97 UX Things

Julie Meridian - Put on Your InfoSec Hat to Improve Your Designs

August 10, 2021 Julie Meridian & Dan Berlin Season 1 Episode 10
97 UX Things
Julie Meridian - Put on Your InfoSec Hat to Improve Your Designs
Show Notes Transcript

Julie Meridian chats about her chapter about improving designs by employing an InfoSec lens

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone, welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. This is Dan Berlin, your host and book editor. I'm joined this week by Julie Meridian, who wrote the Put on Your Infosec Hat to Improve Your Designs chapter. Welcome Julie.

Julie Meridian:

Hi Dan, nice to speak with you today.

Dan Berlin:

And thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about you and what you do.

Julie Meridian:

So I am a user experience designer and also a fine artist, I do a bit of both. But for user experience design, I've been in this my whole career, I have 20 plus years of experience. And in that, I have had maybe four or five different job titles for what I consider essentially the same thing. Started as user interface engineer, became user interface designer, which became interaction designer, and then experience designer. And in some places product designer. The titles change, but the work in my opinion has stayed the same. So I think one thing that might help to know is that I started off in house. I worked at Adobe for almost a decade, and then at LinkedIn for four years. And then for the last seven years, I have had my own consultancy, Make It Legit. And so definitely in house in spirit, and I've worked with about 16 clients since then.

Dan Berlin:

And do you concentrate more on design, research, little both?

Julie Meridian:

Mostly design. I've done some scrappy research. But after working with dedicated user researchers with PhDs, I am very clear about the level of research I do.

Dan Berlin:

Fair enough. And you mentioned fine art. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Julie Meridian:

Yeah, so I do painting and drawing. I like to work in an analog style. And that might be influenced by the years I spent leading the design of Photoshop and Illustrator at Adobe. I love the tools and they're very powerful, but I find that when I make my own fine art, I like to shift to an entirely different realm and go analog.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Sounds like a good outlet. So great. Tell us about your career trajectory? How did you discover UX? And how did you end up where you are today?

Julie Meridian:

Well, I started off more on the computer science side of things. In college I studied computer science and a minor in studio art. I had no idea how I'd combine the two. And at the time, there weren't really any degrees that were specific to the type of design I do now. There was a single class, just one. And I liked computer science, I loved logic. I liked the low level stuff like compilers and assembly. But I got really frustrated with what it took to actually build the things and the kludginess of what it took. And there was also this attitude about users with some of the folks that I worked with that I thought could be better. It was that if a user didn't get what was going on, they needed to learn more about the program. All of it was on the user, right? So that really pushed me towards internships in quality assurance, because those were the times to really try out everything. And specifically to try to break things, which was a lot of fun. And it was the best place to also try out any possible new gadget you could get your hands on. So that was a lot of fun. But when I found these things that didn't work right, I didn't want to stop there. I wanted to describe how I thought they should work. And I wasn't thinking that there should be just one way, I'd come up with multiple ideas. And I really started gravitating towards that more and more. And it was the designer on one of my internships that really pointed this out and said, Hey, I think you would be really good at design, because you're thinking about how it should be used. And you're coming up with these ideas. And shout out to Steve Johnson, he is the UX whisperer for many people. And he definitely was for me, and he's currently VP of Design at Netflix. And he's made a career out of building world class UX teams at Adobe and then LinkedIn and now Netflix. But back in the day, he was the designer working on the product that I was testing and he said, this is a thing you can do. And then I knew some designers that were interns also. And they came from industrial design. And I thought, well, that's interesting. So when I graduated, I was fortunate to be able to get hired into an out of college design position at Adobe. And so I learned everything on the job from my fellow designers. And made a career out of that - it was my dream job. And while I was there, I showed my enthusiasm and my interest and pretty quickly moved into working on the designs for Illustrator and being the lead designer for Illustrator and then shifting over to be the lead designer for Photoshop, when there was some shuffling of designers. And so this was my dream job, those were my dream projects. So my career had this creative pro sense around it with user experience design. But then, after almost a decade of doing that, I have been looking around and thinking about other things and in this time, we got, the rise of the iPhone and apps on mob ile interfaces and multi touch, I did a bunch of that while I was at Adobe and ended up moving sideways over to LinkedIn, because I realized that I was really drawn to professional use cases. And they're for professionals. And if you'd asked me, are you interested in this kind of experience, I don't think I would have spotted that initially. But after going over and talking with some folks there, I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I saw the opportunity. So that popped me over to LinkedIn where the range of experiences that I learned about and could design for just blossomed. I worked on growth. I started off with groups, which was all about community and community design is fascinating. So I learned a bunch about community, a bunch about the recruiting process, I redesigned the recruiter product, so they were my users. And growth also as its own world. So after having these shifts for different industries and different users, I realized that I could do this on my own for different industries. And I wanted to do it now, wanted to get in earlier, I wanted to bring that big company knowledge and those resources about how things scale and grow to companies that were earlier in their process. So that's how I started Make it Legit. Make it Legit was the name of a blog that I had started while I was at Adobe just to capture the my approach to design.

Dan Berlin:

And when you say early in their process, do you mean like in terms of their UX maturity and bringing UX to them?

Julie Meridian:

Yes. So often, the companies I've worked with have tended to have either zero designers, one designer, or like maybe a half dozen at most. Actually, when I joined LinkedIn it had, I want to say maybe 14 designers total. So it went through massive scale - growth on massive leaps while I was there. And so I could see these connections between just that zero or one just starting off to a small team to how you scale the team beyond that.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Nice. And one other thing I wanted to ask about, you mentioned that community design is fascinating. In brief, what was so fascinating about it.

Julie Meridian:

There's aspects of communities that relate to it being multi user and emergent. So the multi user parts are interesting, because everyone is coming with their own point of view, their own motivations. And emergent is that a successful community can only come together by its own mix of people in what they do. So you can design the environment. But it all comes down to the people within it to decide what success is. And to really build that... and my product manager partner, Ian McCarthy had this framed photo from Field of Dreams, because there's the quote there, "If you build it, they will come" as a joke, because just because you build it, they won't necessarily come for community.

Dan Berlin:

I love that. That's funny. Great, well thanks for all that. Great stuff so far. Moving on, can you tell us about your chapter Put on Your Infosec Hat to Improve Your Designs?

Julie Meridian:

Sure. So this chapter is about the practical, tactical things that you can do with a design to test it in a certain way - test it in an infosec way. And so infosec is a whole industry of its own. And in fact, O'Reilly is coming out with a 97 Infosec Things later this year. So definitely check that out if you're interested in it. But I'd say this is for designers that are trying to figure out what to do next, if they've been focusing mostly on the happy path of their designs. So if you have created a design that works, this is the pause that you take. And you come back and say, Okay, how might it not? How might it fail? And it's a different kind of mindset. So I think it is good to take that pause and just celebrate your wins for coming up with your design first, and then come back to it. And what I've got in my chapter are a list of things that you can try, that might make it fail. And they're things that are technical logistics. They're things that are user behaviors. And it's... you are trying to break it. And for good, because if you can break it early, you can figure out how to design around it.

Dan Berlin:

Are there examples of things that you've come across that fall into these categories of things that you found after the fact by putting on your infosec hat?

Julie Meridian:

Definitely, I'd say one massive category here is anything that deals with user generated content. So that would mean can your users write content? Can they upload photos? Is their experience dependent on the content that they receive? And chances are, it's going to be a yes to at least one of these, maybe all of them. And so what you can do, and what I do, is once I've come up with a nice looking design with good content, I go through and just throw in not good content. So I make it down rez, I make it potentially abusive, well, within reason. It's internal. But I put words on it that people forget that meme images are frequent enough that if you do weird things with cropping, or if you overlay text on images, it might end up looking really bad. And depending on the users, that might be the primary use case, like one of the clients I designed for is the platform Handshake for college students to find jobs. And I was designing pages that college career centers use and they have a banner. Great, they want to have this nice banner. And initially we were thinking, Oh, these are shots of the campus and it's leafy trees and students with books and that kind of stuff. And once we started seeing what people were uploading, they were uploading the logo for the Career Center, which has text. And so we ended up reworking, how it was laid out and previewing. Here's how your page is going to look. So instead of being really prescriptive, to say don't put text, to make it this size, we push them towards having the right sizes and having high enough quality. But we make sure to preview that before they go live. So they might realize, oh, maybe I shouldn't have an image with text. Or, oh, maybe I shouldn't have an image with our campus logo on it. Because the campus logo is already here. It's overlaid on the image as part of the design. So that's one of those things that our imagination about what the content would be, took us one direction and we had tovet it with our users to see what they wanted the content to be and how they wanted to arrange it.

Dan Berlin:

I love that best practice there that was employed with giving the user feedback, instead of being prescriptive of what needed to be done. Okay, instead of telling them what needed to be done, here's what the results gonna look like. Now you want to make any changes. That's wonderful.

Julie Meridian:

Yeah and I think one of the other things that's informing these recommendations are what I call a whole genre of books, which is dystopian futures. I'm a big fan of that for fiction and sci-fi. But there's also a genre of that for UX books. And so things like Ruined by Design would be one of those that just came out last year, I think. Mike Montero and Why Things Bite Back. And there is a book that I had in college from the computer science curriculum, called A Gift of Fire. And all of these books told horrifying stories about how designs lead to things going wrong. And when you start thinking about how digital applications are used, it doesn't take much to realize just how off the rails that can get when they're used for hospital equipment, or missile telemetry, or cars. I think it helps to have this mindset looking towards things. And when this when this posts, on Twitter I'll share a bunch of links to my favorite dystopian future books in the genre. Though, I will do a shout out for one that I think is a more optimistic one, which is Future Ethics, I think is a great introduction to both what can go wrong, but also directions for how we can make it go right.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. Well, it's been a big topic these days, as well as it's part of our duty to make things go right. Especially when we are advocates for users. So I love hearing that.

Julie Meridian:

Yeah, and I think sometimes we don't realize how they can go wrong, because of partly the nature of the work, because we're designing and we work with a team to implement it. So I'd like us to take more of an approach like how we evaluate industrial design, where we evaluate industrial design based on the final product, and how it's used. And there's a space for prototyping and inspiration and concepts. But we should ultimately be judged by what is built and what is out in the world.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And how that affects other people and how it affects the people that are using our designs. Definitely, yeah. So what else about infosec here, any other tips for folks for employing this method in their work?

Julie Meridian:

Here's one super practical tip. And then kind of a philosophical one. The super practical tip is get some different devices around you if you can. And try not to always work with your 4k or 5k monitor when you design. Throw it on a phone, throw it on your iPad, or a small tablet at the very least. Or make your window smaller, and just shifting where you're seeing that makes a big difference. So that's the practical thing. But the philosophical thing is, I'd say, just speak up. Because it's one thing to put yourself in the mindset to think about these things. But you are really in the best position of anyone on the team, possibly at the company, to be the one to speak up. Even if you're new. And this, I feel this really strongly because I distinctly remember being in my early 20s, when I first started working on Illustrator and being in a conference room with the engineering managers, and the QA managers, and Product Manager, all these people. And there was something that wasn't working the way I thought that it should. And I spoke up for it. I started to and I got concerned about it, and I spoke up for it a little bit. And I am really glad that the engineering manager and one of the many people that I've met was just kind of surprised to be in the room with me because I was new. It encouraged me and he asked me another question or two and I described it more and I stood up for it. And after the meeting, I was so nervous. And I just had to take a breath and realize I'm in a spot to do this. It doesn't matter what my background is. This is my role. And I am I'm here to speak for the user. I think this is why we're also inspired by Tron. The original Tron, we fight for the user. It's true. It's true. And it doesn't matter what your background is, you are the person that can do that.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yeah, always be the person to speak up and never be scared to do so. You shouldn't be scared to do so because we are the folks who should be advocating for what's right.

Julie Meridian:

Exactly.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. All right, so any other thoughts about your chapter before we move on to the final UX tip?

Julie Meridian:

Um, I think there's a lot to learn here. But like everything in UX, everything feels like there's a lot to learn. But it really just starts with the mindset of being willing to pause and reevaluate what your work is. But as you start showing it to other people, they will help you get more creative about that way that you can apply that mindset. So on future projects, you kind of carry them with you and you, you can hear that voice in your head. And that will help you catch the things you need to catch.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And help influence others in terms of having them think that way as well.

Julie Meridian:

Definitely.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. Great. All right. So finally here, how about a tip for the audience? Career tip, either for folks breaking into the field, or folks continuing their UX career? What what tip do you have for them?

Julie Meridian:

The tip I have would be to treat everything like a project, which I realize sounds so simple, but I think we can get wrapped up in the education that we get, or the projects the team that we're with, or the company that we're with, and we kind of we wrap that wrapper around ourselves because it gives us authority. But ultimately, it comes down to you and the project. What was your thinking? What did you do? And how did you adapt to actually making some part of it real? So I feel those are the questions that I would ask someone that is just thinking about UX and possibly getting into it. That's what I'd want to hear them thinking about on projects they are on. That's the question that I asked myself, how am I thinking about this? How can I adapt? What makes me being on this and my work on this something that will make it better? Because I think, especially with design systems and patterns, it's getting much easier to make things that fit into an ecosystem. So we need the human brain, we need our personalities and backgrounds and experiences to just give it that reality check and speak up for something that might be out of left field.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And follow your instincts in that regard, too.

Julie Meridian:

Yeah, exactly. And those instincts are the things that I think you start seeing as a pattern for yourself and your work. And so the easiest way to do that is to try and strip away the lure of the company and the lure of your education and just think about the project and the thing that got made and how you would do it differently.

Dan Berlin:

Wonderful. Well, Julie, thanks for all of that. Your interesting career trajectory, what you had to say about the chapter and your tip here. And thanks for coming on the show today.

Julie Meridian:

Thank you, Dan.

Dan Berlin:

And for everyone listening in thanks for listening in again. And hope you enjoyed the episode. 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. Joshua Berlin is the podcast transcript editor, 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.