Office Hours: I'm senior design director at Runyon and previously led design at Tempest, IDEO, and the NYC Mayor's Office.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Sarah Lidgus, Senior Design Director at the digital product studio Runyon. Previously, I was Chief Experience Officer at Tempest, a design lead at IDEO and, and the first Designer in Residence at the NYC Mayor’s Office.

I care most about representation and inclusion in design, and started a tiny non-profit with a couple of friends to bring design education to community colleges.

Ask me anything about UX design (hint: I see UX design as the space *between* platforms/features that often doesn’t get properly considered), running great user research, and more!

Thanks so much for joining us @sarahlidgus!Elphas – please ask @sarahlidgus your questions before Friday, September 17th. @sarahlidgus may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites πŸ”₯πŸ‘πŸΎβž•
Hi @sarahlidgus! So happy to get your insights! I've been wanting to pursue more design in my career. I'm coming form a marketing & customer experience background. I've mocked up emails & done some QAing at my start-up. But I'm not sure where to start to get an idea of what design is out there.Any advice for career transitioning into design late into one's career?
Hi @georgette! It sounds like you've dabbled a bit in user research (Q&Aing) and in comms design/strategy (email and marketing). I would look more broadly at UX design and see if there's some part of the design process or craft within it that you're most interested in. I'd also look at my response to @beatris13 where I talk about the throughline of your work. Help potential employers see that you've been doing UX design all along, just in different spaces! Hope this helps :)
Thank you for this and for taking the time to share your insights!
Hi Sarah, Thank you for hosting office hours! - I'm curious if you have great examples in mind of UX design that are in renewables & geospatial software (e.g. energy tracking, satellite images), whether it'd be to Customer or to Business. What principles of UX design do you think are important?
Hi @yihuang! I've never worked in that space so don't have examples. But a few principles of UX design I think are important but underlooked are 1. Understand not just the user but their context 2. Don't make accessibility an afterthought (it's bad for users, bad design practice, and really expensive to fix later) 3. Less is more. More features definitely don't mean better design; be judicious about what you're offering. Prioritize, edit, and cut. Don't pass on your design complexity to the user.Hope this is helpful!
Hi @sarahlidgus thanks so much for your time!I'm really curious about how we can reduce the lifecycle of design research by having customers easily accessible to designers.As a designer a huge pain point for me and my team is shortlisting the best customers to speak with to conduct user research.This is based on a variety of factors such as how often a customer has been contacted, the size of their organisation, what features they have access to, etc.I'm finding this information is very siloed, not only between departments but also within the design team. Is there any advice you have around this challenge?
Hi @JennyBounmivilay! Love this question. My experience is mostly in qual research, so I'll answer from that perspective.I think the key to great user research is quality respondents, as you're indicating here. With qual you have such a small sample size that you really have to have stellar people to talk with (because the converse is, crappy inputs in, crappy inputs out!). Because qual is used (or at least should be used) as inspiration for design, rather that validation--which is the realm of quant--a great profile is someone who really loves or really hates a product. These people will come with OPINIONS and that's what you're looking for. Obviously, the burden of what to do with those opinions then falls on the design team to synthesize what it all means, but with passionate respondents you can get a better sense of what's working and what's not quickly. Vetting who you'll be talking with before an official interview via phone screen is critical. For all these reasons, professional recruiters can be invaluable to a design team due to the time it takes to find and vet quality people. I think great user research recruiters are the unsung heroes of design! If you can bake some extra $$ into your budget, I've almost always found it worth it. Otherwise, I have surprisingly good luck with if you also take the time to craft a smart screener. Hope this helps!
Hi @sarahlidgus thanks so much for joining us πŸŽ‰ I have a few questions1. What are the 3 most valuable things that you learned at IDEO? :)2. What are the major differences between working at a company like IDEO vs being a contractor/freelancer?
Hi @keirabui! Here ya go:1. A. How to be comfortable with ambiguity. There's a whole messy middle part when you're trying to figure out what all the research means, and it can be scary bc it's not immediately evident. Well if it was immediately evident, people would have solved it already. So be patient, be rigorous, be curious. An answer will come. B. Enjoy the process, not just the final product C. In the end, empathy is not enough. You have to have representation on design teams to design meaningfully. 2. Freelance means having to find work/your next paycheck as well as the freedom to say yes or no to projects. I love the freedom, and I also have a deep network of professional connections after doing this for 10+ years, so that combo makes freelancing a great fit for me. I think if you're willing to risk not having work for a spell, freelancing is wonderful. :)
Hi @sarahlidgus so lovely to learn from you! I work at a health tech startup where we're trying to provide mental healthcare services and support for teens. We're in the initial phase of user research and scoping, and are wondering if we should assemble a teen advisory board, or how to best structure our UR process to ensure we're really being representative and inclusive given we aim to serve teens nationwide. Any guidance or resources here?
Hi @soniagarcia! Yes yes YES is my answer to your teen advisory board. I think the first step is to understand who your core users are from a behaviors and attitudes perspective (or some sort of downselect criteria: are you serving particular mental health needs, starting with certain geographies, etc) and then ensure you're assembling a group that is diverse across myriad demographics. Always ask yourselves who's not at the table. And pay them! I haven't worked with teens personally, but Creative Reaction Lab in St. Louis and Center for Urban Pedagogy in Brooklyn do and do it well. I'd look to them for guidance on collaborating with teens. Good luck!
Hi Sarah, what are your favorite resources for UX design beginners? (Coming from an engineering background) Thank you for being here!
Hi @oanaflorescu! OMG an engineer interested in UX design is my dream!! Super solid systems thinking plus an empathy for people and what they need and want is the sweetest spot for UX; I find that most folks in UX have the empathy part, but can lack the systems part, so it's exciting to see an engineer exploring this :)I am not a big text book fan generally; I tend to learn much more from narrative stuff, so not sure exactly how helpful this will be for you. My personal favorites for understanding UX design are Designing Design by Kenya Hara, Thoughtless Acts by Jane Fulton Suri (no words, just pictures!), and the first story in A Burglar's Guide to the City, which shows how differently a burglar sees a situation and how he then goes about exploiting its weaknesses (weird! fun!). Hope this helps!
Hi Sarah! Curious to know if you see any common pain points experienced by teams during the UX and product design processes, and what is your approach regarding advocating for representation and inclusion in design?
Hi @marih! Some common pain points: 1. Difficulty translating research insights into design. I think this is helped by leveling up all insights learned in research to design principles that can be acted upon more globally by the design team. 2. Lack of prioritization. Having a clear and roadmapped product strategy that is shared/visible across all teams--not just design--is critical. Nothing more time- and emotion-zapping than not knowing what teams are working on and why. 3. Not understanding dependencies. The shared roadmap and prioritization remedies so much of this, because adding new elements into any product has ripple effects almost always across other parts of the experience. Accounting for that will create a better, more consistent UX overall. Regarding advocating for representation and inclusion in design, I think it helps a ton to tie your advocacy to the specific goals or KPIs of a company. Are they looking for growth? New audiences? Better products? More ROI? Highlighting how representation and inclusion is good for business (there's so much research out there you can reference) speaks the the language of business. Additionally, is there a DE&I specific goal that's been outlined? A commitment that's been made either internally or publicly? I think it's time everyone checks in on the promises their company made last summer after George Floyd's murder. How is the company staying accountable to what was said in that email, or that company-wide All Hands meeting? I've found that holding companies accountable is a good place for white employees to really step up, especially those on exec or leadership teams.
Thank you for the response @sarahlidgus! As a software engineer who grew up loving visual art and psychology, UX and design has always been fascinating to me, especially now I'm at a stage where I'm exploring the intersection of my interests. I agree a common alignment on roadmap across teams is essential - some of my favourite work memories involve participating in design reviews as an engineer. Have you ever encountered situations with conflicting feedback across different user groups/personas on the same design? If so, what guiding principles or tools do you use to make decisions?Recently I chatted with product managers and UX designers on digital accessibility and have heard that making the business case is a common difficulty, especially when requested for measurable metrics. I'd love to learn more if there are resources or communities on this (one that comes to mind is the accessibility-focused talks from womentalkdesign).
How do you advocate for Design System work when your engineering team is strapped for time/resources and from business perspective we need to prioritize new features that will drive growth?
Hi @Jennachen! I feel like the best approach is to "speak engineering" and show exactly why Design Systems are critical to and helpful for their own work, not just the design team. Be clear that Design Systems are an upfront investment in design--and, by extension, engineering--so that the design is extensible and a known-known. So instead of design just just making up new stuff to add in all the time, there is this system of things we have created that we/design knows--AND engineering knows!--work, and will will be selecting from that palate to create new features. From a business perspective, if don't want your design (or engineering) process to be forever heavy or time consuming, investing up front in the creation of a design system is just smart business. There will be exponential efficiency within your internal teams as you continue to iterate on the product, which will save time and money internally on your way to driving growth and making more money externally.
I just love @sarahlidgus
Feeling could not be more mutual @ambika
✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨Sarah ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨hi! i'm so excited that you're here and answering our questions. i have three! i've seen some concentrations in ux, i.e. service design, research operations, etc. 1) what about your own life experiences encouraged you to pursue a career in ux design? 2) what attitudes or habits would you suggest are helpful for beginners to develop when pursuing a career in ux? 3) would you recommend short courses and certificate programs to jumpstart a career in ux or a route of self-study with books?please and thank you so much, sonam
Hi @Sonam! Thanks for your questions. Here's what I've got:1. I've always been interested in why people behave in the ways they do, especially when it seems to make no logical sense. (In design research, this is often referred to as the "Say/Do Gap", meaning I say I do this, but in reality, I actually do this. Like, I say I eat healthy food, but when you look at my freezer, it's filled with food that actually isn't healthy. Is it because I don't know it's not healthy? Do I know it's not, but I want people to perceive me as healthy, and why? All that stuff is just endlessly interesting to me.) People are emotional, and we need to be thinking about that emotion when we're designing, and often it gets overlooked. 2. Recognize that end users, aka people :), are the experts of their own experiences. Good UX design takes the path of most desirable and least resistance, so taking time to deeply understand people is an up front investment in the end product you'll be creating. So don't assume you know why someone does something; ask why, and then why again. It will get you to a deeper understanding. 3. When I started out in design there were no certificate programs, so I can't really speak to those exactly. I feel like on the hiring side of things, what I'm looking for is someone with a portfolio of work that demonstrates how they came up with the solution they did. How you get that portfolio is really up to you. I think that self study and then actually going out into the world an applying it, running your own small projects and documenting them, that's a great way to get some case studies going. I think there's enough out there on the internet you can piece together and read/watch that you can make your own program. For applicants, what I care most about is their actual work, not where they studied. Good luck with everything! Will be a fun adventure :)
Hi @sarahlidgus! Thanks for being here. My background is really broad (psychology and CS major in grad school, finance jobs, co-founder) and I went through a UX and product design bootcamp. I’ve been struggling to find a new role though, and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Any tips on how to best present myself and weave my varied experience and skill sets into a compelling story?
Hi @beatris13! Varied experience is great for design, I think, but what's key is to explicitly headline to potential employers what your throughline is. What was the motivation and perspective you brought to each of these roles? Like, "While my background may look varied on paper, what every one of these roles had in common was my motivation to understand what people wanted, and why. Whether that was X at X, Y at Y, or Z at Z, I was always looking to uncover people's motivations and desires so I could create a better experience for them" would be a lovely way to set yourself up for a UX strategy or design research type of an intro. The next step is to frame your previous work in case studies that highlight that throughline. Hope that helps!
Thanks so much for joining us @sarahlidgus!Elphas – please ask @sarahlidgus your questions before Friday, September 17th. @sarahlidgus may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites πŸ”₯πŸ‘πŸΎβž•