We first met Amelia Schmidt when she was speaking at a UX event on ‘Why everyone should be a Designer.’ She is a UX Engineer at Clover and co-founder of Estimate Work, General Assembly instructor, speaker and urban gardening enthusiast who writes blogs in her spare time. Her career has spanned a weird and wonderful mix of writing, engineering, editing and research.
She shares her tips with us on how applying design thinking (even when you’re not a designer!) can help you solve problems in your life; from avoiding workplace burnout to finding a job that suits you.
What exactly is a UX engineer?
It’s obviously a made up term [laughs]. I don’t know what the best label is for the work that I do. I sit across a multitude of different disciplines from writing to front end coding, user experience design, research, strategy and even product management. This year I’ve been doing most of my work in usability testing, research and design thinking as well as working with business owners and CEOs on strategic work.
I write blog posts in my spare time, and want to do more personal writing. I come from a publishing background and found my way into UX from working at a digital agency where I was helping run their office. One day management said to me, “You need to fix this CSS – we’re all too busy and it’s urgent!” and that’s how I first learnt how to code – by Googling it. You can learn pretty much anything through Google! Googling was pretty much mandatory before asking for help there.
From a publishing background, what helped you get your start in UX?
From the point where I learned CSS, I was encouraged to learn more and more. At my next role, a colleague of mine had just taken a Product Management course at General Assembly where he came into contact with UX as a discipline. He suggested that rather than be a front-end engineer who was tweaking the designs, I just take on the responsibility of design myself, so I started doing an evening UX course there and felt more confident with my skills. I asked the business (where I was a front-end engineer) to have a more UX focus on my job.
I’m not good at doing tasks without understanding why I am doing them, and UX is really good for that – you get an understanding of why we should build something, and ask if it’s even the right thing to build in the first place. This kind of design thinking can help you gain perspective on almost all elements of your life. I think it’s so important to always ask why and never just do something blindly.
If I’m not a UX practitioner, how can I UX my life (for the better)? How can I problem solve my issues through design thinking?
The Four Agreements has four pillars that I try to live by:
– Be impeccable with your word (Speak with integrity and never gossip)
– Don’t take anything personally (Nothing anyone does is only because of you)
– Don’t make assumptions
– Always do your best
It’s a weird reference but the similarities to design thinking are pretty striking! I find the middle two pillars of resonate the most. They’re fundamentals of user experience and design thinking that anyone can start doing today. Be it in the workplace or your personal life, one of the biggest things we can do is immerse yourself in the problem and focus less on your own feelings and needs.
How could this work with a task like trying to find a job or deciding whether to move into a new role?
In Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book Designing Your Life, they talk about how if you can switch paradigms, it can suddenly make the solution seem simple and clear. Go out and start talking to people and find out what it is that they’ve found working for them. Get another human being’s perspective. Take the situation and look at it through a different lens and a solution will become obvious to you.
If you’re having issues with someone in the workplace or find yourself in a rut, try and change your lens. Take your feelings and needs out of the problem and put yourself in their shoes, which will help you look at the issue and possible solution in a new way. You can start simply by taking the person who is bothering you out for a coffee and asking them about their experience – do a user interview. By building that empathy you are already getting out of your head and into theirs, which can help you reframe and maybe see a solution that you couldn’t see before.
Which design/UX process in particular can you use when something doesn’t work?
The two credos that I live by are: “do something” and “stay weird” – and be unafraid of being weird! That’s what innovation is. Weird is about shaking up the status quo. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Normal is boring. Weird is interesting. Innovation rarely comes from normal.
In design, we actually try and get things wrong so we can narrow down the possible solutions. I’ve got a friend who is a comedian who tries all his jokes (even the ones he thinks are terrible) on audiences many times to find out if even the bad ones will work. He applies design thinking by going through an iteration cycle on jokes, which is how people become great comedians – they iterate in the same way we do design. They’re not just born funny. Everything can be designed, even comedy!
At Iceberg, we work with some of the most innovative agencies and it’s no secret that agency burnout is a very real thing that still happens today. How can Talents stop overworking by using design thinking and process?
At one end, burnout can be from too much context switching in your daily activities. With agency work, switching across clients and different activities can sap your mental energy. The other end of the spectrum of burnout is your motivation and goals. When you’re doing work for a client, you’re expected to work towards their goal yet you also have your own company goals as well.
In the design process, you can’t design anything if you don’t know the objective you’re working towards (especially if the company goals are unclear). If you’re working at an agency, you have to ask “What does it mean to do successful work?” Is it winning awards? Is it getting your invoices paid? Is it making people’s lives better? Is it making your clients give you more work? These things seem like no-brainers but if your idea of success and your company’s idea of success are different, you’ll just be eternally drained. Plus – if you have set measures of success that you can celebrate, fulfilment will come a lot easier and burnout less so.
For me, burnout is almost always mitigated by actually getting face time with users. Agencies can also utilise design thinking and try to get closer to their actual users. If you can get closer to the people whose lives you’re actually improving, that will help you bring yourself back from the ledge and gain perspective on the work you are doing.
Feature photograph by Chantel Jade.