Episode 46. Today we’re talking about Transitions in Research with Eniola Abioye, who’s a Sr. User Researcher at Meta, and we’re talking specifically about transitioning into User-focused or Design Research, from research- related backgrounds in other disciplines. Eniola herself came from biotechnology before moving into the design research space, and she is passionate about helping others figure out how to utilize their existing experience and to learn through doing, getting relevant experience in the real world to create a fulfilling career in UX, without necessarily going back to school.
Eniola began her people research career at Branding Science, an agency in the biotechnology space, and later moved on to research roles at Kaiser Permanente and Silicon Valley Bank before her current role leading research in cross-functional teams at Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook). Outside of her full-time position, Eniola is a career coach for UX Researchers and leads UX projects with social justice organizations in her community. She’s excited to share how UX Researchers are uniquely positioned to drive inclusive and accessible innovation in tech.
How it all began
Eniola always had a love for science and people and what better way to connect it to become a pediatrician? She went to University and gained her Bachelor's of Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley. After freshman year she decided to learn more about medicine but shortly realized this was not where her passion was.
She started her first job at a biotech market research and user research firm. There she was able to mix science with her love for understanding people. She learned how to speak with users and caregivers, patients and doctors - an entirely new world of people-focused research opened in front of Ebioye.
She started with doing synthesis and analysis during interviews and was able to see how people lead conversations.
“I can understand what people are talking about and really hold space for them to talk to me about personal things. “
What skillsets did you gain from school?
During her time studying Integrative Biology degree she had learned a lot about research, from how to set up a research plan, how to share your findings, how to set up your hypothesis, how to collaborate with others, learning about other companies or organizations who are in the space, were all skills she was able to bring from her education and utilize in UX research.
Ebioye now also assists aspiring UX leaders on their journey through mentorship and coaching at https://uxoutloud.com/
Listen to the full episode of how you can transition into User Research with our special guest Eniola Abioye, a Senior UX Researcher at Meta
Connect with Eniola Abioye
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Leigh Arrendondo 0:00
Hello, and welcome to the UX cake Podcast, episode 46. Today we're talking about transitions in research with Eniola WBA, who's a senior user researcher at meta, and we're talking specifically about transitioning into user focused or design research from research related backgrounds in other disciplines. Eniola herself came from biotechnology before moving into the design research space. And she's passionate about helping others figure out how to utilize their existing experience, and to learn through doing getting relevant experience in the real world to create a fulfilling career in UX without necessarily going back to school. Eniola began her people research career at branding science and agency in the biotech space. And she later moved on to research roles at Kaiser Permanente and Silicon Valley Bank, in the user research area before her current role leading research in cross functional teams at meta outside her full time position. Eniola is a career coach for UX researchers. And she leads UX projects with social justice organizations in her community. She's excited to share how user researchers are uniquely positioned to drive inclusive and accessible innovation in tech. So let's jump in. Awesome. Eniola. Hello, thank you so much for joining me on UX cake.
Eniola Abioye 1:39
Thanks for having me. I'm super excited to be here and talk to you today.
Leigh Arrendondo 1:42
Yeah, yeah, I'm very excited to talk to you. We have a lot of similar passions. Not only UX and and UX research, but also coaching, and you know, getting people the support that they need. And it's can be hard to find. So I'm, I'm excited to kind of jump into these topics with you. Now, normally, I don't usually start the UX cake podcast interviews with origin story questions, we kind of like jump into the topic. So. But today, our topic is all about transitions, and transitions in research careers specifically. So I think your transition into UX from biology is really kind of a key to this interview. So I'm going to go ahead and start there. Can you just start with tell us a little bit about your journey from from biology into UX research?
Eniola Abioye 2:47
Yeah. So I am, like you said, I have my Bachelor's of Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley, and I, you know, grew up the whole time growing up, I planned to go into medicine, pediatrics To be specific, because I really liked people. And I was also really into science, right? So bio was really my jam in high school. Chem was my jam. And so I figured, you know, at the intersection of science and people is medicine. It really makes sense to me at the time. And then I got to college in freshman year decided to like learn more about what doctors do and realized really quickly that that's not what I want to do. And so kind of throughout school, I like was a little bit more open around career choices, but had no idea about UX. I think back when I was in school, less people were in UX and less companies were interested in UX research specifically. And I really got my start as my first job outside of school was at a, a biotech market research and user research firm. So it was agency side. And I feel like that taught me a lot of things. And that's a whole different conversation. But I really got a chance to in the biotech space, kind of understand what users and caregivers and doctors and patients were going through another 10s of different therapy areas. And it just clicked for me because I had the sciency part of understanding therapy are areas and drug mechanisms. And also I get to talk to people all day, and I got to really understand what users needed, and then drive that change in the companies that we were working with. So it just really clicked for me as kind of being able to be an advocate for users, and the like, solve problems and like figure out systems and figure out how to build experiences that people responded to.
Leigh Arrendondo 4:39
Yeah, so it sounds like a very organic sort of entry into us. Which isn't that uncommon, quite frankly. But I mean, what year was that?
Eniola Abioye 4:51
This was back in 2015. Okay.
Leigh Arrendondo 4:56
And so UX was was the You know, definitely around. I'm super interested in you, there's this period of time when you like, how did that go from school into the work environment? And like, did you know you were going to be working in UX research? Or you know, what, what did you think you were going to be doing?
Eniola Abioye 5:25
So I knew what I had a good idea of what I was going to be doing, I knew I was going to be talking to folks and understanding different methodologies and how to get answers. I don't think anyone knows fully on their first job outside of college, what they're going to be doing. But I was really, really interested in kind of like the points that I knew. And then starting out, I like really started out by listening to a lot of folks run research, right. And being my kind of first role was really just like doing synthesis and analysis during interviews and got to see how people like lead conversations, and I'm very much so an extrovert, I'm very much so people person. So I was like, I can do that. And I can ask questions in ways that remove bias, and I can understand what people are talking about and really hold space for them to talk to me about personal things. And so it really just clicked and I like kept getting deeper and deeper. I still remember the first time I started moderating the first time I did research out of the country. And yeah, it just it just clicked for me. So I tell people who are interested in you XR kind of understand what it is and and what you want to do. And I think there's so much room in UX for like every type of skill set, right? You can go writing, you know, content strategy, you can go design, obviously, you can go research, and so there's just a lot to figure out. And so, me, for me getting exposure in the agency space was awesome, because I did quantitative I did qualitative, I did so many different methods, so many different types of research questions that I was working with different companies. So that was just really awesome.
Leigh Arrendondo 7:05
Yeah, and the speaking specifically about methodology. So besides the sort of industry knowledge that you had from school, you know, specific to that subject? What was it that prepare you what sort of things that you studied, had prepared you for research? But, you know, maybe in a different way?
Eniola Abioye 7:33
Yeah, so I, in during my Integrative Biology degree had done a lot of research, right, so the rigor around kind of how to set up a research plan, how to, you know, share your findings, how to set up your hypothesis, how to collaborate with others, who played a different role in the space is all things that I take, I took to UX research and still use now. And so what people are kind of coming from, you know, STEMI degrees, or masters or PhDs, you know, I talked to him about how the rigor that you learn around research is very, very similar and can absolutely be applied in to, you know, how you're approaching research questions and how you carry out research. I think one of the key differences between research in an academic space versus research and industry is, of course, resources. Very, very scrappy, as a student, trying to get research done. And depending on where you are in the industry, or what type of company you're at, that's not necessarily always an issue. Timelines are very different, right? I feel like I had a lot more time and a lot more space to kind of figure things out and academic research. That's not always the case. on the industry side. Your stakeholders are very different. Right? So people in academia, you know, at least the academic research that I was doing was around kind of, you know, learning for the sake of learning and contributing to the space rather than, okay, this is driving product, and this is driving our very real goals and OKRs for the year.
Leigh Arrendondo 9:08
Yeah, that is a big, quite frankly, I think, even if you had gotten your education in user research, that would have been a big difference, because this certainly is a gap in what I see in, you know, folks entering into UX research and, you know, their love of research and their love of sharing this research. And sometimes it's received also in that way by the stakeholders, but But often, you know, it's a it's a little bit of a sales job you have to do.
Eniola Abioye 9:51
Yeah, yeah. And I think no matter what type of company you're at, there's always gonna be an education piece. Right? You can be at a company Who's in the UX space, like, you know, creates products around UX specifically, and still have to work with your stakeholders and kind of prove the ROI of research and kind of bring people along. And that just comes alongside with it, because you're specializing in, you know, a skill set that not everybody is taught. Yeah,
Leigh Arrendondo 10:20
for sure. I know, you some people think of, sort of, like, professionals transitioning into UX from other industries, and other disciplines is, you know, kind of a recent thing. But honestly, it's been happening since since before the beginning of the term UX, I think, around, you know, like, the beginning of the century. This century 2000. But sounds like a really long time ago, I guess it is, but you know, 22 years. I mean, I've had a very unconventional path myself, I went to film school, and design for me originally was way to put myself through school. So and then, you know, research happened very organically for me as well through the last couple of decades. But I but I think what has really been kind of a sea change in this last decade, besides the fact that we're getting a lot more programs at schools in undergrad and graduate schools, which is fantastic. has been this emergence, and really proliferation of certificate programs. And everywhere, and now online, everything's online. So I think you might have some thoughts about boot camp, you talk a little bit about it on your website. So yeah, great. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Eniola Abioye 11:46
Yeah, you know, it's been really good to see more of like, like organize learning around UX, and just more accessible kind of avenues to understand what UX is like, as a skill set. And so many people do UX already, you know, I am a coach, and I coach UX researchers, and I tell lots of my clients, you know, kind of like understanding what you're doing already, and how that relates to UX and the methodologies that you might call something else. But you do anyways, it's super important to translate and let companies know that that's something that is part of your experience. I know a lot of people who, you know, they're a program manager positions or data scientist positions, right, and so many clients tell me, you know, I do the UX stuff, because no one else can or because I'm the closest to it, or because it needs to get done, and no one else was doing it. So it's just super important to capture that. I think as far as learning, I've seen tons and tons of different programs, I've also seen tons and tons of resources out, you know, on the interwebs that are super free, or super accessible. And I am just a proponent of education being as successful as possible, right. So Boot Camps are, they serve a very specific purpose, I think Boot Camps are great for, you know, kind of bringing awareness or like exposing you to a new what field, but inherently the with the business model of a lot of boot camps. It's very inaccessible, right, I remember helping clients and looking through boot camps and seeing just like huge, huge prices. And one of the biggest things for UX researchers, and a lot of positions are a lot of different skill sets is that piece of pivoting into your first role is probably the most difficult, right. And so I've seen a lot of boot camps who don't help with that piece. And so people go through it and then find themselves, you know, six months a year later, still trying to figure out how to get into this field. And that land a job that allows them to do that industry. And so that's just kind of my biggest caution around boot camps is one to make sure that you know that job support or that career coaching piece, that's often the most difficult for people as a part of it. I've seen boot camps who have kind of like the guarantee of the full time job within a certain amount of time after the boot camp. And still cautioning to make sure that you you know, read that fine print and understand what that support is going to look like. Because it is a skill set. Like being able to communicate, what you can do and how you can add value to an organization through interview is a skill set. And not everybody focuses on that piece. And I've also seen a lot of boot camps that are kind of UX general, and they focus a lot on design and then have just a little bit on research. And so for the people who have explored those different career options in UX, and you know, research is for you. They're looking for something very, very targeted because I haven't seen a lot of them.
Leigh Arrendondo 14:48
Right. And our research specific. Yeah, and I know a lot of folks in research end up going into getting a master's when they're like coming from a professional who's coming from another Space, even if it's a designer, like you mentioned at the very beginning, you know, the rigor around research is something that you cannot get to all the methodology and the rigor and the and the need for, you know, how do you present research, you can't get to all of that really deeply in a six week immersion, or, you know, even if it's over a few months, but you have you take a couple classes in research. So I'm glad you pointed that out. I would love to hear more about the alternatives that you offer, personally as a coach. And I think what I'm hearing actually is it's not just alternatives, but you're it's sometimes is in addition to, but yeah, tell me a little bit more about, you know, kind of how you have seen people transit make this transition, maybe without boot camps, or how you have supported people in that way.
Eniola Abioye 16:04
Yeah, so I am Coach specifically UX researchers at different points in their, in their career journey. A lot of times I'm coaching people who have done research, or have been researched to Jason or have like, done a lot of like, you know, program or kind of product management and inherently had to do research. And so focusing on pivoting into a full time UX research role. Um, and so I always tell people, just based on your learning style, you can kind of craft your approach there. And if you were, like really organized and can go out and find information online and, and put it all together and kind of create a syllabus and a learning plan for yourself, then by all means, like, I think you can achieve what a bootcamp would do for free, right? If you're willing and have the time and you have the kind of like mental capacity to do it on your own. I absolutely advise people to exhaust all the free resources online. I work specifically with people who respond well to one on one coaching, I myself respond really well to one on one coaching, because they're always 17 things going on my life. And so it helps to have someone who's kind of like anchoring in okay, this is our plan, this is what we're going to do this week, here's your homework and and then we'll meet again, and, and kind of like that consistency in that like partner and walking through it and creating goals. And so that's what I do for with my clients as we I understand what they're looking to do. We craft goals, and we craft a plan in order to get there together. And in my timeline is usually pretty rapid. It's usually within two to three months, as I see folks who want kind of short term goals as well as long term, but focusing on getting and you know, in just a few weeks, kind of getting results, whether that's, hey, I want to revamp my resume portfolio and be ready to go into, you know, applying for jobs and interviewing or, Hey, I'm a current UX researcher, and I'd like to level up with my position. Can you kind of help me understand how, what strategically I can grow and and make a plan for where I want to be in the next few months or so?
Leigh Arrendondo 18:09
Yeah, I think probably your model is going to work so much better for a lot of folks. Do you find that when you work with people? Are they pretty set in what their goals are? Do they know what they want to do? Are you helping folks identify even what their goals might be?
Eniola Abioye 18:30
Yeah, so I before working with a client, I always do a 15 minute just like consultation, and those are free on my website. Because a lot of times people come to me and they're like, Okay, is this even possible? Like what really is UX? Is this something that I can do work or transition into? And so we talk through what their their background kind of why UX and why now and determine if it's a good fit to work together. A lot of times people don't come to me and don't have portfolios, right. But they have a bunch of like projects in mind that they've done and notes and things like that. And we turn into a portfolio. And so I'd say for the most part, when, like my ideal client, or when people should come to me, I guess, if they're interested is if you know, UX research is what you want to do. Right? Some people come to me and they're like, Oh, well, I think design or research or somewhere in between. And I get that because there's so many different career paths within UX, and it's all really interconnected. But I'm usually kind of asked that people figure out what they want to do first, and then yeah, and then we kind of go from there if their timeline and and their background kind of fits as far as like something that makes sense to kind of transition. There are people who come to me and they I recommend more education. And so I have packages that are have a package called skip the bootcamp and it's around kind of one on one coaching and guiding through curriculum development case study development. And by the end of that Folks have worked through to case studies and kind of have things to put into their portfolio, we also do a resume revamp, and then a plan for next steps, whether that's education, whether that's piloting some UX research projects and working with a company, under my supervision, or what have you. But the beauty of doing one on one is kind of like everything is tailored, and everything can be kind of negotiated, because it's their, it's their coaching. And if I can't afford, if I'm not the best person, then I refer them over to someone who's more so into design or more so into product,
Leigh Arrendondo 20:36
I want to get to that piece that you brought up, you know, working on a project with an actual company, that's something super excited, I can't wait to talk to you about. But before we get there, I want to talk a little bit about portfolios. So you and I, in our earlier chats, I think we both have seen the difficulty that so many people have with research portfolios, and, and quite frankly, they can be challenging, they are challenging, it's hard to tell a story, just like people you were sort of talking about is hard to tell a story in a presentation. And that can take, you know, a lot of experience. But but it takes a lot of kind of learning to figure out how to tell a story from research. And similarly, now lay over that, like, how do you tell a story about the research that you've done for companies? So yeah, tell me about your approach to research portfolios?
Eniola Abioye 21:36
Yeah, I think for a lot of people, including myself, it's really hard to look at a blank page or a blank slide and like think about from zero to 100, how am I going to build this portfolio? How am I I'm not a design person. Very much, I'm not a design person. And so it's hard for me to like kind of like, visualize what I want it to look like, and then how to get there from zero. So one of the things that I do with clients is we start together, and we outline portfolios together, because it's much easier for people to kind of respond to me asking them will tell me about this project, right? Like, don't focus on the story, don't focus on making it pretty yet, tell me about what you did, why you did it, and then framing that into the story that you or tell you that you will tell right? I wasn't there. So I don't have the context you have. But as a person who is similar to your audience, I there are things that you kind of assume that you don't have to say that I'm like, Hey, I don't this doesn't click I don't understand. So that's been really, really helpful for people like getting on a session just like this and, and building it together, starting it out together. When it comes to portfolios, I've seen a lot, my own, I've interviewed tons of researchers and done their portfolio review, and coached a lot of people through building their portfolios. And so they're things that stick out to me. And I wrote a piece recently on kind of what a strong portfolio can look like, right? Or it looks like in my experience. And I think some of the key things are around. Like when you're building this portfolio, when you're telling your story, really understanding that you're one showing the company what it would be like for you to give a research readout if you join the company. And so kind of the details that you talk to in the story that you craft is like a preview, right? And then to talking through the strategy that with which you approach questions, right? So when you have this question, kind of where do you start? Right? So taking a step back before you get into, like the sample and the you know, this is the method that I use and things like that, like, where did you start? Right, when you first got the question? And when you first work with the team, whether you're embedded or consulting with someone? What is the what is your first step when you receive a research question? Is that secondary research? Is it you know, meeting with the data team? Is it meeting with the with the pod that you're embedded in on the product team and understanding kind of what has been done around it or gaining more context? So I really like to see that in portfolios. I also really like to see some reflection on Okay, so you did this project. Here's how it came out, right? No one is perfect. And anyone who claims to be a perfect researchers line. So what would you do if you could go back if you had more resources, or if you have less resources, more or less time, kind of what would that look like? Because it shows that creativity of Oh, I know how to pivot and I know how to shift and I know where we're trying to go and I have a little bit of scrappiness to get us there, depending on what constraints change over time.
Leigh Arrendondo 24:48
Yeah, another thing and and I think you touched on this a little bit already, but I think it's is worth talking about the need to really focus on out Pums not put, like, that's something I've been really working with my own team members for a long time. But you know, it's it's not just here's what I did. That's important. And here's my process. But what was the value of the work that I did?
Eniola Abioye 25:19
Yeah, that's the impact that it made. Yeah. And that can be a you kind of have to get creative, especially when you're, you're coming from agency side, or if, you know, a lot of people tell me, Well, I can't build my portfolio, because everything's private. And I work in a very, you know, regulated space, and I can't just share all this stuff that I've done. And that's not the focal point. Like, it really doesn't matter what the name of the product was, doesn't matter. Kind of the exact numbers of, you know, percentages, or what you changed or anything that's private, because the focal point is, what is your research strategy? And how does your research client work? And how do you approach solving problems? And so even if you made a case study in names were changed, or, you know, you were a little bit vague about details about the specific product? That's fine, right? It's about the research plan, and the strategy and the questions and how you work with your stakeholders and things like that.
Leigh Arrendondo 26:15
Yeah, I'm really glad that you brought that up, because that does come up a lot. Chris, it's a slightly larger challenge for folks in design, but you really do need to see it, I think in in research, you can, I mean, there are ways around that as well. But in research, like you said, you can, even when it comes to a presentation, you can speak or you know, like talking about the presentations that you've made, how you do deliver findings, like how do you deliver findings? How do you deliver recommendations? How do you know, you know, how do you know? How are you connecting the dots for for your stakeholders to make it really easy for them to just take your findings and run with it? You know, and what kind of relationships are you building? Which again, that's more difficult with an agency as well.
Eniola Abioye 27:14
Yeah, and I think when it comes to impact, um, something that I always like to see is understanding how, you know, when you have your insights, and you've done your research, how do you work with your stakeholders, and with the people you're collaborating with to understand what recommendations are actionable, right, so instead of me as a researcher coming back and saying, hey, they really don't like the UI of the site, we should make it more modern. Instead of like me, as a researcher only coming from what I'm hearing, I need the perspective of the pm and the perspective of the designer perspective of engineer to understand what's feasible one, and to kind of like take the context that the team has, and build out next steps and and recommendations that makes sense and are actionable for the whole team.
Leigh Arrendondo 28:00
Out of curiosity, how long were you in the agency? And was that? Did you have any other steps between the agency to
Eniola Abioye 28:13
bounced around a lot I've been in a few industries I was at I was agency side with the, in the biotech space for about a year and a half. And then I moved on to Kaiser and did a lot of qual and quant research, specifically in healthcare. And then I moved on to Silicon Valley Bank. And I tried out fin tech for a while. And when I made that jump, people were like, how do you get from biotech and medicine, to working at a bank? And to be honest, my dad still doesn't really know what I do. And so he's like, why do you work at a bank? So but for me, the connection was really like, at the foundation, I got into UX research. And I started out having really intimate conversations with people, right. And that really, it's kind of what I do already outside of working outside of, you know, the professional sphere. And so it really clicked for me just being able to sit here and hold space for what people wanted to share, right? Because when people are interviews, they don't just tell you about this product. And like it's not all neat, and black and white and boxed in like that, you know, they're sharing real things about their life and about their story and how their product, how your product plays a part in that. And so when moving on to Silicon Valley Bank and working specifically with founders, who were having conversations about money, and about their business, right, because everyone's really passionate about something that they start. And those were also very intimate conversations as well. And so I really enjoyed being able to talk to people at a level where you know, you're having a conversation with a stranger about real things. And so to kind of build trust with folks and understand what it is that they needed and then really advocate within the organization. for what they express, yeah,
Leigh Arrendondo 30:01
that is such a fantastic foundation for you to be teaching and coaching and, and, you know, helping others on their journey. Which brings me to, like wanting to find out more about this program that you mentioned where you work with, I'm probably not saying this right. But you you're working with folks who are breaking into UX and research and working with them, supporting them as a coach, while they work on projects with startups, something like that.
Eniola Abioye 30:39
Yes. Okay. So I am super excited to talk about this because it is new. Um, but just for some context, I'm launched a coaching business. And it's specifically for UX researchers a couple years ago, and I am very excited to have kind of like, branded it, and it's grown. And so the coaching business is called UX out loud, there are a few things that are offered within that. Like I mentioned before, there are a few packages and kind of helping folks either get exposure and kind of learn more about UX research or pivot directly into you know, I have some a bit some background, I have some experience, I'm ready to kind of find a job and understand how I can like talk to these companies and an interview and show off my skill set and things like that, um, a gap that I saw, and working with a lot of folks is, you know, they kind of have the background, they've done research, right, whether that be an academic academic researcher having to do UX as a part of a larger job and wearing multiple hats, hats at a company, but really wanted more industry experience, right? So they're like, oh, okay, this would really build my confidence. And I also want to make sure that this is something I want to do, and just really want that hands on experience without doing. And so I've built out a new package where UX researchers, you know, no matter what your level is, or anyone who hasn't kind of been in a full UX research role, and can work with me and I coached them through working with a company doing UX research for them. So at the it's kind of meeting with like, researchers who want more experience in industry and want more hands on projects, and then supporting early early tech startups who, you know, don't necessarily have the budget to pay for sophisticated UX research, just yet, so a tech company that's in you know, the first five years or so. And so really pairing them and kind of taking the questions, whether it's tactical, whether it's a little more exploratory, from tech startups, in pairing them with a researcher who can address those questions, and then coaching that researcher through it, but all in all, it's kind of their project, it's their thing, and I'm just helping the research with the, you know, guidance and as, as they're carrying it out. So I'm really excited about that. I think it needs to needs that I've seen both on researchers wanting more hands on experience. And then also, you know, tech startups, like should always do UX research, but I understand it's very expensive. So kind of meeting the needs there as well.
Leigh Arrendondo 33:17
And how do you find these startups? So I actually, I know someone else who was trying to do something similar, and there was a little bit of a difficulty in actually finding the startups and, and getting the work in a way that was, you know, reliable, and actually was going to be, you know, something that would be valuable for the researcher. So tell me a little bit about that side of it.
Eniola Abioye 33:44
Yeah, so everyone kind of knows, a founder, at least where I am,
Leigh Arrendondo 33:49
yeah. And you're in the Bay Area. So for sure. I'm in Seattle. And I gotta say it's the same.
Eniola Abioye 33:57
So I know a lot of people who have started small businesses, or are launching a startup or have started and so I pilot with them. But we'll be opening up a forum and kind of posting on socials and posting all over LinkedIn to understand, you know, kind of who's interested in what might work. And I'd love to give preference to, you know, bipoc business owners and founders and women owned startups. But I'm excited because I think they're the need is there. I don't think it's going to be too difficult to find people who want UX research for their startup for free, because it's Amin, right? It's all it's always going to be there too. So I just think it's going to be really interesting to see the types of startups that I'm able to pair students with. And the ideal setup is having a student who's like, interested in a certain space or a part of tech or, you know, industry paired with someone that they're like Gentleman, we're interested in
Leigh Arrendondo 35:00
him, right? Yeah, I'm excited for you. And I'm very excited to help spread the word. So thank you tell us a little bit about how people can find out more information about you and about what, you know some of these great programs that you talked about.
Eniola Abioye 35:19
Absolutely, absolutely. You can go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can also reach out on LinkedIn I am I love connecting with folks in the UX space I just any all IBMa on LinkedIn. Yeah, those are some pretty solid ways to get in touch with me. On my website, I have my calendar Calendly there as well on the contact me page. And so folks who are interested in coaching or who have some questions can either email me right from the page or sign up for a 15 minute consultation?
Leigh Arrendondo 35:48
Awesome. And did you mention LinkedIn? can people follow you and hear about your, you know, all your new offerings that way?
Eniola Abioye 35:57
Yeah, yeah, I usually make sure to copy everything over to LinkedIn, which has become just like a digital. My job fair. So yes, you can follow me on LinkedIn. And us outloud also has an Instagram page. And so there are a few ways to tap in, I'm not hard to get in contact with.
Leigh Arrendondo 36:14
That's fantastic. And I want to thank you so much. We covered everything right that we talked about, I guess you're doing a lot of stuff. So I want to make sure that I covered it all. I think so awesome.
Eniola Abioye 36:28
It was really great. This is a lot of fun to just talking through kind of the UX world with someone who's also in the world. So I appreciate you having
Leigh Arrendondo 36:37
me. Yeah, yeah, this has been fun. Thank you so much. Hey, if you enjoyed this slice of UX cake, please rate it and subscribe. tell others what you liked about it. It really helps us spread the word and get this free content to more people. You can follow UX cake on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, and get all the episodes and show notes at UX kake.co. Thank you for listening and sharing the flex
Ep.45 Today I’m talking about UX Strategy Sprints with Craig Nishizaki. The term UX Strategy gets defined in different ways by experts across our discipline, and some people say that UX strategy doesn’t even exist, that UX strategy is Business strategy. Which conceptually, I get that, but the term and the practice of UX Strategy is actually incredibly useful and necessary to communicate the difference between the bigger picture of a holistic user experience - which is strategic - from the the tactical aspects of designing page flows and wireframes and UI.
I like to define UX Strategy at its highest level as identifying business objectives and user needs and then creating a vision that aligns those two things. And while that might sound simple, getting to that vision for a product or a service is anything but simple. Which is why having a framework like this UX Strategy Sprint can really help to get everyone on the same page. My guest today is Craig Nishizaki, and he’s the Head of Business for UpTop, a User Experience Design and Development agency based in Seattle. What makes Craig’s perspective here so valuable is that he’s coming from the business side of UX. He’s spent the last 12 years honing his understanding of the value of UX and how to convey that value to business leaders, to help them create change, innovation, and impact for their organizations. I know UX practitioners can learn a lot about conveying the value of what we do by learning the language of our business partners, and I’m really grateful to Craig for coming onto the podcast to share his business wisdom with us.
Download a copy of Craig’s UX Strategy Sprint Guide here
Connect with Craig
UpTop User Experience Agency
Connect with UX Cake
Leigh Arredondo 0:00
UX cake is all about developing the layers you need to be more effective in your work and to be happy and fulfilled in your career. I'm your host Lee Alan arrow Dano, and I'm a UX leader and leadership coach. Hello, and welcome to episode 45 of UX cake. Today I am talking about UX strategy Sprint's with a business leader in UX Craig Nishizaki. Now, the term UX strategy gets defined in many different ways by experts across our discipline. Some people even say that UX strategy doesn't exist, that basically that UX strategy is business strategy, or is product strategy, which, conceptually, I get that. But the term and the practice of UX strategy is actually incredibly useful. And it's an it's necessary to communicate the difference between the big picture of a holistic user experience which is strategic, from the tactical aspects of designing page flows, and wireframes, and UI. Now I like to define UX strategy at its simplest highest level as identifying business objectives. And user needs to create a vision that aligns those two things. And while that might sound simple, actually getting to that vision for a product or service is anything but simple. My guest today is Craig Nishizaki. And he's the head of business for up top, a user experience design and development agency based in Seattle. Now, what makes Craig's perspective here so valuable is that he's coming from the business side of UX. And he spent the last 12 years honing his understanding of the value of UX. And not only that, but how to convey that value to the business leaders who are making the decisions to help them create change, and innovation and impact for their organizations. I know UX practitioners can learn a lot about conveying the value of what we do, by learning the language of our business partners. And I'm really grateful to Craig for coming on to the podcast to share his business wisdom with us.
Hi, Craig. And thank you so much for joining us on UX cake podcast.
Hi Leigh, thanks for inviting me. Yeah, I'm excited to talk to you today about UX strategy.
And I'm especially excited to talk to you with your perspective, because you're in a position where you are often from an agency kind of perspective, you've got to sell these concepts, right, you have to sell UX in general, but then UX strategy, gosh, that's another level of like, getting people on board. And so I think this is going to be a really fantastic conversation for for the audience to learn a lot. So I hope so, Ben? Yeah, I think so. I'm sure, actually, I should say, I am sure it will be. So anyway, like just to kind of before we dive into, you know, doing UX strategy spreads, and yeah, how people can sell those within their organization. I would love to hear from you. I love how you explain this. I've heard it before. So I would love to hear how you define UX strategy.
Craig Nishizaki 3:32
So my perspective is a little different. So my perspective comes from the business side of UX, right?And over I got into the industry in 2009, doing new business development, and coming out of working in high tech sales and sales, leadership, and consulting and all that. And so as I look at strategy, I'm looking at it
a little bit differently than maybe a practitioner of UX would. So this might be helpful. So from the business side, what I've seen is, oftentimes designers are blind to the business implications, the constraints, the politics, the nuances from a business perspective, when they're designing things or on their on their project. And then the business leaders oftentimes don't realize the value of involving UX, in the strategy phase to help them define the product vision and get alignment.
And then on the engineering and technology side, I've seen them, in many cases, look at design, it's just making things pretty, or looking at the UI and not really thinking about the impact of the UX design strategy on, you know, workflows, back end systems and data and what needs to be interacted with to actually make that experience come to life. And because of that, I think that's really How how I've looked at strategy for UX being, if it was a Venn diagram with each of those groups as one of the circles, where UX strategy, UX, leadership, and in value all are right at the center where those three circles overlap. And the more that you could pull those three together, the larger impact the higher value in the, the more impactful strategy that you can create, keeping the end user the customer in mind, right. And so that's my perspective on what your strategy is. And the value of it is really sitting at the center of those three disciplines or organizations or however you want to look at them within a business, and helping them to frame the problem. Keeping the customer the end user that could be an employee, a buyer, a customer, a partner, a member, whatever you define, framing the problem properly, from that context, aligning on the vision, getting executive buy in, and then creating a roadmap with participation as an outcome, or an output for that.
Leigh Arredondo 6:08
Yeah, I think you spoke to this a little bit, but kind of a little bit more specifically, tell me a little bit more about who your audiences who are you speaking to when you're talking about, you know, this is something that could really benefit your organization, who are those people
Craig Nishizaki 6:26
I look at our ideal customer is a senior leader, that's typically change agent are visionary. They have an idea they think will have a material impact on their business. And through this process, we help them articulate that vision and bring it to life. And in if you think about it, in terms of what does that look like, or who is that person, it could be an executive level, person on the business side that has come into an organization sees some opportunities for for improvement, or see some friction points in the journey sees some potential for innovation. And they're trying to get a vision cast, and need to get executives on board. It could be somebody that's on the product, or on the research side, that's been tasked with trying to try to move the needle this year, or trying to improve an experience this year. And they don't have a team necessarily attached to them. And they need some horsepower, some some additional expertise to be brought in. And in some cases, it could be even a leader on the IT side or on the technology side that has seen projects come to a grinding halt. And they're trying to get them unblocked. And part of the reason for them being blocked is they've either had projects that have gone over budget or over over time and schedule, and the interest has died off on them, or the commitment to them has died off. But they're still important. And so they need to kind of level set and restart. And by bringing in an outside in perspective, to help with that, and then really crystallizing the vision again, or crystallizing the vision for the first time. In some cases, you're able to help get things unblocked and moving. All of those sound really familiar situations to me.
Leigh Arredondo 8:24
I mean, you know, when you're in when you're building products, or you're in organizations for any amount of time, I think you see these sort of themes happen over and over again, patterns. Yeah, exactly. And we will I definitely want to get a little bit later, I want to get to, you know, how can, because I think you have great insights on this too. But selling this from within, you know, it's one thing to come in as a consultant and or be hired as a consultant. Right? To sell this, but like, how do you do that from within. But before we get there, I want to talk just a little bit more about, you know, kind of the purpose for it. Let's say I am X business leader. And I've got one of you know, I'm in one of these buckets, you just sort of mentioned how is a this might end up leading to having to, you know, well, we'll talk about what it is but how is having a UX strategy, and then kind of like, how is this UX strategy sprint, really going to help me meet my business objectives? Like, and, you know, isn't that just like, I need a business strategy, right? Like, why why do I need a UX strategy?
Craig Nishizaki 9:35
Yeah, I think if you think about all the organizations that you've been a part of, in most cases, the business strategy is defined and brought to bear and then everything. Everyone runs toward that direction. Now, the business strategy, you know, talks about the market, the opportunity, the need, the problem space that you're working within, and then how you're going to go about going after it. And from there to what you have, there's a gap where your current state, and where you want to get to the desired future state, there's a gap, what the UX strategy, sprint and UX strategy helps with is providing tangibility of how to get from where you are, to that desired future state with your digital experience, whether that's, you know, an internal enterprise tool, whether that's a solution, whether that's a, you know, a portal in the healthcare space, a mobile app, etc.
So, you know, how you're going to get to the end goal with your business strategy is going to be some interaction with your customer. Right? It's whether it's an employee, consumer, a business, decision maker, etc. And that's where I feel like the UX strategy helps provide, provide them with a tangible plan, or roadmap to get there. And there's a bunch of different things within that. But that's how I would, how I would say the UX strategy plays an important part from a business perspective.
Leigh Arredondo 11:17
Yeah. Okay. Thank you. Like, I love how you describe it. One of the things we talked about in when we were talking about this before was how important it is for for those of us in UX to really kind of use the language of our business partners and product partners and the people that we are, you know, speaking to, and and trying to champion, you know, we're championing UX to like, we need to use adopt the business language. That is kind of the majority of the organization, right. Yeah. So that sort of gave a little bit of an overview of what a UX strategy, like what the end state might be, should we talk about what a UX strategy sprint is?
Craig Nishizaki 12:02
Yeah, we can, I can tell you the origin of it. And then what it is, and it's really nothing new in the sense that UX strategy sprint, that is what we call it is based on a design thinking framework. And it's really our approach to solving complex business problems within an organization, using a structured approach to discovery and research, with the output being a tangible concept prototype with some recommendations and roadmap kind of high level. And how we we came to this is, you know, we started applying design thinking and Lean UX methods, probably around 2015 or so as an organization. And when Michael Wu joined our team, and then became elevated into the director of UX role, he really was looking at how do we create more consistent outcomes, with our customers with our clients that helped them achieve their goals. And what we found was, as we were looking at our client base, you had big wins, and you had big misses sometimes. And it really depended on the organization, you were working with the individual that was the product owner or the project owner. On the client side, there was a number of variables. And what our goal was, was really to figure out a way to find right fit clients and right fit projects to work on. If you think about it from a Simon Sinek. You know, start with Why type perspective, if you can find the clients that believe your why, and why you're doing things and have that same mindset, then your likelihood of being successful goes up, your likelihood of your team enjoying that work goes up. You know, there's lots of positives there. And so, what we were finding is, um, you know, there was clients pushing back on Discovery and research.
Leigh Arredondo 13:53
Okay, yeah, that also sounds really familiar.
Craig Nishizaki 13:57
Yeah, internal teams, as well as agency teams are, you'll see that they have a budget, they have a timeline, and ultimately, the beginning of the project, all the work up front to get to the statement of work to an agreement squeezes into that, because the timeline seems to never move. And the budget seems to always shrink, you know, it's just one of those things. And that push back kind of sounds like, I gave you the Brd and I can answer all the questions that you just asked me, or it could be we know all the prop, we know what the problem is. We just need someone to help us figure out how to fix it, or we know what our customers want. So we really don't really need to have you talk with them. They may not say this, but the underlying bias is, you know, research will take too long, it'll cost too much and it'll only validate what we already know. So we don't really need to do anything. Or you hear good we did research couple years ago and we have all that information will provide that to you before takeoff. Right? So
That's a common theme that we were hearing. And then the other thing that we are running into is that clients want a fixed bid for the design and build of the solution. So whether it's a mobile app or enterprise tool or a portal, whatever it was, they want to have all up bid for all the design and all the development work. But logically, you can't do a fixed budget with loose requirements, right, you need to know what the requirements are. And so ultimately, what they're asking for is predictability and a plan. Right, and if you take on a project like that, without having the ability to define the requirements, and understand that the end user or do some research, all the risk is on you, as the team, whether your internal or external, because you're committing to a budget, you're committing to a timeline, and you're committing to an expectation of what that thing is going to be. And that expectation can be wildly different than what you're able to do. Right? They may be expecting dinner at the Canlis and you're only able to afford, you know, Chipotle, you know, it's it's kind of two totally different ends of the spectrum. The other thing that we started seeing out there as the buzz word, you know, digital transformation became more and more popular, and also the the actual work of digital transformation became more more popular is that design thinking efforts and digital transformation efforts were failing, because they were trying to boil the ocean. And the reason they fail, I think is you're unable to create velocity and quick wins, if you can't identify what those quick wins are, which takes a little bit of research and definition. Um, and then in leadership at the organization that you're working with. Either you have no champion, or no executive sponsorship for the leadership changes midstream, and then the funding goes away. Right. So those are just some observations that we had. So we took those observations, and then we thought about what our beliefs are about how to how to have a successful UX project, whether your internal or external, and the beliefs that we have our you know, research is important for successful UX project, you know, when you do research, ideation becomes obvious, you find the real problem, so solutions become more evident. And the ideation phase actually becomes smaller, because the problems identified early in the process, right. So research then becomes a scoping exercise. Because you actually are able to be more focused and reduce features to have a higher impact. The other belief that we have is that as a UX leader, whether your internal or external, the thing that you're there to do is create value, not deliver artifact, deliverables and artifacts, right when I first got in the industry, and you've been in the industry longer than me, but I remember we would create these humongous books of wireframes. And deliver that to the customer as part of the proof, right? And but really, if you think about it, what you're there to do is help provide actionable insights that they haven't been able to tease out themselves, help them get a better understanding of their customer, in user, organization, technical constraints, etc. Provide that perspective you're brought in to provide innovation or innovative solutions
you're brought in to help them prioritize, you know, doing an impact versus effort exercise, it's always seems to be an aha moment when you have a cross functional team in a workshop, and they have all these features and function, things that they want to do. And you start putting some dots to it in terms of impact versus effort to help prioritize, then all of a sudden, the marketing folks realize, Wow, that thing we're asking for from technology, no wonder they're pushing back. For the technology, people say this thing that they think is low on their priority, because it's not the core system that they were working on. But then they all of a sudden realize that the customers really want that. And that will really move the needle for them. It helps them to prioritize, and being in UX, and you're sitting in the middle, you're the liaison and the translator, and the mediator, if if you're playing a strategic role, and then ultimately, in UX, you're your biggest value is creating business outcomes or helping with the business outcomes. You know, because ultimately, that's you're designing a product or solution that's gonna help the business achieve their goals and help your customers achieve their goals mutually, right hopefully, so that all that all saying how we got to doing the UX strategy sprint was a or defining or developing our approach as a UX strategy sprint is, we were doing a lot of discovering and envisioning projects, but we realized that there was a need to do concept validation as part of that envisioning. And. And so adding in that concept validation is how we got to what we call a UX strategy sprint. So we look at it as a way to solve more complex problems. If you're looking at testing a hypothesis, or testing a feature, you can do a design sprint, you know, something that's more along the lines of the Google Ventures, five days sprint, as agency doing it from the outside, it's a little harder to do it, it takes us we never say it's a five day sprint, because you have the intake and all those things that you do, it leads up to a five day sprint. And I think that that's one thing that the title misguide you on a little bit that you're going to get everything done in five days.
Leigh Arredondo 20:54
Well, then you still have to design the thing afterwards.
Craig Nishizaki 20:57
Correct? Yeah, you're just getting validation on your hypothesis. Right. So that's, that's kind of the evolution, how we got to formalize and what we call your strategy sprint. And I can tell you a little bit about what one is, um,
Leigh Arredondo 21:09
yeah, let's do that. But just want to I want to kind of circle back or just kind of underline a couple of things that you said, the thing that you were talking about with the deliverables, right, deliverables versus value. And the deliverables are still like, critically important in UX and for, for whether you're a consultant or internal, but one of the things I want to point out there is that is kind of like a step level from a UX tactical practitioner to someone who is really, leader. Right? And, yeah, that might, that person might also be, you know, in the end delivering all the the stack of wireframes, or mocks or whatever. But, but that point of that, just that understanding of we need to have the the larger kind of not just vision, but we need to deliver to the business, the value that they're looking for. And they don't necessarily know from all sides, which is kind of what you UX is representing the business and the user. Anyway, I just kind of wanted to point that out. Because a lot of what I talk about on this podcast is about how do you move from being that tactical to the strategic so so what you were saying just leads right into that. So let's go ahead and move forward with let's find out from you a little bit more about how someone would go about conducting one of these UX sprints and, and also how the sprint itself, like differs from a design sprint, that's also pretty interesting to me.
Craig Nishizaki 22:53
Yeah, it's based on the design thinking framework. And so we took learnings from IDEO from Stanford d school, we took some learnings from that Google Ventures, five day sprint process, and other inputs, as well as lean UX methods. And then, in doing these things, we had some a lot of learnings as well, of what was effective and what could be more effective, and in where, where we had missed the mark. And so when you look at it, it's gonna follow kind of that double diamond model in terms of divergent thinking and convergent thinking, flaring and focus. And so typically, a UX strategy, sprint is going to take about somewhere between eight to 10 weeks, depending on the size and scale of the problem you're trying to solve. It could be done faster, and it could be it could take longer. And it's really, again, dependent on the size and scale. So when you think of a sprint, you could think of the 100 yard dash, you could think of a 1500 meter, you could think of a 5k, there's, there's still a sprint that happens. And there's just the races are longer, right. So it's a different kind of training that happens for those athletes. But if you think about just the process itself, there's the steps. There's intaking research, there's a workshop. There's ideation and design, there's prototyping and testing, and then the Northstar vision. And in the UX strategy, sprint process that that we've defined for our own team, the intake and research is critical for our team to get accelerated, ramped up and accelerated on the problem space. So it's really gathering all the information from the customer that they have about their end users about the problem that they're having about the systems that are in place, etc. Looking at it again, with those three circles in mind, right, the business design and technology as well as the end user. And then our team prepares for the workshop. And so prior to COVID we were doing these workshops in person Obviously, during COVID, we will find our ability to do remote workshops and have found that they're actually as effective or more effective. In terms of the work that gets done. The part that's less effective in a remote workshop is a lot of the break time. conversations that you would typically have fewer in person, right. And so thinking about the, you know, having coffee and there was a, you read, you read the room, and there's a skeptic in the room, and you get a chance to go talk to them during to start building that rapport, or there's someone that said something that was really important. But they were more of a quiet personality. And so you're trying to tease that out. And so you have to, there's some nuance to doing it remotely. Or you, you have to set up some off offline conversations and things like that. But typically, a workshop is going to be two to three days, again, depending on the size and scale of problem. And in the workshops. You know, you're going through activities, you know, some examples would be like expert talks, or long term goals, how might we statements, sprint questions, journey mapping, review, lightning, demos, some solution sketches and voting, and then impact versus effort. And, you know, obviously, every workshop is going to be a little different depending on the problem that you're trying to solve and the audience that you're working with. Typically, we'd like to have the audience be about eight cross functional stakeholders, key stakeholders, and then we pull in experts for those expert talks. So you don't have to have 25 people in the whole workshop, you really need the core team. And, and then you pull in those other subject matter experts. And the outcome from that is some decisions around framing the problem aligning on the vision and what the Northstar vision could be. And then you move into doing the ideation and design and for us, what we're trying to get to is a concept prototype that walks through a happy path, if you will, for that primary problem statement, to get to the Northstar vision or to the desired future state. And the idea behind this whole thing is that we're trying to get to a high level concept prototype that provides their executive team and their broader team with
tangibility. Right. So if you think about design thinking, one of the biggest, highest value outcomes you can create as tangibility it's seeing touching and feeling what it could be. And that concept prototype allows us to do that. And then we take that and do some right testing or lightweight usability testing, with actual users that would use this product tool, or app, whatever it is that we're helping them concept. And then iterating, the design incorporating their feedback, if it's relevant and impactful, and then providing to them an output. And so the outputs from this process are a lightweight interactive concept prototype, or it could be more built out if if necessary. We oftentimes provide a narrated video walkthrough of the concept prototype. And the reason for that is the executive sponsor or the champion of the project may not be comfortable presenting the concept prototype. Later on, they may want us to do that, and we may not be available. So we found that having a narrated video of that concept prototype helps them to spread the vision, to socialize it without us having to be in every single meeting, if we're not available to if we are available to we'd love to do that. Because being face to face is oftentimes really valuable for us. And then the other output is a UX summary report with research findings, workshop outcomes, a prioritized UX roadmap and recommendations for next steps. And that again, checks the box for them of having a plan and then being able to then scope out the feature design work that needs to be done and the development work sizing and scoping. And so this ultimately allows them to have more predictability, and allows us to have a better way to help them scope out the project.
Leigh Arredondo 29:46
Yeah, and in many ways, it's very much like a design sprint, but larger, it's gonna you're gonna end up with kind of a phased approach. And I do want to mention that you have you have a couple of kind of downloads that we're gonna make available to listeners of the podcast. And those actually are great explanation of how you do this and how you explain the difference between the UX strategy strategies sprint and design sprint, which I found super helpful, because that was great. My first questions when I, when we talked about it, but I, you know, before we completely wrap up, I just want to hear, I think it'd be really helpful to hear a little bit about the what are the challenges that that you've faced either, like I'm interested in, in challenges you've faced with selling us and and then challenges you've faced, kind of during this process, because it sounds like a longer process. So it might have some challenges that are different from a design sprint,
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Ep. 44 You probably would agree that if we want to make products and services that people want and use, we have to talk to those people. Whether you’re involved in product strategy, UX, development, marketing, any part of building products or a business or a service – I imagine you’d agree that you’ve got to understand what your audience or user’s goals, what will really serve their needs, what motivates them. And how do we do that? We talk to them. More importantly, we listen to them talk. So, how do we get them to talk about what’s really most important to them?
You might say, ask them. And if I’m not getting the right information, maybe I need better questions. And you wouldn’t be wrong, asking good questions is really important in user research, but today we’re going to explore a different approach than what you might be used to in user research.
The emphasis here is not on asking people the right questions, it’s on identifying the objective, and then, listening. And listening some more. And not guiding the conversation, but just… listening deeply. It's focused on getting into someone's most inner unconscious purpose and motivations, and this will help you identify the most important opportunities to act on. This is something you can practice with customers for product strategy, and you can also use these techniques in relationships at work to create impactful change in how you work together. It’s harder than it sounds, but the results can be eye-opening.
My guest, Indi Young, is a researcher who coaches, writes, speaks, and teaches about inclusive product strategy. Her books on mental models and empathy are widely known & respected, and personally I've been a fan of hers for years and I have learned so much from her. She's developed this approach of deep listening over many years, she offers training and coaching in it, and now she's written a book about Deep Listening called Time to Listen.
Order Indi’s book here: https://indiyoung.com/books-time-to-listen/
Get training by Indi on Deep Listening: https://indiyoung.com/courses-list/
Connect with Indi Young
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EPISODE 44. TRANSCRIPTION
UX Cake was founded by host Leigh Allen-Arredondo. The podcast launched in February 2018 and quickly grew an audience of UX pros around the globe. Our aim is to help the growing UX community become stronger and more effective, by sharing the experience and expertise from leaders in the field.