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An interview with Jeremy Friedland

2014 MHCI+D Graduate Jeremy Friedland talks about his journey from Merchandiser to Facebook Product Designer

A few years ago, Jeremy Friedland was working as a visual merchandiser for Apple Stores when a work assignment piqued his interest in user experience (UX) design. Realizing he needed more education to pursue a career in the field, he decided to enroll in the Master of Human-Computer Interaction + Design program at the University of Washington.

The decision paid off. Since completing the MHCI+D program in 2014, Jeremy has successfully switched gears and now works as a product designer at Facebook. Here he talks about his experience in the MHCI+D program and how it helped him design an exciting new career path.

Can you tell us a bit about your current job as a Facebook product designer?

I partner here at Facebook with user experience researchers, project managers and engineers to identify customer needs and design solutions to fill those needs. It's a lot of meetings, looking at research, designing flows and prototyping to validate and explore different design concepts. Pretty much the whole gamut of design.

How did you land the job?

Since the MHCI+D program is interdisciplinary, we were encouraged to go to career fairs for different departments at the UW. I met the Facebook recruiters at the UW Design Career Fair, and it snowballed from there to onsite interviews and a job offer for a product design position.

If it weren’t for the program, I wouldn’t have had any way to understand or talk about HCI concepts and methods. The program was definitely good at preparing me for that and giving me the tools to execute the work I do now.

Why did you choose to take the MHCI+D program

In my senior year as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, I took a course in the School of Information. I really enjoyed it and kept in contact with the professor. He tried to convince me to go to grad school, but I was comfortable doing visual merchandising for Apple.

Then I got to work on user acceptance testing of an internal app, which introduced me to the product field. I realized I kind of liked it. With my professor’s help, I explored graduate schools and attended an information session for the MHCI+D program. It was the first year of the program, so it was exciting and new.

During the program you were part of a team that built an interesting app. How did that project come about, and what did you learn in the process?

I did an independent study with professor Daniela Rosner that ballooned into something bigger. We were interested in exploring human connection and how we could tie that to a physical location. We created an app called Trace, which is now available in app stores and has been grabbing some attention.

Trace allows users to draw a hidden message on their phone and send it to someone who has to then walk the pattern in their city. At the end of the walk, the friend gets to see what the original hidden message was. We also wrote a paper on it that was accepted to the SIGCHI conference (Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction).

This project allowed me to work with a developer and actually see how designs get built and understand the limitations and constraints that you would have in a real-world setting in terms of time, resources and knowledge. It was a really valuable experience.

What other skills did you gain in the MHCI+D program?

A huge takeaway from the program for me is the ability to decipher user research, find insights and apply them to designs that meet user needs. Also, an invaluable skill I learned was when and how to prototype at the correct fidelity needed to convey an idea.

What was your capstone project like?

For my capstone project we worked on a retail shopping app called Lumiere. We partnered with Microsoft and Point B and narrowed our scope to focus on the Sur La Table stores. We did research in the stores, interviews with customers and usability studies with our app. We ended up creating a companion app that helps customers learn not just about the features of a product, but how they can use it at home and fully actualize their goals.

Again, I found it very helpful to work within those real-life constraints. At the end, we were able pitch our idea to Sur La Table, and they really liked the concept.

What do you see for your future career plans?

One of the best things about the MHCI+D program is that it's not focused on just design or just research but is truly interdisciplinary. You get experience and knowledge about other roles. That’s going to be a huge advantage for me in terms of career growth.