97 UX Things

Anna Iurchencko - Improve Communication and Encourage Collaboration Using Sketches

August 03, 2021 Anna Iurchencko & Dan Berlin Season 1 Episode 9
97 UX Things
Anna Iurchencko - Improve Communication and Encourage Collaboration Using Sketches
Show Notes Transcript

Anna Iurchencko discusses her chapter about using sketches to improve communication

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 Anna Iurchenko, who wrote the chapter Improve Communication and Encourage Collaboration Using Sketches. Welcome Anna.

Anna Iurchenko:

Thank you for having me.

Dan Berlin:

Great. So welcome to the podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Anna Iurchenko:

Yeah, sure. So I'm a designer and visual thinker. I work at Google Health right now. So we create different products and tools that use artificial intelligence to help solve healthcare problems. And right now, I'm working on a dermatology effort where we trying to use AI to help people research and understand their skin conditions. It's a really exciting field of AI, design, and other new experiences that we can improve people's health and healthcare in general I hope.

Dan Berlin:

Great, thanks for that. Can you tell us a little bit about your UX journey, how you discovered UX and how you ended up where you are today?

Anna Iurchenko:

Yes, happy to share. So my path to design was quite not straightforward, I would say. I never knew what I wanted. I really explored this field, just trying different things and it happened to be design at some point. So, my background is in mechanical andelectrical engineering and when I graduated I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. But also, I really loved design. By the time I graduated, I had some few freelance clients and I was doing websites. So I decided to stick with this field for a while. I got into a design agency and learned design by doing things, reading, and attending events and just self taught myself. After a few years of being in this profession, I realized, I don't like what I'm doing. I didn't see how to move this work that I create from it looks fine to this looks awesome. It was a pivotal moment for me, when I decided that I probably was not a good designer amd I would never become one. I needed to experiment, explore different areas, and just do something else. So I left design and for a few years really kind of tested myself and my talents and skills in different areas like product management and marketing. It was a really interesting journey of exploring what my passions are and what my talents are. After being in this journey of exploration for a few years, I decided that it looks like design actually encompasses everything I love it's creativity, it's creation, it's problem solving. So I got back to the field. At that point I was really committed to my craft to actually become good as a designer. It's interesting how I feel like I found myself as a designer and I'm really happy about where I am now. Opportunity to actually create something useful something, tools that help people, do things faster, or be healthier. Before Google I worked with medical startups. Overall I feel I'm kind of in this commitment to stay in healthcare and in health in general, I'm really passionate about solving problems here.

Dan Berlin:

It sounds like your designer trajectory was almost circular in that you started off as a designer, you went off and learned some things in other areas, and came back to design. What is it about what you learned, either about yourself or in general, about marketing and product management and your time doing those other things that brought you back to design?

Anna Iurchenko:

Yeah, yeah, it's really a great question. The things that I discovered being a product manager or being in marketing, helped me to better understand the ecosystem around products that I'm creating as a designer. I understand what it takes to move product from the design to actually becoming a business. It made more informed when I'm approaching design now. That what is actually going next? At some point, I thought that this few years be outside of design was maybe a waste of time. But when I reflect on it, it really empowered me in a way that I am I know more. Know the whole design, not just design the products, like journey, product cycle. But also a couple things that I learned about myself. I was in this stage when people would say, "Oh, we need you to do this," and you do it. And it's like, "Oh, it's interesting," and you just go learn and you never say no, you're always like, "Oh, I like this challenge, it's interesting." And you go and explore. And then realize that like, no, it shouldn't be like that. So it's actually something that I learned that I needed to know, reflect on how it feels for me, is it something that I'm really passionate about doing, something really, really interesting? And in relation to my skills and my talents? Let's say marketing. I don't like it. It's such a different mindset. I realized that I hate telling stories. I mean, it's something I realized that I really like to create things and not describe things.

Dan Berlin:

Great, thanks for that. At the risk of oversimplifying, it sounds like that time away from design gave you the bigger picture, which made the design work not just more meaningful, but understand what the next steps were, but also really figuring out what you as an individual want to concentrate on and that healthcare. So that's wonderful. Thanks for that. So, moving on to chapter, can you tell us a little bit about your chapter, please?

Anna Iurchenko:

Yeah, happy to. So my chapter is about visual thinking and visual language and how it can be used to improve collaboration and overall visual thinking. Storytelling is really a huge part of my design process. I sketch all the time. And it's to illustrate user journeys - just understand what information means. For me, when I can really put all the information on the piece of paper and just draw connections, draw relationships, it's really become a knowledge. So this is a way that I found that it's really helpful to think to understand what actual information means, as well as really explain it to others and bring everyone to your thinking process. It's something that I found really beneficial for my design process and also for my thinking process. So it was really exciting to share it within this book. I simplified it to a few steps that people can try to get started with sketching. I hope it's useful and people will try it out.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Great. You said something really interesting there about turning information into knowledge by looking at the individual concepts and drawing those connections between them. How does sketching help with that?

Anna Iurchenko:

I feel like sometimes when you have all this information in your head. You learn something; you grabbed information from this article and that article, maybe there is a bunch of interviews sessions that you just finished. So there's this mass of information that you need to digest. And usually if you just write it down or just really put in some sort of sticky notes, this is what's helpful to make sense of it. This visual thinking, it's just really leveling up to the state when you use small pictograms, small icons, that capture, visualize an idea in a really concise way so you don't need to read sticky notes, you can just see this map of information helps you to explore it and learn insights from that. It's something that when it's done in a group, when you do it with together with your colleagues, it's where it becomes so powerful. Because it's not only you who are looking at this map of information or insights. It's the people who see the same and can draw the same conclusions out of that information. And then it becomes a visual way to agree with each other or disagree. Because when you see the same picture, the same facilitation, you can say, "Yes, I agree to this," or "No, I don't agree." You can do the same as writing, you can write it down. But it's not that easy if let's say you're in the meeting, you're collaborating, you're trying to have conversation, you can just write a paragraph of text. But just really using the pictures and small labels to communicate ideas in more concise way, it really boosts communication and collaboration.

Dan Berlin:

I think that's really cool. That's the way we try to design for folks, right? We don't want them reading, if at all possible, we try to get it through in a visualization. As humans, we process that faster. So that's an interesting tactic for collaborating with others. My question there, though, is how do you ensure to make those relatable to others? Or how do you know, the pictograms you're using or the icons you're using are indeed, relatable to others, and understandable to others?

Anna Iurchenko:

Yeah, so often, it's this universal concept that visual metaphors that really make sense to anyone. We live in the world where there's visual information all around us, it's road signs, and any sign in the airport or maybe even emoji. There's so many already, interface icons, there's so many universal visualizations that really stick like anything printed in our minds already. So I tend to use those. If I don't really have a good concept or really a metaphor that's clear, I would add a label. It's not always around just making a self-explanatory sketch of my icon, it often could be something that just may be a little close related to the thing you want to communicate and you just add a text label to become clear. This is one approach I use. Whatever role, I feel... You asked about how to make it relatable. And I found... I may be biased, I don't know... But I found that people are so excited to see drawings and sketches. And it's really fascinating to me when people see sketches... and I'm talking about sketches, really hand drawn stuff, not illustration, not icons, but really hand drawn sketches... people get excited about using it or maybe adding to it. It makes the spirit or atmosphere at the meeting or at this calibration activity really different. I'm using this technique because I know if I want to kind of bring excitement or make people a little more relaxed, I would just start sketching some stupid things. It's such a huge skill that makes me a better designer and collaborator and really helps me to get people more involved into problem solving.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. You mentioned that sketches facilitate conversation when they are hand drawn and on the fly, that sort of thing. Is there ever a time that you do take that next step and turn them into something more polished?

Anna Iurchenko:

Not really, I would say. In my work, probably the most high level of fidelity would be if I do it on the iPad. It's because it's digital too, I can be more refined in my lines and in my typography. It's something that I just copy and paste into the deck and keep it there. It's interesting, you can create this user journey. Like the standard like approach when we explore and explain emotions during a user journey where the y-axis would have this emotional stage and the x-axis would be time. When you actually draw using your hand and add small icon and a small explanation or quotes to it. The put it as this in your slide deck, it's something that becomes so clear for people to understand. In comparison, you can do this using even slides, you can draw that there. Because we can use really small font, we tend to put so much information into those journey maps, they become cluttered, and it becomes hard to digest quickly. So this is actually something that changes how you approach information, to limit the amount of information you put on the on the visual. I will usually keep it as sketched, because just I see this engaging power of sketches as well as power to summarize information because you can put so many new things in once.

Dan Berlin:

And just to clarify for folks listening in, it sounds like we're really talking about information design, not necessarily interaction and visual design sketches. These are the sketches to get that background information and maybe even content design going. Is that accurate?

Anna Iurchenko:

Yes. Yes, exactly. It's basically using visual language to explain information and to explore information.

Dan Berlin:

Right, right. What other tips, what other methods do you have for doing this?

Anna Iurchenko:

I also teach workshops and sketching for colleagues and outside Google. I noticed that right now, the concept of you should sketch, you should draw because it really does beneficial things for you is not new for designers and researchers. People understand that it's a great skill, but also, I think people do all the time they excuse for their sketches. This is something I encourage people to not do. Because it's not the point to make your sketch beautiful. If it communicates your idea, it's great. Because you're not a designer, right? Like if you're a researcher... even if you're a designer, it's not like you're trying to prove that you're a great designer and you can create polished visuals. You're trying to convey an idea. So just really focusing on conveying ideas. And just embracing that your first attempt at sketches would not be successful in a way like you want it; you won't like what you do and it's fine. First, it's not the point why you're doing it. But also, if you try, just keep doing it and over time you'll become better. Something I tend to share with people is that this is fine that you don't like it, maybe you feel a little shy about sketching. Really encourage people to try because there's an interesting moment that happens when you take a marker and sketch something on the whiteboard. Or even in our context, it's a little different. I mean the remote context. But also, it's really, really interesting what happens in the room once you stop writing things down and start sketching them. So I basically just encourage people and I will encourage our listeners, just do it and you will see how it changes the room dynamic. You would never go back to other way to communicate.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yep. It's amazing how we sometimes need to get more comfortable with something and this is a wonderful opportunity to take people out of their comfort zone. We often encourage folks to do so because it makes us better practitioners. And as a researcher, I never want to be designing and early in my career, I learned learned that being able to sketches is so important and anyone who can draw a box can sketch.

Anna Iurchenko:

Yes, yes, exactly. It's about courage. It's about making courage to give it a try. Especially because at this point of time we're surrounded by visual language. It's not like you need to think hard about what would be the best metaphor for an idea or for a problem. It's something that's really there. So just grab a pen.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, we live in the age of emojis. Someone has figured those out for us. We can leverage those.

Anna Iurchenko:

Yes, yeah. I believe that visual language and sketchnoting should be taught at schools. It should be basic, like we are taught how to write, we should be taught how to capture information visually, it's an essential skill. There's no point why we not doing it, why people just write when you listen to a lecture and you write down... there's no point of doing that. You can use visual language to do much of the same, maybe even make information more memorable. So yeah, I'm trying to teach some of the classes for high school students. But yeah, it's not the program.

Dan Berlin:

And not everyone takes notes the same way, right. We're taught one way in school in terms of just taking bulleted notes. But that's not how everyone's minds work, and then taking mindmap notes or something like that better aligns with how some people think. Yeah. Great. Thanks for all of that. We like to end

Anna Iurchenko:

Yes, yeah. the podcast with a tip for our listeners. So whether it's a tip for folks breaking into UX or someone who has been in the field for quite some time, any tips for folks? Yeah, so there's actually a couple things we already talked about and probably want to elaborate a little more. I mentioned at the beginning, that big pivotal moment for me in my career was really critical attitude to think that I'm creating. And this is something that we as designers, we really have to do it all the time, we have to be critical about our work, we should reach out for feedback, we should really see what we can do better here because design is never right. It's not like is right or it's correct or it's incorrect by this spectrum. And I mentioned that this criticism or self criticism for me was the moment that moved me away from design. But also, when I think about it, I believe it's not the right attitude to have. Sometimes, we may see that our skills, where we are, there's such a big gap with where we want to be and you may not see how to get there. This is where you may give up because it's really, you're wondering "I'm here and those amazing designs work out there. How can learn to do something like that?" What I learned from my journey is that any skills could be improved through perseverance, through strategy, through mentorship, or support from other designers. This is really important to understand that it's okay to be critical. But also it's important to know that you can learn if you put enough time to anything. Maybe I'm just exaggerating, but I feel like it's really limitless if you want to improve in some craft, in some area. It's just really a matter of your perseverance and support and strategy.

Dan Berlin:

To your point, getting critique from others... don't be scared about doing that. That's one of the best ways to get learning is to get critique from your peers. Same thing in research. When you're doing moderation, getting critique on your moderation is just as important getting critiques on design.

Anna Iurchenko:

Yeah, yeah. It really empowers us. It gives us this new perspective of what we can do differently. This is something I feel. I'm going to share with people and how this idea of growth mindset is not new, but it's something that I was called by this criticism. It's another thing I want to share on this line of advices or tips. We talked about visual thinking, but also writing in general I believe is a really important skill, learning too for for your access. I have this weekly UX diary, just like a Google Doc. I would semi regularly just sit down and write down things I learned during this week. Maybe some struggles have highlights and lowlights. And this is something that really helped me to understand what I think when they tried to write it down. Sometimes, you may be caught, the emotions are just really overwhelming. And when you try to write it down, it actually makes your thinking clear. Something that I found, sometimes I do it as a visual diary, as well. It's just easier to open Google doc and write it down. So for me, it's also often leads to some blog posts. Anything that I can also share with others as a piece of learnings or piece of advice. For me, it's just a way to see what happened. In my report, calling my projects and what I can learn from it, but you actually just writing through writing.

Dan Berlin:

Can you give us an example of something that you're learning that you would have written down?

Anna Iurchenko:

The latest thing I published this article on codesign about how to deal with criticism. This is something that actually came from this diary. I was really struggling through protests and critique, like emotionally. I'm a really big fan of critiques and we have it with my team, and they're really trying to facilitate this practice. But also have this really conflicting feeling. So I bring my work to critique, I get the critique, and then I feel down; I feel really kind of broken, depends, sometimes not. But sometimes it's really hard and I was struggling. It's a good thing to know how you can improve and people are really good at giving feedback. In my experience, they're not trying to put you down, they're really just asking questions. So even if they do so in really great way, I notice I really feel kind of incapable or something. Not great. So I was thinking through these feelings in my diary, just because when I just put it in my head, the messages really emotions and thoughts and some memories. And when you tend to write it down, it becomes a little more simple and more understandable. This is an example that through this kind of reflection, I discovered a few things that I want to explore more. Actually, it's resulted in article that I published recently. So yeah, it's a really powerful tool to help yourself from challenges.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Well, thank you for all of that Anna. This has been a wonderful chat over the past 25 minutes or so and I thank you for not just writing your chapter but for joining me on today's podcast.

Anna Iurchenko:

Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's a really great conversation and I enjoyed it so much. Thank you.

Dan Berlin:

Fantastic. Thank you. I've been joined today by Anna, Iurchenko who wrote the Improve Communication and Encourage Collaboration Using Sketches chapter for the 97 UX things book. Your host Dan Berlin here and I hope you enjoyed this episode.