many digital products fail to take into account what users actually need or want. I’ve seen first hand how easy it is for a product team to get swept up in a trend or innovative technology and think, “users are going to be amazed!” only to find that users don’t even have enough interest to open up the app or device. It’s not enough to just build a product that will get people’s attentions. You want to build something that people will actually use!


You just ran a marathon at Disney World, which as far as running marathons is concerned, is a pretty great locale. Which Disney character do you most relate to and why?

Though we are quite different in temperament, I have a lot in common with Lilo from Lilo & Stitch. We’re both eccentric island girls who enjoy people watching and aren’t easily fazed by unusual happenings or chaos. I’m not as edgy as Lilo, but I do relate to her sense of adventure and curiosity, and her belief in the good of everyone.


How do analytics play a role in what you learn from users?

Often, when taking a lean approach to user research, we rely on self-reported data from users for insight on their everyday behaviors. The pitfall of relying on self-reporting is that users may not always accurately relay or be fully aware of their actual behaviors. Analytics are key in helping us mitigate self-reporting bias by directly tracking user behavior and engagement. Just as your hygienist can tell if you’ve actually been flossing or not by looking at your gums, we use analytics to tell us whether or not users engage with a product and for how long. The analytical data we capture also allows us to identify interesting trends in behavior that we can later explore through interviews and surveys with users.


A large part of your experience has been in the world of education. What are the biggest similarities between the educational sector and digital?

I’ve found a number of parallels between both sectors. One of the most interesting parallels for me is that a large part of my what I did as an educator and what I do now as a strategist is to help people get at what they know. Whether you’re teaching or building digital products, it’s important to understand the underlying assumptions that people hold. This understanding of people’s assumptions, or as we at SI call them, their “truths”, helps you establish a baseline of expectations from which to build a more engaging experience for your students or users.


What is your favorite part of the strategy process, and why?

I love the process of unearthing a mound of research and transforming it into useable knowledge. This may sound strange, but this is when I feel most creative. I love the challenge of taking a heap of information that may at first glance seem overwhelming or impenetrable and whittling away at it until I find prevalent patterns or findings that the team can use.


You interview a ton of people in your job. What is the funniest thing that has ever happened in an interview?

One time, when we asked an interview participant to describe his morning routine, he got into to such great detail that he found himself describing when he gets undressed. Thankfully, he stopped himself before going into further detail, but from the looks of his sheepish expression, it seems like he had a very vivid image in mind.


Finally, the most important question: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Ooh, tough question. I would love to be an interstellar explorer on Star Trek, but I have to give it up to Star Wars. The richness of the Star Wars universe is unparalleled. Also, Star Wars, for me, demonstrates that it’s not just the handsome rebel that can kick butt. Star Wars celebrates the power of the unassuming little guy, like Yoda, Wicket, and R2D2, and their ability to take down the Empire!

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