97 UX Things

Al Lopez - Work Together to Create Inclusive Products

March 29, 2022 Al Lopez & Dan Berlin Season 2 Episode 7
97 UX Things
Al Lopez - Work Together to Create Inclusive Products
Show Notes Transcript

Al Lopez discusses their chapter Work Together to Create Include Products and provides tips on fostering a diverse work environment

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here, your host and book editor. I'm joined this week by Al Lopez, who wrote the chapter Work Together to Create Inclusive Products. Welcome Al.

Al Lopez:

Hey, Dan, nice to catch up with you.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, likewise. Thanks for joining the podcast. Can you tell the folks listening a little bit about yourself?

Al Lopez:

Yeah. Hi everyone. My name is Al Lopez, and I am an experience and strategy design consultant for a company here in St. Louis. A fancy way of just saying I do UX. I am co-president of the St. Louis user experience group where we hold monthly meetings teaching folks about what user experience is and how to overcome barriers, get in the field, etc. I am also queer non-binary, pronouns they/them, proud Black Mexican. In my spare time, I'm a fabric artist, dog parent, and student.

Dan Berlin:

Wonderful. Thanks for all of that. And do you tend to focus on one area of UX over another? Are you on the research side? Design? Strategy? Content? Where do you focus?

Al Lopez:

I would say my T-shape, my base is research. But I'm more of a generalist at this point. I off more on the research, I actually have a Psych degree. I'm going back to school now to get some of those graphic design things. So I kinda am doing a little of everything. I'm trying to really break into the strategy side. That's what's been interesting most, lately.

Dan Berlin:

Nice. As a researcher, who is very scared of the visual design side I give you credit for for doing that. And can you tell us about your career journey? How did you discover UX and how did you wind up where you are today?

Al Lopez:

Yeah, so like I said, I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology and I actually didn't discover what I wanted to do until my senior year. I took an industrial organizational psychology course and fell in love with it. IO Psych is the psychology of business, the ins and out. But that requires a PhD, which I didn't see my future. So it just wasn't feasible at the time. But one of the first jobs I had was for a small IT company in St. Louis, right out of college. And they had folks that did the hardware work, but they didn't have developers. I figured I would go learn some development so that way I would be more valuable. I started through this local nonprofit program called Launch Code. And they actually teach people without tech degrees, how to get into tech. But what I found was that I really didn't like the coding side. And it was just not my jam but I heard someone talk about UX and I was like, oh my God, this combines everything that I've always wanted to do. It gave me the psych perspectives of people and having empathy and understanding people solutionize. But it also gave me more like a rapid feedback, we can go out and discover if our product isn't working pretty easily. And so I love that sort of rapid feedback. And then combining the business side as well just seemed like everything that I was interested in. So I actually volunteered for that speaker said, hey, you know, I'm willing to do some free labor, I just really want to shadow you and learn about this. And he was an individual that was working with contractors and had his own company, so someone saying free labor sounds great. So it worked out really good. I got to shadow some research sessions for a startup and I just fell in love. It just felt so right. It is so crazy to me, because I went to a liberal arts college, I had to try so many different sort of things like running sound at a play or doing economics courses and nothing ever felt like, oh, I want to do this. It just kind of felt like just getting that grade. But when I started learning about UX, I felt like, no, this is where I belong. So that's what happened for me.

Dan Berlin:

Great. And I love what you mentioned about volunteering. That's something that is great for folks who want to break into the field. And there's no better way to not only build your resume or build the experience, but just to experience the UX field. Go volunteer and note take for someone.

Al Lopez:

And even now, I'm five years into my career, and I still find myself volunteering sometimes. For instance, there's a program in St. Louis that I'm helping with to rebuild their site. And I understand at this point that I could be getting paid for my work, but this program is just so important to me that I think it's valuable to just give back some of our time.

Dan Berlin:

Right.

Al Lopez:

So I still recommend that... not necessarily a full on year-long project, but a couple consultation hours here and there goes a long way.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yep. And to your point, it's so important to remember that there's a fine balance between volunteering to get experience and ensuring to be paid for your work when interning, for example. So folks want to keep that in mind - you don't want to over volunteer because there are opportunities to ensure to get paid for your work.

Al Lopez:

Right.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Cool. So your chapter here Work Together to Create Inclusive Products. Can you tell us about that, please?

Al Lopez:

Yeah, so my chapter is all about why we need diverse spaces, what that actually means, and creating those diverse spaces. And once you create those, how to keep those diverse spaces.

Dan Berlin:

Great. So let's dig in there. Can you tell us about creating and fostering these spaces for folks?

Al Lopez:

Yep. So I think first what we have to dig into is just what does diversity mean? Because when we talk about so much, you know, DEI practices and things, so we don't dig into what that actually talks about, people just think off the back, you know, race or gender. But there's so many different sorts of diversity paths, gender, ethnicity, can be culture, age, religion, sexual orientation, ability, lived experiences. And we want to make sure we have representatives of all of those sort of areas. And when we're creating those spaces, ways that we can do that is including diversity in our recruiting practices, whether that is our hiring practices, our studies and our designs, and questioning those services. And there are people out there that can help if company is struggling with recruiting process. There are people out there that can help take a look at your recruiting practices and help you to figure out how to reach more diverse populations.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. That said, regarding hiring practices... so first off on the participant side, folks can actually go listen to Megan Campos' interview on the podcast, because we talk about inclusive recruiting practices there. How about recruiting employees, though? How can in can companies and people look beyond their immediate circles to ensure that their practices are more inclusive.

Al Lopez:

So a big thing is just getting the word out. I have had a lot of folks come to me... I've had a lot of minority mothers come to me and say, hey, my child is in tech, but had no idea that this program was going on. People aren't even knowing that the opportunities are out there, so that's a problem. One thing that you can do is you can reach out to your local nonprofit boot camps, or HBCUs, or reach out to your black student unions or different clubs or organization. And a great thing... I understand not everyone has time for this, but if you do have time, a great thing would be to offer some sort of mentorship from your current employees to those. That, to me, is a great way to get folks into the field. I know for myself, I take on mentees and help them to get into the field. And it's about building those connections and helping people to understand what's possible. Sometimes folks don't even know to apply to your program, and that's a problem.

Dan Berlin:

That said, it's all about building those authentic relationships outside your circles, not just looking outside your circles, but building those authentic relationships. And you mentioned mentorship, that's one great way. But what are some other ways that folks can can do this?

Al Lopez:

A way that you can do this is to just educate yourself on diversity issues. Whether that's reading up on the issues, listening to a podcast that depict lives and experiences that are different from yours, I love to read. Attend your actual diversity and inclusion trainings in your organization, and actually listen to them. I know for me, when I go to those sort of circles, I'm always finding people willing to talk more about their lived experience or willing to share what ways I can help them to lower those barriers that they're having. And it's a good thing to surround yourself with people that don't look like you. There's things such as MeetUp, where you can go and find different groups to hang out with. LinkedIn is a great thing to network in or you have... Local St. Louis created 28 Black designers, you can look at places like that.

Dan Berlin:

What about resources for individuals? So you mentioned making sure that you go to your company's training and using resources available there but for folks out on their own or for folks who don't have that company backing? Are there other specific resources or places folks can look at?

Al Lopez:

Yeah, so Harvard actually has a thing called Implicit Bias and it's right online, it's called the Harvard Project Implicit. If you Google that, it'll pull up and you can take a short quiz and it doesn't go to anyone else, it's just to you so there's no judgment. But you can get a start to see over what are some biases that you have. And from there, you can start to realize how you can break some of those down. Ways that you can do that are increase in contact with people who are different from you, noticing those positive examples of minority groups that pop up, and then really work to avoid that confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is, you already have a belief so when you see things that affirm that belief, they pop up a little more, than things that counter confirm that belief. So you want to think about and question yourself. And this is something all of us can do with various things. I know, for myself, I had to do this with saying yes too much. So I'd have to think and stop when someone asked me to do something. Is it something I actually have time for? Or is it gonna stress me out later? So something you do is stop and think, is this a true fact that I'm thinking about this group? Or is this something that's made up?

Dan Berlin:

That's a great point, taking a look at one's own biases are a key thing here. You mentioned confirmation bias, but are there other ways that we can be mindful of our biases and notice them within our own actions?

Al Lopez:

Yeah, so I think we all come with biases, it's just part of the human condition. It's not going to be good to spend time to feel shame about it, you know, we all have them. It's just better to confront those. So I think stopping and pausing and seeing where those thoughts come from. Or if you have someone that is a close, trusted friend that has maybe a mindset that you'd like to be closer with, maybe having discussions with them, and asking them to help you work through those. But we all have an opportunity to examine our thoughts and decide what's true and what's not. And sometimes, what we're surrounded with, doesn't always allow us to have a broader perspective. And so it's good to zoom out and see, what do they say, see the forest instead of seeing the tree. So, I recommend that, get around more diverse groups, get around diversity of thought. For me, when I was in college, I went to a school that mainly had folks from farm towns. And that was so interesting for me coming from sort of an inner city. But getting to see that perspective helped me to understand why they thought the way they did. And so I would recommend to other people, switch up your circles, get learning, broaden your opportunities, and make friends.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. And one thing we as humans don't ask ourself nearly enough is, why have I reached this conclusion? Why have I determined this is the answer, if we started asking ourselves that more, we can start hopefully thinking about our biases more.

Al Lopez:

And I would tell people to make sure you're having grace with yourself. We all have biases. So it's not a time to have shame or be judging yourself. It's the time to grow and do better.

Dan Berlin:

Can you can you tell me a little bit more about that? How can folks overcome that? Because it's tough to overcome these things that the folks may have been thinking for a long time and they have this realization. How can how can they move on?

Al Lopez:

For me, therapy has helped a lot, journaling, to be honest. We're being real here, to be honest.

Dan Berlin:

Please.

Al Lopez:

But once you've gotten to a point where you've overcome those biases, and you've become a more complete human, and you can look back on it, the journey is really worth it. And you may feel ashamed to start, it's hard to start change for anyone. But

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Great. Thanks for that. You also mentioned once you're over that, not only will you become more enriched, your experiences will become more enriched, your circles will be more enriched, and you'll have a richer life. So I think it's better to just focus on where the end goals are and understanding that we're all in the journey. No one's perfect, but we'll get there. places where folks can look to increase their circles to be surrounded by folks who look different than them. And you mentioned student unions and historically black colleges. I know NSBE, the National Society of Black Engineers, does some great work. Any other places where folks could be looking into to form those authentic connections?

Al Lopez:

I would totally use the internet to find what's there. I have a friend that as soon as the pandemic hit and all the UX meetings started going online, she attended meetings all over the world, like all over. And that's something that's so easy. We have a phone in our hand, we have a phone in our pocket at all times usually can easily Google events that are happening, or maybe different things that you're interested in. For example, there's a meetup.com, which sometimes I go to a Spanish speaking group. I'm not good at speaking Spanish, but I like to surround myself with more experiences, so I will go to that. And that is a wide range of people. So I suggest things like that, or networking through on LinkedIn, or just looking at different events or things that are coming up. In St. Louis, we have a lot of different festivals, for instance, like International Festival, the Hispanic festival, we have those where you can go and experience those cultures. I'm sure lots of other folks have things as well, if you just put a little research in.

Dan Berlin:

Yep, I guess we are kind of lucky in this pandemic world, and that there are a lot more of these virtual events popping up, which allow us to participate more.

Al Lopez:

For one of our events coming up, we have someone speaking from Poland, which is so great, because when would we ever be able to get someone that international without paying a bunch of money?

Dan Berlin:

Right, right. Something you and I have chatted about in the past is creating a safe space for discussion and for expressing views. I wanted to ask you a little bit about that. In terms of whether folks are at a small organization at a larger one, what are some of the steps that folks can take for creating those safe spaces?

Al Lopez:

I would say, first tackling some of those biases within yourself. And if you're noticing it within others, speak on those. All of us can help. And you may not know the power that you have when you're speaking on those, someone may not know that it's not acceptable to speak up and you speaking up helps a less privileged person. And also we can go through is understand that in order to have those diverse teams and cultures, you have to actually make space for those people, you have to allow them to have a voice in your team, you have to allow them to grow. And you also have to have positions for them to advance up. Lots of times what will happen with companies is they will get the diverse hires in, but they create no growth opportunity for them, or no way for them to get leadership positions, etc, etc. And so those diverse populations will leave for other places just get opportunity.

Dan Berlin:

Right. Just because you're hiring a diverse set of folks, doesn't mean that your company is diverse. Often enough, it's the same folks leading and we need to find ways to to alleviate that.

Al Lopez:

And it definitely... it takes all of us. So just look around and notice and see what things are like and we all have ways that we can help and assist. For instance, one of the things that I do is if I hear that there's some job openings, I will post in my local groups and things. So folks will know like, oh, there's there's some openings up that I can apply to just help out.

Dan Berlin:

What about the naysayers? You know, let's say you're in a meeting and all of your personas are just the typical names that we deal with and, and we want to try to make them more diverse to speak to a larger audience and you have some naysayers. How do we deal with that?

Al Lopez:

So I understand that there will always be naysayers. But if we're being honest, this is really the ethical thing to do. And past ethics, if we want to get past just being a good human, it really increases company's profit margins when you increase diversity. According to Forbes, diverse companies actually produced 19% more revenue in comparison to non diverse companies.

Dan Berlin:

Yup.

Al Lopez:

And then having those diverse teams are going to create diverse solutions with a different diversity of thought, and create just overall better products that are going to work for more people. And that diversity of thought that's going to come from that is going to work for more users, which again, leads to more profits. And if we're not wanting to get into ethics, money's talks. But I do really believe that as UX professionals, we have to be advocates for diversity to be good at our job. We want our products to work for as many folks as possible.

Dan Berlin:

100% Thank you for that. You also mentioned boot camps as a place to look for folks because we want to make sure that we are open to hiring folks with different experiences, right? But there are so many boot camps out there, especially these days, professing to make you a UXer in a week for example. How do we know which are the ones you know where people are coming out from boot camps ready to go for real?

Al Lopez:

I would say offer those folks apprenticeships, internships, to give you a way to determine if they're right for your company or not. I do believe that you do have to take a risk on folks. You might be that one that gives that one person a chance that no one else would give them a chance they really deserve to be in the field. So there's a local nonprofit here in St. Louis called Launch Code, and I actually went through them to get into the field. And after your educational part of the program, they'll do a three-month to six-month apprenticeship where you can see if you like the company and the company likes you. But it's paid. So that's what I would say, is to try to have a paid because what you're asking people to do is arrange their life. I understand that this isn't available for everyone. So if that's not the case, I would say do more in depth interviews, looking over their work, seeing what it is that they've done so far in the field, those sort of things. But if at all possible, I would say internships, apprenticeships.

Dan Berlin:

What a great idea. Apprenticeship is almost not in our vocabulary here, at least in America. What a wonderful way to try something to understand if it works in both directions. That's something that just doesn't happen here. So Al, it's been a great conversation. Is there anything else about your chapter that you were hoping to convey here today?

Al Lopez:

Yeah, I would say all of us can address the systematic issues that are existing in the workplace. Those of us in a position of privilege owe it to our UX cousins. If you see something speak up. And for instance, if your job only hires people of a certain skin tone, ask why. If your job is not releasing its diversity statistics, there's probably a reason for that, so look into that. And then also to think about who it is that you're allowing to have privilege. And what I mean by that is, when it comes time to recommend folks for a job, are you only recommending a certain kind of people? And that, for instance, could be only men, only white people, only college educated people, only people 30 and younger? Any sort of those things, we have to broaden our circles.

Dan Berlin:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you for all of that. This has been very helpful and interesting. In our final moments here, we love getting a piece of career advice. Do you have a piece of advice you can give for folks either breaking into the field or who have been around for a while?

Al Lopez:

Yes, one of my favorite pieces of advice is to always negotiate. When I was first starting out, I actually got some really bad advice from an old mentor that told me to just be grateful for getting my first job in UX.

Dan Berlin:

Oh wow.

Al Lopez:

To not negotiate for fear that they would be offended of that. Well, now that I'm older, I know that's not true at all. And it's actually super common to negotiate. And the worst thing that will happen is they'll just say no, but you'll still at least have a job offer. So from there, you can decide whether or not you want it, but they won't take the offer back. So it's always great to negotiate, it's common practice in the field. It may feel difficult to do at first, but you can roleplay with friends or mentor to help you get through that. Or you can definitely write out what you want to say beforehand. But I would say get paid, get paid.

Dan Berlin:

Absolutely. That is a wonderful piece of advice. Always negotiate, because it doesn't hurt to ask. Great. So Al, this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me here today.

Al Lopez:

Thank you for having me, Dan. This has been great.

Dan Berlin:

My guest today has been Al Lopez who wrote the chapter Work Together to Create Inclusive Products. Thanks for listening, everyone.

Al Lopez:

Thank you, everyone.

Dan Berlin:

You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast 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 and 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.