Like many writers, I stumbled into UX.
I never learned to code, or formally picked up visual design tools (though I can dabble in a couple).
But I always loved conversations. I love interviews where I get to know the other person and tell their story. That’s why I chose to get trained in journalism.
Now, I get to work with conversations every single day, namely designing interactions between machine and humans, specifically bots.
Here are the values I learned that inform my work:
- The pursuit of perfection will do more harm than good.
When you have specific milestones, you learn that there is no such thing as perfection.
Working in journalism taught me that being stubborn about perfection leads to a bad cycle of constant missed deadlines and less time for iteration.
The latter is especially detrimental to launching chatbots because you must allow enough time to test with users so you can make data-driven decisions in the final copy.
You do the best in the time you have, and if you notice the quality is not up to par, you tweak a couple things here and there to figure out how to be more time-efficient. Spend more time working on flows you identify as time-suckers. Color-code certain flows to make it easier to come back to iterate.
2. Working with a team, while owning your part.
Any technology product development is teamwork. Anyone who’s worked in news will tell you that it takes an entire newsroom to deliver a story. From the producers to reporters to editors to the interns answering calls, a piece of story passed over the hands of many people before we decided it could be viewed by the public eye.
I’ve met quite a few UX writers from a journalism background. We can bond over editors breathing down our necks as the deadline approaches. When we’re trained in an environment where time is of utmost importance, and being 2.5 seconds late slows down everyone, we learn discipline. Working on breaking news stories will be some of the most stressful times you’ll have, but it becomes muscle memory that serves you in any job function.
3. Agile is a mindset, not a one-time application.
We all talk about specific steps to agile but I can’t think of anything more agile than the flexibility required in getting a story on air, paper, or online.
Now, in the tech environment, I don’t take those couple seconds like life and death. But I do still hold myself to a standard to completing things on time, so that there is time for iteration.
Agile is about adapting to the lack of predictability in technology development. Agile sometimes seems to be used as an excuse to keep pushing deadlines. On the contrary, this is the worst thing to do because we’re exacerbating the already heightened room for errors.
Much like the process of designing and developing bots, nothing is streamlined in producing news.
If you thought you would have 3 days to work on the 3,000-word feature story due in 2 days, well… wait until you get told to turn around 2 articles by the end of day. End of day also means 5 p.m., not 5:02 p.m.
If you also thought you would have 3 days to design 12 different user flows (paths that a user can take to achieve a goal, like setting a calendar reminder), you may discover that there are 2 additional functions that must be built into half of these flows to have them working properly — such as authentication to confirm the calendar owner’s identity.
4. Prioritize to deliver on time, then iterate.
Trying to be good at everything made me good at nothing. When I’m working on 3 to 4 chatbots, I must learn to prioritize by taking one project, looking at the big picture then refining later. Not only does this help you make changes faster, it allows you to do so with less bias because you’re coming back to your work with a fresh mind. If I explain my methodology early on and demonstrate how this allows us to iterate and deploy faster, then my team members understand.
Incremental, iterative work is what leads to a polished product in the end.
It’s the same for journalism. If you only have 10 minutes to proofread an article before publication, you would prioritize:
- Someone’s name. Misspelling someone’s name in a journalism class would automatically lead to an F, as if you never did the assignment at all. This seems harsh, especially considering these were assignments often not ready for publication, but it sets you up for reality. Imagine writing about someone who’s accused of sexual harassment and you misspell their name to another public figure. That article could do irreparable damage to their reputation. Case in point: the 8.8 million pound of financial damage from a typo.
- Numbers. Imagine reporting on stock prices and saying a company’s share price is $28, not $280. Neither the reader nor the company’s PR department would appreciate this error.
Sitting in a newsroom during a breaking news story trains you to be laser-focused to deliver. It’s better to deliver something on time, no matter how poor it is, than to deliver something perfect at a time that does not allow for improvement. In the first scenario, you may have extra time to make changes. In the second, you’ve already used up the extra time and you cannot improve.
There’s always room for iteration on a poor product, but you can’t iterate on something that you never deliver.