Meet Elizabeth Gusnoski. Elizabeth brings over a decade of experience in all phases of running large-scale websites and intranets. Her specialties include information architecture, analytics, content strategy, front end development and digital marketing.
How did you get into this line of work?
Like many of us, I stumbled into it. I discovered the internet in the mid 90’s and dabbled with HTML as the first web browsers were born. I aspired to write for a living, and built websites for extra cash while doing a BA in English. My career meandered, and I ended up doing a mix of graphic / publication design and web development as user experience emerged as a discipline. I landed a job in web communications at a post-secondary institution and found myself drawn towards using language, structure and layout to make information easier to find and understand. I was allowed to assist some consultants running usability tests on an interface I’d had a hand in shaping and was hooked. Fifteen years later, I’ve worked on hundreds of sites and projects and am still hooked.
Now it feels like a natural fit, combining technical and analytical elements with understanding of language, cognitive psychology, design, problem solving, and human dynamics. As a consultant and project lead, I get to present, facilitate and collaborate, but also time alone to think deeply, ruminate, strategize and write.
Who are some of the thought leaders you look to for ideas/inspiration?
It’s changing all the time as I become aware of new voices, which is exciting! I keep track of Abby Covert (IA), Sarah Richards (content design and readability), Nathan Yau (data visualization and information design), Christina Wodtke (all-around awesomeness), and Lisa Welchman (digital governance). There are also lots of very smart local folks worth paying attention to.
How have you seen UX evolve over the years/since you’ve been with nForm?
Everything old is new again… many things haven’t changed over the years. We tend to see the same themes over and over. UX problems are often a symptom of larger organizational dysfunction, such as a lack of cross-department coordination or governance structures, competing priorities, lack of evidence-based decision making, and low digital literacy.
I’ve been with nForm for two years. In that time, I’ve seen companies continue to shift towards cloud services, particularly Office 365, which has major ramifications on the tool set available to build things like intranets. There is a lot of power in those platforms, but also many baked-in assumptions that change how users interact with information and each other. Since they’re enterprise-wide, they tend to expose the types of dysfunctions previously mentioned. Expensive usability issues can be avoided down the line with some strategic planning as these technology decisions are made.
What’s the one thing a researcher should always remember in order to conduct a successful interview or usability test?
Be prepared. Practice your plan, practice the questions, practice the technology. You’ll then be able to relax and focus on your participant, which will help them relax.
What is it about UX and the work that you do that keeps you motivated?
People are interesting! I’m curious and love to learn new things, so I’m driven to turn over the next rock or work through a solution until it snaps into place. I have the privilege of learning as much as I can about our client’s business, what they do, how they do it, and how their users experience them. As a strategic advisor to clients, I take great pride in knowing that I can play a part in guiding key decisions to positively impact staff or customers for years to come.
If you could go back in time to when you began your UX journey and give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
Have courage! Trust what you know and keep learning. Question everything. Get used to uncertainty. Find community and share your work. There are no magical experts with unshakable confidence; we all feel like imposters sometimes, and if we’re not doubting anything, we’re not paying enough attention.
If you could choose anyone in the world, who would you pick as your mentor?
This might sound cheesy, but I wouldn’t want to choose any one specific person. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to access to brilliant people to learn from through conferences, meetups, videos and articles. My co-workers (designers and developers) are great for talking through problems with. Exposure to other disciplines is also really important. For example, I’ve learned a great deal from the communicators I work with on the IABC Edmonton board.
What kinds of UX activities, approaches and/or methods are you looking forward to exploring/experimenting with in the future?
I’m interested in exploring some of the spaces where similar activities or methodologies are being used to solve broader problems, such as design thinking or service design. I also have some thoughts for original research regarding digital workplaces and internal communications.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I recently took up roller derby. It’s a fast-paced full-contact sport with lots of complex rules, all done in the unnatural state of being on wheels. So really, it’s not so different from making intranets!