James Vinh is the primary user experience researcher on the product design team at Reflexion Health. He’s passionate about having a tangible impact on others by creating comprehensive rehabilitative solutions. His unique approach to user research combines strategic stakeholder engagement, empathy, and a keen sense of curiosity.
James’s first exposure to UX research in a product lifecycle was in an Introduction to Informatics lecture at UC Irvine. As he recalled that memory—discovering oneself in a 300 person lecture—a sense of irony washed through his tone.
“The professor showed a video of the Nordstrom design team building an augmented reality app for shoppers to try on sunglasses and I thought ‘wow, you can do something that has such impact so rapidly and it looked like so much fun’.”
What are three things that drive you in this field?
James recalls a talk from Design Forward by Mauro, Chief Design Officer at Pepsi, “He talks about the love of people. I love speaking to people, meeting people, understanding their behavior and why they do things. So that would be number one.”
“Number two is a relentless sense of curiosity,” he states before a momentary chuckle. “I love trying to figure out people’s true needs and creating solutions that really help them.”
“For the third item, I would say there’s this idea of contribution and legacy, and creating something that goes beyond the four walls of your office.”
You co-founded and led UX research for an agency. What was that like?
James describes a series of encounters with Kubi, a classmate who’d become his business partner. “We had an identical schedule,” James says, “so we thought it’d be very convenient for us to be study buddies at the least. Along with being a great person, [Kubi] has outstanding UX design skills and he was also a front-end engineer so he could implement a lot of his designs in web.”
The two started participating in local hackathons to challenge themselves. “We participated in a Google Web Hackathon where we were essentially locked in the building over a weekend and when we walked out with first place, I said, ‘Hey I think we’re good enough to go outside of campus!’”
“It was really cool, it was such a nimble team and there was no bureaucracy and very little barriers. So we’d go find clients and when I wanted to do research, I’d set all the terms and got to work directly with stakeholders so it was a really fun, challenging, and at times sleep depriving time of my life.“
Can you talk about some of the challenges of working directly with stakeholders?
“Absolutely. Executives, C suite, they tend to be more familiar with market research which is understandable. You have to be able to market your product. And they’d ask ‘What’re we going to learn from 5 people? What type of context?’”
“My strategy is: seeing is believing. Invite them into this session, look at this real user here, get a video recording to show them and with business folks, talking about ROI is extremely powerful. One of my favorite stats of UX is that every dollar you invest in UX returns $2 to $99 in the long run.”
How do you collaborate with other teams within Reflexion Health?
“We try to involve all departments. Myself and the team, we’re very cognizant of those silos and we’re always looking for ways to break that down. Personally, I work very closely with the clinical team that determines clinical content, the education, the exercises within our digital physical rehab program. Every time I plan a study, I always share with them.”
“We’re currently building out our marketing team and I’m looking to help them tell the stories of our users.”
“With engineers on a practical level, I need them to create test builds when we have folks coming in.”
What are some techniques you have for sharing your research findings?
“It’s kind of tradition to have a report but I remember Tomer Sharon having a saying that he doesn’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning excited to read a report. I try my best to keep it engaging with video highlights or higher level slide decks for C suite or others who don’t have a lot of time.”
“Something I haven’t yet done but am thinking about is a company newsletter or blog that quickly summarizes the findings and research projects I’ve been doing. So I take a comical amount of photos now because I want to be able to share pictures, not just words.” James jokingly admits to taking photos before and after a study, during lunch, and even in the car.
“If you think about it, one of the most compelling ways to present anything is with a story, with a setting, context, character, narrative. That’s what I’m always trying to build whether it’s with a video, photos, or with text.”
“Another thing I’ve heard of is a usability test viewing pizza party. You get all your highlights together, you get some pizza and that’s how you win the team.“
In no particular order, could you give a few pieces of advice for aspiring user researchers?
“My first piece of advice is to understand how to engage stakeholders early and often in planning research and how to maintain great relationships. This is actually a series of posts I’m writing on my blog right now because this isn’t something that is discussed in an academic setting. When you have a new research study to do, create a 15-30 minute meeting to allow each relevant stakeholder to ask questions like, ‘What’re we researching here? What are you looking to learn? What do you think will happen? When do you need it by? What are you going to do with the results?’ Things like that go a long way.“
James begins his next piece of advice with a laugh. “Get used to talking with strangers. That’s a huge part of the job. It’s cool to be able to connect with people and even within the frame of one session, to be able to learn about their life, high points and frustrations. So practice your ability to have conversations. And that’s as easy as talking to more people and having a genuine interest in listening.“
“Third, be aware of all the software and hardware technologies out there and remember, as Don Norman says, UX is life. And it goes way beyond your current projects or suite of products at your company. It’s all around and you can draw inspiration from other user experiences.”
Why do you attend SDXD events?
“First and foremost, the people” he says. “It’s a bunch of like-minded people who can speak to different environments, so there’s a wonderful energy and vibe there.”
What was the last SDXD event you attended?
“Light vs Dark UX. Jonathan Wagner was talking about Dark UX and how travel companies will use subtle changes in interface to upsell you. They’ll try to make it look like that upgraded seat is your only choice.”
What were your thoughts and/or key takeaways from the that event?
“UX can be used for good or bad. And I was on the light side that time but the dark side is not necessarily morally or ethically right,” he says.
“Personally, I think there’s got to be win/win ways where you can meet business objectives without tricking your users. I think strategically, you may get away with dark UX once but is that going to be a loyal customer? A raving fan? It’s unlikely.”