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Filtering by Category: Blog

ZocDoc: Persona to Prototype


* I am not affiliated with ZocDoc in any way. I'm just a fan of the work they do. 

Last week, I tested the basic functionality of ZocDoc, and made a few “quick-fix” suggestions. This week, I’m taking a closer look at a specific feature that all of my test subjects struggled with: the ZocDoc search form. All of the users I interviewed last week either labored over or skipped the scrolling lists on the search form. So I suggested a search feature for both lists--particularly for the insurance list. However, I wanted to know if this would actually help users, or if there’s a better way to assist them.

Preliminary Research

I ran a series of micro-tests with users who fit my original persona (young, busy and more or less healthy). I assigned my users one task: find your insurance plan using the current ZocDoc system. Out of seven users, three found their carrier but not their plan, three couldn’t find their carrier or their plan, and only one was able to find both easily.

When trying to find their plans, users took a couple of different routes. Some of them considered which state they got their insurance in; others knew they had a PPO, but weren’t sure which one. Still others had enough information to actually find their plan, but scrolled past it because of naming inconsistencies within the ZocDoc system.

The bottom line? People within my persona often have limited information about their coverage, and a name search feature may not help. I decided to develop a way for them them to narrow their options.

IA and Getting Organized

The ZocDoc search form features over 400 health care providers, each with up to 10 plans. Users can only scroll alphabetically through providers and plans.

My first step involved cleaning up and reorganizing the insurance provider list. I proceeded according to the information that my users had about their insurance:

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  1. All of my users knew the state in which they got their insurance.
  2. Half of my users knew whether they had a PPO, an HMO, a POS, or an EPO.
  3. A couple of my users knew the difference between a managed care plan, a medical discount plan, and medical insurance.

To get the information organized, I needed a little help. I hired Dawn from ODesk to research the states in which each insurance provider is available. Dawn delivered an excel sheet outlining what’s available where--a key piece in my project.

Sketching User Flows and UI

Ultimately, I wanted to allow users leverage what they do know to figure out what they don’t know--the specific name of their plan. I started with the state in which my users’ insurance was issued, with the intention to dive deeper later on.

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I developed two concepts: the first is a series of dynamic dropdowns, including the state issued. The second is a series of filters that narrow in on the insurance plan.

Wireframes & Prototypes

Using Dawn’s data, I created two types of prototypes: a functional (but unsexy) dynamic dropdown (states and providers only--not plans), and a clickable (but limited) wireframe.

Rough Working Prototype (download and view in Excel)

The purpose of this prototype is to test of users have an easier time finding their insurance provider if they can narrow their options by state first.

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Wireframe Prototype (view in browser)

The purpose of this prototype is to give users the actual click-through experience necessitated by this new information architecture.


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1: Home
2: Search New Doc
3: Insurance Not Selected
4: Browse States copy

Testing & Next Steps

I ran a few informal tests with each prototype. I noticed some of things:

  • Users with large insurance providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kaiser were able to find their providers faster when using the Excel prototype (versus ZocDoc’s current system).
  • Users expressed neutrality about the increased number of clicks required by the clickable prototype.
  • Even with the added state filter, users struggled to find their plans.

Based on my findings, I have a clear path going forward. The state filter helped some people; other filters could potentially help the rest. In the next installment, I’ll play around with a new iteration of my prototype, featuring a full array of filters.

Putting ZocDoc To The Test: A Usability Study



The Product

There’s a lot to love about ZocDoc. It takes a system that’s rife with human error, and offers a frictionless, digital alternative.

In general, the ZocDoc mobile app delivers on its promise. However, a handful of user tests reveals a few areas for improvement.

The Process

My goal was to identify usability issues within the primary functions of the ZocDoc mobile app.


I recruited a handful of users in their 20’s (mainly in parks and cafes) to test out various tasks on the mobile app. None of them had used the app before. Tasks included:

  1. Booking an appointment through ZocDoc.
  2. Rescheduling their existing appointment.
  3. Contacting the office prior to an appointment.
  4. Task 3 Alternate: Leaving feedback about a previous visit.*

I gave my users specific medical scenarios that called for each task. That way, they could focus on the app instead of coming up with a backstory.

* The alternate task resulted from switching from using my personal ZocDoc account (which has previous appointment data) to a dummy account with no previous appointments. I made the switch following the first two tests. Since the remaining users easily found the doctor’s contact information, this change did not impact my conclusions.


During and after the interviews, I amassed a collection of pain points, quotes, and user attributes.


My initial notes were stream of consciousness.


I eliminated duplicates and zeroed in on each user’s key problem areas. I sorted these two ways:


Pain points sorted by issue.


Pain points sorted by task.


I’ve listed three key pain points in order of priority:

  1. HIGH INITIAL ASK. (4 out of 5 users)

“Hmmm… I’ll just pay by myself.”

This pain point involves the complex ZocDoc input form. Users must choose from long, non-searchable, multi-level lists of insurance providers, specialists and illnesses. Some users scrolled past their insurance providers, while others waffled over what to call their specific injury.

Recommendation: Make all form lists searchable and ask for injury details later on in the workflow.

2. DECEPTIVE HEADERS. (3 out of 5 users)

“I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to click.”

ZocDoc designates clickable items with flat green buttons. However, confusing CTA’s drew users’ eyes away. Some users attempted to click non-clickable headers based on their labeling.

Recommendations: Replace deceptive CTAs with more accurate word choice.

3. UNAVAILABLE DOCTORS. (3 out of 5 users)

“There are no appointments available… so I’ll have to use the next [doctor].”

For most searches, more than half of the listed doctors were not available on the day requested. Some users did not notice this right away, and invested time in reading their bios and ratings. This lead to disappointment and hasty decision making later on.

Recommendations: Remove unavailable doctors from search results, or use a more noticeable visual marker to indicate that they are not available.


Fortunately, many of the problems above are quick fixes. Users want to search for doctors more easily, find a doctor who is available, and click on the right spot to make an appointment. I took the path of least resistance with my designs:

Design 1: Searchable Lists.






Adding a search bar to the top of long, nested lists cuts down on a first-time user’s initial investment.


Design 2: Renaming Headers.






Renaming the active “Book Appointment” to the more passive “Available Appointments” makes it clear that it is a header and not a CTA button.

Design 3: Changing Text Color.






Red text attracts the eye, immediately letting users know that if they want this doctor, they will have to wait for an appointment. I suspect ZocDoc has a user-driven reason for including unavailable doctors in the results list, so I’ve left them in.

Next Steps

This usability test was based on a specific persona: the busy, young, metropolitan person who has not used ZocDoc before. As an avid ZocDoc user, I’m also curious about those who use the app regularly — what their needs are, and if they are being fully met.

Note: I do not work for or represent ZocDoc, and the above is an unsolicited usability study. I study Product Design under Zac Halbert and Kate Rutter @Tradecraft.

*Cross-posted on Medium.

Things I Like and Love List [TILLL]


Wanting to work in tech is like wanting to live in Texas. It's a big place. So I'm getting a little bit closer to my street address. Here's my TILLL:

1) Companies you admire.

List 5-10 of them and WHY you admire them. Be specific.

  1. Pinterest. Pinterest brought mood boards and image curation to the mainstream. I admire the scrappy early days of the company, the continuous release of features, and the way the product enables users to take personal projects into their own hands.
  2. AirBnB. In my experience, using AirBnB is an absolute pleasure. With the right timing and right execution, the company built a trustworthy brand that achieved what other companies have been trying to do for ten years.
  3. FitBit. Personally, I don't use FitBit--but damn, do I respect the company. Like AirBnB, FitBit is poised on the crest of a wave of wearables. FitBit harnesses people's desire to grow, improve, and measure their success.
  4. DropBox. Here's another player that come out on top in the midst of a market brawl. Dropbox succeeded based on execution and clever referral marketing. By adopting standard file practices, DropBox reduces friction.
  5. Twitter. I love the future-gazing vision behind Twitter. It's still manifesting itself. It's also a great example of a really good, easy to execute idea that took off.

2) Digital products you use a lot

  1. Facebook. I use Facebook to keep tabs on everyone I know, find out about people I don't know, and share articles. It's the standard, and the only place where I can find everyone at once. Mobile, laptop. 
  2. Instagram. I open Instagram every day, and take a couple of pictures a week. I use it to follow fashion designers, editors, and bloggers to get ideas for what to wear. Mobile.
  3. Mint. Mint gives me a complete view of my finances, and I check it every day. It allows me to keep track of small expenses and card charges that I might otherwise forget. Now, if only it could stop me from spending money... Mobile.
  4. Gmail. I rely on Gmail for a huge chunk of my daily communication. While I could use another provider, none have the power of Google's network effect. Mobile, laptop. 
  5. Netflix. I'm a bit of a TV junkie. I love cartoons, 90's sitcoms, and new shows. I use Netflix to stream them all to my TV at home. Mobile, smartTV.
  6. Trello. I use Trello every day for task management. I chose Trello more for what it doesn't let me do: fall down the rabbit hole of customization. Mobile, laptop.  

    3) Digital products you admire or like (whether or not you use them a lot) List 5-7 of them and what they do for you that you can't do without them. Note the name, the company that makes it and the platform(s) you use it on.

  1. Feedly. I just started using Feedly to read Angellist and Crunchbase. Like Trello, it helps me stay focused and on task by offering fewer distractions that other content curation apps. Mobile, laptop.
  2. ZocDoc. I go to the doctor more than most, but still that's only about once a month. The ZocDoc experience is great across the board--from booking to customer service. I love being able to book an appointment when I think of it, even if that's after hours or during a movie. Mobile.
  3. Twitter. I can't wait to love Twitter. When I first made my account, I followed my friends. Bored, I ditched the app. However, there's no doubt that Twitter is a powerful tool. I'm excited to use it to stay up to date on the industry and reach out to potential mentors. Mobile.
  4. Slack. Slack completely transformed the workflow at my last job, and allowed our remote team to successfully collaborate on a series of large projects. Since I was acting project manager, it made my life easier in a way that no other PM program did. Mobile, laptop. 
  5. IFTTT: I read about this, downloaded it, and forgot about it. "If This Then That" is a really cool app that allows you to "program" automated processes on your phone. For example, if I add an article to my bookmarks, then Twitter will automatically send off a corresponding Tweet. Mobile. 

4) Topics or ideas you're really interested in.

I get super excited about "power to the people" products that allow users to bypass the middleman. I love bringing order to chaos and making processes simpler.

  • Healthcare (personal health, quantified self,
  • IoT (quantified self, manufacturing & logistics)
  • Business Analytics
  • Politics and Campaigning
  • Innovations in Digital Entertainment
  • Targeted Marketing Tools
  • Government/Social/Environmental Innovation
  • Knowledge Management


The Human Element: Day Two at Tradecraft


I can have a hard time communicating. I think it's what draws me to writing: I can try on words until my thoughts unmuddle themselves. In daily conversation, it's a struggle. My desire to be prepared and get things right gets in the way of my receptivity. I get nervous. I tend to make things all about moi. Being a navel-gazer, I know all this stuff already--but what do I do about it?

Fortunately, Tradecraft is designed especially for me.

Okay, not really. But that how it feels. Here personal and professional development isn't a side dish: it's an entire course.

Last week, I jotted down some of my favorite excerpts from the TIARA networking framework. Today, TC13 talked about networking and development strategies in depth. Today, Career Dev expert Brett Hunter covered overarching truisms about human relationships, as well as some brass tacks methods. Here's what I learned:

It's not all about you. Guess what? Most people are afraid of rejection. Consequently, they struggle to network effectively. Do a little work at it, and you'll be better than most.

Specificity is vital. Networking is like hitch-hiking. There's no guarantee that it will take you where you want to go, but it's best to have an address in mind.

Build consultative relationships. Connect over shared passions and genuine interest--not your desire to have your contact's job title.

Don't obsess about your goals. But make some, and be ready to explain why you chose them. This will allow you to cast a broad networking net.

Do a research project. Compile your contacts' perspectives into an ebook or blog series. It shows initiative and is a great excuse to interview people.

Make others look good. Ask a small favor, then get to work. Show gratitude and initiative. Ask your contact open-ended questions where he or she will shine.

Fine tune talking points. A coffee invite is amorphous. A discussion of a certain industry trend is much more appealing.

Tailor your approach. Here's the time to be different things to different people. Tell your contacts your story in language they'll understand.

Reciprocate. You've got something to offer too. Identify what relationships, skills, attention, or information may make your contact's life easier, and avail yourself.

Start now. The faster you start, the faster you fail, the better you get. Start with the people who you think could be most helpful--the goal is to build an ongoing rapport.

Now, I'm going to take my own advice and start finding my people.



Reading: 50 Pounds of Clay


Or: getting it perfect on the first try, and other impossibilities. Tradecraft gives us lots of cool things to read. This blog about effort and perfectionism is probably one of my favorites. It even quotes Anne Lamott, who, in my opinion, has got writing and living down.

Here’s the gist: There’s a story from Art and Fear about a teacher who grades one half of his class on the quantity of the work produced, and one half on its quality. At the end of the semester, the highest caliber work came from the quantity students, not the quality students.

Quantity over quality yields quality… every single time. Mistakes aren’t just “no big deal”—they are the necessary steps toward success.

I love this distinction. Too often, supervisors and teachers extract apologies for or “forgive” draft-quality work. Too often, failures are taken personally—viewed as an affront or lack of effort. And too often we are expected to “grow out of” mistake-making as we gain mastery of a discipline.

Here’s the thing. Once the mistakes stop, the learning stops. So punishing yourself or others for mistakes, transforming them into something undesirable, promoting a culture of perfection—all of this halts growth.

Placing perfection over effort early on can be a fatal blow. Children who are taught to value the speed and ease of their “natural talent” are less likely to take on more difficult challenges. Children who are taught to value learning as a process are more willing to try problems outside of their comfort zone. Guess which group enjoys long-term success?

In yourself and others, reward effort, quantity, and persistence. Speed and quality will eventually follow—although never perfection. After all, “sucking at something is the first step in being really good at something!”

Reading: The Restaurant and the Kitchen


The restaurant versus the kitchen is a potent education metaphor. The restaurant (or the U.S. education system) is a safe bet. It offers those in charge—and those who attend—control and consistency. By serving up a set menu, the restaurant assumes that permanent slots within society exist, and that we can tailor our young people to fill them. A place for every person, and every person in her place.

The kitchen is something else. It’s fluid; it makes growth possible for both the individual and the entire community. In exchange for predictability, the kitchen offers unfettered potential. The ones cooking are also the ones eating: they can cook off menu and eat when and what they want, with explosive results. There are lower lows and higher highs in the test kitchen than in any five-star restaurant.

Like the author of this blog, I spent a lot of time in schools that are restaurants. In the beginning, I failed classes for not following the rules. That didn’t feel so good, so I mastered a few recipes for success. I occasionally went off menu—sometimes by choice, and sometimes because of a forward-thinking professor. But for the most part, I got really good at following instructions, even if those instructions were to think for myself.

In the Medium article, the author notes his own progression from restaurant-style to kitchen-style: “I’ve grown to understand that instead of trying to adjust my career path to fit a set degree or attempting to gain mastery in a subject based on the curriculum outlined in a syllabus, it’s essential to start with the simple question: what do I want to learn?”

This is a vital question, and I’ve come to it at my own speed. In high school and college, I learned first, asked questions later. I invested effort to succeed in areas I later discovered were not for me. Even after college, I valued outside recognition over personal satisfaction. I didn’t always trust my instincts. However, these experiences brought me to where I am today. I tend to think nothing is wasted.

So, what do I want to learn? What would I like to whip up in Tradecraft’s test kitchen? Here’s a list of skills I want to develop or sharpen:

  • How to lead and work with others effectively.
  • How to be successful without an outside barometer for success.
  • How to recognize opportunities (and issues) that fall outside of tradition.
  • How to envision, develop, and test custom solutions to the above.
  • How to use traditional learning as a springboard for further growth.
  • How to learn from mentors experiences without over identifying.
  • How to listen for the unexpected.
  • How to fail gracefully, pick up the pieces, and salvage a lesson.
  • How to communicate clearly to a broad audience.
  • How to recognize what tools are right for the job.
  • How to get others excited about the things that excite me.
  • How to exercise creative ownership of an idea.

For all of the above, Tradecraft will hopefully be the ultimate training ground. I expect a practice arena; there’s less at stake (no one wins, no one gets fired), but the game is very real.

Reading: The Responsible Party


Ray Dalio says in Principles, "...the inevitable responsible party is the person who bears the consequences of what is done." On his blog, Sebastian Marshall refines with an example: “If you’re sick, you might choose to delegate the responsibility of figuring out what do to about it to a doctor. However, it is your responsibility to pick the right doctor because you will bear the consequences of that decision.”

Marshall’s comments brought up some thoughts and questions for me.

First, the personal. I learned early on that I was responsible for my own academic success and physical wellbeing. Parents could be misguided. Teachers could be misinformed. Doctors don’t have all the answers. As a high-achieving kid with Crohn’s disease, I learned to be resourceful. If my doctor wasn’t listening, I’d ask for someone else. If my schoolbooks weren’t cutting it, I’d find new ones.

But when it comes to relationships and specific goals, things are different. I develop codependences; I worry about what others are thinking. I’ve tried to shoulder the others’ responsibilities, often at my own expense, so that I can avoid my own. In the past, I’ve sought out successful people and made myself indispensible to them. As an achiever who thrives on praise, I can become overinvested in others’ lives and underinvested in my own.

So, reading Marshall’s post got me thinking:

  • What does it mean to “bear the consequences”? For instance, if an employee makes a serious error and is fired for it, does he bear the consequences, or does the business?
  • Is it possible to be fully or partially responsible for something that belongs to someone else—or to another person? Are we only responsible for ourselves and our own ideas?
  • Is professional responsibility different from personal responsibility? In the world of startups, where’s the line?
  • What happens when there are multiple sets of consequences for different players? Who bears the brunt?
  • Are any responsibilities truly shared? How about parenthood? Co-founding?
  • Is it possible to shoulder the responsibilities of others, and say, “I’ll take it from here”? (Spoiler: I don’t think so).
  • As a follow-up, is there something inherently unwise about attempting to take on the responsibilities of others? If so, what?
  • How does investment play into responsibility? How about the idea of “owing” a person or organization?
  • How does one walk the line, keeping their side of the street clean while involving themselves in projects with others?

In the context of Tradecraft, this article acts as a friendly warning. It says to me: don’t confuse the Tradecraft mission, or a mentor’s mission, with my own personal beliefs. Make goals, and keep them in sight. Take pleasure in praise, but do not seek it as an end. Develop my own methods for measuring personal and professional success.

As an achiever (my StengthsFinder score says so), I’ll need to be vigilant. I am motivated by praise, grades, recognition. However, I’m drawn to work where official accolades don’t yet exist. In these spaces, an ideal student does not always make a great leader. My parents, teachers, employers, and mentors have a stake in my future as a leader, sure—but only I can make the leap.

The TIARA Framework: Quotes from "The 2-Hour Job Search"


Early on, I developed a distaste for what I thought was networking. I loathed reciting my pitch and selling my product (or myself). I thought networking meant rote memorization, making deals, and sucking up. It all seemed exhausting and unpleasant.

Luckily for me, I was misinformed. Instead of a means to a selfish end, networking is a mutually beneficial way of approaching professional relationships.

The more I read about successful networking techniques, the easier and more pleasurable the process becomes. Here are some takeaways from Steve Dalton's TIARA Framework, outlined in his book, "The 2-Hour Job Search."

The Informational Interview

The TIARA framework is a suggested protocol for what Dalton calls "informational interviews" or "informationals." “The purpose of the informational interview is to both form a rapport and gain usable information” (165).

“The TIARA Framework… breaks the informational interview into three distinct phases: (1) small talk, (2) questions and answers, and (3) next steps” (165).

The framework is rooted in the Ben Franklin Effect, which suggests that "Allowing someone to do you a favor is an incredibly powerful way to gain her loyalty”(167).

“In an informational interview, you are asking someone for a small favor of time and information. By not returning this favor immediately (as Ben Franklin pointedly refrained from doing), you increase the amount your contact likes you, as well as the likelihood he will help you again in the future!” (167).

1. Good Small Talk

  • Take a genuine interest in the other person.
  • Give the person a chance to talk about whatever he or she wants to talk about—especially initially.
  • “Follow the energy.” If your contact becomes more energetic in response to a questions, stay with it for a follow-up question or two. If not, just move on to the next one.
  • Mirror the topics and demeanor of your contact. If they are casual, be casual, too. If they talk about hobbies, mention your own.

For instance:

  • How is your day going so far? (opportunity to assess demeanor, demonstrate listening)
  • What projects are you working on right now? (opportunity to gauge passion, demonstrate interest in the type of work)
  • Can you tell me about your background and how you can to work for your employer? (opportunity to assess demeanor, demonstrate personal/professional interest)

“Whether it’s bonding over rescue dogs, being raised in a large family, or the Chicago Cubs’ awful odds of winning the World Series yet again this year, follow the energy (170).

“This algorithm for small talk is not foolproof, but it gives those of us to whom small talk does not come naturally a structure for systematically attempting to break the ice and establish rapport!” (170).

2. Questions and Answers

This section is where the TIARA Framework gets its name. TIARA stands for:

  • Trends
  • Insights
  • Advice
  • Resources
  • Assignments

“Knowing what questions to ask and the preferred order will dramatically improve your ability to turn informationals into job interviews. Furthermore, knowing you know that information will greatly reduce your anxiety about this step of the process” (171).

The order avoids abruptness and presumption: “In short, the job-seeker’s request is too abrupt. He’s made only a cursory attempt to get to know you, so you in turn are likely to make only a cursory attempt to help him” (173).

“Just as you wouldn’t trust someone offering to buy your car sight unseen, you certainly wouldn’t trust a job seeker who asks for your advice without kicking your tires first!” (174).

“Your contact, if treated properly, may offer you assistance without helping you find a job, but that is her prerogative and shouldn’t be requested (at least not in this conversation, anyway)” (174).

“The ideal questions for TIARA are ones that allow the contact to talk about whatever he wants to talk about. These are open-ended questions that engage the contact creatively, and they’re generic enough to be durable over multiple conversations" (174).

2.A. Trends

  • What trends are impacting your business right now?

“It’s much more fun as an interview subject to discuss what trends you think are most impacting your business than it is to describe the corporate culture. People enjoy talking about themselves more than they enjoy talking about their employers” (176).

2.B. Insights

  • What surprises you most about your job/your employer?
  • What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on the job?
  • What’s been your most valuable experience at your employer so far, and why?
  • If you had to attribute your success at your employer to one skill or trait, what would it be? Follow-up: Is that trait shared by many across the firm, or is it unique and you’ve adapted it to your advantage?

“Insight questions are very similar to Trend questions, but they start to become slightly more personal, rather than strictly business-related. We want the contact to gradually become more comfortable disclosing personal information to us, and that starts with getting him to share his personal feelings” (177).

“These answers [to Insight questions] are also useful during future interviews, both informationals and job interviews…the ability to source information is incredibly powerful for establishing credibility” (178).

2.C. Advice

  • What can I be doing right now to prepare myself for a career in this field?
  • If I got hired, what should I be sure to do within the first 30 days to ensure I get off to the fastest start possible?
  • What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were my age or in my position?
  • If you were me, what would you be doing right now to maximize your chance of breaking into this industry or function?

“Mentors take a long-term interest in the welfare of their mentees, whereas experts may feel their work is ‘done’ once they’ve imparted their wisdom to you. The onus is on the job seeker to convert the expert into a mentor, because advocates’ benefits are not usually imparted immediately” (180).

“In this part of the conversation, we are actively trying to get our contacts to put themselves in our shoes, convincing them to give us not just vague advice for what we should do next, but the actual steps they would take if they were in our position right now (180).

“The biggest mistake job seekers make in the informational interview process is thinking that the conversation is about themselves, when it is really about the contact" (180).

“The ideal outcome of an informational is that your contact begins to view your job search success (or lack thereof) as a reflection of her own ability to give good guidance and/or be a good mentor” (180).

2.D. Resources

  • What resources should I be sure to look into next?
  • What next steps would you recommend for someone in my situation?

“Resource questions are designed to elicit where your contacts go when they need or want information about their industry, function, or business. These can be people, places, or things” (182).

“Regardless of how long Trends, Insights, and Advice questions occupy your informational interview, it is essential that you make it to the pivot question [Resources question] before the conversation ends. This question is what allows you to determine how to wrap up the conversation” (182).

If that resource is a person, you've hit the jackpot. Your contact is likely a booster, more willing to help you than the average contact. When a referral is offered, commit and schedule follow-up. “Boosters will usually be willing to do more for you than you yourself would ask, so it is better to defer to their expertise for how to proceed if Wendy [their contact] is unavailable, rather than ask them for a specific action—like to check in with her on your behalf” (185).

“Boosters may want to offer you a contact but feel similarly protective of their network, given that they’ve known these people far longer than they’ve known you. If your contact doesn’t offer you a referral contact immediately, don’t ask for one—this gives you a second chance to ask for one later” (187).

“So what do I do in the ‘non-jackpot scenario,’ when my interview asks me specifically what kind of resources I’m looking for? You deflect the conversation toward nonhuman resources” like websites, books, or magazines. (186).

2.E. Assignments

  • What project(s) have you done that you felt added the most value?
  • Have any projects increased in popularity recently at your organization?
  • Have you had interns or contractors in the past? If so, what sort of projects have they done?

“The answers you get will help you build your mental toolbox of the types of projects that are increasingly in demand and importance at your targeted employers” (189).

“It’s much easier to critique someone else’s ideas than it is to create them from scratch, so relieve your potential employer of that burden by instead suggesting roles for yourself and engaging the employer in why or why not such a role may be feasible. This increases their likelihood of coming up with alternative, which are far easier to brainstorm than entirely new ideas” (189).

 3. Next Steps

If you don’t get the contact you are looking for, make a small, low-risk request for more of their time.

That is how you get Obligates who agree to give you an informational interview to help you. You leverage their fear of awkwardness and bad manners to get them to make a tiny initial commitment, even if they don’t really want to. Once they do that, they have further obligated themselves to be available in the future if you decide this is something you want to pursue” (193).

 “Go into every informational interview assuming it’s going to be a two-part informational—with follow-up required to get a useful contact. If you ask for a contact during an initial informational and fail to get one, you’ve hit a dead end with that contact—it’s awful to lose a Booster simply because you put the person on the spot” (194).

Always thank them for their time and insights and send a follow-up note.

Forces to Reckon With: Girl Geeks Meet Salesforce


IMG_2880 Originally posted on the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners blog

Last Wednesday night, Salesforce brought a little star power to the Girl Geek Dinners—presenting demos, dropping knowledge, and getting the crowd going with an original song.

It’s no secret that we’re big Salesforce fans. Sukrutha Bhadouria, our Managing Director, is a Quality Engineer on the Salesforce1 Platform team, and the Cloud Computing wunderkind is our recurring and gracious host.

This year, Girl Geeks nibbled on Hawaiian barbeque, mingled in the Salesforce café, and compared notes on lightning talks by some very talented women. The talks focused on the how and why of successful Salesforce products and processes, yielding insight and inspiration.

“Drinking Our Own Champagne,” and Other Trust-Builders

VP of Engineering for Search Cathy Polinsky kicked off the lightning talks, exploring how Salesforce improves with the help of—well—Salesforce.

The Salesforce platform can be used to manage virtually anything, with the right amount of tweaking. Salesforce teams rely on the company’s own product to track bugs, manage development, develop SCRUM apps and more. The platform provides big-picture perspective, so that deadlines are met and performance improves.

By “drinking its own champagne,” Salesforce improves internal performance and fosters customer confidence. Maintaining an API-first system, Salesforce writes tests and automations for every line of code. “Our customers are trusting their sensitive corporate data and contacts to us,” says Cathy. “Security is our priority, right from the get-go.”

When it comes to addressing issues, Salesforce is forthright. “We like to over-communicate, and do root cause analysis to formulate a plan,” Cathy says.

Serving Up Customer Needs: Wave, the Salesforce Analytics Cloud

Next up, a demo from Qingqing Liu, Salesforce Software Architect. Qingqing led with the user research driving the creation of Wave. As businesspeople, “our users don’t know about data mining—they just want their data when they need it, without hiring million-dollar consultants,” says Qingqing.

Salesforce set out to design a valuable experience prioritizing speed, mobility, and customization. The team focused on fine-tuning the right features, as well as overall ease and pleasure of use. They turned to the user to help iterate and reiterate the design, creating a clean and customizable application. Want to see for yourself? Download an unlicensed version to your phone to play around with a set of sample data.

Why Functional Prototypes Are Rad: Salesforce Lightning App Builder

According to Salesforce Senior Accessibility Specialist Cordelia Dillon, functional prototypes are more than rad. They are also very important to the design process.

On the spectrum of napkin-sketch to full-fledged program, a functional prototype trends to the right, somewhere past clickable linear prototype. Some projects don’t require functional prototypes; however, for customizable products, only a functional prototype will do.

Take the Salesforce Lightning App Builder, for example. The application allows users to build pages by dragging and dropping components. “We don’t know what users are going to do with the app,” says Cordelia. “So a clickable linear prototype doesn’t quite work.” By simulating the finished program, the functional prototype allowed for stronger user feedback. It also can serve as interaction specs for developers, simplifying complex written ideas into visuals.

Done well, functional prototypes can serve as demos, too. “Salesforce actually demoed the Lightning App Builder prototype at Dreamforce,” says Cordelia.

Bringing Down The House

The final act of the evening, Anjali Ashok put the “performance” in Performance Engineer with a couple of original songs about work and the joys of coffee. Check out more of her vocal stylings here.

Reading: Lessons from The Elements of User Experience


IMG_2922 "Designing products with the user experience as an explicit outcome means looking beyond the functional or the aesthetic."

"The user experience design process is all about ensuring that no aspect of the user's experience with your product happens without your conscious, explicit intent." 

Tradecraft 13 starts up March 2nd. For those of us in the UX track, Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience will be a staple in our diet. That's why I'm revisiting it now.

The book defines the five elements, or planes, of the user experience design process. Garrett emphasizes a strong, methodical process combined with a clearly delineated, user-focused strategy.

The book is rich, and difficult to summarize. Instead, here are three takeaways that have stuck with me in the months after my first read:

1. Strategy First. 

"The more clearly we can articulate exactly what we want, and exactly what others want from us, the more precisely we can adjust our choices to meet these goals." 

I once worked with a couple of guys building a mobile app. The idea was to match up roommates and act as a rent escrow service. Logically, the concept worked--but did people really need it? And what would bring users back?

Startup culture prioritizes leanness and speed--and in the process, may sacrifice clear vision. However, a sound strategy sets the stage for long-term success. According to Garrett, developing strategy means considering two vital questions: "What do we want to get out of this product?" and "What do our users want to get out of it?" By defining values and desired outcomes, you give your team a vision to rally around.

Building a strong strategy also means determining if your problem is real or imagined, pressing or benign, practical or inconvenient. This requires rigorous honesty--and it may mean killing some of your most darling ideas. However, it will benefit you in the long run.

As for the roommate matching app, it never took off. Despite investing months into the project, the founders refused to look critically at their concept. Unable to raise funding, they moved on.

2. Iterate and Reiterate.

"Requiring work on each plane to finish before work on the next can start leads to unsatisfactory results for you and your users... a better approach is to have work on each plane finish before work on the next can finish."

Each stage in the UX design process impacts the options you have in the next one. Your entire product hinges on the correct execution of each successive stage--so there's no time to play it fast and loose.

According to Garrett, you don't have to finish each plane before you start the next. But, you should absolutely finish each one before finishing the next. To do otherwise is to compromise your guiding strategy.

By building flexibility into the design process, you can keep desired outcomes in sight at each stage while remaining open to modifications--within reason.

3. You Can't Be All Things. 

"We can't meet both sets of user needs with a single solution. Our options at this point are to focus on one user segment to the exclusion of the other, or two provide two separate for users to approach the same task." 

Early on, you're going to have to focus on who you want to help--to the exclusion of everyone else. Trying to be all things to all people is a greater risk than choosing a narrow segment--do so, and you're likely to spread yourself too thin and flop.

Choosing your target segment will relate to the problem that you are attempting to solve. Consider the problem: is it too broad? Are you offering multiple solutions? If so, how will these solutions be presented? How will you manage different user needs and perspectives? Time and again, return to user research for insight. "Creating user segments is just a means to the end of uncovering user needs. You really only need as many different segments as you have different sets of user needs."

Stay tuned for a second look at The Elements of User Experience. 

Tradecraft Happy Hour: Whitney Bouck


I attended a Tradecraft happy hour last week. It was my first time at Tradecraft since getting accepted, and a preliminary toe in the pool. I met some great people, got some tips from veteran UX-trackers, and thoroughly enjoyed the programming. The event launched with a conversation with Whitney Bouck, former VP of Documentum and present-day GM of Enterprise and SVP of Global Marketing at Box.

First Whitney led us through Documentum's growth, leveraging the model developed in Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" (Moore uses Documentum as an example throughout the text). Then, she offered insights into Box, which deviates from the model.

Documentum targeted a valuable headpin from the get-go: pharmaceutical companies. Then, with the right marketing and early adopters in place, the company brought several other core industries into the fold.

In contrast, Box started out with organic growth. Four college students, the founders of Box created the product for their own use. It wasn't until Box saw moderate success that leadership asked itself, "how can we focus?" By marketing to a few core industries and partnering with big names within those categories, Box developed its vertical depth without changing its product.

When the floor opened up, so did the conversation. Whitney addressed everything from marketing to sales to hiring the right people. Here's what I got:


  • Finding the right early adopters is essential to mainstream success. Have a target market, but be flexible. Then, find forward thinkers in that market.
  • When identifying key markets, consider: "Who will want to adopt our product the most?," "Who will be willing to pay the most?" and "Where are we most likely to leverage new use cases?"
  • Once you've identified and wooed your targets ("headpins"), foster a domino/bowling pin effect with your secondary markets.
  • Make a product that you and your customers will love. "When your customers love your product, they want to talk about it... with their peers, their coworkers, and on their social networks."
  • If your product isn't remarkable, make your customer service remarkable instead.


  • Leverage your partnerships as much as possible. "Take what you can get--but you gotta ask."
  • The growth cycle is a lot shorter today, and creating a minimum viable product takes less time and fewer resources.
  • Time management is a choice. Pick the most strategic things for you to do in a week and then make sure you spend some time on them every day.
  • Good communication is essential, no matter what role you are filling. The flat communication structure of early stage companies requires clarity and speed.

I'm looking forward to the next Tradecraft happy hour!

New Blogger in the Houzz: On Passion, Process and Being a Girl Geek Blogger


I blogged for my first Girl Geek Dinner on January 15th at Houzz headquarters. I took the train to Palo Alto at around five; when I got there, I realized I didn't have the address on me. Luckily, it only took a few minutes walking down University Ave to find the glowing Houzz HQ. Upstairs, the event was in full swing. Engineers, designers, product managers and more mingled; I melted into the crowd, taking notes and snapping photos. The Houzz office is stunning and playful. Riffs on common home design projects abound, including a children's bedroom and an indoor deck. I studied the details, nibbling on crab cakes and crudite, and made some small-talk. In a room full of the bay's top tech talent, I couldn't help but feel a bit self-conscious. Was I asking the right questions? Did I belong there?

Houzz founders and married couple Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen began talking, and my imposter syndrome melted away. The room buzzed with their passion for their product, its users, and its employees. There was something inexplicably authentic about the duo; it felt as though they were completely relaxed and in sync.

Stories of the early days of Houzz inspired me most. Working late nights and weekends, Adi and Alon bootstrapped Houzz for that first year. Building on their own time and budget without investors, the couple built Houzz for themselves and their friends. The fledgling product was rough, and it worked--Houzz's smooth user interface, bells and whistles and sophisticated design came later.

I felt humbled. There I was worrying about how I looked, when I had a shining opportunity to do work I love. It was yet another reminder: don't let ego win. If and when ego rears its ugly head, return to the work. The good stuff lies in the process: everything else is just a bonus. It's like Amy Pohler's "pudding switch" in Yes, Please: when you start to want prestige, worry over it, thirst for it, then it's time to throw yourself into something you love.

Adi and Alon put process over prestige. They didn't do everything possible to make their idea succeed. They didn't fundraise or hire big-name consultants. They didn't make their product pretty. Instead, they tested a raw idea under the harshest conditions--and it thrived. That's something to aspire to.

Designing Magnetic Experiences With Houzz: From Interiors To Applications


IMG_2787 Originally posted on the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners blog.

Pop quiz: can you name four countries that Houzz launched in this year? How about the remodeling giant’s unofficial mascot?**

We were thrilled to have Houzz host the 81st Girl Geek Dinner at its Palo Alto headquarters. On Wednesday January 14th, over 100 women in tech and beyond connected over fine fare, drinks, and nuggets of wisdom from Houzz’s dynamic co-founders.

The “How” of Houzz

For homeowners and professionals, Houzz simplifies the renovation experience—and infuses it with sheer delight. With over 25 million unique viewers a month, 200,000 5-star average reviews, 600,000 active professional users, and 197 countries represented, Houzz delivers a streamlined, habit-forming solution to home improvement.

Throughout its expansion, Houzz has maintained its user-oriented philosophy and lean structure. Business partners and married couple Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen conjured the experience for us in vivid detail: that first year of bootstrapping, finding an all-star team, and how Houzz reconciles its founding values with its whirlwind growth.

Building a User-Oriented Product

True facilitators, Adi and Alon envisioned Houzz as the solution to their own home renovation woes. In 2009, the couple bought a home, launching upon what they thought would be an exciting adventure in design. Instead, they endured years of headaches, blunders, and unsatisfactory floor plans. Thus, Houzz was born, and soon consumed Adi and Alon’s evenings and weekends.

The duo introduced their fledging product to their friends and local community, gathering feedback along the way. By calling on early Houzz users to share their renovation experiences, Adi and Alon gained further insight into the challenges that designers, architects, and homeowners face.

Houzz continues to rely on user feedback to drive growth. The company performs testing regularly, releasing modifications to a select set of users and analyzing the resulting data. “We try to follow what’s best for our users,” says Alon. “That way, we create a product that people are excited to use. 

Fostering A Robust Company Culture

At Houzz, culture is vital: but it’s not all catered lunches, birthday parties, and getaways. “We do those things too,” says Adi. “But culture is more than perks. It’s what you do all day.”

In addition to the user experience, the employee experience is paramount at Houzz. Leadership puts its resources into building a supportive environment: nurturing the right talent, and empowering employees to discover their skills. A diverse group (with a 50/50 gender split, almost unprecedented in Silicon Valley), Houzz employees enjoy a voice within their community.

To inspire employee engagement, Adi and Alon prioritize leanness: “There’s not a lot of management or red tape at Houzz. We don’t tell people what to do… we let them do it themselves,” says Alon. By hiring entrepreneurial individuals driven to build great products, Adi and Alon sustain their founding principles: hard work, integrity, and innovation.

At the end of the day, Adi and Alon put users’ remodeling problems first. When it comes to building a successful company, Adi suggests this: “Create something your users need and love. Once you deliver, you can focus on the [monetization techniques] that will positively impact both users and advertisers.”

We tend to agree. Thanks for hosting us, Houzz!

**UK, Australia, France, Germany, and rubber ducks.