Please tell us about yourself

Before coming to the iSchool, Ashwini had a undergraduate and a graduate degree in Architecture. She also worked as an architect before pursuing her MSIS (Masters of library and information sciences). She worked in India for 2 years with Rumy Shroff & Associates, an architecture firm in Mumbai. Ashwini moved to Ann Arbor to pursue her M.Arch at the University of Michigan. While she was in school, and for 6 months after she worked with the university’s Architecture, Engineering, and Construction division, which supports design and construction work for all/any university buildings. she was primarily involved with drafting and construction drawing work.

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What do you do?

Ashwini is currently a user experience designer with IBM Watson, focusing on user research. Watson is a very exciting space, and at a high level Ashwini would say her job entails a lot of learning about new industries and domains – the different spaces that Watson products venture into. As a user researcher, she is tasked with learning about the people within those domains – IBM’s potential users. Simply put, the research she does may be divided into two areas: generative research and evaluative research. Generative research involves learning about the everyday life, work and work habits, personal habits of the people Ashwini is interviewing, to enable well-informed and context-based problem solving. Evaluative research involves getting feedback from the user as the solution/design progresses, to ensure that it aligns with their needs and associated workflow.

Ashwini mentions that she is passionate about her job because she loves learning about new domains and industries – and this role lets her (almost requires her to) learn things that she might never have explored if not for her job. She also love listening to people’s stories, and that’s what user research is all about.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

Ashwini came to the iSchool with an Architecture background. And while that has a lot of “lets understand our client”, the rigor of user-centered design was introduced to her by the courses she took at the iSchool. She highly recommends Usability and Advanced Usability, Interaction Design, Information Architecture, HCI, Mobile Interface Design (the world is going mobile). Also just doing the research isn’t enough, how does one synthesize it and present actionable outcomes? These classes really helped with that. The short courses (HTML, CSS, Javascript) are key!

Another major thing she learned is that the way one structures user research artifacts is crucial, and the Understanding Research core course still plays in her mind when she’s creating interview protocols, or designing surveys, etc.

Ashwini’s advice for for current iSchool students or recent graduates?

  • The iSchool has a lot of courses to offer – make the most of them
  • Chat with professors who have been out in the field and know the real world, it is different from academia
  • If you are going to do anything UX Design related – have a well documented portfolio (there are many examples on the web)
  • To build that portfolio, you need projects – take classes that will help you build that portfolio (if going the UX route)
  • Network! If Tara hasn’t drilled it into your head already (which I can’t believe that she hasn’t)