How Laura Herman is addressing the affordable housing crisis

Understanding the minds of billions of customer actions is difficult (to say the least). But it’s crucial to how the Adobe team designs and creates products. That’s where Laura Herman, User Experience Researcher, comes in. Through her role, Laura works with the Adobe Design team to analyze user behavior in order to determine what it takes to create engaging experiences.

In order to get a closer look at how this is done, we sat down with Laura, who shared with us more about what her role is like, and how she’s using her experience to help with other impactful projects outside work—like the Museum of the Hidden City, which address the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco.

First of all, what drew you to Adobe?

I studied psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, and my senior thesis investigated artists’ visual perception abilities. When I was making a transition to applied research, it was nice to keep that creative focus, and that’s what drew me to Adobe initially. On top of that, my director was encouraging, and I could tell that Adobe’s team culture was supportive. I was definitely right about that!

How’s living on the West Coast for the first time?

I moved to San Francisco to work at Adobe right out of university, and it’s been very different. Seeing and learning about the community in San Francisco is what pushed me to get involved with the Museum of the Hidden City project, which focuses on the history of the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco’s Fillmore District.

Tell me more about that. What is it about and how did you get involved with the Museum of the Hidden City project?

I had attended an artist salon at Gray Area in the Mission District in San Francisco, and that’s where I first heard Michael Epstein talk about his Museum of the Hidden City project. He was using his background in location-based technology and documentary filmmaking to address affordable housing issues in the city with an Augmented Reality (AR) experience, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the end of his presentation, Michael posed several questions to the audience, and I realized that many of his questions could be answered by a user research program with the goal of designing a more engaging user experience. I connected with Michael afterwards and expressed my interest in helping him. After I received my manager’s support to take on this pro bono project, I spent several months working with Michael and his team. I interviewed our study participants before, after, and during their experience of the Augmented Reality walking tour of the Filmore District in SF. Through this AR experience, users are told the story of the Fillmore District through two historical characters, each of whom narrates the tour in spoken word poetry, written and performed by young Bay Area poets. It’s a very emotional story that’s driven by empathy, and it gives users an immersive look at how the district was impacted by affordable housing projects.

The project had a profound effect on the participants. People were interested in learning more, they felt more engaged with their community, and they felt closer to the physical location that they were exploring.

How can people give it a try?

It’s an application-based experience right now, and it can be accessed through the Hidden City app. The experience begins outside St. Mary’s Cathedral on Geary Street. From there, it’s a walking tour guided by Augmented Reality visuals and immersive audio.

Back to Adobe, what is it like being a User Experience Researcher? What are some of the projects you work on?

My team, Adobe Design Research & Strategy, is part of the Adobe Design organization, so I’m often working closely with designers. Bringing in my experience in psychology, I help teams understand our customers so that we can create engaging and empowering experiences. A large part of my job involves speaking with users, observing their behavioral patterns, and empathizing with their underlying motivations. Right now, I’m working closely with the team behind the new Photoshop for iPad product. I also work with Adobe Research to investigate user-centered applications of new technology in the AR/VR space.

What is it like working for the Adobe Design team?

It’s really fun working with designers both internally as teammates and externally as users. I studied creatives at university and now I’m collaborating with them! Every day, I’m impressed by how enormously creative and competent my colleagues are here at Adobe. Everyone is willing to dive into brand new technological and design spaces.

What inspires you?

I would say, how each human perceives the world differently, based on his or her personal medley of experiences. Each difference in perception represents a unique ability to creatively interpret and re-imagine the world around us.

What are the questions you ask yourself as you’re researching?

I definitely focus on unpacking the why behind the users’ answers. Why are they expecting certain functionalities or experiences in the products that they use? It’s my job to understand their decision-making process and what their motivations are, such that our product teams can design products that seamlessly integrate with our users’ expectations.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

Maintain curiosity. It’s so easy to get into a checklist mindset, trying to find final results and move on to the next query. However, research is founded on the idea that answers to questions usually create more questions, and that will in turn lead you to the most interesting ideas—and questions!

Inspired to join the Adobe Design team? Find all their job openings here.