December 10 is the United Nations-designated Human Rights Day. So today we’ll look at a role that truly celebrates the unique needs of every customer, and the difference one role at Microsoft can make.
Design Researcher Khushboo Hasija sees every customer interaction with empathy—and a sense of adventure. Khushboo works with the Application Services Group. She is part psychologist, part artist—and 100% dedicated to the customer.
With a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Khushboo began her career in advertising, applying her skills in graphic design. But she wanted to go deeper on behalf of the customer experience. With a master’s degree from India’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Khushboo began what she describes as “a journey toward research.” She joined a design consultancy that focused on “social innovation,” with work that involved the Johns Hopkins and Gates Foundation.
Over time, rather than working in a variety of industries, Khushboo wanted to specialize. “I wanted to focus on product innovation.” That brought her to Microsoft:
“On an everyday basis, I am meeting users from various backgrounds, age groups, cultures, disciplines and industries, thinking about new ideas, facing new challenges, diving into deep user data, working with designers and product managers collaboratively, and creating a future which is user-centered.”
In describing her work, Khushboo says, “We focus on understanding the ‘users,’ how people use a product/application or a system, and their context of use (their environments). We apply design research methodologies to identify the latent needs, behaviors, hidden desires and expectations from technology.”
She explains, “I spend time with people in their homes, their communities, in their work environments. If I see somebody using a mobile phone on the street, I am interested in how they use the product, the motivations behind and expectations from it.”
When Khushboo conducts her research, sometimes people will talk openly with her to communicate what they need to make the most of an application; others require a bit of detective work. One time, a student came to the usability lab to participate in a study of how people were using Microsoft Office for diagrams. Khushboo recalls, “He seemed a little nervous. He was fidgeting and avoiding questions.”
Conversation wasn’t working. Next?
“I chose to explore his favorite activity in the day, and whether he was using technology to do that. He was interested in robotics. He had built computers in the past and he was creating websites for his friends. I realized he was really interested in creating new products. We changed the entire session, shifting from an in-depth discussion to a collaborative design exercise. He started responding very enthusiastically. In no time, he began sharing new ideas on how he had customized technology according to his needs. Moments later, we were creating new design concepts together.”
A little empathy goes a long way.
Here’s the kind of person Khushboo says would be successful in the role of a design or user experience researcher:
- Patience, listening skills, empathy and curiosity to perceive granular nuances of user behavior.
- The ability to dive into complex data, overlapped with the emotions and environments the user is experiencing, and understand the challenges of using a product, device, or a system.
- Collaboration skills to work with engineering teams, developers, testers, product managers and designers, to understand product goals and develop strategies to create new features.
- The know-how to conduct research through the entire product life cycle. Khushboo says, “I’m responsible for executing user-centered research, using methods such as ethnography, visual mapping, contextual inquiries, participant observation, usability testing and heuristic evaluation.”
Why is Microsoft a great place to do this work?
“Microsoft India gave me a very open and friendly environment, creative space to innovate in the work I do, and the environment to grow really fast as a person and as a researcher.”
Case in point: “We had a meeting where teams from Redmond came to discuss the vision for Microsoft Office,” Khushboo recalls. “I could stand up in a meeting of 400 people and share user expectations from Microsoft products and contribute to developing better strategies for product development. To be able to stand up and say fearlessly what I think—that’s something I couldn’t have expected of any other place, other than Microsoft.”
Knowledge is power.
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