Research, Requirements, Experience: Insert Kevin
Kevin Seelaus – UX Researcher
How did you end up with a career in UX Research?
I’ve always been interested in understanding how people think, and how a person’s unique perspectives and experiences can shape their perception of the world. I see user experience (UX) as a natural extension of this fascination, although it took me a while to get to this field.
In college, I studied psychology and neuroscience and then I worked for several years in academic research labs studying schizophrenia and brain development. Looking to move to a more fast-paced and creatively oriented direction, last year I completed a Masters of Human-Computer Interaction.
This helped apply my foundational scientific knowledge to the world of technology, design, business, and computer science. The program culminated in a fulfilling Capstone project, where I worked with a small team to redesign an app and create a roadmap for a nonprofit that provides training and support to Veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress and other mental illnesses. This was my first real-world experience seeing how thoughtful user research and design have the potential to make a meaningful impact.
My role as a UX researcher at Chemistry feels like an exciting culmination of these influences.
What do you think is the most important part of user experience?
To me the most important part of UX is a genuine regard for the users. Our job is to advocate for the people who are actually going to use a given technology, and to keep in mind that they are nuanced and flawed human beings coming from diverse backgrounds and experience levels.
A lot of UX work, especially in a consulting environment, involves packaging things as complex as human behavior or dynamics of an organization, into specific and actionable recommendations.
This is necessary to get anything done, but I think it’s an important balance to avoid over-synthesizing and losing touch with actual human experiences as you move toward a solution.
How do you keep yourself updated in the face of an evolving digital landscape?
I think it helps that I’m relatively new to evaluating and designing digital experiences at a professional level. I still consider myself a student, and I hope to keep that mentality for many years. I try to keep an open mind and to read and listen to what others in UX, and the world in general, are doing. Pittsburgh also has a small but thriving UX scene, so I’m also trying to go to talks and meetups to stay in touch with other local researchers and designers.
What’s your favorite part (so far) about being in this role at Chemistry?
Learning the nuances of the different clients and projects Chemistry works with has been very cool. Even though on a surface level most of the work I’m doing is redesigns of websites or apps, that can mean so many different things depending on the project phase and context. No two days have been exactly the same.
That, plus there’s tons of free snacks and candy always lying around.
What do you think are the most exciting tools for information gathering?
Personally, I get most excited to do in-person interviews and usability testing. A lot of our projects are too fast-paced and require remote testing to get quick feedback, but there’s a lot you can learn from people’s reactions that can’t be captured in recorded or remote sessions.
It’s hard to anticipate how people might react to a certain question or prototype, so there’s value to being able to ask people to clarify or explain right in the moment. It’s the most direct way to get past superficial behavior and to really understand the reason why certain design decisions might be better than others.
What’s been the most fascinating part of your field?
I think it’s really interesting to work as part of a multidisciplinary team. This is partially the nature of UX work, but it’s especially true at a relatively small company like Chemistry. I get to frequently be in meetings with designers, developers, writers, strategists, and client stakeholders from any number of roles. Hearing these different perspectives helps me to think in different ways. I see my role as being there to represent the end users, who will be most affected by the decisions we make, but who don’t actually get to join the conversation.
Where do you eat? What do you drink? Are their digital touchpoints awesome?
One of my favorite spots (to both eat and drink) is East End Brewery. They’re kind of in the middle of nowhere in a repurposed warehouse, but it’s a great beer garden/gastropub atmosphere. They also just opened a fantastic restaurant in the same space.
I recently discovered that they’ve made a very clever digital experience: there’s a QR code in the center of all of the outdoor picnic tables, and also on the growlers that they sell (I refill mine pretty regularly), which link straight to a page with a live-updated tap list that’s also displayed next to the bar.
This makes for a cool alternative to having a bunch of draft menus lying around and is a convenient touchpoint for patrons and servers alike.