97 UX Things

Liz Possee Corthell - Thinking About the Future is Important for Any Design Process

February 15, 2022 Liz Possee Corthell & Dan Berlin Season 2 Episode 2
97 UX Things
Liz Possee Corthell - Thinking About the Future is Important for Any Design Process
Show Notes Transcript

Liz Possee Corthell provides tips on incorporating futures thinking into your design process.

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here, your book editor and host. I'm joined this week by Liz Possee-Corthell who wrote the chapter, Thinking About the Future is Important for Any Design Process. Welcome, Liz.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Thanks, Dan. Thanks for having me.

Dan Berlin:

Thanks for coming on the podcast here. Can you introduce yourself for folks, please?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Sure thing, so I am a Senior Experience Strategist at Mad*Pow. I work a lot with clients in health care, in thinking about service design and strategies towards getting toward a preferable vision of the future. So that's where futures thinking and a little bit of what I got into in my chapter comes through a bit too.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And can you tell us about your career trajectory, how you discovered UX and how you went up where you are today?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Sure, I feel like I took a bit of a winding road to get here. So actually when I first went to college, I started off as an English major, and a theater major. I really wanted to be a literature major - read a bunch and teach English one day. And I loved theater. So that was something I was interested in too. But it ended up being that I took all the utopian dystopian future classes I could in the literature major and wanted to change majors so I could do something that was changing the world a little bit or thinking about design a little bit more, because I really found that that was what I was interested in theater - was the design element. So I actually changed majors to environmental design while I was at UMass. And then from there I really thought maybe I wanted to be a city planner. Was watching a lot of Parks and Rec and was really wanting to be Leslie Knope when I grew up. So I thought that I wanted to go down that route. I did a little bit of interning in Amherst, Massachusetts at the city, and found that I was enjoying the process, but I really was drawn towards the design elements when we were thinking about a new public garden. What would it look like? What did it feel like to be there? So I decided I wanted to really pursue my further education in design. So we went to SCAD, for my master's degree in Industrial Design. And even when I was there, I quickly realized industrial design really wasn't necessarily exactly what I wanted to do. I'm not a lover of stuff; I think everyone probably has enough stuff. I didn't want to design more stuff. I was really interested in service design, UX, strategy, these different things. And are we thinking the right way or asking the right questions? But after graduating, I actually worked in legal trial design for a little bit. So working with lawyers on patent trials or other sorts of trials to really design the story and the visuals of how to best convey to a jury the story that you're trying to tell. But then I found my way to Mad*Pow which is where I still am and really thinking about user experiences and how do we make decisions and processes that are both good for people and good for business? And really thinking about, how do we do something human centered? How do we even think beyond human centered if we really want to get into thinking about the whole globe and the whole system's thinking elements of things. So I took a bit of a winding road, but that's how I ended up here.

Dan Berlin:

Great, thank you for that. Can you tell us a little bit more about that transition from industrial design to service design? What helped you make that transition?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Yeah, so I had one class at SCAD where we really started doing design research and we did some really interesting, kind of weird methods. The professor was amazing, I later TAed for her and just learning about the different ways that we can engage with research and really tell stories through research. I started thinking maybe that's more the realm I want to go towards; more towards research or service design, thinking about things that are not just designing a product. I've never been great at building things. Shop class in industrial design was also a great eye opening experience. I was trying desperately to build a cube at four in the morning because I just couldn't get it right. So just some really eye opening experiences where I was working on projects that I think I started realizing maybe a product's not always the right answer. And maybe we're not always asking the right question. So I think that I started to kinda get a little exploratory on wanting to get beyond just having a product be the end result for each and every project. Thankfully, I had a really supportive Professor group at SCAD who told me what classes to take to gear myself towards more of that service design work, or how to design my portfolio or really tell a story to get there. It's hard when you have an industrial design degree to be applying to service design jobs. So how to tell that story and support that a little bit more. So thankfully, I had that at SCAD.

Dan Berlin:

I have to ask... tell us a little bit more about those weird research methods? What was weird about them?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Yeah, so it was actually awesome. We got to do a project where we examined some culture in Savannah, some culture or subculture. So one group did the culture of the Savannah airport, another group did this project all about love in Savannah, it's a very romantic city. But my group did a project all about gender performance and gender expression. It was awesome. We met with drag queens, we met with folks that identified as transgender, folks that identified with non-binary. We help support them in things like gender neutral restrooms or however we could best support and lend a hand. We talked to members of the community outside of SCAD. And we just had these really, really awesome opportunities to talk about gender and how we express gender. So some of the cool, weird research methods... we did a lot of ethnographic deep dives, including really becoming a part of the community and actually I ended up backstage dancing for a drag queen at one point, which was an unexpected place for a class to take me. I had to explain that one to my parents afterward a little bit. They were excited. But we also did some cool cultural probes. We would do these guerilla style... you have 20 minutes to make a cultural probe that's going to be relevant to your project, go do it somewhere in downtown Savannah. So we did this one where we had an interview where someone was talking about how in their day to day life there's sometimes fear of what they're going to be called, or what someone's going to say, or how someone might treat them. But then when they're performing as a drag queen, they really feel like they have the microphone, they're in control. So we wanted to do this cultural probe to better understand what people were afraid of, what people were afraid of being called, and things like that. So we had this big print out piece of foam core and had people write these things. Tourists in Savannah, folks that were just walking by. And it was really interesting; it prompted a lot of interesting conversation, interesting insights that were just unique. It's stuff that you can get away with when you're in grad school, where you're just going to be in a little punk rock and seeing what people react to, which is always fun.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yeah, that is definitely different and interesting. And I can see how that can be an effective. Thanks for sharing that. So your chapter here, Thinking About the Future is Important for any Design Process. Can you fill us in there, please?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Sure thing. When I'm talking about thinking about the future, I'm really talking about thinking beyond the future of a product or a service. Beyond that one to two year range that we're typically cast in in design UX practitioner roles. We're thinking about a product launch or a strategy to get a client two or three years into the future. What I'm talking about in this chapter is more about looking 10 years into the future. Seeing if we can untangle some of the unintended consequences that may come up as a part of our design. Thinking about how we might create some images of the future, because those images can help us better understand how we might get there, or can inspire change. There's really big emotional futures where we can all say, Oh, I can't not go there, that's so evocative and so interesting. We really need to be moving that direction. Thinking about creating those visions, and then how do we get there from today? That is what I get into a little bit in the chapter.

Dan Berlin:

Wonderful. Yeah, the first thing that comes to mind there is how do we think about the future when the future is fluid? How can we determine what those unintended consequences are when the future is ever changing?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Right, yeah, that is the scary part about the future and also the awesome opportunity of the future. It really is an opportunity space where we have a little bit more playing room than we do thinking about two or three years from now. We think two or three years in the future, things might look the same or similar or slightly different, or we're not sure how just yet. But if it look a little bit further, we can say, okay, here's this thing we see today, let's just think about this and think about how that might conclude in 10 years. If we look at a trend we're seeing today, what might that look like with 10 years more time? So it gives us that opportunity to play with those options and really be creative and thinking about change.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. And how do you go about doing that and facilitating this conversation?

Liz Possee Corthell:

There's many ways to start thinking about the future and really applying futures thinking. I approach futures thinking mostly as a facilitator. I'm someone that does a lot of workshopping, a lot of great conversations. And I really think that, as a facilitator, I don't want to be an expert on the future, I want to be able to gather the right group of people to have an interesting conversation about the future. I think it's really about gathering those right people, and then asking some questions and applying some processes to try to look forward a little bit. In the chapter, I have some of the foundational questions that one might ask. Things like the past, if we're thinking about the future of healthcare, what are some of the things of the past that we have to acknowledge, we have to think about, we can't ignore our insurance system. We can't ignore things that really, really deeply impact healthcare today, if we want to think about the future. And we also kind of want to think about the near future. So what are those forecasts in those trends? The things that we see today, the things that might be a little bit on the outskirts. Maybe it's not a Business Insider article, but you hear a little whisper over here of, oh, they're trying this cool new technology on horses. What might this mean? And following some of those through and seeing what things might look like if we think about the metaverse and how that might play with different systems in healthcare, or different trends that we might hear whispers of and think are interesting kind of seeing what those might go.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. And that's always key to being a great UX designer in general, is keeping up on those trends and thinking about where they could go. Are there places people could look for these trends and how they could be thinking about them?

Liz Possee Corthell:

My biggest suggestion on thinking about these trends... I think there's a lot of really great places that come up with these trend books at the beginning of every year. It being close to the beginning of the year, it's still an awesome time to look into those trend reports and see what people are saying. I looked a lot on places like Wired or TechCrunch to really see what the big headlines are. But the important thing with really looking for those interesting little tiny nuggets is clicking two or three or four more steps down the rabbit hole. So if there's a New York Times article about something. New York Times is more pain-pointing toward things that are currently happening, things that are in place. If the laws being passed, that's something that's already happening, which means it's no longer the future. But if we click three or four more times in, examine that part that we think sounds a little weird, examine this thing that we think is really, really interesting, and might find something really cool. For instance, in doing some scanning last year about COVID and health trends, I was able to go from finding everyone says COVID might be really great for AI in healthcare, because it's a data set that might be able to train a lot of AI's. So I said, What does that mean? What does that really look like, so clicking a little bit deeper, I found this really cool, open source GitHub link for a bunch of chest X rays. You could upload your own chest X ray, doctors could use this as a data set, you could train your AI on it. Thinking about what does an open source dataset in healthcare look like? And what might that mean for practitioners or people who are trying to really study this and understand what these chests X rays might mean long term. Clicking a little bit deeper into the weird fringes is really the way to find the cool future-y things.

Dan Berlin:

Interesting. Yeah, and whatever domain that you're designing for or interested in, finding... going back to that word weird, finding the weird and interesting things going on in that domain could be what the future leads to.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Yeah, totally. I think everyone has an inner nerd and has something that they're really interested about, really think is cool and could be the next big thing. I think just feed that inner nerd occasionally. Look at the stuff you think is a little weird and no one else might think is interesting. But it is really interesting, it could be something cool.

Dan Berlin:

That said, you mentioned doing a lot of work in healthcare. What is going on today that's weird and trending in your world?

Liz Possee Corthell:

I think there's some interesting opportunities for some conversations around the metaverse in healthcare. I think it's a challenging one too. I think I have challenging thoughts and feelings around meta, Facebook turning into meta, and what that might mean for humanity. And also, what does it mean to think about having one single Metaverse when, in reality, video games have been around for a very long time. There are metaverses. Warcraft is a functional metaverse. So thinking about what things like that might look like or mean for healthcare, I think is interesting. What might a technology like AR be able to do for someone who's trying to better empathize with a patient or a doctor or someone for a training system? What are some interesting opportunities with these technologies? And how might they really look and shape and feel? But I think there's a lot of interesting trends that we're diving into a lot to really kind of think about what a future might look like with with some of the things that we see today and hear today. But definitely interested in the metaverse and interested in crypto, what that might mean one day in healthcare. I'm not a big NFT person, but I think that it's interesting to think about a technology like QR codes. QR codes were effectively meaningless in our lives up until the pandemic made them as useful as they could be. So thinking about something like an NFT that right now, I think to myself, this doesn't seem that useful. I'm not sure what you would apply it to. I'm not that into this. Thinking about what that might that look like in five years time, might that have it's QR code moment in the sun?

Dan Berlin:

And I think on the flip side there something also to keep in mind is how things can be used for nefarious reasons. Everything we've been talking about so far is using these technologies for good and thinking about how they can be used for the good in the future. But can you tell us a little bit about thinking about the other side of that.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Yeah, totally. I think that it is naturally my tendency to want to start with this dystopian version of trying to push myself a little bit more to think about how these things could be used for good. But I think a lot about AI and how it has potentials to heal and potential to harm in health care. If there are a set of predictors that can tell you bought a bag of chips with your lunch, so your health insurance isn't valid this month. That's horrifying. If you don't fit into this mold of what a healthy person is determined to be by this health insurance company? What does that look like? How does that play out? Are certain people deemed less valued, less than others? It's terrifying to think because I think part of that acknowledgement, especially with something like AI, is that humans are the ones making it. And we know that humans have, we all have our own biases. And that's a part of life and a part of existing, but it's an important part of thinking about the future and any design process and working is to think how can we make sure these biases are being checked? How can we make sure that we're bringing in the diverse potential to check our biases, check our privileges, make sure we're thinking about this from other users' point of view. So when it comes to systems like AI or the metaverse and thinking about how they could be used for the downfall of society, it's almost impossible not to go there because, they're designed by humans and I don't know if I trust those humans or I would put those humans in charge. I don't know if I trust that they're checking their biases. Just interesting to think about. It's a good little downward spiral to really send them brain on but I do think they can be used for good too. It's just, you have to strike that balance.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Or not hitting the equity note unconsciously, because they don't realize that the data set that they're using doesn't have equitable data, that sort of thing. So good ideas, or good intentions, but sometimes you don't even know if something nefarious is going on.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Right, right. Which is why that good intentions must be always asked. You always have to follow it up with the unintended consequences. So we might have the best intentions, but that's why I think it's important to invite as many people into the room as possible to think, what did we miss? What unconscious bias is present in this design or this process? How might we better design the other half of that, make that a little stronger, make it easier, make it better for more people.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Anything else about your chapter that you were hoping to convey here?

Liz Possee Corthell:

I think I'll leave on a fun note about futures that really inspires me each time. That is a quote I put in the chapter as well that comes from Jim Dator, who's the godfather of futures, if you will. His quote is any useful statement about the future should appear to be ridiculous. So if you're thinking about the future, if you're interested in the future, the more ridiculous it sounds today, the more you're likely to be getting at something real or something potential or something interesting. It is a rare process and rare thought process that really encourages that ridiculous or that out of bounds thinking really thinking outside the box. So it's very creative. It's really ripe with opportunity to be creative and a little ridiculous.

Dan Berlin:

Nice. And again, isn't that what being a great designer is about? It's embracing the ridiculous and exploring there?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Right, absolutely.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Well, thank you for all that. In our final segment here, we love getting a piece of advice. So is there a piece of career advice you would offer to folks either breaking into UX or who have some experience here?

Liz Possee Corthell:

Sure. So this is an odd piece of advice, but I think that it holds true. I revealed I was formerly a theater major, but I think everyone in most roles should take some type of theater class at some point in time. I think that there's a lot that theater can teach us about public speaking, a lot about not being afraid to be silly, or be crazy looking or do something really weird and uncomfortable. And I think it's what I credit a lot with my ability to facilitate a workshop successfully. Being able to speak to people, being able to improv when something goes wrong, being able to pick it up and laugh at myself is, I think, probably one of the most crucial skills I've learned. And I learned it in doing theater and doing silly things. And not being afraid to make a fool of myself in that context, which is very safe and inviting, and usually trying to be funny and trying to have fun. So I think that is my piece of advice, because it really can break people out of their shell, which I think is is great.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, that's a wonderful piece of advice. And definitely different than what we've heard here on the podcast. Thank you for that. And it's so true. One of the things that we hear when when teaching research is that I don't like being in front of a crowd, or what if I mess something up? Or how do I deal with this? How do I improv? And everything you just said, that's a great way to get ahead of that.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Yeah, yeah, I think it's a fun way to secretly teach yourself a good life skill where you think you're just having fun and playing improv games and doing something silly. And then later, you'll be like, oh, wait, I learned what to do here. I have a weird joke I can pull out of my pocket and think about this context and jump to the next thing. Okay. And that'll be fine.

Dan Berlin:

And also on the professional side, when you're making presentations or giving presentations, it'll help there as well. Not just in your research, but also on the business side.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Totally. Definitely.

Dan Berlin:

Well, there's this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining us here today.

Liz Possee Corthell:

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me again.

Dan Berlin:

My pleasure. Our guest today has been Liz Possee-Corthell who wrote the chapter Thinking About the Future is Important for any Design Process. You have been listening to the 97 UX Things podcast. Thanks for listening. You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast, a companion to the book 97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know published by O'Reilly and available at your local bookshop. All book royalties go to UX nonprofits, as well any funds raised by this podcast. The theme music is Moisturize the Situation by Consider the Source. I'm your host and book editor, Dan Berlin. Please remember to find the needs in your community and fill them with your best work. Thanks for listening.