An interview with Jay Trimble

About Jay Trimble

Jay Trimble founded and leads the User Centered Technology (UCT) Group at NASA Ames Research Center. The UCT group invented the MERBoard touchscreen collaboration system, deployed on the Mars Exploration Rover Missions beginning in 2003. Current projects include Mission Control Technologies, a software framework that enables users to compose mission control software using drag and drop, Planetary Data Search, which makes planetary data accessible to the rest of us, and prototype mission control applications on mobile devices. 

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jay was the Lead Mission Operations Director for Shuttle Imaging Radar, responsible for design and development of the ground operations software and mission procedures, and managing an international team to operate the Earth remote sensing radar on two successful missions on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Prior to that, he was a science support team member for the Voyager Spacecraft encounter with Neptune in 1989.

At NASA Johnson Space Center he was a flight controller for Space Shuttle Missions, in the Payloads position, responsible for operational integration of payloads on the Shuttle.


Main points

  • The initial hurdle is making people understand the value of research to them.
  • Once you are over that hurdle, people love to talk and discuss research.
  • You have to map what you are trying to do for somebody into a mental model that they understand.
  • To better identify research opportunities, look at the organization. Try to identify areas where research would be a benefit to somebody. Also, network internally. Connect with as many groups as possible. These opportunities will present themselves.
  • When it comes to user experience, there are a lot of opinions. When I pitch research I say I am going to provide data while using an established practice that has proven itself in many different contexts.
  • Going to higher ups in the organization may sometimes cause research to be used as a tool to solve arguments between people or departments with opposing opinions.
  • What you are asked to do can become a springboard for what you should do.
  • Stakeholders don’t understand the difference between user research, user experience, design. To them we are the guys who think about users.
  • PowerPoints and explanations will not help stakeholders “get” user experience research. They will get it with experience. Involve them, ask them questions about what they want to know. It is important to get acceptance in every stage of research.
    It is hard for people who are highly invested in an engineering process to incorporate
  • UX research results into their software development practice. It’s always a learning curve.
  • It’s not about lack of respect, but about lack of understanding of what the process means and how to apply it.
  • Present data that is useful for stakeholders.
  • Providing no recommendations is a first steps. Encourage discussion, engage a team with participatory design to create ownership. Provide data and design facilitation.
  • Funding speaks the loudest. If stakeholders fund research, they are bought into it.