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Alice Watson – Bringing UX to the world of Anthropology

We recently sat down with Alice to talk about the UX Harness project experience with ForPurposeCo

Hi, Alice. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us at Harness Projects. Could you tell us a little about the need or desire you had that led you to want to enrol in a learning program?

I am an anthropologist and passionate about understanding people’s social and cultural motivations and their behaviours. I was interested in finding out how this knowledge and interest in anthropology could be applied to designing a product. I had spoken to a design anthropologist who works in the UX field and she was passionate about the meeting of anthropological thinking with design thinking, so I thought I would investigate further by taking a course. I wanted to challenge myself to think outside of anthropology, and was curious about the process of research meeting with designing a digital product.

Where did you start your search for potential courses and what did you learn through the process of looking?  

I started by firstly looking into design anthropology courses, however they do not exist in Australia anymore as it is seemingly a highly specialised area. I then looked into UX short courses, but found many were solely based on coursework and I wanted some more interaction and feedback. I also could not commit to a week day timetable or travelling too far away as I have two young children that I care for during the day three days a week, and I have a part-time consultancy job for two days.  I actually found Harness Projects via Instagram. Obviously google had taken my searches into account and was putting relevant ads in front of me. When I saw that this project was based on sustainability and waste reduction I was immediately interested. The course structure of weekly evening meetings suited me, as well as it being online, but with interaction between other interns and a mentor. I was also really excited about working on a real project with an actual client and getting valuable feedback and experience from that.

What were some of the highlights of the project experience?

I was really struck by the sense of team work and collaboration in out project group. I felt supported when working through challenges of understanding and applying the IDF course material and also in meeting deadlines of the project. The team was encouraging of each other asking questions, helping each other with feedback on their presentations and projects and checking in on each other’s progress.

Seeing my own progress from engaging people in research tasks to synthesising the data, ideating and using creativity to come up with ideas for a digital product and then actually creating the prototype was really challenging and exciting for me. I expanded my thinking out of just research and detailed understanding of people, to actually creating a purposeful product which worked!

What was it about Harness Projects that stood out to you against the competition?

The opportunity to interact with a real client, the availability of an amazing mentor, the support and collaboration of a team of enthusiastic interns and the realization of tangible skills that are transferable to real projects.

What made you eventually choose to join Harness Projects?

The opportunity to work on a project for ForPurposeCo, which is based on values of sustainability and waste reduction. These values are a core part of my own small business ideals and so the project was very appealing. I have actually used many of the ideas and insight I gained from this project in my own business.

You joined our ForPurposeCo UX project. Tell us about the project and what it was like collaborating with the ForPurposeCo catalyst Mary-Sue Rogers?

ForPurposeCo desired a digital experience to work alongside their re-usable takeaway container service. The service itself involves users subscribing to the service via a mobile app, then collecting their takeaway food in a re-usable container at participating food vendors. Users then deposit their containers in collection sites, then ForPurposeCo collect, cleans then re-distributes the containers ready to be re-used. Our role as Harness interns was to design the digital experience that would connect users to the service and ensure it operated smoothly and efficiently.

The project was challenging as the service has not yet been established, so many questions we had of ‘users’ were actually hypothetical, and there were many unknown factors. However, this also gave us freedom to really work on understanding what potential customers are seeking from a digital experience and what kind of role it would play in the container service. This project was a good exercise in remaining focused, in hearing and understanding user’s desires and frustrations and designing a practical, simple product.

Working with a real client was also a highlight as it provided impetus to work at a high standard. It gave me a real sense of working to a client brief, formulating questions that would assist in the research phase and also gave me experience of presentations. I valued Mary-Sue’s honest feedback and input, her sense of humour, flexibility and ability to really listen to what we were saying as budding UX designers.

Lisa Huck, Head of Digital Research at Commonwealth Bank was your mentor. What was it like to have a senior industry leader like Lisa as you mentor and how did she help you?

Having Lisa as a mentor was invaluable. I found her weekly workshops insightful, topical and interesting and she ensured there was as much interaction and participation from the interns as possible. She was also great with assisting one on one, allowing extra time to sort out challenges and walk alongside each of us to ensure we were on track and reaching our goals. Lisa was able to be flexible and creative, she pivoted ideas and deadlines where necessary and assisted us with excellent resources. I found Lisa engaging and inspiring, and a wonderful ambassador for a UX career.

What did you like most about the Harness Projects Experience?

I now have a catalogue of new research skills and ways to apply them to optimise customer experiences and to create products and services that meet user needs. I also have new contacts with similar interests, a new passion for design thinking and a thirst for learning more. I have understood the connection between anthropology and design and have the opportunity to use this understanding.

What would you tell someone that is considering learning UX skills?

Working on a project with Harness Projects will give you real experience, tangible skills in UX design and challenge you to apply your learning to a real situation. Beyond that you can benefit from a supportive team environment and inspiring mentor. You are sure to challenge yourself, learn a lot about UX and even find a passion for a new career direction.