Meet the EchoUsers: Aria Ghanaat

This month, we got to sit down with our senior experience researcher, Aria Ghanaat, and how he jumpstarted his career in UX.

Tell us a little about the path you took to get where you are today.

I studied Psychology during my undergraduate studies and I wanted to use what I had learned in an applied setting instead of becoming a psychologist. I first saw how psychology could fit into technology during the early 2000s when cellphones were being used in cars. Congress stepped in with a law stating that only hands-free cellphones could only be used in cars; essentially, Congress surmised that more accidents were happening because drivers could only place one hand on the steering wheel. However, there was a fascinating psychology study that discovered that it wasn’t the physical limitation of holding the phone but it was the mental limitation -- a person wouldn’t be as focused on the road while talking on the phone. It was concerning to me that Congress passed the law without knowing the actual issue.

That was when I noticed how technology was truly becoming ingrained in our lives, thus we must strive to understand how it influences our behaviors similar to how we study how medicine affects the body. I decided to pursue a Masters in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), which led me to where I am now where I can apply my psychology skills to inform technology design.

What is your process in interpreting what users want?

I don’t really look at what they want but what do they need. Sometimes during a usability session, a participant may mention another app or website that works better for them now. This is an opportunity to explore why that they like that app or website more in order to uncover the design principles that are currently successful. This doesn’t mean that we should copy what users like but instead we should work to improve upon what they like or create something completely different while still maintaining the core design principles. Overall, if you can create something that helps people complete their goals efficiently and effectively, most people will want your product or service.

What do you see with the future of UX?

“Predictive” would be the word. We’re often bombarded with data these days and it can be too much at times. Despite this, technology is becoming smarter and providing contextual information. For example, I recently went on a trip and Google Inbox automatically bundled my trip information into an itinerary with my flight, car rental, and hotel information. While it can be a little unsettling that Google is reading my email, I am receiving information that I will need in the future.

The next step beyond contextual information would be predictive contextual information. For the trip I took, it would’ve been more helpful if my smartphone automatically opened my boarding pass and displayed it on my screen when it was time to board the plan. This could be achieved by my smartphone because it could know I’m at the flight gate via GPS and know the boarding time via the airline’s website. I think this idea of off-loading necessary menial tasks to make our lives a little bit easier is where we are headed. Over time technology will become more powerful and anticipate what we need and when we need it.

What makes EchoUser special to you?

The executive team trusts us to take on client projects from day one. Before you know it you’re leading your own projects, working with clients, and coming up with the best methods for a particular project. It can be a bit overwhelming at first but that’s what makes it such a great learning experience. EchoUser makes you go through the trenches and conduct every step of research, which makes for a well-rounded researcher and a successful UX career. I always feel that I’m being pushed to be a better researcher by taking on increasingly more complex projects and strategizing high level research plans. Even though we’re expected to lead projects, we can always reach out for help or bounce ideas off of other people. That combination of autonomy and support is difficult to find anywhere else.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Usually anything physically-related: Running, hiking, trail-running, basketball, weightlifting. I need to keep moving! I’m starting to learn how to kiteboard and surf. I love snowboarding, but haven’t done it much the past few years. Last but not least I’m a die-hard Warriors fan and watch every single game.

What are some fun facts that not everyone knows about you?

  • I put out a brush fire on the University of Maryland campus
  • I’ve shaken Bill Clinton’s hand
  • I can do a handstand