The Dox Spotlight is a series that highlights the hard work of Doximity employees as they continue to build time-saving tools for the largest professional medical network in the U.S. This week, we interviewed Doximity's Product Manager, Ed Yip.

Q: Tell us about your time at Doximity so far. How long have you been at the company? What team are you on? What have you been up to?

A: I've been with the company for roughly eight months, but I interned with the company in the summer of 2017, so my time here has felt a lot longer. As an intern, I PM’d Doximity’s non-profit platform (DoxFoundation) and now...I’m on ads. Don’t hate. I’m currently a Product Manager on Doximity’s Ads “Mechanics” Team where I manage our internal ad server platform and ensure the efficient creation and delivery of ads to our users.

Q: So, you spent a lot of your career researching and implementing user-centered design systems. How did you get into user-centered design?

A: I started off as a bioengineer manufacturing therapeutics for clinical trials where my primary users were the cells I worked with. With cells not being able to speak, feedback on products came in the form of whether or not cells died, always inferential and never direct in terms of how to make improvements. I did not enjoy this.

Realizing I liked talking to people and not flasks, I moved on to pharma management consulting where I worked with clients to get stuff done. Unfortunately, pharma loves using antiquated software so I’d use the most outdated software to try to get stuff done. It was slightly better than being in the lab and entrenched in the industry for so long, I told myself to accept things the way they were not even aware that user-centered design existed.

Eventually, I quit consulting to pursue a master’s at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, where they focused on data, design, user research, and doing things "the right way" by focusing on the “why” in addition to the “what” of technology. It was there that I got my first exposure to the world of user-centered design and user research where I learned this most important concept: everything has a user - whether it’s an app or a data table, everything begins with the users since they will be the ones who determine whether your product has value. And effective user-centered design keeps user empathy and experiences at the forefront of the design and development process.

Q: Why do you think every product team should invest in utilizing user-centered design processes? When you talk about user-centered design philosophy, what are you speaking about?

A: If you don't invest in utilizing user-centered design processes, you'll end up either solving for problems that nobody has or you solve a problem in a way that helps nobody. One thing that I found certainly true for myself and other people in the industry is that you tend to take for granted the reality that everything has an affordance. Everything has a user, and everyone is a user of something and it should be every product team’s goal to provide value and improve the experience of using that particular product.

Even as a bioengineer, when I was in lab with my precious cells, I was the user of those instruments but never had an outlet to improve my own user experience. Like I mentioned before, it all boils down to the fact that users give your product (or feature) value. Whether it’s something that’s on extremely user facing or an app in the background that nobody sees, a user’s experience will determine how useful a product is.

For example, say you have an app that provides some kind of recommendation for a user. It’s easy to see how front-end design will impact user experience, but what about everything else? if a backend product is capturing data poorly, then data teams will either be forced to use bad data or no data at all, and if those data teams build an ML algorithm to provide recommendations to users, those recommendations will likely be inaccurate which will likely result in users not using the app.

Every step of the process matters and is relevant from a user perspective, so by being utilizing user-centered design processes, you can strategize more effectively and address problems more meaningfully no matter what type of product or feature you’re working on.

Q: What are some best practices or philosophies that you've seen put in place when implementing user-centered design within an organization? How can a company think about this as part of its systems?

A: All best practices I’ve seen boils down to one basic principle– to focus on the “who” and “why” before the “what.”

Thinking about physical products are the best way I’ve found to think about user-centered design since those affordances are the most tangible. For example, a toothbrush - it’s easy to see how every step of designing a toothbrush should consider how people will use it and why they will keep using it. Likewise for software, embedding user-centered design into every step of the R&D process is the best practice a company can employ. Since users are core to the value of a product, it doesn’t really make sense to keep user empathy and experiences separate from a product’s development.

Additionally, I’d caution against the temptation to simplify user-centered design into just initial market research or just end user testing. I subscribe to the notion that everything has an affordance and so, I believe that every step of the product development process must be mindful of user empathy in order to build a product that is not only valuable, but also meaningful.

More tangibly, teams should always understand who their users are, not trivializing user experiences, and being diligent in asking “why” when creating something no matter how big or small. Good user-centered design is what makes the difference between swiping versus clicking a button, one click buying versus manual checkouts, pinch zoom versus selecting a magnifying glass and clicking. User-centered design done well is where users are considered in every aspect of a product.

Q: If you're a product leader out there and you're trying to change your culture to be more user-centered and to think about these best practices, where should product leaders start if they want to do a good job of building products where users are really involved in the process and at the center?

A: Honestly, the obvious answer is the internet. There’s an endless amount of resources that talk about best practices and success stories and also failures that people have had building products where users are involved in the process. My former advisor would tell me that user research is not rocket science; the difficult part is that most people either don’t even think to consider user psychology when building something because they’re so focused on the technology. User-centered design is just understanding people and building things that address their needs in a considerate, thoughtful way. If you don't know anything about user-centered design, start with Googling “what is user-centered design?” and go from there.

The second thing I found most helpful is having those industry mentors. For me, I was lucky enough to meet someone at YouTube who had been doing it for so many years, and I can always ask him for advice. User-centered design exists as a confluence of technical and social sciences. Having industry mentors to talk through the features they’re building, why they’re building it, and how they’ve designed and built it is absolutely essential to developing your own product worldview.

Q: Any resources you'd recommend if you're trying to kick-off a user research program at a company?

A: The top three that come to mind are:

  1. Your company. Ask yourself why your company needs a user research program. If you don’t have a good “why,” then the “what” will not matter.

  2. Other companies. Look at how other companies have done it to see what works/won’t work for your company.

  3. Corporate champions. There’s a book called “Selling Usability” by John Rhodes that talks about how nobody cares about UX except for people in UX, so learning how to phrase the benefits of UX is far more effective than talking about UX itself (e.g. “We are losing $$$ per month because users can’t figure out a feature” vs. “A recent survey revealed that 12% of users do not know how to use this feature”). Figuring out how to do this and finding those corporate champions will be crucial to your success. This last resource can only come about once you’ve done your homework and can effectively convey the importance of and dangers of not having a user-centered design.

As a last note, the best way to build your case for advocating user-centered design is to find examples of when user-centered design goes wrong or when it's absent from a process. Anything from seeing how interviews go completely haywire because the interviewer is not asking the right questions, to seeing why users flock to one dating app over another, to seeing how a company overlook some key user behavior that leads to leaks or security breaches.

All of these fails have consequences and understanding the commonalities for these types of user-centered “fails” is critical to creating a lasting culture of user-focused change.

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