An interview with Whitney Hess

About Whitney Hess

Whitney is a user experience designer, writer, and consultant. Whitney consults primarily with startups, most notably SeamlessWeb, Boxee, House Party, NeedFeed, and RedStamp. In addition, she has collaborated with Happy Cog on projects for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Scientific American. Prior to going independent, Whitney was on the design team at Liquidnet, an international financial software company. Previously, she was an interaction designer at Digitas and Tribal DDB, where her clients included American Express, The New York Times, Allstate, Claritin, Tropicana, and EarthLink.
Whitney received a Master's in Human-Computer Interaction and a Bachelor's in Professional Writing and HCI, both from Carnegie Mellon University. She writes about improving the human experience on her blog, Pleasure and Pain.


Main points

  • When you get to know your stakeholders, building relationships is as important as providing your services.
  • Regularly check in with your stakeholders to identify the next steps.
  • Integrate what you are asked to do with what you think you should do.
  • Usually, I see stakeholders asking questions in a different level than my question.
  • When they want to validate a feature, I ask about how their company fits with the ecosystem of their users’ lives.
  • Identifying why stakeholders ask for research of any type helps creating the right balance.
  • Use the same empathy and compassion you use during research with your stakeholders.
  • Sometimes you can’t win people over. Some are just not interested. In many cases, it has nothing to do with you. Work around them.
  • When a client tells me they wish to skip research and dive directly into design, I respond that I am not comfortable with that. I feel once the problem is well articulated the solution is made clear.
  • Stakeholder research and user research will get you 90% of the way to identifying what the problem is.
  • If stakeholders ask to skip research, I understand they are interested in user interface design, not product strategy and user experience. In this case, I point them to industry UI standards and choose not to work with them.
  • Stakeholder research report is a deliverable that helps me communicate the high-level value of the work that I do. It includes vision statements, strategy for achieving that vision, business goals, challenges to achieving those goals, who they believe is their target audience, what features they have on their wish list, competitors and their advantages and disadvantages, etc.
  • The biggest sign for me that stakeholders see the value of research and believe the findings is when they start to refer to the personas by name.