UXRTO Conference Preview #7: In conversation with Andréa Crofts
“Research always speaks louder than the loudest person in the room”
On top of being a passionate product designer with a passion for research and accessibility, Andréa Crofts lists “drawing expletives in elegant hand lettering” on her portfolio and is an organizer of Hexagon UX, whose first event contains both a Drake and Rihanna reference. In short, she’s a badass.
We sat down with Andréa for an awesome conversation on research, design, and building a more inclusive design community in Toronto ahead of her talk at #UXRConf. (Speaking of which, got your tickets yet?)
To start off, can you share a bit about your career journey and how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always loved the craft and practice of design, but an even more consistent theme in my life has been an affinity for making people feel things.
I’ve always loved creating things that allow people to experience emotions, share their stories, and create meaningful experiences; whether that was through a website, art piece or a digital product.
In University, I studied Fashion Communication. My Undergraduate thesis project had nothing to do with fashion, and everything to do with researching the raw humanity of everyday life. I interviewed and photographed over 100 Torontonians on the street by asking them about their lives; their hopes, fears, and everything in between. This project sparked a deep love for documenting people’s perspectives; especially those of people who were very different from my own.
After graduating I had a brief stint in Public Relations, cha-cha’ed back to designing full-time in my own freelance studio, and learned to code at HackerYou’s Front-End Web Development bootcamp.
My product design practice really took off when I landed at TWG. I jumped on a fast-moving rocket ship and have been able to cut my teeth in a broad variety of UX practices ever since, from usability testing to information architecture for complex digital products.
I attribute all of my career growth so far to sheer curiosity, and always surrounding myself with people who inspire the sh*t out of me. Case in point, one of my fellow speakers and colleagues, Tom Walsham.
What role does research play in your workflow as a product designer?
Research has always been one of my favourite parts about going to work every day; I don’t think I could work in a company or in a role where it wasn’t highly valued. On any given day, you’ll find me building a user experience map with a researcher, collaborating on test scripts or hustling recruitment screener surveys on social media. (Sorry, family and friends!)
When we bring research to the table, the inherent subjectivity of the design is diminished, and it opens the door to more objective conversations around product decision-making. In agency world, research brings an irrefutable perspective to the conversation, which (as a bonus!) is often the ultimate equalizer for tough client conversations.
Research always speaks louder than the loudest person in the room.
How do you collaborate effectively with TWG’s research practice?
(Record Scratch) Going way back to 2017 here, folks…
Before TWG started growing the incredible UX Research team that we have today, our Design and Product Management teams collaborated (and hustled hard) to make research happen. Now, depending on the project, you’ll find designers collaborating with researchers on research plans and outputs.
To this day, you’ll see designers roll up their sleeves to take the lead on user recruitment when there’s no dedicated researchers available on a project.
There’s an energy around research that is very tangibly felt within the TWG studio. Researchers become the guiding light on the project in many ways. It’s an amazing time to be a researcher (and product designer!) at TWG.
What advice do you have for user researchers when it comes to collaborating with designers?
Start with the end goal in mind. What does the designer want to learn about? Is it friction points within a product flow, the usefulness of a particular feature, a micro-interaction, a product idea, the tone of the copywriting, or the overall accessibility of the product?
Dig in deep to find the product’s perceived soft spots. The designer is often super informed of client or stakeholder concerns — listen to those, and poke holes in the prototype to find the data they need to validate or invalidate assumptions.
Collaborate on the testing script, or plan a quick sync to answer the questions listed above. Get to know the prototype like the back of your hand, and don’t be afraid to interview the designer, too.
Dig deeper to uncover their biggest question marks about the product or business idea you’re testing. Better yet, integrate them into the testing process. (Chances are, you’ll need a note taker!)
Can you share an article or book you read recently that impacted the way you think about UX?
Claire Menke’s now-ubiquitous post, The “Goldilocks Experience” of developing a foundational research framework.
I love that her approach combines artifacts from the marketing, product and UXR toolkits to create a bird’s eye view of a user’s experience with a product. It’s granular enough to be incredibly useful for product teams (JTBD are the best, amirite!?) while staying high-level enough to align all the core departments together on a common goal for the product.
Or: How I combined Personas, JTBD, and Journeys to make a more complete user storyblog.prototypr.io
You recently started the Toronto chapter of Hexagon UX. Can you tell me a bit about the organization?
Aside from the UXR Conference, Hexagon is what I’m most excited about right now. We’re the first and only free event series focused on supporting women in UX design in Toronto.
More broadly speaking, Hexagon is a global event series for women and non-binary folks to learn #BADA55 soft skills, like salary negotiation, personal branding, and budgeting. We have chapters in Bangalore, India, San Francisco, California, and in 10 more tech hotspots around the world.
Our first sold out event is coming up on February 28th at Wealthsimple, and is centered around the topic of negotiation. It’s really important to us that women in Toronto’s UX community get the financial education they need to feel empowered, confident and successful in their jobs. Say hello to my fellow chapter leads, Jen and Shiera- we’ll have a booth at the conference!
Can you share a bit about your plans for building the Toronto chapter?
Our goal is to run intimate quarterly events, and to create a safe space to share the perspectives of the amazing women and non-binary folks in Toronto’s UX community. Through these events and our online Slack community, we hope to provide inspiration, mentorship and support to empower our community and help them focus on the social and personal sides of a career in UX and Product Design.
We believe that hands-on soft skills training is the missing gap in terms of event content being served to women in the Toronto tech community. By hosting immersive events that speak to underserved topics, we’ll be able to strengthen and empower women and non-binary folks, and provide a more balanced landscape for all of us.
Can you share a sneak peek about what you’ll be talking about at the conference?
I’m excited to talk about how researchers and designers can integrate accessibility research into their research process, at every step of the way.
How can we recruit people with accessibility needs? How can we address this under-served community, and bring their voices & needs to the forefront in our products?
I’ll share a number of strategies to bring more diverse voices into our research conversations.