Nancy Douyon is Global Design Ethicist & Product Philosopher. She is a trailblazer in human experience design with over 15 years of industry experience building scalable user research platforms and revitalizing user interfaces at leading companies such as Uber, Google, IBM, Cisco, and Intel.
Throughout her career, Nancy has gained a reputation for delivering big results in a culturally honest and purposeful way with hundreds of products deployed in over 80 countries worldwide. She consults globally on remote user research methods and development in emerging markets.
Nancy is a UX Researcher, but she also heavily studies and activates the design process through:
Nancy has a really interesting life story so I wanted to touch on that for a moment because it directly impacts why she thinks about user expense in the way she does. She is originally from Haiti and grew up on a very poor farm there. When her parents were in their twenties, they brought her to Boston. Growing up Nancy was a very, very inquisitive child. Coming from another country, Nancy had to master context clues in order to learn words and understand their meaning. Her parents had a lot of difficulty answering her questions due to the language and culture barriers.
When she was eleven years old, she became introduced to technology after running away to a magazine headquarter that she saw an advertisement for. The magazine headquarter became intrigued with Nancy and her curiosity, and invited her back time after time. Eventually they introduced her to a program called the computer clubhouse.
The Computer Clubhouse was a free technical after school program designed by professors and students at the MIT Media Lab. They believed exposing underrepresented individuals to a number of technical skills early on, could help bridge the digital divide. At age 12, she was introduced to actuators and censored, and began coding. When she was 14 , she ended up in foster care due to domestic violence and cultural friction.
It was at this time that Nancy continued engaging with the computer clubhouse and by the time she was 17 was teaching girls how to make their own webpages and code. She then became an assistant manger of the computer clubhouse and IT risk auditor at Harvard University all while I attended undergrad.
After Nancy got her undergraduate degree, she decided she wanted to do it all. She took to Google and typed in all of her passions, “sociology, psychology, computer science, engineering, hands on, love, forgiveness…” And two fields popped up—human factors engineering and human computer interaction.
From there she went to Michigan to pursue both degrees: a masters in human computer interaction and a PhD in Human Factors Engineering. She was amazed that she had somehow found fields that connected culture, engineering, empathy and compassion.
From there she was able to work her way through the network and worked as a human factors engineer while attending grad school.
Nancy eventually went on to work on international projects as either a developer, engineer, or designer across many industries; from government to medical devices to worldwide leaders in IT. While working at Google she operated in the consumer operations space.
Nancy breaks down the user experience design process with a lot of psychology to better understand why users.
This is a username map that Nancy often uses in her design process and speaks about in lectures as she discusses real world examples of failed design in the everyday.
These are some of her notes from her notebook from a 2017 conference. Words such as intention, ethical, inclusive opportunity, and humanizing usability stuck out to me.
There are several factors that Nancy considers on every project she takes on.
Context is looking at the scenario and really looking at the user’s ethnographic information and the user behavior. This can mean the physical environment, accessibility, or if they’re on a mobile or desktop computer.
It is important to understand the intent of the application, and the specific needs that the user is trying to achieve. It'd about understanding the moment and the circumstance.
As I was talking about earlier, a big part of Nancys background play into why she is so passionate on connecting design with international insights
Every country has different cultural practices, so when a team is designing something for the show told to use, such as a music streaming app like Spotify. Cultural context is key to understanding how the users will react and experience that product.
Cultural practices need attention, such as why users in India didn’t listen to music on Spotify and Apple Music the same way we did. Users in India found and searched songs through movies instead of lyrics or song titles.
Nancy also refers back to contextual inquiry a lot. Contextual inquiry solves for the real problem and takes a step back and does research involving stakeholders. Questions asked such as who these users are and how do they interact with the product? After the information is collected, then information is visualized through affinity diagrams to see what the real problems and issues are- this often uncovers the larger problems at stake with a product or company
The first step is knowing that you have biases. She talks a lot about people being afraid to admit their biases, questions why people are afraid because it’s about being uncomfortable and using that for change. Nancy says it’s okay that we all have these biases because been reared into these places where we have these thoughts bc of how media is presented. When you admit your biases, it is easier to see how companies may have unintentional biases in their own framework.
Leveraging privilege: recognize that you are in fact at more of an advantage. As a result of knowing where you are, and saying let me step aside and learn from you.
While working with all these companies she traveled the world. Increased ethnographic eye for seeing holes in design. She saw that individual complexity matters just as much as cultural complexity.
Empathy has become somewhat of a fad. Empathy maps, empathy solutions, the word is related all the time but do we really have it? Is empathy tough to build for scale? Fostering empathy should be baseline the thinking about designing for any job for reach.
Nobility complex: when people in positions of privilege unintentionally create solutions without accounting for their own explicit and implicit personal biases
Get the voices that are just not ours own into this products.
Über is all over the world. One of Nancy’s first jobs at Uber was to scale the research platforms around the globe. There was issues with efficiency, visibility, inconsistent communication with stakeholders and the regions. So they developed a global research team.
Nancy created a subchapter called global scalable research platforms. They explored them for more than 77 countries that Uber operates in a round the world. Not just US focused, but global focused.
What the do is manage a biweekly research program. They design and conduct studies and synthesize that feedback. They made it a systematic process:
- Submit, research, ask
- Localize prototype
- Contribute to reproach plan
Every feature they test for release isn’t just tested in the us but its tested in Brazil, India, china, any of the countries they operate in worldwide.
Their respect methods included: 1 on 1 interviews, usability testing, card sorting and intercepts. Then there is a round of preliminary findings, where they involve the stakeholders but also involve members across the company.
This program became a game changer in 6 months to accessibility around the world. It was a check in on their power dynamics as they designed from their HQ to the world.
In 2017 Nancy launched a personal global passion project called Tech Social Impact Conference. The conference sparks conversation about developing intentional awareness in product development. As she’s now based in Silicon Valley, she sees on a daily scale how design and technology can provide social and ethical benefits (and sometimes consequences). The goal of the conference is to have a space to share principles and approaches to contribute to a better tomorrow for the next billion users.
Today, she continues work at Uber, and speaks about navigating UX through a cultural lense. Nancy is currently developing the Douyon Signature Labs, focused on bridging the gap between human potential and tech ecosystems for the humane use of technology.