– Hi, I’m Joe Welinske and I’m the program manager for ConveyUX, that’s the annual user experience conference put out in Seattle by BlinkUX, every year, we’re actually going into our eighth year, its, kind of, fun thinking about how long we’ve been doing it but its gonna come up March third, fourth, and fifth of 2020 and we’re looking forward to that. And one of the fun things I get to do is have a little mini-interview with our many speakers that’ll be involved in the conference and, today, I am speaking with Michelle Ngai. Welcome, Michelle, how are you?
– Hi, I’m good, thank you.
– Well, I am in Blink’s Seattle headquarters office, along the waterfront, where are you talking to us from?
– I am currently in Ottawa, Ontario, in Canada, so hello from the north.
– Well, its great to have you in the conference program and we’re looking forward to having you visit us, here. Probably, a good place to start, is to talk a little bit about your background and the types of things that you do for work.
– Sure, so like I said, I’m from Canada, I have always been passionate about design. So, I studied interaction design at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, BC, and then I spent the first 10 years of my career jumping around in the private sector, from being the only designer on a 10 person startup, to being one of 50 designers in a global ad agency. And then, about two years ago, I decided to make a shift in my career, a bit. And try my hand in the public sector. So, I joined the Canadian Digital Servants, so we’re a pretty new organization, we turned two years old just last Summer. And we are somewhat similar to the US Digital Servants and the Government Digital Servants in the UK. Though, our models a little bit different. But our mandate is similar to make services easier for our Government departments to deliver and for our citizens to ask us.
– Yeah, so what are some of the types of things that you’re typically involved in for your work at the Digital Servants? So, we’ll talk about your actual topic, towards the end but, you know, just generally, what types of projects seem to flow in and out of your area?
– Yeah, so, we are an organization that partners with the different departments, so, in my first year, I had the privilege of working with Veteran Affairs, Canada, to create an online tool that helps veterans find benefits for themselves and then, recently, after than project ended, I’ve been working with Employment Social Development, Canada, for people to receive disability benefits, if they can no longer work. So, it’s quite a wide range of things, CDS works with a lot of other departments, as well, so we have, for example, our Royal Canadian Mounted Police, helping people to report cyber crime, another one is working with the Canada Revenue Agency, to help low income families report their taxes.
– Well, it sounds like there’s, I mean, certainly in any Government, there’s gonna be a ton of possible things that could need to be improved, how big is your teams? How are things set up, in terms of research leading into design leading into development? How’s that structured?
– Yeah, so we’ve tried to be quite different to how normal Government departments run, we’re trying to take a more start up, IGL approach to it, so there’s a lot of people within the organization that are from the private sector and there’s about, so we’ve grown to about 70 people, now. And that allows for about four or five product teams, so, the product teams working with the different departments, and yeah, we have a design team, that runs across content design, UX design, service design, and then we have a separate team that helps contact all our research and our testing. And then through to development, as well. So we work in phases, so, we’ll do a discovery phase, that’s mostly research and then we’ll go into Alpha, start prototyping something, through to a Beta, try to get something live out there, to work with and then, by that point, CDS will, generally, step off and then the partnered department with continue working with it.
– Well, I’m sure you’re busy, always, with a lot of their project work, do you have any time to just think about new ways of doing your job? Anything that you’ve been reading or learning about?
– Yeah, definitely, so actually, in between those different phases, we get a bit of time to, kind of, step back and reflect a bit and so, in the last of months, I’ve been really thinking about our industry and excited to see where the role of the designer is going. I think in the last 10, 20 years, its changed a lot and I think that it’ll keep changing, like, we’ve asked for a seat at the table and now we’ve got it, and I think that, now its time to see a lot of the advantages but then, also the ramifications for the things that we’ve designed. So I think designers are now starting to realize, you know, the responsibility that comes with the job and we have to be conscious of what we’re putting out there, thinking of impact and the ethics. And, I think designers are a huge part of this process, so, its gonna be very interesting, we’re gonna have a lot of interesting and necessary conversations, that we, as a community, are gonna be having.
– Well, lets talk a little bit about the session that you’re gonna present when you come to Seattle in March. The title is “Improving Access to Government Services Through Design”, so, what are you gonna be talking about? What can we learn from that?
– Yeah, so, I guess why I thought this topic was going to be interesting for people was that, coming from in the private sector, there was always competition to what I was building. So, there was motivation to make interfaces, you know, more user friendly, or make services more integrated into your life. So, it was easy to access but it’s different in the public sector where, you know, there’s no competition to our services, you know if a Canadian wanted to change their name or apply for citizenship, or receive disability benefits, they can only go through the Canadian Government for that. But, just because there’s no competition, doesn’t mean that Government services can’t also be user friendly or seamless, where it can be. And so, these aren’t competition but seeing what other countries, like the US, the UK, Estonia, New Zealand have been doing to implement a human-centered design approach and modern development practices to their services has been, I think, a bit of a push for Canada to catch up in this area, so, its been very exciting to be a part of the digital transformation that’s been happening and doing that with the Canadian Digital Servants, the last couple of years and–
– And this was part of one of the, so, you are gonna be bringing in some of your experience with one of your projects.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I’ll be going through what our team at CDS did, partnering with Veteran Affairs, Canada, to make an online tool for veterans. And I’ll go through how we enable to use our research within the organization, the importance of the content design and our stability and then how we built this product for veterans, with veterans, along the way.
– Well I think that’s gonna be a really interesting topic in a lot of different ways, so, thanks for taking the time to do this little interview with me and we’ll look forward to seeing you when you make your journey to Seattle, in March.
– Thank you so much, I look forward to it.
– Thanks a lot Michelle, good bye.