SAMANTHA FINKELSTEIN

UX researcher & strategist  | learning scientist | acrobat
PhD, Carnegie Mellon University HCII

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Hi, I'm Samantha

I believe in experience design, by which I mean I believe that one of the primary drivers of human behavior is environmental design considered within a given social context. In other words, people do what feels good. Effective experience design is manipulating a designed environment in ways that increase the likelihood that people do the thing you want them to do. Effective experience design is making a user's pursuit of your business goals feel good.

Here's where it gets interesting: what feels good is different in different contexts. You don't need to gamify paying the electricity bill. You don't need people to be having a blast during your car insurance sign-up flow, you need them to feel like they are not being swindled. Critically, it's not enough to just not swindle them; the design challenge is in making them feel like they are not being swindled.


In my work, I apply the principles of backwards design to help companies understand what they are actually trying to get people to do, why people aren't already doing that thing, and helping them understand what sorts of interventions have a high likelihood of addressing those blockers. Conversations about "improving the customer experience" and "identifying user needs" are just less productive than conversations about which factors appear to be the primary influencers of behavior in a given context, and then proceeding as if we are building persuasive technologies (because if your business model relies on your users' behavior in any way, you are in fact building persuasive technologies.)

I think one of the most dangerous things we can do as technologists is pretend that we are exclusively interested in "improving the customer experience" while then sneaking in the push for whatever needs to happen to meet your KPIs. At best, it's expensive and inefficient; at worst, it's disingenuous and relies on outsmarting users that are getting increasingly tech literate. Being user-centered at a for-profit company means understanding under which conditions people would happily consent to giving you their money / time / data, and then building out an environment that has those conditions.
I advocate for an aligned business strategy that starts with business goals and leads directly to innovation opportunities, with user research validating the progression from one step to the next.