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Lauren Schwendimann

If you thought designing a website was tough, imagine designing a driverless car experience. How do you quell that innate fear and skepticism of a robot driving you around?

What is Human-Centered Design?
What is Human-Centered Design?

What is Human-Centered Design?

Ep
140
Jun
30
With
Lauren Schwendimann
Or Listen On:

Would you let a robot drive you home?

Picture yourself at the airport. You’ve just returned from a long, arduous flight and you are exhausted. The last thing you want is to get in your car and make the lengthy drive home.

So you open a ride sharing app, hail a car, and moments later you are on your way home. And the car is driving itself while you nap in the back seat.

Strangely enough, if you live in the metro-Phoenix area, you can do that. All with the help of autonomous ride service, Waymo.

Lauren Schwendimann is the interaction design lead for Waymo. Her and her team are responsible for designing all consumer touch points for the company. Both the app and the rider experience.

If you thought designing a website was tough, imagine designing a driverless car experience. How do you quell that innate fear and skepticism of a robot driving you around?

In this episode, we talk about human-centered design, the inherent challenges of new technology, and what skills you need to be a great UX designer.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
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Episode Transcript

Lauren:
The people who use your product, they're not going to sleep at night thinking about your brand or the thing that you designed that they interacted with for a few minutes, they have bigger goals in life. And so to the extent that what you're doing can impact those bigger goals or make their day better, I think that's what I think of is the call is that outcome and less about awareness of the brand that I'm building for.

Greg:
Welcome to The Futur Podcast, the show that explores the interesting overlap between design, marketing and business. I'm Greg Gunn. Picture yourself at the airport. You've just returned from a long arduous flight and you're exhausted. The last thing you want to do is get in your car and make the lengthy drive home. So, you open a ride sharing app, halo car, and moments later you're on your way home. Oh, except the car is driving itself while you nap in the backseat. Strangely enough, if you live in the Metro Phoenix area, you can do that all with the help of autonomous ride service, Waymo.
Now, our guest today is the interaction design lead for Waymo. Her and her team are responsible for designing all consumer touch points for the company, both the app and the writer experience. Now, if you thought designing a website was tricky, imagine designing a driverless car experience. How do you call that an eight fear and skepticism of a robot driving you around? In this episode, we talk about human centered design, the inherent challenges of new technology and what skills you need to be a great UX designer. Please enjoy our conversation with Lauren Schwendimann.

Chris:
Lauren, I'm super happy to have you on the show. And I'm a little rusty because I haven't recorded an episode in some time, so forgive me as I sweep off the cobwebs here. And for people who don't know who you are, can you introduce yourself to our audience please?

Lauren:
Hi, Chris. Yeah, thank you for having me. My name is Lauren, and I'm an interaction design lead at Waymo. And at Waymo, I lead a team of designers responsible for designing basically every consumer facing touch point of the Waymo One rider experience. So, for those who don't know what Waymo One is, Waymo One Waymo's autonomous ride hailing service and we're operating fully autonomously, meaning there's no human driver anywhere in the vehicle, which is super exciting. And we're fully publicly available in the Metro Phoenix area. So, you can imagine that there's a lot that needs to be designed for a new experience. And so my team designs the mobile app that lets you hail rides and all the digital touchpoints throughout the journey. So, the in-car experience, there's a tablet touchscreen in the car, all the audio, all the external displays, anything that a person would interact with when they hail our autonomous cars. And my team is also responsible for all the branded marketing design that you see for Waymo and we partner closely with our marketing team for all of that material.

Chris:
That sounds super cool. We're called the Future, but we just talk about it. You're actually living in the future, and this idea of autonomous vehicles that are safer to be in and that maybe will prevent accidents from happening. I'm just curious about this, because you're up and running, right? You're in the Phoenix market?

Lauren:
That's right. The Metro Phoenix area, for those familiar, Chandler is in the Metro Phoenix area and that's where we're currently operating. So yeah, it's super exciting too. And even for those who of us who design it and live and breathe it every day, riding in one of our cars and experiencing that steering wheel moving and doing all the driving while you're sitting in the backseat is really mind blowing.

Chris:
Yeah. I'm just curious too, how big is the fleet? And I have a lot of questions about Waymo and then I'll come back to you and your story and how you want to doing what you do.

Lauren:
Okay, great. So, you're asking how big our fleet is?

Chris:
Yes.

Lauren:
I'm not exactly sure how many cars we're operating currently to today in the Phoenix area or whether we share that number publicly.

Chris:
I see.

Lauren:
But I keep closer track of how long it takes to hail a ride, things like that. But we are, like I said, operating publicly and for those who are using it, you can hail a ride within a reasonable amount of time and get a ride. And so yeah, that's what we want to make sure that for everyone we're serving that experiences is seamless and a good experience.

Chris:
In news, recently, I read about another accident with a Tesla, some autonomous vehicle when there was nobody in the driver's seat and something had happened really bad again. And so there's some general fear. I mean, if you look at it relative to the number of accidents created by humans driving, it's a tiny amount. And I'm just curious what the challenges that you're hearing in terms of people saying instead of taking a different ride sharing app, what are they thinking about Waymo in terms of their resistance?

Lauren:
Right. No, that's a great question. I think the way that we approach our service is definitely safety first comes before anything else. And we are aware that people want to learn about the safety and it's new. So, people may have questions, but because we've taken this safety first approach and have been driving for a very long time, we have confidence that we're a safe option for people and everyone who rides in our cars. What we prioritize is the trust and transparency that we want to build with them. And our level of autonomy is such that we don't require people to step in and take the wheel at any point in time. So that's how we've really built our service is to allow people to relax and experience the ride as a passenger and not to have to drive. So we've taken a different approach than some other folks have. And again, we really prioritize our safety stories so that we can build that trust with our riders.

Chris:
In terms of overcoming that mental hurdle, because fears are emotional and irrational, what do you do from a design point of view to solve some of those challenges?

Lauren:
Right. That's a great question. So, for those who have the chance to ride in our cars, trust and transparency, like I said, is really at the center of the experience that we build. And so when you ride in a Waymo car, what's really interesting and I spoke about the tablet experience that's in the car, that view, that experience allows you to see what the car sees and really have that picture of what the driver, the Waymo driver knows and sees. And what's interesting is you get a sense for what the Waymo driver can see and know that actually a human driver couldn't. So, hundreds of yards ahead, you could see that there's a stoplight. And the Waymo driver sees that stoplight. And by building in that transparency and helping people see what the Waymo drivers sees as they take that ride, they gain confidence and trust in the system and are able to relax as they gain more experience riding in the cars. So, we've really designed the in-car experience in a way that supports that trust by providing transparency and helping people kind of see a window into what the Waymo driver sees.

Chris:
That's really cool. Do you have a name for that?

Lauren:
So, the driver, we call the Waymo driver and that's the autonomous driving technology, and the view in the car we call ... I don't know that it's trademarked, but internally we call it the car view and it's really what the car sees. And we've found that our riders really, really value this view and it becomes one of our key differentiators for folks and even calling out small details, for example we can render construction cones on the screen itself. So, when people are driving and these are dynamic objects in the road. It's not like we've mapped everything and just drawn it into our system. The car is recognizing dynamic objects and you can see that as you're riding along.
And so people will point out like, "Wow, it's all those traffic cones, or it knows we in a school zone." And it's not only what the car sees, but it's also what we know about the environment all layered in together. And it's part of the design challenges is making sure that we provide the right level of information so that it's not overwhelming to riders, but also does support that trust. So that's been really a lot of the work that we've done is how do we thread that needle to provide enough information that it supports trust without making riders feel like they have to babysit the driver the whole time because the drivers really got it and is taking care of everything.

Chris:
Yeah. I think that's a really clever way to ease people's concern. You're giving them a peek into the brain of the driver. I mean, because with the human driver, you're never quite sure if that person's paying attention. So, my wife and I, we always joke about this. Whenever I'm tired she's like, "I'll drive." And I usually ... I don't get a lot of rest when she's driving because of the way she drives. I'm like, "How did you see that?" You're providing that kind of ... It's almost like supervision-

Lauren:
That's right.

Chris:
... where the Waymo driver has superior senses compared to a human being, that their ability to see down the road and maybe even around corners and detect things that most people are not paying attention to. So that probably puts the customer at ease and maybe over time, they don't even look at that screen anymore because it's got it and not to worry anymore.

Lauren:
Right. That's exactly right. And not only does it see that down the road, it sees in 360 degree direction, it's not ever texting. Well, we have experienced as drivers as people once you really understand the capability of what the Waymo driver can do, then it does really put people at ease. And what's interesting is our goal with that screen isn't to engage our riders the whole time. It is to give them enough information for them to really relax and let go and spend that time as they please, because that's really the outcome that we want for people is the benefit of what we're doing is giving people that time back, that space back, that mind space back, that energy back, that they would otherwise be spending driving to spend as they please. So, we don't want those watching the screen the whole time necessarily, but it's there providing that level of comfort and ease and really enabling the relaxation that we want.

Chris:
What are you doing before the rider even decides to download the app and to give a shot? Because I think you have to be fairly open-minded to do this. I'm envisioning my parents having a hard time like, "I'm not getting that thing, because where's the human?" And so what are you doing on the front end to put people at ease like this is something that they should try versus an Uber or Lyft?

Lauren:
Right. That's a great question. I think where we are right now in our development is we're really focused on the product itself and making it great. And we have riders riding and we really believe that as we develop the product and expand it, that will come and that riders will want to ride because they'll hear about their friend who rode or their family member who rode, or the gate for us right now, isn't necessarily getting more people in the cars where we are, in Phoenix, we have great ridership. And so we're developing the product, it's so early in the world of autonomous driving that we feel like we're in a good position where we are at the current moment. But I do think that people will just need to be exposed to what Waymo is and the service that we offer. And that over time that comfort will grow as word spreads and people learn more about it. And of course we have marketing teams and communications teams that are working on getting the word out as well. But I think that that will come as things evolve in the next few years.

Chris:
Fantastic. I mean, I'm personally looking forward to this future where we are having autonomous vehicles. So, for a lot of different reasons, it'll probably be safer on the road for pedestrians and other automobiles, but also it's going to free up people to do other things besides something that can be done by robot. I'm a big believer in this. If a robot can do it better than you, you need to do something else with your life. So, some people are going to feel threatened by hearing this because there's a whole industry built on moving people from point a to point B, but this is most definitely in the future, right?
So, I think it's time, if you're listening to this and if your job or your industry is going to be impacted by this, it's not a question if it's just going to be a matter of when. So, obviously these kinds of technologies are going to be used in other applications as well. Not just for shuttling people from point a to point B. Just one other quick question about the experience. I've been mostly raising fears and challenges, but what are some of the benefits that you see in terms of having an autonomous vehicle as your driver?

Lauren:
Yeah. This is a great question because I think it's what motivates a lot of us who are at Waymo and thinking of the long-term opportunities for autonomous driving and for the product that we're building. The first thing I think about is riders and people who use our service to get around. And I think not only some of the things you just mentioned, your time is freed up, you're not spending one to two hours a day in traffic and really beholden to driving a vehicle that is huge, being able to spend the time how you want, but also just the independence that it kind of lock for folks who for different reasons aren't able to drive themselves or for whom it's hard to get a ride with a person driving. The opportunity long-term is to democratize the ability to get around and the ability to move through the world.
And that's a huge opportunity to contribute to that future is one thing that really motivates me to feel safe going anywhere I can or want. Then I think about a safer world really with cars that are driving safely on the road. And we tolerate kind of the negative outcomes of traffic accidents as just kind of the price to pay for transportation, but it doesn't have to be that way. And so I think about that. And I mean, you mentioned things being automated in the future and the impact of that. And I just also see a lot of opportunity in different industries that support autonomous driving and the opportunities for autonomy to lead to more kind of growth in different areas and different economic opportunities. So, I think that things certainly will shift, but I think that they can shift to something better as well.

Chris:
Great. I mean, as you were talking, I was just thinking about if you're an able-bodied person, healthy without any physical restrictions, maybe you're not super excited about this, but for young people, I have two kids. I have elderly parents and an autonomous vehicle taking them where they need to go without worrying about the driver themselves, because we hear about certain incidents, I don't want to bring them up, but you have to take into consideration the personality, the temperament of the person driving. Some people are very aggressive when they drive, some people are reckless and some people are prone to share their political views. And sometimes when I'm driving or riding, I'm just really not in the mood for that. So you have a stable, consistent person or the Waymo driver taking you from place to place. I also think in this time of the pandemic, maybe it's like, "I don't want another human in the car with me." And maybe that just puts my mind at ease at some level. So, some benefits there.

Lauren:
Definitely, yeah.

Chris:
I'd love to shift the conversation a little bit more to you now, because I'm just excited about autonomous vehicles in the future, right? So, I read in your bio that you studied communication and got your degree in that before entering into design, I'm curious what happened to you and I think you were working as a softball coach in college, teaching people. When did you start to realize, "I'm curious about this other thing," and do you remember what triggered that thought?

Lauren:
Yeah. That's a great question. So, I think to get at it, I need to rewind even a little bit further before college. Creativity and design has always kind of been in my blood and in my background and part of where I came from in that I come from a family of makers and builders and artists. So for example, my mom is an interior designer and Terman was an interior designer. My grandfather was a home builder. I have aunts who are artists and architects. So growing up, I had a big value in art and design and creativity and as a kid, I wanted to be like my mom and become an interior designer. So, that was something that kind of I carried with me at a low level, I guess I would say. And as a young person, I was also a competitive athlete.
So, I played softball competitively, I played basketball, tennis, and I actually went to school and played Division One softball, Fast Pitch softball at Northwestern University. And so leading up to my undergrad degree, I was very focused in competitive softball. And upon graduating, I felt very passionately about my experience as a collegiate athlete and as an athlete growing up and the opportunity to really impact young people. And so I did go right into coaching when I graduated, because I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do long-term but it was something that I loved. And so it was during that time that I realized, "Well, I don't know that this is my long-term career, but I have always had this draw to design and art and doing something more creative." I had taken fine art painting classes in college, and that was always something that was kind of like a side passion of mine.
Well, for my career, let's look at that more closely. And I had a mentor at the time who I mentioned this to, who mentioned that he knew of a program and I was living in Chicago at the time. And the program was at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology. And this program was really interesting because it was a design school, but it was a design school that really kind of bridged and bridged with social sciences and designing products to solve problems for real people and understand how psychology of why people use different things, and human centered design program basically. And this was all new to me and was super interesting because I had studied communications in undergrad, like you say, and mostly because I felt like it was kind of the most applicable path to any future career.
I didn't know what career I wanted, but I knew that I was really interested in people and how they communicate and how they think. So, it was like this very kind of psychology/interpersonal communication focused degree that did feed well into kind of human centered design and the program that I studied at the Institute of Design. So, I'd say my path into design was one that, like I said, it was kind of always there on a low rumble, this interest in design and an artistic bent coupled with what I studied in undergrad, which was people and how they interact and how they think and wanting to use design and artistic creativity, kind of that lens to help solve problems that exist in the real world for real people in ways that are very applied.
That was super interesting to me. And so when I dove into my experience at an Institute of Design and learned about human centered design and that's where I became more familiar with interaction design. And that was 2005. And so the iPhone had come out yet, but everything was really moving fast in this digital world. And so the opportunity to learn how digital products could solve problems for real people was super interesting to me. And so I felt like I was kind of at the right place at the right time to learn about those opportunities and then to come into the industry right around that time when mobile was taking off.

Chris:
Yeah. I'd like to dive in a little deeper because our audience is usually made up of creative people or people who are thinking about making that jump into a life of creativity. So, I want to spend some more time in there because maybe some part of your story will resonate with them and give them the courage to say like, "Yeah, I think this is for me." So, there's a couple of things I'm thinking about as you're telling that story, as a senior in college, were you thinking about, "What am going to do when I finished school?" Because it's like you majored in something that I still don't fully understand like communication studies. So, I'm doing a course like you can see them, and are you thinking like, "What the heck am going to do? I'm going to pay off my loans. I'm going to support myself." And what were your thoughts like as a senior thinking, "oh man, end of the road is coming here. I got to figure something out?"

Lauren:
I guess I should have been more stressed out, of course, probably. I would say, I mentioned that I played division one softball and my coaches early on in my senior year had said like, "Hey, we really love if you stayed on as a pitching coach when you graduate." And so I was like, "Great, I can put this off in a year or more." And I was so in that competitive world and I felt like I should explore if I like coaching. And that felt like something that was worth exploring, whether that I wanted to do something in that space longer-term. And so for me, I kind of considered that as my first next step, and I'll see where things go from here. when I got into it, I realized I love playing softball.
I love the opportunity to have a positive impact on people's lives, but I don't that I want to be a competitive coach and have this as a career. So that's when I really did that. I guess maybe some of that soul searching that you're describing that you'd expect maybe would have happened in my senior year in college. And that's where I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon the program that I did because it did just match my interests so well. Yeah, I'd say that I had a more moderate level of stress about what I would do. And then like I said, I really feel fortunate that I did research into different design programs and I talked to people that I knew and I felt fortunate that there was a program in the city I lived that I could explore further and that it ended up being such a good fit.

Chris:
It's so hard for me to wrap my head around this because most of the creative people I know, I know I'm playing into stereotypes, are not athletic at all. It's the opposite of that, right? So you're talking about playing on the college level, multiple sports, softball, basketball, tennis, those kinds of things. And then you're good enough that your coach is like, "Hey, why don't you teach this thing too? Why don't you help us coach?" And so I'm still trying to ... What happened? So, I'm just listening to your background and you tell me that there's like two generations of interior designers. First of all, you've probably lived in a fabulous home and you're surrounded by art and architecture. And then one person grows up in that, it's all around you. That would have been a fantasy of mine to be able to grow up in an environment like that, but then does that numb you too? It's like you just take it for granted, like everybody lives in a posh home and everyone's always in the right place.

Lauren:
Well, my mom would be the first to tell you that she's embarrassed of how her house looks relative to her work. But I would still say that it is designed by a designer. So, I think any designer would be self critical that way. But it's a good question. It's something that I've wrestled with I think, because I think I always had interest in art and design, but I didn't feel like I fit in with the super artistic crowd per se. It's something that I think having confidence as a designer was hard initially when I went to grad school, like, "Am I as designerly as you all who are here," but as I got into it, I learned that it is possible to become a designer later in life.

Chris:
You also mentioned a college professor who was a mentor who started to introduce you to this thing. So the question I have for you is, is it this one person who's responsible for you doing what you do today?

Lauren:
Good question. It would be hard for me to say yes, it was all him. Life is funny. The small interactions that you have that lead to of major life decisions are kind of funny to reflect upon. Like I said, I think I was drawn to design. I would have ended up on this exact path had he not suggested this program, maybe not. I'd like to think I would have, that it wasn't all him, that I had something to do with finding my way here as well. But it is interesting when you think about it that way.

Chris:
Yeah, because I often reference, it's a silly movie, but sliding doors with Gwyneth Paltrow where she misses the subway in one timeline-

Lauren:
Exactly.

Chris:
... and she goes back to find out her husband's a scoundrel and then she gets on it and she never discovered that in two different lives. And I just think, not to get too geeky on you, but these multiple paths that splinter into 1,000 different paths and every time you make a decision, the story changes. And I don't believe in fate, but sometimes it feels like there's something that's happening that's bigger than all of us, where I'm reflecting back on my own story when I was in high school. I was working at silk screening shop and my boss at that time told me to go pick up some type setting. This is in the late '80s, early '90s. And I'm like, "What type setting? I don't know what that is." I go meet a graphic designer and then my timeline splits, right?
If I didn't show up to work, if he didn't send me and if that person just gave me the type set and didn't invite me into his studio, I don't think I'd be talking to you today in this capacity. So it's kind of weird how that all works out. So this mentor says to you, "This is other thing," but maybe you're interested in then you go and get your master's degree in human centered communication design. And that leads you down this 13 year career at Motorola, and then now at Waymo, right?

Lauren:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Lauren. Welcome back to our conversation with Lauren Schwendimann.

Chris:
Can you tell us a little bit more about why you believe in the call in product design and what that means?

Lauren:
Yeah, I think that's a great question. I love how you summarize what we're just talking about with just paths to where we all are today and where we could be in the future. I like to think about the call, I guess, in product design, because I think that it's easy to ... What drew me to product design was really this big opportunity to make things better in some way for people and kind of a personal day-to-day level, all the way to huge leaps forward for society. And I think it's easy to lose sight of why we do what we do. And it's not to say that every designer is drawn to design for the same reason. I think that there's lots of different paths or kind of inspiration to come to design.
That was mine is really how can I contribute to some sort of better way, bigger or small, and I think it's easy in the day-to-day work on the next feature, for the product you're working on or the next version of a website or whatever it is that you design for. It's easy to get caught up in how can we increase engagement for this or that, or like make this more discoverable? And it's all to serve a bigger picture of helping people adopt your product, which you think will improve their lives and all of that. I think what I really believe in is the better outcome at the end of the day.
And so how can things be easier for people, less friction, more accessible. The people who use your product, they're not going to sleep at night thinking about your brand or the thing that you designed that they interacted with for a few minutes, they have bigger goals in life. And so to the extent that what you're doing can impact those bigger goals or make their day better, I think that's what I think of is the call, is that outcome and less about awareness of the brand that I'm building for, or time spent using it. It's almost like less design is better in some ways. Anyway, that's kind of what I think about when I think about that question you just asked about the call.

Chris:
How does the designer not lose sight of that, the bigger purpose, the goal, and to avoid the trapping of working on a feature or something else that might be more of an expression of vanity?

Lauren:
Yeah. I mean, when I figure it out, I'll let you know. I think it's not always easy. And it's not bad to get lost in the details. I think as a designer, we kind of need to go there and do that. And so in my mind, it's not always trying to hold that front and center, but it's kind of coming back to it. And when you're in the middle of trying to figure it out the solution to the problem of the day, then let yourself get lost in those details. But then always circle back to the bigger questions like does this support a better overall experience for people? Like is this what they care most about?
And it reminds me of a feature that I worked on when I designed for mobile phones at Motorola. We had this new display technology that was all about letting your phone screen stay on longer during the day without draining the battery, because the phone processor wasn't running, it was just a screen that could render without draining the battery. And how do we use that technology, and there was lots of brainstorming. And at the end of the day, we came back to like how can we use this feature to allow people to use their phone less? What if this feature helps people get a snapshot of their notifications so that they had confidence to kind of keep doing what they're doing without getting lost in their phone and getting sucked into the world of their phone every day? And so I kind of come back to that project as an example of even if you're designing for a mobile phone, maybe what people want is to feel less tied to your phone every day. And maybe that's how we can make their experience better.

Chris:
So, how do you wrestle that? I mean, that sounds like those are conflicting goals where I think device makers wants you to spend more time on it, and then they develop a screen technology that doesn't drain the battery, that's keeping you more tied to your phone. But as you just said, maybe it's better if we're less on our phone. So how do you reconcile that?

Lauren:
Right. I think it comes back to I think recognizing the autonomy of people to really kind of make the decision for themselves what they value. I think it's tempting as a designer to go super prescriptive like, "This is what's better for people, we should make it this way or design it that way." And I think the tension there is, and we should also give people the tools to enable them to really live according to their values. And so I think there is a tension there and in that specific project that I just mentioned, I think at the end of the day, maybe this feature isn't going to like reduce your phone usage by 60% or anything like that, but maybe you have a affinity for this phone because it's keeping you in the know better and I don't feel like I have to do the work to know that I missed an email or my daughter's trying to reach me.
It'll let me know pretty clearly, and I can keep doing what I'm doing and be engaged in reading my book or doing something else. And so I value this phone for that reason. And maybe that will be the font I get the next time, because I feel like this one really lets me kind of embrace the values that I hold. It doesn't mean that we think that you should never use your phone anymore, that that's something that everyone has to embrace, less phone usage, but it does kind of give you a new tool in your toolbox to feel more in control of your time.

Chris:
I see. So, this is about you as your role as the designer to utilize the technology, to create an experience that informs and empowers the end user so they can make the decisions for themselves. It's like, "What's important to me and how do I want to respond?" Some people want to be notified about every little thing or some people want to only be notified about very specific things or not at all. And they can make that choice.

Lauren:
Right.

Chris:
Okay. Wow, okay. That's really cool. And you were just also talking about something that reminded me, I think it's like a Steve Jobs ability to zoom in and zoom out. He could see the bigger picture of where the company is going and then literally fly to Italy to pick out the exact slab of marble that's going to go into an Apple store. And so when you talk this, a lot of designers are in the constant zoomed in position. They're just splitting pixels, if you can, and just staying so focused on what it looks like, or maybe how it feels to them, but they're not stepping back to kind of just get that broader point of view. Are there any things that you do to prompt yourself like step back for a second and zoom out so that you can see what's going on before you zoom back in?

Lauren:
That's a great question. I think it's a really important skill to be able to hold both the big picture and the details. One thing from my experience that's helped me is usually in our design process, there's a problem we want to tackle and so we go off and we kind of break it apart. We go deep in the details, get lost in the details, explore all the different ends of how you could solve that problem. And then at some point you want to loop in other people, maybe you start with people on your immediate team, maybe other designers or researchers, people who are familiar enough with the problem who can give a good perspective. And then maybe from there, you branch out to more people, maybe more cross-functional partners, and then down the line until sometimes you start socializing with leadership or people who have even a broader view.
And I think those moments when you start looping in other people, I think are good reminders to check in on the bigger picture, because when you share something with someone else, you need to think about their perspective and consider your audience. And so I think those are the moments where you want to make what you're sharing or what you're presenting really accessible to them and help them see your point of view. And so you kind of have to zoom out to where they are and start there and take them along for the ride and help them kind of see how you got to where you are in your perspective.
And so I think as you kind of broaden that audience whether it's starting with designer, your kind of coworkers or higher up audiences, then that perspective widens and widens and widens. And so I think that those are good built in checkpoints to kind of step back and say like, "What are they thinking when I start this conversation with them and how can I help them see things from my point of view?" And in so doing, it helps you also check like, "What am I missing?" Like, "I need to be thinking about that bigger picture. Is there a better way to approach this?"

Chris:
I want to take this opportunity to ask you this two-part question because you've spent over 10 years working in the UX space. Right now, you're a lead interaction designer at Waymo. But before that, I think you were the UX design director at Motorola. So, the two-part is this because I think as the world is being eaten by software and it seems like you're kind of in that really amazing space between hardware and software, but UX is not going away and it's more in demand. And then we see large firms buy UX design firms. So that's kind of interesting what's going on there.
So, the first part of the question is what kind of skill sets do you look for in somebody that you might bring on your team? Because it's still fairly mysterious to me and to a lot of people like, "What the heck is UX, and what skills do I need to possess?" Because how does one go from being ... I mean, maybe this is not a great term, but like an athlete or a jock studying communication, and then winds up becoming the lead interaction? That's a strange path to go down to, what skills does somebody have to possess in order to be considered somebody you would think you're a good UX designer? That's part one.

Lauren:
Yeah. Interesting question. I think within the UX design world, the term UX design, I feel like it's always kind of a moving target, what people call the space. I think UX design is a pretty good umbrella term. People are also kind of moving toward a product design name. I won't get too rat hold on the name because I think that's an easy target, but I would say that for anyone who is interested in designing in this space and the types of skillsets that we look for is I think there's a few areas I think. And when I think about the people that I've worked with in the past, either on my team now or who I've worked with in the past, who've been successful, there's a few different kind of skill sets that overlap and everyone kind of has different strengths.
I'd say that one of the skillsets is what more traditionally was referred ... has been referred to as interaction design in the past. And I think about that skill as ... I'd say like 10 years ago or seven years ago, there was this trip, like more traditional role division between interaction designers and visual designers and interaction designers or like art information architects or people who had design wire frames for how something should work and then really focus on the flow and the path of how someone would move through a given process or system or website or app. And it was really about what interactions do they take, what's their path? And then a compliment to that skill set was a more traditional visual designer who could take wire frames and really focus on a high polish, visual design and making it really engaging, compelling, attractive.
Sometimes visual designs also have a great motion skill set, so they could bring in animation and motion. And so those are the two different lenses to think about UX design and more and more, I think it's not the case that those are two separate roles. A lot of people can hold both and some are stronger in one area than another. But I'd say that UX designers really need to first and foremost kind of understand the goals that someone has and really be able to translate those into an overall experience that helps satisfy those goals. And the experience itself is often through a product, through a digital product that includes screens and buttons and all of those things. But I think it skilled UX designers do focus on those goals first and foremost, and then have a skillset that they use to help build a product that can achieve those goals.
And so I think there was a number of different schools that more and more are teaching skills in more traditional interaction design, you want to be familiar with components and patterns that are typical in user interface design, I think that's one small part of it. And there's a number of skills that compliment that. But I think that's at the core of it is understanding how someone needs to move through a given product or space in a way that's usable and satisfies circles and it's user centered.

Chris:
Wow, okay. There's a lot of terms you dropped I'm unfamiliar with.

Lauren:
I'm sorry, that was [inaudible 00:43:50].

Chris:
There's a lot in there. But okay, I'm not going to ... Okay, everybody go to Wikipedia and look up each one of these terms. It's not an efficient use of our time to go through each one of those things. But the second part of the question was this is that years ago when I was still figuring out like, "What the heck is user experience design?" I met with an information architect with a friend of mine who was a web designer developer. And I'm like, "I just want to see what you do." He was literally pulling out binders with seems like 300 pages. And just like, "What is this? You just copy paste something off a dictionary? What is all this?" It's just research. So, the question I get asked often is like, "If you're a UX designer or product designer, what does your portfolio look like? How do you even demonstrate that this is what you do?" You talk about wire frames, flow and path, and probably building user personas, all these other kinds of research related stuff. What does that look like? I mean, how do you even show your portfolio?

Lauren:
Yeah, that's a great question. I think when it comes to say like interviewing for jobs and sharing portfolios, the one thing that I hear from managers consistently that I agree with is that people are much more interested in understanding your process and how you got to an outcome than seeing shiny final design. That is what shows up for the public or the real world. I think those things are great to see the impact of what you designed and let's say like adoption or any metrics that demonstrate the impact of any experience you've had with a product. But I'd say any way to articulate your process and how you solved a given problem is what's really valuable to people who are hiring, because it is the ability to work with other people, with researchers, with engineers, with product managers to navigate different constraints, technical constraints and business objectives and business constraints.
And if your goal is to really design an industry and product design or UX design, then that is really the skill that people are looking for is the ability to navigate those partnerships and to still come out with designs that solve real problems for the businesses customers, and that are customer centric and to be a champion for the people who will use the product at the end of the day. I don't know if I'm fully answering your question because you're saying, what does that look like? But it can look like a whiteboard sketch. It could look like a hand sketch, it could look like a flow diagram. It can look like pictures of a brainstorm or in some ways I think when you're revealing something that's messy, it almost lends to your credibility that you worked through this new messy process and came out. If you have the shiny glossy thing, that's awesome.
But I also think that being able to articulate your process, that isn't a roadway like, "First, we did research, then we defined the solution and then we designed it and then engineering built it." Those are in general, the steps of product development, but they rarely go that way. Sometimes you don't have as much time to do as much research as you want, or this new business decision happened in the middle of it. And you had to shift gears or something, there's always something that makes it kind of hairy. So, I think that the more you can articulate your ability to work through that, the better.

Chris:
Yeah. So, I think reflecting back on that experience many years ago, that interaction or the information architect on the UX designer, pretty much showed me what you're talking about. It looked like somebody's brain and a circuit board and all kinds of ... It wasn't pretty. And it was just some amounts of process documentation. So, you talk about that and maybe your ability to talk about the impact that you've made, how you measure the metrics and how you were able to work within constraints and solve the business problem. So, I have a challenge for you. My challenge for you, Lauren, is if you ever come across a beautiful UX portfolio, will you send me a link to it? Because I'd like to show people this is what it looks like, because anything that I've searched online, it just doesn't make any sense to anybody who's not actively learning and doing this. Right?

Lauren:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
Because if you were to go to ... I went to Art Center. If you were to go to the gallery and there's eight or nine different majors, you could literally see beautiful things that is the byproduct of a whole creative process. I'm waiting for the day when I go to the UX gallery and there's giant binders and sticky notes and crude drawings and it's just like mind mapping, what is this? So, if you come across that will you do me a favor and send that to me?

Lauren:
Definitely. I will, for sure.

Chris:
I'm searching, desperately seeking Chris here. Okay. I just want to be cognizant of time. I want to ask you just one last question. If we rewind the tape and I'm thinking like you're a senior in high school, and you're able to travel back in time, adult Lauren is able to go back and talk to 17 year junior old Lauren, what kind of advice would you give your younger self? And if it makes sense to move that timeline earlier or later, feel free to do that.

Lauren:
Yeah. Great question. I think I would say things work out and be you and pursue your interests. And I think to what I was mentioning earlier, you asked those questions about more classic designers. And when I think of when you picture a designer is all black rimmed glasses, very crisp hair cut, I don't know. And Designer with a capital D and I think early in my design career, I wondered like, "Am I a designer enough?" Because I was this athlete and I didn't come to it until my grad degree. I wasn't a designer in undergrad. And I think it's also something that you learn just through life is that being yourself is really the only option you have, so embrace it. And so I think that that's the first thing that comes to mind is just I wish I was more comfortable in my skin earlier on as a younger person. And so I just want to encourage myself in that way.

Chris:
So, you want to go back, and it's like, "Here's some designer classes, let's switch out the wardrobe here, a little less color and just be moody all the time?" You wouldn't just tell yourself that's how you to fit in with the art kids. No?

Lauren:
No, I think you missed the point, Chris.

Chris:
No, [inaudible 00:51:06]. You're going to say to yourself, "There's going to meet this man. His name is Ryan Paul, trust him, follow him, and everything will work out after that point."

Lauren:
Exactly. Exactly. Did I mention that Ryan was one of my instructors in grad school?

Chris:
No, but I have some background information on you. That's why I know this.

Lauren:
Okay. Yeah, no, it's like one of those things like you were mentioning earlier around the sliding doors reference, it's like I did know that I'd be working with Ryan 15 years later, but here I am.

Chris:
Yeah. So, that seemed like a pretty pivotal moment for meeting him as an instructor, interning with him at Motorola and now reconnecting at Waymo.

Lauren:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, for sure. And I feel so fortunate, again, that for my experience in grad school, but also to have a mentor like Ryan that I've been able to stay in touch with and other mentors in my life, I think it just goes to show that relationships, they transcend companies and kind of moments in time and are really worth investing in because I think that those are the things you lean on as you move through your career in life.

Chris:
Okay. I have one random personal question. How fast can you throw a softball?

Lauren:
My top speed was 66-

Chris:
Wow.

Lauren:
... but I was consistently between 61 and 65, which for fast pitch is pretty fast, but like the olympians will throw it around 70.

Chris:
Oh, wow.

Lauren:
But top competitive pitching is anywhere between 62 and 70 I'd say.

Chris:
Wow. So, you do have a very fast pitch there. Impressive. Well, Lauren, it was a delight talking to you today. Thank you for illuminating this strange and wonderful career path that you've had. And I'm so glad to hear that you're working on the future and I'm looking forward to a place in the space where we actually get to live in that kind of Jetson-imagined future. So, thank you very much.

Lauren:
Thank you. My name is Lauren Schwendimann. You're listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Burrow for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by reading and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts, it'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com, you'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening. And we'll see you next time.

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