My Journey to MS HCI/d @ Indiana University of Bloomington

Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

Photo by Julia Zhu

Many events in my life have guided me to IUB HCI/d. As a designer with advertising background, I like utilizing creative design to pursue customers. For me, design should be reasonable. This belief guided me to the second prize in the 4th National College Advertising and Design Competition in China and influenced me to pursue the intrinsic value behind designs. In my third year of college at North China University of Technology, I was selected as the only student in the department to study abroad in America, where I transferred my major to New Media Arts and started to focus more on the design aspect.

Things were not easy when I had moved away from home. During that time, the Internet connected my family and I. One day, a photo that I got through WeChat showing my grandpa using a magnifying glass to read on his iPhone inspired my curiosity about older users’ accessibility with mobile products. Through this photo, I noticed my grandpa’s huge interest in mobile products and started to consider why he needed to read on his device in such a way, which I believe is beyond every designer’s expectation. Therefore, I brought this concern into my honors project and further explored it by designing a mobile app — Slogan, a guessing slogans game app, which aims to provide accessible UI solutions to better help older users using mobile products.

At the beginning, I applied advertising strategies that I learned from my undergrad program to define product identity and user characteristics. I regarded my grandpa, a 72-year-old person who has age-related low-vision conditions, as one of the primary users, studying his using habits toward several popular mobile apps. However, as I went into it, I learned a new area — User Experience — which challenged most of my assumptions. One example is when I assumed that the elderly would accept the material design, and planned to apply flat design into all interfaces. However, after I carefully analyzed their physical conditions such as short-term memory and cognitive disabilities, and interviewed some older users with material design products, I found skeuomorphism, in some cases, is more acceptable for older users in regards to simplifying the familiarization process in improving user engagement. This observation guided me to eye-pleasing and problem-solving UI solutions including highly contrasting color combinations, readable typography, and recognizable icons. Due to my dedication, I was able to come up with a creative idea to assist people like my grandpa in this tech-savvy world.

This project enlightened my enthusiasm of user experience design. Through these observations and iteration processes, I learned how to reach an older market in the digital world, how to enhance products’ value by improving its usability, and how to place myself in a user’s perspective comprehensively and objectively. More importantly, I started to realize the real value of design is empathy. Therefore, with such passion, I learned related courses online such as UX introduction, Wireframe, Prototype building; talked with UX professionals; and accepted a Web Designer job after I graduated, where I have engaged myself in projects that merge visual design, technology, and users to develop my understanding of putting people first.

In the real world, I not only consider users, but also my co-workers. I always show my respect to whom I work closely with, and try to speak their language to better collaboration. In the real web redesign project for AgencyMatrix LLC, deciding whether to remain both Request Demo and Watch Demo buttons triggered a debate between the sales manager and I. The sales manager suggested removing the Watch Demo button to force customers to click the Request Demo, which would lead them to the consuming process directly. However, by considering potential customers’ mental model, I noticed new users would prefer to get information before decision-making. To make this observation more convincingly, I created two pages — one of which contains two buttons while another contains one — to test among real users. The results were obvious that the clicking rate of the page containing one button is way too less than the other’s. Due to my persistence in observing, I was appreciated by my team and finally helped the company achieve positive customer feedbacks and 18% increasing leads during the second quarter.

This experience built my confidence in this new industry, and further stimulated my fiery desire for a more professional and structural knowledge about User Experience. I know it is the time for an in-depth study that I am always passionate about.

In my study towards a master’s degree, I am looking for a place where I can get professional UX knowledge and enhance my design skills. I believe IU HCI/d is the place. I would love to bring in my multidisciplinary background in Advertising, Design, and User Experience, to this department and probe into the theme of strategic design. I am quite interested in finding the interactions between the knowledge of these three domains during my master study. For example, how to apply the empathetic method from User Experience to better understand the marketing and to better promote a product through eye-catching multimedia platforms. I will also bring my experience with the older users from Slogan project, lay down a specialization on usability study and continue my thirst to make products more accessible that sufficiently inclusive of a diverse set of users. More importantly, I am also eager to cultivate myself into the project-based courses studying with different practitioners and professors to get a cross boundary problem solving capability of design leadership, which I believe could benefit me in my future career under any situation and any context. With these thoughts in mind, I believe IU HCI/d fits my study interests and career goal and will broaden my knowledge and ability in both breadth and depth.

I am glad that I found my belief in the power of design. I am looking forward to joining the HCI/d community and making my dreams come true while catering to the public’s growing needs.

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