– Hi, I’m Joe Welinske and I’m the program manager for ConveyUX. We’re going into our eighth conference. We’ve been doing it for coming up on eight years now. It’ll be March third, fourth and fifth. It’s Seattle’s annual User Experience Event. We hope you’ll be able to participate in that. To help you learn a little bit about what we’re doing, I’d like to be able to have conversation with our many presenters for the conference. Today, I am speaking with Maia Ottenstein. Hello Maia, how are you?
– Hi Joe, I’m good, how are you?
– It’s all right. It’s nice, sunny, a little bit crisp day in Seattle. Where are you talking to us from?
– I’m in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
– Well, it’s great to have you as part of the program. It’ll also be nice to have Philadelphia representation here at our event. We like to bring a lot of interesting personalities to the Pacific Northwest. Start with talking a little bit about your background and the types of things that you’re involved in for work.
– I originally studied product design. I kicked off my career doing design research for a social enterprise in Mumbai. From there, I went into more UI design for a couple years, for tech companies. I always wanted to do something that made me feel like I was giving back a little bit more and contributing more to society, so when I found the DICE Group at Jefferson, it was really a perfect match because I’m really passionate about healthcare. Now, I am the Manager of Design Research and Process Design in the DICE Group at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. It’s really cool. My group creates innovative solutions for healthcare that improves the experiences of our patients, our healthcare workers and even our students at the university. I manage a team of five researchers. It’s really fun because I get to hook into their projects a little bit as well as work on my own things.
– What are some of the types of things that typically go on for you and your researchers?
– Oh boy. It can be anything. Our solutions, because we create solutions for different parts of the enterprise all over, we can, within the same day be in the OR, in a patient’s room and huddled in a bean bag chair behind our desk writing up a report. It really takes us all over the place in the hospital and the university, it’s wonderful.
– That sounds like a really interesting laboratory to be using your skills. We’re gonna talk about your session topic in a minute. Is there anything fun and exciting going on? Any new things that you’ve been working on?
– A new thing that I’m working on, I just started teaching design thinking for product design at Drexel University, which is my alma mater. I’m really excited to be back there and working with students. I love the give and take in a classroom and really understanding how your words and experience can contribute to other people’s lives.
– Just going back for a minute to the types of things that you do at work, that was at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. How is the idea of a product or product design articulated within a healthcare situation like that?
– It’s really exciting. A lot of hospitals are coming up with these new kind of innovation hubs. But a lot of them are focused on the digital side and by digital, a lot of them focus on mobile applications and websites. DICE takes a unique approach where we’re not just creating apps and websites. We’re creating whatever solution makes the most sense. One of our solutions was a slip of paper that we would put in with the SAT lab so that the lab knew where the labs were coming from and would be able to process it quicker. A solution for us has also been a voice assistant. We created the world’s first HIPAA-compliant voice assistant. We have an XR lab that’s creating AR/VR solutions for healthcare. Our solutions can really look like anything so long as they’re the most appropriate solution for the environment and the context.
– It sort of ties in a little bit to the thoughts around your topic. It’s entitled “R-O-L-E with the Flow: Do What You Want”. Talk a little bit about your topic and what people can expect to hear from you.
– I love this topic. I see designers as having so much potential. We’re such creative people and I see the design process as being something that lends itself to solving any kind of problem. When you’re a designer, you have a lot of power and a lot of potential to solve a huge variety of problems in a huge variety of contexts through a huge variety of media. But a lot of us kind of get stuck in the mindset of whatever we’re currently doing and we’re afraid to think beyond it or put ourselves in situations that go outside of that. I learned that from, I’m very involved in the design community in Philadelphia. I’m an organizer for a local Meetup called Research Rewind. And I hear that kind of stuff all the time, where people are really hesitant to take on a new role if it’s a different title from what they’re currently doing or if it involves using a kind of media that they’re not used to or if it’s in a context that they’re not used to. And so, I wanted to give a talk that encourages people to think outside the bounds and not be limited by the mindset that they may have been taught to have.
– Do you have any thoughts, just thinking about that area right now, any thoughts related to whether this is something that is, we end up boxed in by typical job descriptions that are used in job opportunities or. What really drives that, is it the job market or is it just something about how we individually think about our offerings to the world?
– That’s a great question. I think it’s both because you train yourself to think of yourself in one way. I am a product designer, so I make products and if someone wants me to be a UX designer, well, maybe I think that’s too narrow or maybe I think it’s too broad and I’m not really sure what that means or I’m a UX designer and to me UX is only applications and websites and web apps and that’s all that is. But if I were to go to Facebook, frequently they refer to their product designers as people who do the same role. I think that there is this huge discrepancy in design where we’re calling the same people different things and we’re calling different people the same thing and we just don’t have any consistency in our language and our titling. And despite that inconsistency, we still find a way to trap ourselves in these roles. It’s really funny in the kind of mind games that we play with ourselves and that these roles play with us.
– Thinking about yourself, your own career, your own thoughts about how you might expand your own career, how does that manifest itself in your own self identity with respect to your professional interests?
– I don’t know if I’m a great example of this because, I guess when I was first looking for jobs, I was really confused by the whole job market and I didn’t really understand because there were a lot of user experience designer positions out there, research wasn’t much of a thing yet, so I couldn’t really find researcher positions. And then a lot of the UX design positions needed people who could code and it was all very confusing. It was like speaking a different language. But I personally was always looking more at the job descriptions than the role titles themselves because I quickly realized that none of the roles made sense to me. I would look at the job descriptions more but even then it was intimidating especially when I first went from research to interface design, I was like, “I’ve studied graphic design, I’ve studied product design, “I understand aesthetics but I don’t know if I’m ready for that.” My boss at the time was like, “I’ve seen your work “and I know what you can do, so stop that and just come and do work, it’s fine, you’ll be fine”. But there was a lot of self-doubt involved and I think that that happens a lot with designers. I think it comes hand-in-hand with a creative job.
– I think that scenario definitely is one that is gonna spark a lot of good discussions among people at the event. So, we’re glad to have you in the program. Good luck with your course at Drexel and we’ll see you on your visit to Seattle in March.
– I can’t wait!
– Thanks a lot, Maia, bye bye.
– Thank you, Joe.