Design Research & Implementation

Design is, first and last, a practice of listening.

Sometimes, listening offers us really low-hanging fruit. When I arrived at UW Continuum College, we were asking teachers to submit grades by snail mail or fax. This was 2017, in Seattle. I’m guessing the only fax machines left on the western seaboard were the ones in our offices, and in the Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham.

In addition to a bad experience for our teachers, this process
created security risks – some teachers, frustrated, would email grades to our

Grade submission wasn’t directly in my team’s direct realm of responsibility – but we listened, and heard from teachers and program managers that it was one of the primary blockers, and worked to resolve the issue.

And we didn’t spend a lot of money to do it. We went after simple solutions first, using pre-existing tools to create a secure, online upload for grades.

After several rounds of user testing, We tested with a group of 50 instructors in Summer, then rolled out fully in fall. Our final design was so good that across 300 courses, we only had 6 help requests in the first quarter of launch. Fewer help requests than we received about faxing.

(Good design increases user satisfaction, and, simultaneously, reduces support burden)

Not all fruit hangs this low, nor are all solutions this simple. But the bones remain the same. Listen to users. Seek real problems to solve. Measure if you’ve solved them. Often the solution is simpler than expected. 

Through these approaches, my team tests an average of 15 new teaching technologies every year, in addition to doing the work of support groups, trainers, and data analysts.

Throughout my career at UW, I’ve been asked to take management of successively larger, more diverse teams, with more, different, specific knowledge areas. Recently, I’ve been successful managing four, very different, teams simultaneously because I’ve understood the root of the work. 

Find user problems. Prototype. Test. Solve. Rinse. Repeat.

And don’t stop listening.