A Q&A with Citizen’s New Director of Experience Strategy and Design

By: Citizen Inc.

This past September, Citizen welcomed Teri Durkin as our new director of experience strategy and design. With more than 15 years of creating customer experiences across a wide variety of industries like e-commerce, healthcare, and financial services, she’ll lead Citizen’s researchers, strategists, and interaction designers.

To welcome her to the agency and learn more about her design philosophy, we sat down to hear she became a passionate champion of user-centered design, why making the leap from designer to leader is such a necessary challenge, and why design is more interesting now than ever before.

When did you first learn about user-centered design?

Early in my career, I was working as an interactive designer at a traffic reporting startup, where I was designing apps to track and report traffic issues.

There, I met a would-be mentor who was an evangelist of designing for clear outcomes and evaluating the work through the people who use it. The first time I saw my work tested with users is the moment when it clicked for me. She opened up my eyes to the real purpose of my work, and this set the tone for my career.

From there, I switched my focus to thinking about how to make digital products not only look good but also function well, driven by the needs of the people using them. I invested a lot of time in and out of work learning as much as I could about how to do that.

What’s your approach to designing user-centered solutions?

The most important information for our team to begin working on a design problem is a deep understanding of who we are
designing for and what matters to them, as well as our clients’ business objectives and how we’ll measure them. This is always part of our process.

There are many approaches to use for this. Some more common ones we use to understand the people we’re designing for include research-based persona development, journey mapping current state experiences, and co-creation sessions. As we produce possible solutions, we look to understand their effectiveness through methods like concept testing, usability testing, and, if possible, analytics.

At the same time, it’s important for us have a point of view on the landscape we are working in and the solutions that others have developed.

Ultimately, we measure success by asking: Have we met our stated business goals? Have we created real value for the people using this product or service?

What’s one invaluable lesson you’ve learned during your career?

I’ve worked at both small and large design agencies and have held in-house positions at global companies. Throughout that time, I’ve learned how relationships in cross-functional teams can impact the quality of the product delivered. When a team aligns on an objective, builds upon each others’ ideas, and trusts their teammates to get the job done, amazing things happen – quickly.

Similarly, I’ve also learned that great ideas can come from any team member. The more cross-functional perspectives you have — even from the folks you wouldn’t expect — the more holistic your solution is going to be.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

A lot of my latest inspiration has revolved around ‘process’ – experimenting with our design process by trying new methods and tools for better outcomes.

For example, whenever possible in early project stages, I like to bring in a larger group of cross-functional folks to generate a volume of ideas from a variety of perspectives through a design studio. This gives the designers leading a project an amazing amount of work to draw from in a short period of time and to quickly get over the barrier of “just getting started” on a problem.

Could you expand on this idea of ‘improving process’?

When trying to implement a significant process change, it’s never easy to change things in one fell swoop, especially when you don’t have authority over all the players involved. It’s about moving the needle towards improvement.

It’s worked best for me to adjust processes incrementally – show small wins over time that result in better work faster.

More important than perfection is marked and measurable progress as to where our teams are and what they can do.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

The transition from being a high-performing individual contributor to being the manager of a group of high-performing individuals. That was by far one was one of the biggest learning curves of my career. It’s challenging because that transition forces you to make a significant shift in the way you work and think.

It can be jarring to go from being fully responsible for delivering work yourself to then figuring out how to make it possible to deliver excellent work through other people, who all have different needs, motivations, and skillsets. Orchestrating all of that is definitely a skill that takes time and patience to develop. I’m always trying to improve in this area so I can be as helpful as possible to the people on my team.

How are careers in design changing?

The work is more interesting than ever before and more complex. The expectations for designers are high, with a wide variety of skills you need to master. In addition, we’re now working across entire ecosystems and have to design for the products, services, and support systems that seamlessly bridge them together.

We will start to see real value from machine learning across industries. New modalities like AR/VR, mixed reality, and conversational interfaces will be more common, so there will be opportunity to define standards and create new patterns in those areas.

To support the need for this skillset, there are a wide range of options for education to get into product and service design, ranging from short-term programs that teach you the basics to a large offering of graduate studies.

What advice would you give someone who’s starting out a career in UX design?

Take charge of your career. While your managers are there to support you and ensure you have the right opportunities, you ultimately need to design your own career. Determine what you want and who you want to be and look for opportunities to develop skills that match those goals to move you forward.

I always recommend finding great managers, mentors, and advocates, especially early on in your career. You want to learn as much as you can working with more experienced people.

And, finally, choose to work with good people who share a common goal of delivering great work together.