Ellen Beldner is a San Francisco based UX designer. She is currently the Head of Design and UX at Stitch Fix where she leads both the product management and UX teams. She has a broad range of experience planning and launching software for consumers, prosumers / business professionals, & expert-use systems. Over her career, Ellen has contributed to user experience for companies such as Groupon, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google.
We talked to Ellen about UX challenges, staying relevant, and being a women in tech.
One of my biggest areas of focus as a design leader is creating adequate space for great UX work to get launched. One of our principles at Google was “launched is better than perfect”, meaning that it’s better to get a solution out into the world than to keep polishing until it’s reached some state of design perfection.
It’s also profoundly frustrating for designers to do awesome design work only to have an engineering team selectively implement pieces of it (which can destroy a thoughtful experience) or to have someone in product dismiss the work outright.
- Get out in front of the roadmap. Scope the UX and planning work so it can be done in advance of when Engineering would like to start. Don’t get sucked into the Agile sprint cycle when you’re trying to plan a roadmap or epics. Sprint cycles are for production design.
- UX owns the plans for its own projects; we’re the best equipped to tell other teams what it’ll take for us to do a good job. What research questions do we have? What’s the right research plan to answer them? When will we test divergent concepts? (Does this project even need rigorous divergent concept testing?) And so forth.
- Partner with business and engineering throughout the process. If engineering doesn’t want to build a thing it’s better that you hear it early on and create a design that doesn’t rely on it. At the point when wireframes are done, engineering and business should have been brought along and the design should reflect the cumulative decision-making of the team.
I stay connected with usability research, advances in human cognition and psychology, and technology. I also read a lot of primatology and history, especially social history. I don’t spend a lot of time doing competitive research – it overly constrains creativity and you have no idea whether the other company is actually testing or measuring how well that design works. You always want to return to first principles to be able to critically dissect what makes a particular design effective for its users and its context and then understand whether those conditions apply to your project as well.
Much of the really practical, interesting UX work – i.e. how things actually perform in the field – is proprietary and not published by the corporations doing the research. I’ve learned so much at Stitch Fix from our AB testing results and work from our Data Science team!
There are two key categories of challenges that women face. The first is explicit harassment and abuse. I handle that by reporting it to HR and calling it out. I don’t work for companies that are known to have an abusive culture. I’m fortunate to have mostly avoided this type of experience.
The second is implicit bias against women as leaders, women as founders, and women as engineers. Statistically, I have suffered from this but the nature of implicit bias means that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint how it has affected me. (I wrote about implicit bias a couple of years ago during the #YesAllWomen trend).
I’m lucky that the overwhelming majority of my colleagues have been very aware of implicit bias; especially at Stitch Fix, for example, we explicitly talk about common issues like interruptions and speaking time. Stitch Fix has so many amazing women leaders and executives – if you have a problem with women in authority you’re probably not going to work there in the first place.
Still to come, Q+A with judge Gail Anderson. We caught up with Allan Espiritu here.