DIA Design Guild appreciates everyone in the Apprentice Program. To humbly brag about the awesome people in our community, we’re sharing interviews where we can become better acquainted them.
Today we Get to Know our very own Jill Christ, a UX Researcher and DIA mentor. Read on* to learn more about her!
*Interviewer’s note: Many gaggles of giggles were gathered during the making of this talk. For an enhanced reading experience, imagine we’re giggling in-between our sentences.
Get to know Jill!
Justin: Hi, Jill! It’s nice to meet you. Could you introduce yourself for us please?
Jill: Yeah! My name is Jill Christ (rhymes with list). I’ve been doing user research for the past 14 years, mostly in a corporate setting, before going independent and doing my own consulting.
I have one apprentice in the program, May Ng. She’s super sharp and has this huge passion for research. It’s been awesome, she brings a lot of initiative. Every time we meet, she’s already done so much work… It’s like she’s mentoring herself! She’s lovely to be working with.
Justin: Ha! The best kind of apprentice.
On school friendships and building community
Speaking of mentoring and such, what made you decide to mentor with DIA?
Jill: Well, Grace is one of my long-time friends from graduate school. We went to UCLA together and did the library school program together.
She really knows how to start and run and keep communities going. Grace, I think, is what kind of drew me into DIA. She’s someone I really trust and look up to.
Justin: I know, right? She could literally tell me “Justin, I need you to give me your credit card number and those 3 digits on the back.” And I’ll be like, “You got it.”
Jill: Haha, yes! It’s not easy to say no to her.
Justin: Exactly! Yes! Oh my god, someone’s finally put into words a picture of Grace in a nutshell.
Jill: She just really makes you feel like whatever you’re doing really matters. Like it’s bigger than just you, like you’re contributing to something.
Justin: That’s exactly how I feel.
So I know you mentioned you were looking for mentoring opportunities. Is there a story behind how you found yourself wanting to get into that?
Jill: Mmm. Well let’s see, when I was working in-house at Facebook I had lots of opportunities to mentor people. I had gotten moved into a manager role, so a big part of my job was mentoring people. That was really the part of the job that energized me the most in management.
When I left and followed my dream to start my own freelance practice I found that I didn’t have opportunities to mentor anymore because you’re kind of all by yourself when you work for yourself.
I think that’s kind of where it was coming from. It does get lonely; it’s nice to be part of a big team because you’re surrounded by people and have a lot to contribute to. That just kind of comes with independent work.
Justin: Ah, I guess it’s like the price you pay, right?
Jill: Yeah, lots of flexibility but there’s a lot of alone time. Along the way I’ve reached out and gotten mentored by other freelancers and that has been super valuable for me. So that alleviates some of my loneliness.
They always say that not all jobs are gonna check all your boxes for you and fill your cup so you have to find other ways to do that. And I realized one of the cups that wasn’t getting filled for me was being able to give back and feel like I’m helping someone else grow in their field.
DIA just does such a thoughtful job of pairing people together. You come up with goals together, there’s projects that you can dive into, it’s a more structured process than what I had been doing before.
Justin: That’s interesting how you mentioned that you wanted to give back and feel like you’re helping someone grow in their field. I guess I resonate with that because- Wait! You went to school with John too, right?
Jill: Yeah, yeah, I did!
Justin: John was my mentor at first!
Jill: Oh my gosh, that’s great!
Justin: I remember the first time we met he was telling me, “You don’t need to pay for this, I don’t believe in that. All I need you to do is to give back someday if you find my help helpful.” And that’s what really drove me to mentor for DIA too.
Jill: Oh wow! That’s awesome to pay it forward; that’s really what it’s all about. That’s the way we keep our field thriving, it’s by investing back into the next generation. They’re the ones who’ll carry it forward.
It’s nice to have someone who figured out the way they originally did it to support you and cheer you on and call you out when you’re getting in your own way. I appreciate all the mentors that have done that for me too.
Justin: Funny enough, Grace actually did that for me recently. She was like, “Justin, you know what you’re doing! Just get in there, hire or bust!”
Jill: Oh, yes!
Justin: I was like, “So this is what it’s like to get roasted by Grace… It feels great!”
Jill: Sometimes you need that kick in the pants, I guess. Those moments you remember and really grow from. They hurt, but sometimes we need it every once in awhile. It’s a very kind and compassionate kick in the pants.
Learning with Lynda
Oh! I almost forgot to ask. I was hunting around on your LinkedIn and I noticed you were the first fully dedicated UX researcher at Lynda.com.
Jill: Yeah, I was!
Justin: What was it like establishing the service’s UX?
Jill: When I got there the design practice was already established and they had some really awesome research in place from a consulting company that I could start building off of. I had the opportunity to partner with that company on some strategic persona research, which was so helpful for getting the more tactical quick-wins going. When you’re starting a new company, it’s harder to get those bigger projects off the ground. It was so nice to have the consultants help.
Starting sprints with the teams and conducting regular usability tests was really exciting. When you’re working with a smaller company, you get to know everyone and bring them into the research. They’re getting to see this new way of working for the first time. It’s just really cool.
Lynda.com was really focused on their members. Everyone was super into it, so there wasn’t a lot of selling that I had to do. They were all really motivated to improve the member experience.
I remember everyone in the company received a copy of feedback sent through the site so there was already a lot of exposure to what members were saying. Having that exposure was very helpful in priming the teams to observe members using the product and seeing where they were struggling with it and what we could do to improve it.
That’s kind of what I got to work on with them. That was really exciting.
Justin: I started my design journey when I took an Adobe Illustrator class in high school and I remember Lynda.com was one of the resources the teacher would bring up for us.
Jill: Oh yeah, that’s awesome! It was really interesting to look at how people used different features and how they approached that experience, that product, depending on what they were motivated by at the time. And that evolves and changes as people grow into their careers and change careers, and things like that.
It was one of the most fulfilling projects and places I got to work at. It’s rare that you get to work on a product that makes such a big difference and has such a positive impact.
The Tin Man’s journey playing detective
Justin: Going back to your experience in the corporate world: Lynda.com, Facebook, and then moving into your own independence freelance consulting work. Were there any speed bumps when you made that transition?
Jill: Yes, absolutely. I had a hard time at first. I gave an online talk at UX New Zealand in 2020 and talked about this transition from going corporate to independent and how I had a lot of struggles along the way. So I told the story of my transition through the lens of the Hero’s Journey and specifically used The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor because I could see so many parallels.
I had a Tin Man moment where I went in to give my first sales pitch to a client and I really wanted to make a real connection with them. But I started out my whole pitch talking all about myself and how qualified I was for this project. Something was really getting in the way of really being able to connect with them...
I was reading at the time this book called The Trust Advisor and they talk about this strategy using the Lt. Columbo Approach.
He’s working with homicide suspects and in order to get them to open up to him he has to really like downplay himself and not come off as such an authority figure but more of this frazzled guy that drives a beat-up car, wears a raggedy trench coat…
Basically the point is to humble yourself. And it’s kind of like in the usability testing setting where you try to calm the other person down, make people feel more at ease. I didn’t realize that was so important to do when you’re working with clients too or when you’re trying to pitch to them.
You think you know these things… While you’re going through it, you’re just kind of figuring it out. I don’t know if I can say that I’ve reached the Emerald City quite yet. The Hero’s Journey was a nice tool to help me make sense of those things in the beginning that were so hard.
Justin: I absolutely love that. It’s funny, I didn’t expect a Columbo reference today of all times. I watch it every night with my Mom!
Jill: He always brings up his wife, he always compliments the other person, like really butters whoever the murderer ends up being. It was really fun coming across that tactic in the book because yeah, just like you I watched Columbo with my parents and my grandma, growing up.
Justin: It’s interesting how you mentioned trying to calm the other person down to connect with them that way. As UXers, we kinda have to be Columbo in that sense. I personally found myself being like him sometimes, purposefully being a little dorky to get someone who’s a little cold off guard.
Jill: Yes, you wanna break the ice, right? Because otherwise they might be very intimidated, especially in a situation where you’re trying to influence the other person to hire you or adopt your idea. That was what it was like for me, I was too rigid, just like the Tin Man needed oil. He wanted his heart, he wanted that real connection. It’s really about connecting with people.
Justin: That’s a beautiful message. I think it’s one of the most understated things when it comes to freelance; I guess UX too.
Jill: That’s true, it’s such an inherent part of the role.
Justin: Now that you mention the importance of connecting with people, I realized, “Wait a minute. Jill runs a newsletter!” You run a newsletter called Illustrative Vibes where you share your thoughts and other helpful resources you’ve found. What inspired you to start that?
Jill: I haven’t been keeping it updated for a long time. But during pandemic I wanted to start writing and getting my ideas out there. I was taking, at the time, one of Seth Godin’s courses and in one of the lessons there was a challenge to start working on something to get your voice out there.
You bringing this up is making me think that maybe I need to get back into writing. Maybe there’s some things that I can share. I’m about to go on maternity leave and I’ve been trying to think of ways to keep my brain working as I start this very physically demanding part of my life. And that might be a nice way to share my reflections. Not necessarily about parenting but maybe other things.
I spend a lot of time researching different products now that are for babies. I think about things like, “Oh wow, this brand really knows their audience” or “This one, they don’t quite get it, but the price is good so I guess we’ll go with it”.
Justin: Note to self: Subscribe to Jill’s newsletter.
The wonderful world of baby products
Also, now seems like a good time to ask: Just like Dorothy had her Toto, it seems like you’re going to have a baby soon? Congratulations!
Jill: Thank you, thank you!
Justin: Oh that’s funny, you actually answered one of my questions. I was going to ask if you noticed usability issues with maternity-related products.
Jill: Yes, oh yes. I really noticed the products that really stand out are the ones that think about the design. You could really tell they prioritized that and priced it accordingly.
We registered for a car seat my parents bought for us that was only compatible with a particular kind of stroller. We were like, “Shoot, now we have to get this kind of stroller” but as we looked into this stroller we were so impressed with the way they had different models. The one we were looking at just folds up really easily. It’s not that big, you can stick it into your car with lots of other baby things, you could put it on an airplane, and the materials are very durable too. I think it’s going to work well for our lifestyle.
I would like to do some deeper thinking into different products; how they’re positioning themselves, who I think they’re targeting/not targeting. Sometimes brands can be good at speaking directly to who they’re trying to build for and sometimes they can generalize across all different types of use-cases, depending on how established the company is.
Your UX career is a marathon
Justin: We’re nearing the end of the interview ☹️. I have one last question that’ll be a really great way to end this. I looked on your Twitter and it seems like you really enjoy running. Have there been times where you applied running to your own UX work?
Jill: Mmm, that’s a really good question. It’s something I think about a lot because I love UX and I love running so much. You hear a lot about sprints in the UX world and also in running there are sprinters. So I’ve thought that maybe there’s some parallels between the career of a UX person and a marathoner.
The whole point of a marathon is that you’re supposed to save your energy for the final stretch, the final three miles. But it’s so tempting in the beginning to go really fast because you’re super excited. And just like that with our careers, it can be exciting to start a new job, take on everything, and before you know it you’re like, “I haven’t taken a vacation and it’s been five years!”
The biggest parallel I can draw between the two is this idea of pacing yourself. Be patient with yourself. It’s going to be okay in the end, even if everybody else is going super fast and taking on everything, you have to have some sort of self-control and do what’s best for yourself because it’s going to pay off in the long-run.
Justin: Furious typing Sorry, that was a really good quote, I just want to make sure I got that all down.
Jill: Aw, thank you!
Justin: Hey, thank you! It was so much fun to talk with you, Jill. Take care!
Thank you for joining us to learn about Jill! You can find her online here:
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Written by Justin Kim; Reviewed by Grace Lau and May Ng