Design Leader Insights - Trip O'Dell

January 16, 2023

Alex Smith: Hey, Trip thanks so much for joining the show today.

Trip O’Dell: Hey Alex, thanks for having me. It's a, it's great to be here virtually with you. 

Alex Smith: Absolutely, and to get started can you tell the audience a little bit about your background history in UX design?

Trip O’Dell: I actually came to design about 20 years ago. But I'd had a career prior to that, when I actually studied education for most of my undergraduate, I specialized in special education. I grew up with severe learning differences whether dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia. And so obviously my interest was in there, but in specifically around using technology.

So I taught for a while. I actually specialized in what was known, it's a Masters in Immersive Mediated Environment. So it was everything from how people behave in virtual environments, like video games to the way the brain is wired to react to certain types of media stimuli. And from there, I've had some lucky breaks along the way. It was early on before UX was really a thing. And I got in at some great companies like Adobe, Microsoft, Amazon, Audible, some startups.

Alex Smith: I know you worked on Alexa and tell me how that blends with something else you know a lot about, which is like human cognition. And it's interesting how ancient this is, our brains and then how new these interactions and be it visual or auditory are.

Trip O’Dell: That's always been somewhat the secret sauce of my background, I never actually intended to end up being a designer. I focused, I always wanted to make life better for people and technology to sort of augment and offset their differences. The only interface, I've said this a number of times before, is the only interface you ever  designed for is the brain, like the eyes, the ears, the touch, all of that sensory input actually has to be, be made sense of. It's a difference that makes us different than animals. And there's a lot of theory around how that happens, how we learn things. And it's, we, we develop a mental model or a schema of how something should work, how we expect, we use our past experience to anticipate how future,

how something new and novel might work. And so that's been a big part of it. Of my work and specifically when I was with Alexa, which wasn't for that long, but I had a lot of significant inputs. When you get in tech, people tend to think about things as inputs and outputs, and they're a lot less interested in the context of how context changes the way that you perceive something. And one of the things that makes Alexa, Alexa is really just a chat bot, chat bots have been around for years and years and years. It's a smarter chat bot. But it's the social modeling of the language that it's, that it uses. So mimicking that natural social dialogue is what makes it easy to use. That's where the sweet spot is for user experience. That is how we experience how we understand the world, how we process those inputs and outputs. That's, that's the heart and soul of what user experience is about. It's different than UI or visual. And that's how more skills that people are going to have to master. As our, as we start getting IOT and voice and a bunch of augmented reality, virtual reality, It's it's about how our brain responds to those things. And the more we can understand that the better, the things that will, the more intuitive what we'll design will be. 

Alex Smith: So Trip, you've worked on all these global products. How do different markets react to things like Alexa and Audible and new product releases across the globe?

Trip O’Dell:I think that comes back to some of the human centeredness of that we assume... So another bias that we have a lot of this is cognitive bias, is that we don't really have a great sense of how other people experience the world. We just assume that based on how we experience it, that's how everyone experiences it, which is what makes testing and data really important in what we do. And a lot of times we have a tendency to try to solve, not only for sort of first world problems, but specifically top 1% living in the Bay Area problems. And a lot of those assumptions go out the door where they don't, they don't go out the door. They kind of go fully baked when you go into a new culture, a new geography where we don't question any of the attitudes that made that a successful business in the United States. Places like China and India or ownership cultures. They don't like to rent things. They don't like subscriptions. They would prefer to buy it once and own it. And so we saw this at Audible and I'm sure they experienced the same thing at Netflix is getting, getting people to subscribe to anything on a recurring basis, on and on at any price is really challenging, right? Our understanding, you know, pricing gets into play. Even in terms of like metaphor for things like iconography, it's those sorts of many, many decisions that go into a product where you actually have to look at almost throw out what your product market fit was in the United States or Europe, which tend to be more similar, but there are differences there. To a country where the economy, the cultural norms, the belief systems are very, very different than they shape our understanding of the world.

Alex Smith: So Trip, we're talking about designing for different cultures. How does that relate to inclusive design, which is another topic you're passionate about?

Trip O’Dell: Inclusive design is really questioning a lot about what you believe you know. And being open and curious about what could be. Right? Or what, what do I not know? The unknown unknowns. And I think for many companies, the smart ones, it's their biggest opportunity to innovate and differentiate. So at its heart and soul where you most product design or product development starts with, well, what's our, what's our target market? And it's that fifth, you know, it's that plus or minus 20% slice at the median of an addressable market.  And trying to sort that out. Inclusive design sort of flips that on its model and say, well, what's the nature of the problem we're trying to solve? What do we not know about? And then how can we intentionally polarize the audience or the, or the addressable market to look at extreme users? Because a lot of times there'll be the canaries in your coal mine, but it's how we look at that problem. You know, we say, well, you have to have a college degree. I can't point to a single college program that prepares anybody for user experience prepares them well or explicitly for it. So I think it's really about your approach to problem solving and looking at

anybody for user experience. Prepares them well or explicitly for it. So I think it's really about your approach to problem solving and looking at what are the hidden opportunities? The, the, the the unmet needs, the unexpressed needs that you could surface by being a little bit more curious and doing a little bit more research and sort of looking at how different people behave, and then being curious about why they behave in that way, whether it's their culture or personal limitations or what have you, that allows you to differentiate and innovate and you see that the best companies have consistently done that.

Alex Smith: Trip what type of advice would you have for new designers entering the field today? 

Trip O’Dell: Relax. You know, it's, I think there's so much, like combination of like imposter syndrome and Dunning-Kruger effect.

Alex Smith:-Yeah. 

Trip O’Dell: And I think one of the things is that you just need to get comfortable with the suck, like the fact that, like, you're  always going to feel like an imposter regardless of your stage of career. Feeling the need to flex, or to show that you already know all the answers or you know exactly how to do this, and I think that's where a lot of people that are coming in with bootcamps, I'm not a huge fan of the boot camps. Mainly because I feel like they exploit peoples dreams. Like people really want to break into this. They really want to work in this field. They kind of give you this middle layer of doesn't quite cover the fundamentals and it doesn't really get into the reasons why. It's just, here's how you do it. You know? As a sort of a step-by-step guide to doing design. And it's not even like specifically interaction design or visual design or prototyping, you get a smattering. And I think like if there's any advice that I've learned, it's the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is you've made a lot more mistakes, right? The wisdom I've learned, it's like check, check and make sure that you actually understand the nature of the problem that you're trying to solve. Check, learn from people that are better than you. And don't be ashamed of what you don't know.

Alex Smith: Trip, thanks so much for being on the show today.

Trip O’Dell: My pleasure Alex, thank you so much for having me. It was a flattering and fun conversation.