You never know whom you might bump into in the bathroom. I met Christine Ryu, Interaction Designer at J. Crew, at An Event Apart, in Washington. D.C. Chatting briefly, I learned enough that made me want to interview Christine about her work at J. Crew and her thoughts about user experience design and interaction, as well as content strategy.
Christine is quick to point out that although her title is Interaction Designer, she plays more of a user experience role at the fashion giant. To her UX means a lot of things, “It’s an umbrella that encompasses Information Architecture, content strategy, psychology and graphic design.”
I always ask the people I interview for these columns the same questions: What’s your background? How’d you fall into this? What best practices can you share with an audience that is mostly self-taught? My conversation with Christine ran the gamut from her experience consulting to how she feels about content, a subject that most find not too sexy. Her response, “Content isn’t the sexy girl in the bar, she’s the girl you want to marry.” That serious approach to content and UX is revealed below.
OIAM: Tell me about your education and training.
Christine: “I went to the University of Washington and wanted to be a graphic designer, I grew up loving art. But, I saw after coursework that this was more of a hobby and not what I really wanted to do. Luckily, I took an Intro to Engineering class and met a great professor, named Karen Kasonic, who inspired me. I learned that human-centered design was the perfect marriage of art and graphic design plus this linear way of thinking. I just loved the user research and interaction with users.”
After graduation, Christine was offered a full-time position at Accenture as a user experience analyst. But after a while, she realized, “I wanted to go from consulting to in-house—UX is very different in those two environments. With consulting there’s a lot of variety – but you can’t see what happens after launch. I really wanted to be in-house to see that whole process.” She found a job opening on LinkedIn for an interaction designer at J. Crew and started working for the fashion powerhouse shortly after.
OIAM: Describe a typical project at J. Crew
Christine: “J. Crew is amazing and supportive of user-centered design. What I love most is working on different phases and hearing feedback from analytics and customers. We learn what works and how to feed that information into new projects. It’s really nice to have a ‘longer fingerprint’ in one place.
We work in an Agile environment, so I have a lot of access to the developers, designers and creative. We are so collaborative. When I first started at the company people were like, ‘What is UX?’, but now creatives are starting to think like user experience designers and the reverse.
A typical project starts with wireframes. We collect general thoughts from stakeholders and then we iterate on ideas. We need to make sure it fits the business requirements first. For inspiration, we look at tons of other creative sources—I don’t think we need to look at websites just to be creative.”
OIAM: Talk to me about a specific project and learnings from that.
Christine: “My first project was the product detail page. We changed it last year by making colors and sizes flat on the page instead of in a 3D dropdown. It looks easy now, which was the goal, but in order to get there I needed to understand how different colors and size are merchandised, stock, and how final sales and how back ordering works.
You wouldn’t know if from looking at it now, but surprisingly a huge content consideration on the product detail page were the sizes: you’ll notice the size names themselves and the quantity vary between gender and clothing category. I had to figure out a design that could accommodate for all the size scenarios.”
OIAM: I love the way the social media icons are black on the page, but when you rollover they turn their brand colors. Can you talk to me about what made you go in that direction?
Christine: “We worked with creative on this and thought about it like this: The primary purpose of the page is to have people select a size and color and put the garment into their shopping bag. The secondary action was putting it into their wishlist. But, J. Crew is very social and has a very social audience. We wanted to encourage that sharing as a tertiary action, and we needed to communicate that visually. So we kept the icons in black but when you rollover they are in color. These brand icons are really well known, but when you look at them in those silhouettes they have a ton of white space around them, which helps to drive the right amount of visual attention.”
OIAM: How do you balance content within the visual demands of an ecommerce environment?
Christine: Content isn’t the most exciting thing to people, but it is the backbone of the user experience. Content isn’t the sexy girl in the bar, she’s the girl you want to marry. Content (written text) does have a huge impact on the general experience and the user interface when it comes to shopping and J. Crew. I think of it in these four frameworks:
- Physical dimension in space—where it will fit? If there’s no standard for best practices content, it can really fluctuate and fill up the space in way that breaks the design
- Understand the context—what are we trying to communicate?
- Prioritization—not all content is created equally. We need to understand what’s really important; that can make or break someone’s shopping experience.
- User flow—what is the relationship to content at that moment? Sometimes content can be shown after an action has been performed.
OIAM: Any ideas on the future of content?
Christine: “What is content like in the mobile framework? That’s a new challenge for us to be thinking about.”
Thanks so much to Christine for this fabulous interview. It’s always exciting to talk to digital strategy professionals who are excited and enthused about their jobs. And, word to the wise: always be nice to people in the bathroom. You never know.