What is it like to work in a design group, when you're not a designer?
By Jennifer (Jen) McGinn on Nov 09, 2007
Kim Arrowood has worked in xDesign for over a year managing Sun's usability test labs in the U.S. Before coming to xDesign, she worked at Sun for 6 years in market development engineering as a program manager. Kim is working to improve the visibility of the usability labs in the U.S.
I recently spoke with Kim Arrowood about what it's like to join a design group, when you're not a designer.
Jen: So Kim, tell me a little about what it is that you do.
Kim: I manage our usability test labs. World-wide, we have 9 or 10 labs spread across Prague, Massachusetts, Colorado, and California, but I primarily manage the 3 labs we have in Menlo Park, California. I handle logistics, recruit usability test participants, and help out with technical equipment. I also manage some aspect of operations for our organization, like goals, budgets, and dashboards.
Jen: From your perspective, what's the most challenging or interesting part of coming into a design group?
Kim: The most challenging aspect is the terminology. In my former group, we used the terminology of the customer, but the design group uses both the terminology of the engineering teams as well as terms that are specific to design or usability. For example, I had to learn what it was an interaction designer does and how that is different from the work of a visual designer. And I didn't know what a usability test was until I got to see one, so there was a big learning curve.
One really interesting thing that I learned was how "hands on" design is. I never knew all the work that goes into creating designs before they go to engineering. And I was surprised at how collaborative the design process is. When I worked in engineering, a single person wold work to resolve a single customer problem. But here, there's a very supportive environment -- a lot of teamwork.
Jen: How do you see that manifested?
Kim: Well, when Kristin was working on some designs for the Identity Manager team she took them to the weekly Design Cafe, to get feedback and input on her ideas from other designers in the group. And we have those design cafes weekly, so anyone with an idea or a new mock-up can get feedback from their peers, in a supportive way. But I was surprised, too, at how small the group is, when design is so important to Sun.
Jen: So what is the most interesting part of your job?
Kim: I get to learn a lot more about the products we make; what they are and what they do. I'm reading as much as I can about design and usability testing, but I like to learn about our products by being the participant in our dry runs -- the practice round of a study, when the lab setup and script get tested.
I enjoy participant recruiting, but it's challenging. It's really hard to find good participants; ones that match the test goals for each study.
But the best part of my job is getting involved in the projects, and working on the teams. Everyone works together and communicates -- there are no funny looks and no stupid questions. I really enjoy the collaboration and the teamwork.