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[Interview] Using UX Design to Link Old & New Technologies


Molly Gilmore is the owner of Blue Genes Media, a consulting business in the New York City area that's focused on user experience design and product development. Gilmore's professional background includes more than 20 years in software product design at companies such as Microsoft, Intuit, Hyperion Software, and usability research at Scripps Networks Interactive.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Gilmore on our weekly  Marketing Communications Today podcast. Here’s what she had to say about UX design and how it bridges the gap between old and new technologies.

Cyndi Greenglass: Would you define UX for us in your terms: What does it mean to you? What should our listeners know about that term?

Molly Gilmore: You hear about UX design everywhere, and it's interpreted differently based upon the context. The theme that's consistent across domains has to do with focusing on the quality of the way a user interacts with any products, service, or interface and whether or not you're meeting the user needs. UX designers also have to consider more than just usability but also the user's emotional perspective, the safety of the user. And on top of that, for most designers, you're also considering the overall business goals.

For a lot of people, it's fascinating because there's multiple things you need to consider, multiple techniques. It's challenging, but it's rewarding because if you can come up with a solution that not only addresses the user's needs but ultimately facilitates the business goals, you feel like you've done something positive.

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CG: Why do you think it's important to understand the blending of this new technology with old technology and linking user experience and design?

MG: Think about it as an individual. For example, the complexity of the interface of the controls in your car. The complexity of shopping for food, when you have a phone in your hand, someone's calling from work, and you have a baby in the basket. I mean there's all types of ways where because of tight time frames and budgets, we focus on a singular task but don't look at the whole context. One of the themes throughout this discussion is that UX designers are frequently coming up with solutions that are able to create a reasonable environment for the user to do what they need to do; you're working both within software and with things that are not software-related.

Some of the most identifiable solutions do occur with healthcare. We've all heard statistics about the sometimes tragic impact of mistakes made in healthcare settings. The same thing holds true for other areas, even manufacturing. One thing I wanted to point out is as we move to improve these situations or these systems through technology, we sometimes forget that we've asked the user to be the one that stitches together individual pieces of technology that are not yet compatible.

UX designers are always striving for the best experience and often that is newer technology, but sometimes that newer technology is on the horizon and what we don't want to do is ask the user to wait a year or two with the really unbearable solution. What I'm advocating for is designing for the interim and take that opportunity to put the extra effort in to try to pave the way for the ultimate solution. The other thing I want to say is that some of the more recent technologies that are not omnipresent yet but are really showing up is artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The latter is more expensive other than entertainment, but for the workplace, it's really expensive to develop. So, it's not as common, but I think those technologies are going to appear more and more. AI may be the smart tool that helps bridge technologies without asking the user to do anything. But if history is a predictor of the future in any way, the introduction of that technology is going to be incremental. Whenever you have incremental adoption of technology, you have a hybrid solution. And so again, when you have the hybrid solution, designed for the user of the here and now, and hopefully, you're going to be doing it systemically and methodically so that the future comes sooner than you think.

CG: How do businesses bring that technology up to date? How do they wrestle with legacy systems, systems they still need to maintain, but bring up the technology?

MG: There are valid reasons why a business may not be able to upgrade their entire system. I mean there's the cost, both of the technology and the cost to change operational procedures. Then, there's other times of responding to outside forces. For example, I've worked in manufacturing situations where there's OSHA regulations put in place and the time frames are immutable and very restrictive and so the business doesn't have time to upgrade the whole system. I think the theme of this conversation is this: Is this is a place where UX designers can play a role? Traditionally in other disciplines, you hear of things like system engineering. It's like systems engineers may work to design the most intuitive and fast exit from an airplane, things like that. But I think as we see technology become omnipresent, some of those techniques have evolved to be more applicable to all types of environments. Again, when businesses are going through any type of system upgrade, the role of a UX designer can help create positive and beneficial interim solutions as they work towards the more perfect, you know, full system comprehensive system implementation that's in the future.

CG: Can you share with us how UX research and design techniques have been leveraged and maybe share some specific situations?

MG: I'll paint a picture of one typical scenario and then how we've used UX design and research methods to accomplish the challenge presented to us. So, if you think about any type of lab situation, a staff member may come in and learn about their work order for the day from one computer system. They may move on to work with test tubes or a microscope or some other physical device. They may have to enter test results in to a computer, and there may be a reporting system that, because it's been QA and validated to meet regulations, is rather immutable in terms of changing the design and may not have any API application programming interfaces that allow us to connect electronically to get data.

There is a challenge, and if you're a UX designer brought in to add another software component to the mix, the last thing you want to do is make the system more complex. This is when you get data from research, and the human has to actually look and communicate with the user. So, if you think about it, you want to look at the user and not only speak with them but observe them in their work environment. What are their distractions, what are their habits? User task analysis that includes detailed identification of data flows is a really important step to take, and this type of analysis may extend beyond how the user interacts with computer applications.

I want to emphasize one thing I've learned: What I've learned is that it's great to incorporate techniques from other design methodologies, so obviously implementing software, there's human computer interaction, but there's the ergonomics of it. Does the user have to traverse from one end of the lab to the other to enter data? There's a cognitive psychology aspect of it. Think about it: If a user has to move from one application to the other, do they have to carry information between the applications in their mind? And have we asked them to exceed the normal amount of information they can keep in their head?  This raises the potential for not only mistakes but for people to be unhappy when they come to work. Doing the research and then really documenting the detailed data flows — it's an important set of steps to take to make the change on an interim basis that not only doesn't add complexity but that reduces complexity and redundancy.

CG: Is there an application there in marketing?

MG: Absolutely. In fact, you know when you hand off from marketing to development, there's a wall for the UX designer in between. There used to be kind of a strict division between marketing segment definition and UX personas, but now they've really overlapped. And that really makes sense because you're all focused on providing the best, most competitive experience for the user. The exchange of data between those roles is key, and the timing of the exchange of that data.

For example, on one hand, a marketer may know that in order to compete with another business, the speed of turnaround for whatever the service the business is providing is key. They're already a stake holder in the operational aspect of the business. The marketer can help prioritize which aspects of the system are addressed first since they know what the competitive landscape is. They know which segments are their target — the ones that bring in the most revenue and what their priorities are. So, the challenge is to not only facilitate that communication in a way that can cross organizational teams, but the timing of it. 

More About Molly Gilmore:

Gilmore's recent endeavors have included data mining applications and visual design at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Epidemiology Informatics department and application and database design at the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).

For her consulting work at RIFM, Gilmore won the 2017 RIFM President's Award. Gilmore holds an M.S. in Bioinformatics from New Jersey Institute of Technology, an M. Eng in Engineering Management and a graduate certificate in Quantitative Software Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology and a B.A. in French from the University of Akron.

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