As a design researcher, Juhi Singh (M.F.A. Visual Communication Design '11) has worked on some exciting projects around the globe. Singh's career has taken her to India, Shanghai, South Africa, the Netherlands, and to her current residence in San Francisco where she works as a senior user experience (UX) researcher at eBay.
Singh is passionate about the world of design and hands-on problem solving with a user-centric focus. In her view, she facilitates insightful conversations and uncovers the needs and desires of people, which sounds more like a superpower than a chosen profession.
How does her unique skill set drive innovation and in what ways?
We spoke with Singh to learn how she harnesses her superpower. She walked us through some of her experiences working on interdisciplinary research teams and what it is about big ideas that inspire her to embrace the unknown.
HERRON: How did you get interested in design research?
JUHI SINGH: I started my career as a graphic designer. My undergraduate degree is in design and multimedia, which was completed in Delhi, India. Afterwards, I joined Reebok as a graphic designer where I designed visual assets for in-store experiences at stores across India. I did that for about two years. It was during this time that I found myself not just designing graphics for stores, but also visiting the stores – before, during, and after the stores had launched – just to understand how customers were interacting with this physical space and with the graphics I had created. That got me curious about the rest of the world of design and that's when I came across something called "design thinking." This was back in 2008 and I was pretty intrigued by the whole concept.
HERRON: It sounds like you found your calling! How did you discover Herron's visual communication design program?
SINGH: I looked at a lot of graduate degree programs that seemed to be more on the technical side whereas I wanted to learn about design strategy and design management. I still didn't know what exactly I was looking for, but I stumbled upon Herron School of Art and Design. It totally made sense for me to get into the visual communication design program. It was a very conscious decision. At a time when other design programs had not launched anything around design thinking, Herron was bold enough to offer that program.
I knew that I had made the decision to change the track of my career by pursuing my master's. Herron's M.F.A. program helped me build the foundation for all that I've done since. I don't think I would have been able to break through in my field if I did not have that.
HERRON: Walk us through graduation in 2011 to the present.
SINGH: As soon as I graduated [from Herron], I joined CKS Consulting in India that gave me the opportunity to do research while traveling. In Bangladesh, I conducted ultrasound device testing for GE Healthcare using the next generation of devices that you probably see on the market now. I also did a project for BBC World Service Trust funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that was a usability study to improve maternal health in one of [the] poorest states in India. For that one, I not only conducted research with the health workers, but I also set up the entire usability lab from the ground up. We even had to get a generator to get electricity.
That was pretty interesting and it really kick-started my career. Working for some amazing clients, traveling to different places, doing research, and actually making an impact in people's lives confirmed what I really wanted to do and I started enjoying my work so much. But looking back, my path wasn't as easy as it sounds. I went through my own hurdles of applying for jobs, not hearing back, tweaking my resume, and working on my portfolio a zillion times.
HERRON: Before your current position at eBay, you were working at Facebook on their ads transparency team. How did you find yourself working at a Silicon Valley darling?
SINGH: The Bay Area is where a lot of tech stuff is happening. In early 2015, I moved to San Francisco unsure of what I would find and later landed a contract job with Google for AdWords Help. I was at Google for about a year and then an opportunity at Facebook came along. I was pretty happy with Google, but I thought, let's give it a shot. I joined Facebook in Aug. 2016 and worked with the ads transparency team as a lead researcher until June 2017.
HERRON: What did you accomplish while working at Facebook?
SINGH: My time there involved making research an integral part of the product development process; understanding how marketing and legal play an essential role in launching products; and implementing research at the various stages of [the production] process and being able to measure success.
HERRON: What kinds of projects are you currently tasked with at eBay?
SINGH: I lead research for a new product, eBay Authenticate, part of which launched in Sept. 2017. I bring back user insights to the team that help them think about what product they should build and which direction they should move forward with. It’s a lot of strategy-related research that is helping them understand the user mindset around the product. It's a lot of incremental research, also, since the product is launching in phases.
HERRON: What other kinds of research have you conducted?
SINGH: I got trained in a research interviewing technique called ZMET, the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique. It's a process of interviewing in which you elicit metaphors from people while having a conversation, and you're able to actually dig deep into a person's emotions. I feel that interviewing is such a crucial part of doing research because our goal is to try to understand what a person is thinking and why they are thinking in a certain way, so you can design better products or services for them. I moved to Shanghai, China for a little bit to get trained in the interviewing technique.