Transcript of Interview With Elizabeth Churchill

Interview With Elizabeth Churchill

This interview features Elizabeth Churchill, senior director of UX at Google.


– Hello, I’m Joe Welinske and I’m the conference director for ConveyUX. And our 12th annual event is coming up in Seattle and also online the last three days of February. And one of the fun things I get to do is talk to the many speakers who will be presenting at the conference. And right now I’m chatting with Elizabeth Churchill. Hello, Elizabeth. How are you today?

– I’m doing very well, Joe. Thank you. How are you doing? Yeah,

– It’s good. It’s a fairly pleasant day in Bellingham, Washington, which is just north of blinks Seattle headquarters. So where are you talking to us from today?

– I’m in San Francisco and interestingly, way back when, when I lived in the uk, I lived in Northumberland and there was a place called Bellingham, but we would say at Bellingham just near where I was spending time, and we used to go camping there. So Bellingham and Bellingham, we already have that in common.

– Well, I’m guessing my Bellingham is named after Bellingham, so, but I’ll, I’ll have to look that up, but usually it works out that way. Well, it’s good to be able to have this chance to talk with you a little bit. And probably the best place to start is if you could talk a little bit about your background and something about the nature of your work.

– Absolutely. Happy to. So I’m currently a senior director at Google where my focus is on UX use experience. I like to say not user experience because it’s more about the use than the user really, isn’t it? And I have been focusing since arriving at Google on designer and developer tooling. And so, you know, what are the design requirements for the best possible designer and developer experience? And the reason that I have focused on that is because I believe that if we give the producers, the creators the best tools, then they will imbue human-centered design into the tools and technologies and services and platforms that consumers use. So, you know, go to where the production is and then imbue that human-centered value into everything that people use. So as I say, I’ve been at Google nine and a bit years and working in that area before that I worked at eBay and looking at buyers and sellers and exchange platforms before that, at Yahoo, working on consumer experiences and always thinking about how we can innovate and prototype new experiences as well as really iterating to make better experiences for the platforms and services and products that exist. So my, my career has always been thinking about that big human centered picture. My background before that was human computer interaction and human factors. And I’ve always connected into the academic realm to think about what the next generation is of deeply trained, human centered, you know, experts and practitioners and scholars for thinking about how technology fits into our lives.

– Well, I know you’re interested involved in, in just what even makes up user experience and how that’s defined and, and what we as practitioners, how we define ourselves. And that leads into some of the thoughts that you’ve been having about developing the topic for the conference. So maybe share a little bit about your thinking, the, the types of things that we might expect to hear from you in Seattle.

– Absolutely. Well, I think the environment, the milieu within which we do our work as people who care about the human-centered design of technologies, platforms, products and services, long-term value, sustainable engagement, all of the things that we care about, the mil within which we sit and we work is very important. So the things I think about are what are the tools that we use both for production of experiences, you know, the building of an app, the building of a service, the service design model, but also the evaluation. How do we, once something is launched, how do we evaluate what to improve for whom and how and in what timeframe? So the entire sort of design process from initiation through needs finding to prototyping to product innovation, to implementation potentially at scale, to looking at the product or platform that is established. How do we understand where we’re getting it right and for whom and where we’re not and where we want to invest. So for all of us, that whole design cycle that I’m sure everybody is familiar with, we need to understand where we sit in that design cycle. Are we just part of one piece of it, or are we doing end to end as we might do in smaller groups, wherever we’re sitting. The things I think about is how do we enable the voices to be heard? Very, that was a long description, but if you are a person whose label is UX because it’s, you know, it’s just a particular job title. But if you are a person who comes in and cares about really human-centric positive experiences, how do you get to have your voice heard? Whether you are doing the need finding or the prototype evaluating or the mature model that is out there, AV testing, how do you get your voice heard? How do you get the data you need to make a persuasive argument with examples that can actually mean that we have long-term high value, sustainable experiences for people.

– Well, and the, the elements that you just mentioned would then seem to also fit into ideas about career development and skills development within user experience. And do you have any thoughts about some ways that you think practitioners can move forward in their skills?

– I think being curious and always learning. I mean we, our field is dynamic and constantly moving and you know, that’s both in terms of the particular products that we’re working on, but also, you know, innovations around methodology. So a lot of the user testing methods and the services are getting better and better. So being abreast of what those are and what questions you can answer with whom and where you can have the right kind of reliable data, that’s huge. So staying on top of what the services are that are available to us for needs, finding innovation, prototyping and evaluation, that is absolutely critical. Being plugged into a community where you can learn together, like the conference will offer absolutely critical. And then of course, you know, understanding what innovations there are in the technology space is critical. So, you know, you and I were just chatting about ai, you know, AI is just a broad term under which there are a lot of tools and techniques. It’s highly fetishized as a term right now, but the reality is we should all be going and playing with these things and trying them out and understanding not just how they will transform the end user, the everyday person’s experience, but also how they will transform our practice. So, you know, it’s very, very easy to just pop into something like chat G PD t or name your large language language model of preference and start to just play and say, all right, I’m asking questions. And those questions could be framed like we’re generating a persona and then we have a look at the data and the output and we evaluate that. So, you know, in terms of skilled development and career development, I’d say your career will take care of itself if you feed your curiosity and follow through and learn and understand where new technologies are are changing, you know, people’s everyday experiences, but also our tooling for the work that we do and being excited about those changes as well as cautious, you know, sort of optimistically cautious about the impact or everyday people I career careers take care of themselves when your cur curiosity and your passion is allowed to thrive.

– You mentioned AI and I, I know that you have a very robust background in that area of artificial intelligence. You briefly alluded to it earlier, it certainly must seem a little odd with kind of the mainstream things that have come out about AI over the past year or so. Do you have any just thoughts from, you know, kind of your background and deep experience into that as to, you know, maybe what we should pay attention to or, or, or not to as, as we move forward?

– I’m just thinking, having, having a curious mind because when the press talks about ai, whether it’s about AI will solve the world or AI will destroy the word world, these are hyperbolic statements and everybody now says with ai, with ai, with ai. And so, you know, there is a fetishizing of this term and a promoting of it and it’s a lot as much about brand promotion as anything else. So what I would say is that we have been living with AI in the small for a very long time. You know, techniques like collaborative filtering, we’re sort of adjacent to what, you know, many AI techniques are. And we have been dealing with personalization and content presentation based on personal data for a long time. Computer vision, you know, a lot of the techniques that computer vision uses, you know, sort of one could say they were AI techniques. A lot of what you find on your phone where you’re doing amazing, you know, photo editing where you know, people disappear and reappear and you can, you know, make everything look good and whatever you, you can, you know, erase things you don’t want so far, one could argue that those are AI sort of techniques. These are smart techniques, you know, autofill in, in email, those micro supports. These are sort of like AI techniques. Now, what’s different about the current world of AI is these giant language models where masses and masses and masses of data is being summarized in order to generate hence generative ai to generate new statements, new ways of expressing and summarizing information. So the large scale data that can be preceded into something digestible based on a language query, natural language seeming query, we know the scale we have scaled up. So there’s definitely something new. But the important thing is to understand that these things can all be critiqued. They’re not always right and they’re not useless. So the human creative skill of understanding that these are tools to be used and critiqued and understood in terms of, you know, where they’re useful and where they’re not useful or where they’re harmful is our work. So, you know, the new world of AI is an invitation to look under the hood to understand what is what, what are the data sets, what is the cost of production, what is the cost and the benefit of really drilling into what is produced to understand what value it has and what is missing as well as what is present. So I think it’s a really exciting time. You know, I, again, I invite everybody to go and play with some of the image making stuff. Some of the large language models for prompt engineering is a big thing. Querying understanding what the product is that comes back the produce, you know, of a query. I invite everybody to spend time really playing with these things. And you know, there’s a lot of anxiety around job loss. I think there will be job transformation for sure, just like there was job transformation when we got the first desktop computer in an office. Change the nature of work. Some of these innovations will change the nature of work work and it’s up to us to really dive in and understand how those work processes will change. And you know, we’re for the better and we’re not for the better. So it’s a real exciting time of opportunity.

– Well, Elizabeth, thank you so much for your insights on AI and also your thoughts about UX and a little bit of a preview of your talk. And we’ll look forward to seeing you in Seattle in a couple of months.

– I look forward to it very much and I hope everybody who’s listening to this comes along with some stories, you know, excitements and surprises and shocks and stories of how they tried out some of these tools and really kind of engaged little. And I just, I’m co-editor of a magazine, which I think you know, and we’re just about to publish. I’m a very nice piece, which is around using chat GPT to transform human-centered design processes from, you know, persona creation and investigation through to understanding large data that has been gathered with users. So maybe I’ll get to chat to folks a little bit about some of that work that we’re bringing to publication.

– I’m sure this will foster some great discussions at the event. So thank you again.

– Thank you, thank you so much and happy holidays to you.

– You too, Bye-Bye

– Bye-Bye.