Rachel Foster, Slingshot
Rachel is the UX Design Director at Slingshot, a 13-person (and growing) software development consultancy in Louisville, Ky.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I serve as Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer of a startup focused on connecting people at large scale events (name TBD). Beyond that (laughing) I have a long, weird list of hobbies and interests outside of tech, most of which involve learning. I’m forever curious. I’m a voracious reader and an avid student of astrology and astronomy. (I adore understanding the sky and how it affects world events and our personal evolutions.) I’m certified in Reiki and currently working towards my Master certification, so there’s much emphasis on energetics and healing in my life. I’m a huge fan of any opportunity to costume. Lastly, I’m learning how to do “long string flow-wand,” which was originally used by magicians in the 1800’s as an illusion. It’s magical to watch.
How would you describe your role within your company's product organization?
I help guide the company’s creative by advocating for users’ needs, implementing Lean UX practices, and ensuring all of our products are of high visual quality and intuitive to use. We maintain a relatively flat organizational structure at Slingshot, so though I help lead, I dive into the design process just as much as everyone else.
What are you working on right now that’s exciting to you?
An app that’s a clinical decision support tool for Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, which will rollout in Illinois, then nationwide, and hopefully globally. It helps doctors and clinicians determine the likelihood of whether a child's injury is product of an accident or abuse. The doctors we’re working with have been collecting child injury and abuse data for over 10 years, so we’ve been aggregating their findings into a quick, easy-to-use app which will, literally, save lives. It’s humbling and exciting to be working on a project that will have such an impact.
What is the most important part of your day?
Collaboration, hands down. Working closely with my colleagues prevents us from getting stuck. I feel having brilliant, empathetic minds to bounce off of is the key ingredient to the success of any product we create.
What drains you at work?
Back-to-back meeting, but that’s everyone, right? Sometimes the tedium of polishing a UI can be draining, since I often prefer working on strategy and the overall flow of a user’s experience versus visual minutiae.
Do you have a daily routine to stay organized or perform better at your job?
Definitely. We try to focus on one client at a time, so as we’re working a project, we dedicate “sacred hours” to its creation. For example, everyday from 10-2pm, we try and hold for a particular project. We’ve found this allows us to really dive in, reduce switching costs, and build higher quality products. We also do a daily design stand-up, which creates space for discussion and pointed feedback.
How do you go about gathering customer feedback?
Multiple ways. After speaking with stakeholders about their vision, we begin one-on-one interviews with the people who will directly be using the software or app. We want to know everything about their day, their concerns, issues, processes, etc.
Once we consolidate what we’ve learned and drafted it into a visual format (wireframe, test site, rough UI, etc.), we then get the prototype in front of them, or people we haven’t yet spoken to, and conduct one-on-one user testing. We observe everything from their devices, to their facial expressions, pauses, and comments to help tweak and refine the product. In it's most basic form, we're serving as Empathy Architects. The process is iterative and so humanly informative.
How do you make user feedback actionable?
Once we’ve collected all user feedback, we write their thoughts and reactions onto Post-its and adhere them to the wall, so we can visually spot trends. From there we place stickers on the notes we find repeating themselves, or alterations / issues we think are particularly important or impactful. From there we make all the necessary changes to accommodate our findings and do another round of user testing to ensure it’s working as we intended.
What is something you've done recently with your product that was a huge hit with users?
We created a clickable human graph, which allows users to highlight the affected areas of the body when they upload an injury image. We came up with this solution since doctors expressed that photo quality was hindering their ability to decipher investigative photographs, which in turn, delayed their medical diagnosis and advice. This greatly clarified the image upload and analysis process.
DTFW: Do The Fucking Work.
What advice would you have for someone who is hoping to grow in their product-focused role?
Dive in to self-education and experimentation. Unfortunately UX isn’t yet taught in schools at the foundational level needed for the field to blossom to its highest potential, so it’s up to us as individuals to continue learning, seeking, and cultivating our skills with self-education and community support. Ask others for advice and feedback to promote improvement and connection. Since the field is so new, we’re all trailblazing its progress together.
What’s a lesson that you learned the hard way, but would never take back?
Transparency. Sharing process and design thinking along the way with clientele and internal teams allows everyone to stay on the same page and understand how / why we arrive at a solution. Big reveals can leave others feeling left out or uncertain of direction.
What is one piece of advice that had a big impact on your life?
Scott Belsky posted an article where he condensed five-plus years of design interviews into a few pieces of advice. His No. 1 shared insight was “DTFW: Do The Fucking Work.” I have a Post-it of the acronym attached to my monitor… it reminds me to keep going, dive in, don’t wait, don’t understand? Inform yourself, research, explore, tinker. Oftentimes I encounter complex problems that must be solved with a design pattern or technical build that’s never existed. It helps get me out of my head and on to finding a workable solution. It’s easy to get caught up in perfection or finding the “best” method, but the beauty of UX is it’s iterative; we’re all figuring it out as we go.
It’s easy to get caught up in perfection or finding the “best” method, but the beauty of UX is it’s iterative; we’re all figuring it out as we go.
If you could wave a magic wand and fix something about one of your favorite products, what would it be?
Adding DJ mode to Spotify. I love hosting gatherings and wish playing music amongst guests was more intuitively collaborative. I love when people contribute to the vibe of an experience; it makes it feel alive.
What is a book, podcast, or website that you think more people should know about?
If you’re interested in learning UX, I recommend the book Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Gothelf & Seiden. It’s technical and somewhat dry, but a great guide to learning how to implement UX via Lean methodologies.
To Be Magnetic Workshops. They’re hypnotic meditation modules that utilize psychology, neuroscience, and energetics to reprogram one’s subconscious, and in turn, bring us to a state of renewed self and magnetism via altered neuroplasticity. The modules focus on specific aspects, such as Shadow, Money, Career, Love, Manifestation, etc. and dive deep into removing the limiting beliefs we house in those arenas. I’m currently journeying through them and have found the internal / external changes thus far to be life-altering. A way to dip into these would be to listen to Lacy’s podcast focused on the energetics of money & finance (interview starts around 9:00).
What would you do with your time if money was no issue?
Build my passion project, an app called Totem. Work with light as an art medium. Travel. Provide astrological counsel and energetic healing to others. Build an off-the-grid home with an indoor, organic hydroponic garden. Found a sanctuary to save factory farmed animals and raise awareness about how veganism will save our lives, the animals and the world.