2019 was a year of getting a peek into the minds of three strong willed women — Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Tara Westover. Their autobiographies chronicle their distinct life situations and similar life lessons. All three stories inspired me to discover myself. At the same time, they conflicted with my prior beliefs. Having grown up in an eastern collectivist society, the notion of self discovery felt like selfishness. Eventually, I realised self discovery can rather help find the balance between selfishness and selflessness.

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Finding self in the chaotic world

At 27, Michelle gave up her “successful” career as a corporate lawyer to pursue public service.This would be the first of the many swerves she would do in her life. She began her journey of self discovery after being inspired by free spirited people such as Barack Obama. Though both had ended up working at the same law firm, the life choices which got them there were totally opposite. She was there because of sequentially ticking the boxes of the “success” checklist as defined by the society — good grades, top school like Harvard, well paying job of a lawyer. He was there after swerving all his life trying to find himself and his passions. Courtesy of her socio-economic conditions, Michelle wasn’t even aware of this luxury of life. Once she started discovering herself, she realised that it is a non ending process; she will always be “becoming” Michelle. …

Writing is one of the most meaningful activities and possibly the hardest activity I do (learning to use chopsticks comes in a close second ;)). Now, unlike earlier, I write even when my thoughts are vague. Starting with vagueness instead of seeming clarity encourages me to continuously evolve my writing and thoughts. It made me realise that thoughts can never become completely clear; they can only be made less hazy over time.

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Helping hands: goodfreephotos

People often ask why I write. Over the years, my reasons have evolved. From being compelled to write, to the joy of playing with words, to share what moves me. …

Yep, you read it right. I did mean “debate to learn better” rather than “learn to debate better”. Debates, especially the ones that create synergy, are a good way to learn. Let me explain the what, the why and the how.

Growing up, I have devoured stories of Sherlock Holmes. Though most rave the series for Sherlock’s super-human observation and reasoning skills, I have always loved it more for the Holmes-Watson synergy. Watson thinks of himself as just a whetstone for Sherlock— some one who fuelled the genius’s grey cells. I don’t think he gives himself the due credit. Watson, his questions and debates (intentional or not) created that synergy between them. It pushed Sherlock to think better. …

From being a mentee to being a mentor

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Internship season is here again. It reminds me of my experience mentoring a UX intern at VMware last year and also reminds me of my own experience interning at Autodesk three years ago.

Mentoring was a truly humbling and rewarding experience. I wasn’t alone in this journey. I had amazing managers, co-workers, and fellow mentors to whom I could I ask questions, discuss and learn from. In short, while I was mentoring my mentee, my managers were mentoring me on mentorship. (so meta, no alliteration intended!). I often found myself making connections to my own experiences of being a mentee.

So, in case you are mentoring this season and are looking for tips, here are my two cents. …

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Computational Thinking.

Product development teams are getting more interdisciplinary. With that arises the need for better collaboration amongst team members that belong to different disciplines such as designers and developers. For better communication, it would help if the designers, at the very least, could functionally converse about programming.

Surprisingly, there are only a limited number of tools dedicated for teaching programming to designers. Moreover, they have limitations.

My team(Charvi, Smruthi, Clayton) and I explored if there is a better way to teach programming to designers.

This was a mini-project for the Georgia Tech Educational Technologies. As we were pressed for time, we conducted limited primary research (structured interviews with designers) and relied heavily on secondary research (evaluation of existing tools) and learning science theories. …

Being a user researcher was never intentional, but staying as one definitely is.

When I started with Georgia Tech’s Master’s in Human Computer Interaction program, little did I know that this discipline would also teach me life values. Along with technical research and design skills, a UXer needs to inculcate certain values such empathy, patience, mindfulness amongst others in order to do the job well.

To take it a step further, these values can be applied to our lives and could help us become better versions of ourselves.

Empathy and active listening: Human centred design has taught me the importance of active listening and empathy to understand the pain of users. It has taught me the importance of listening intently over talking. More important is to listen for things unsaid. When was the last time when you listened to a friend instead of chatting with them? It helps in becoming more understanding, dealing with people better and improving relationships. …

lessons learned from conducting user research in industry - the ones that cannot be taught in school

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How can infrastructure be better managed, footwear be better designed and career coaching be better provided?

I have explored questions like these at VMware, Autodesk and Women Who Code. These problems have not only improved my user research skills and but have taught me invaluable lessons on empathy, creating impact, maintaining composure, building trust and relationships, making peace with smallest changes and ambiguity, persistence, learning, teaching, storytelling and many more. This article is an attempt to share the lessons learnt and tips that worked. Wherever possible, I’ve given real examples (obfuscating the confidential details).

Every research project is different but they more or less have had the following key phases. The phases aren’t always in this order, and there is usually a constant back and forth between certain phases. The phases are also tuned depending on the type of research project (generative, formative or summative) and the available time and resources. …

This NSF funded project was an attempt by Georgia Tech’s CAT Lab (EduTech lab), University of Georgia(Virtual Experiences Lab) and Atlanta Children’s museum to help solve the STEM pipeline (more Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics jobs, less qualified people) problem in the United States. Our focus was introducing children to STEM areas through informal learning spaces such as museums. I had wonderful advisors and co-researchers — Dr. Betsy DiSalvo, Dr. Carrie Bruce, Kayla DesPortes and Auzita Irani.

I focussed on a part of a larger research effort. I conducted a multi-method study (literature review, observations, interviews) and discovered factors (parent-child conversations, child’s knowledge and varying interest and more) that could potentially help create an awareness of STEM areas through the museum exhibit. …

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Despite the fact that the elderly are going to constitute around 1/5th of the total U.S. population by the year 2040 (U.S. Census Bureau) numbers, not many technology solutions are built for them. My team decided to explore their problems.

To understand their needs and way of life, we conducted observations and interviews with the elderly residents and management team of Campbell Stone Assisted Living Community in Atlanta. We found out that staying fit is one of their crucial needs. However, there was also a reluctance to exercise and a wish for fun and enjoyment. …

Is there a new business opportunity for Amazon Kindle?

Executive summary

Explored new business opportunities for Amazon Kindle by pulling insights from multiple sources (market data, competitor analysis, survey, interview). Identified an opportunity to improve learning experience from academic/technical books by enhancing the discovery (learning path suggestions), purchase (chapter based purchase), and usage phases (self curation of books). This project taught me how to frame and reframe a problem.

Key Details

Team Individual Project
Research Methodologies market research, survey, interviews
Tools Sketch, inVision, Google Survey
Communication Methods Video, Presentation

1. Research Phase 1 : Product and Market

Brand Study

The brand was studied to understand the Amazon Kindle ecosystem including the mission, product line, business model and design language. …


Varsha Jagdale

Searches for wisdom and wit. Researches human behavior. User Researcher @VMware

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