Global UXR Interview series – Ilona, Canada

Paul Blunden: Hi, and welcome to another in my interview series where i’ll be talking to one of our many global researchers from around the world. My name is Paul London. I’m, founder of Ux24/7 and we help global brands improve their products and services by making them more customer-centric.

So let’s find out who we’re going to speak to today.

Okay, hello, and thank you for giving up your time to speak with me today. Can I start by asking you to introduce yourself? Who are you, and where about you based.

ILONA POSNER: Hi. My name is Ilona Posner. I’m: a user experience consultant and educator and recently coach and I am based in Toronto, Canada.

Paul Blunden: Well, nice to meet you Ilona. And how long have you been based in in Toronto?

ILONA POSNER: since the age of 11?

Paul Blunden: and were you native to Canada before that?

ILONA POSNER: No, no. I was born in the Soviet Union, and I was lucky enough that my parents took me out of there at an early age.

Paul Blunden: Okay, so that’s quite a change. That’s it. That Well, very interesting. I mean, Canada, I know, is very multicultural. A lot of our research has been multiple languages. And yeah, I wonder if you you do yourself?

ILONA POSNER: Do I do research in other languages? I appreciate the value of research in other languages, and I speak poorly, 7 of them. but in terms of work I usually work in English, sometimes French, but not not extensively, like I wouldn’t say i’m going to facilitate a French Canadian study, because I have had experience where my French, which I studied in France. My Belgian colleague was sitting beside me, and we were watching a French Canadian participant who was talking about a shop which for me is a cat, but actually for her, was a car. So I understand the value of having localized expertise and language and the nuance.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, that’s a really important points, actually. And I have so many conversations about the difference between translation and localization. But we’ll get there.

ILONA POSNER:I’m: sure one day. Quality of that, both. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Paul Blunden: Yeah. I mean, it’s. It’s so important. It’s one of the reasons we love having to research is in market, because unless they’ve lived there, really, you know, know the market, it’s it’s kind of quite tricky.

So can you tell me I like, how did you get into research? What what brought you here?

ILONA POSNER: I studied computer science and in undergraduate. I was taking a look at my calendar, and there was a class called Human Computer interaction. What an idea that was! And so I took that course. And then the professor from the course hired me to do help him with research, and that was my path. It was very organic, very natural, and the nice story the circle is that I am now teaching that same class 20 years on, and it’s been a really great great rewarding experience.

Paul Blunden: Well, that’s yeah. The circle is complete, as they say. It must be great to inspire people, I suppose, in the same way you’re inspired to get involved.

ILONA POSNER: Yes, yes, it’s very, very rewarding, because I know that there there’s so much opportunity in the world, and and the students I teach are techies. They’re pure computer science students and to get them to understand about users and something that they don’t normally actually consider until well ever until they have to help their parents or grandparents with technology. And then So yeah, it’s. I always say part of what I part of my teaching is very selfish, because I hope that they go out into the world and make better technology, and we will all benefit. That’s the way I see it.

Paul Blunden: Well, that’s a a great motivation. I think so. Obviously, you do many things on it, but one of them is still as a practitioner. And do you have a favorite sort of methodology or favorite research approach you? You prefer, or, like.

ILONA POSNER: I do qualitative research mostly, and I do. I love interviews and exploration and learning new things. and I find that no matter how much I know about a topic I go into a project.

About 50 is new. I love the learning experience, and the sort of the puzzle pieces an exploration of the unknown in in that, in that qualitative method and talking to people, and just, you know, getting them to open up and kinds of things they are experts in that they don’t even realize. And then we get insights from that improved products.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, it’s one of the privileges, I think, of being in research that you have almost something different every every day or every.

ILONA POSNER: Yes, yes, and as a consultant, I have really worked across all kinds of different industries, so I Haven’t specialized in anyone, and that makes the variety really interesting.

Paul Blunden: All right. Well, I was going to ask you actually about the sort of sectors you’ve worked in sounds quite broad.

ILONA POSNER: everything from health to agriculture, to financial, to small startups, and just, you know. really nascent to some student idea projects that then go on to other things. So yeah, great great variety also, of course. media communications, all of those Yes, I have worked across even transportation. increasingly a lot of working transportation, I think, and will be more as the sort of electric vehicle movement sort of gathers pace with the transit authority of one of the projects I did was in the in the transit authority of a large North American metropolitan city. and it was about trying to get them to appreciate their the variety of the customers that was really exciting.

And in on that project can I just go off on a okay, that project that was doing like a persona’s workshop in one of their gatherings, and the people running the the workshop said, this user experience thing seems very interesting and important. Can you do a 20 min pitch to our CEO of upstairs so I had literally half an hour to do the spiel, you know to, and and almost no time to prepare. So I had to go upstairs to suits. You know the boardroom and and do the dance. And they were yeah. They were motivated. They were. Their eyes were open. I love that that kind of impact that we can provide.

Paul Blunden: That’s yeah, amazing, that kind of impact. If you can get to the right people, I suppose, yeah. And that that you how many links beautifully to my next question, really, which I’ I’ve been asking a lot of people in these interviews about the maturity in the market that they live and work in in Canada, and I wondered if you could sort of share your thoughts on how customer-centric Canada is or the brands within it, and mature.

ILONA POSNER: It’s a really it’s a really good question, and some of what I see in Canada of course my perspective is limited to my experience, and in the brands that I’m. Both customer and consultant in. So, as a researcher, we never want to generalize beyond the scope of what’s reasonable within our exposure. So with that research caveat to the caveat.I think that we have a very diverse range of of the Ux maturity in across the industry. Canada has really great. It Sector Toronto area where I’m. Based it. It’s a what University of Waterloo and Toronto is a really strong hub of AI and technology and and finance. And you name it. We have it. We even have automobile now, and the challenge is the the diversity of maturities across each organization is is different, and even within organizations each senior management change leads to a reset in maturity, no matter where it was before that to the next level, and the things that I’ve seen and heard coming out of various levels of of senior management about. Oh, well, we spend time last year doing spending a lot of time hiring consultants to do research. But this year we have licenses and tools, and our designers are doing all the research. Look, we’ve saved all this money. I’m: like, oh, God. Yeah, exactly. But that attitude coming from really really senior, and being delivered at a a town hall to a whole large, say financial institution.

where it’s like a shock. And another example, another completely unrelated financial institution, another giant competitor with the previous one there is a completely opposite. They have a strong research department. They have really strong Us. Presence, and then they still have to, you know, get more consultants help in, because they can’t handle all the all it research in it asks.

So they haven’t part of it baked into this or into their product cycle, but very significantly, and it almost like project to it’s almost a new start of a new experience. New Project team. New design teams are always going to be all over the place, and it’s it’s such a pleasure to work with more mature ones where you don’t have to justify your existence as a consult. Now I have that opportunity, whereas 2025 years ago I would get a call. We are launching a piece of hardware in 3 weeks. Can you make it usable? Be like sure. Send me that ticket, and i’ll think about it.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, I remember those day I mean. Haven’t changed that dramatically, sadly, in 20 years, and I think it’s.

Paul Blunden: I think it’s fascinating when you talk about organizations who kind of get it and are doing it. Haven’t got the resource to do as much as they want to do it, and I just think that’s a really strong indicator of the value, because once you start, you know it really sort of sucks you in, and you see the value very quickly.

ILONA POSNER: Yes, yes, agreed.

Paul Blunden: I. My next question was really about what this? What’s the biggest challenge you think this sort of research, or brand or product direct to face when thinking about sort of trying to get research done, and I guess some of that’s going to depend on the maturity of the organization.

ILONA POSNER: I think it’s the the corporate champion, the politics within the organization, the appreciation. and the the what I love to quote is user exposure. I think both Nielsen and School have been talking about this, and they actually have scales of, and numbers of hours per year, that every person that within organization can should be exposed to the CEO level, having 5 to 20 h a year of user exposure, looking at watching people using their product or prototypes.

If those people have that exposure, it so naturally leads to more demand for research and understanding of the users, because very quickly they would understand the deficiencies and the gaps in the products, and and want to remove the pain I always talk about. Let’s watch the pain. And do we want to wear the pie on our face in public or in private, because we have that opportunity.

Paul Blunden: Yes, I love that analogy. That’s so true. You’ve done a wide range of things. I really I wanted to ask you about a sort of flagship project, but but feel free to talk sort of more broadly than that, if it if it goes beyond project.

ILONA POSNER: Oh, I had many projects, and each project leads to a lesson right, a very long life lesson, and one project that I found really exciting to be involved from beginning and iterate and work really closely with the design team, having the design right there in in the sessions, and maybe even iterating the design while we’re running the research, which was not my favorite experience. But it has happened, and and the designers really getting getting it, and then saying that they get it, and then changing their workflow afterwards to to include research in. because, like anybody who has seen it, then sees the value, it will never go without it. So that with the ironically what happened, that project won all kinds of awards and accolades, and a huge financial benefit to to the too good business.

However, as a customer. I myself got burned by exactly that same product later, because I had done what all customers do assume certain kind of, you know, defaults which would be logical in the direction and benefit it to the customer, and they had made a different decision. So I ended up actually losing a whole bunch of money. It was more like, okay. The the example was, Imagine you’re buying mobile data, and I had it for my children. And one month you’re getting close to the cap. So you say, okay, increase it by certain percentage. And I’m: assuming it’s a one time thing. Okay. So 6 months later, or a year later, I’m looking at the bill going, what is this extra data? We’re not using anything. Turns out the product that I had helped create, which which allowed this adjustment had taken. Oh, it was more than $600 out of my pocket. and that that was like, oh, sorry, nothing you could do about it. So live and learn. Ouch, yeah, it was really good, great success for the organization. The user did not appreciate, and the goodwill. here we are talking about it. Yes, indeed! Well, hopefully, that was not opportunistic, and it was more of an error in sort of the way they built it. But it’s it’s it’s amazing how many times you see these projects. Oh, these users are having trouble in doing Diy, and then oh, let’s the solution is. Let’s charge them for this support that we’re going to give them while they’re doing gi y right like those kind of decisions business decisions lead to.

Not that’s the Those are the frustrating moments where you know you come up with a solution. You identify the problem, and then the business makes the business decisions, and I could say a word that you don’t want to be saying on, on, on, here.

Paul Blunden: on Youtube. No.

ILONA POSNER: But yeah, those words come, come, very natural. He’s like, okay. We don’t really care about the customer. We’ll move on before we go beyond the the audience. So

Paul Blunden: I got interested in. And again, one of the reasons for talking to people around the world is to sort of understand the nuances of their local market. And I wonder whether you could speak to any sort of local behaviors that Canadians have online or in the market that global brands entering Canada should be thinking about worrying about so, or certainly paying attention to

ILONA POSNER: It’s a really interesting question and a really hard question. My exposure as both as a consultant and a user in my in Canada is limited to my experience. I have. I have worked with global brands trying to integrate and do multi multi co cult cultural multi-country studies, and and just like observing some of those experiences applying them to canada and thinking, Are we really going to have such a big difference if we apply this particular research approach to in a larger scale. So what kinds of things are Canadian or Canada? We have a great it sector. We have a lot of really great tools and startups. We have really multicultural a society, and it’s very unique in in our multiculturalism. Unlike our Southern neighbors where they are the melting pot model metaphor, and we are. Everybody can be Canadian, and also keep your previous culture as as much as you want.

So, for example, our our leader opposition wears a turban and is a seek, you know, practicing with all the religious right. So for Canada that’s normal. And so we have people in Canada who never learn to speak any of the official languages, because they just live in their own language or their their first language in terms of authenticity. We have some really authentic international representation in Canada locally. So if a brand needed to do very specific niche markets research, you could do it in Canada only, and, like almost cover a very broad part of the world, plus everybody in Canada is connected to a very wide network of international family members and and networks of you know, outside of the country. So that’s great. On some of the negative things is, we have really expensive mobile data. We are the most expensive in the world. For example, this week they raise it 16 bucks a day.

You have to pay in order to use roaming when you travel a day like who’s heard of that in the world? And of course we try to avoid it, finding other other providers as soon as we leave the country. And it’s yeah, it’s. I don’t know that. I think we don’t have a big enough population big enough competition. Yeah, so that’s that’s one of the challenges. So what specifically, we’re very similar to the other domains. But we are, I think, a little more and also because we have different licensing different. I IP different. There’s all these kind of boundaries that we unlike our American cousins, we don’t have access to the same content. We don’t get the same commercials we don’t get.

So there’s a lot of these little differences that need to be considered carefully. We have multiple languages even and English French is just the official languages we have. As I said, you know, I was doing a medical application and doing that, facilitating just randomly selected families across a across the the customers pool, and they were, I think, represented with like close to a 1010 different out of it, like everybody came from a different place, and they all brought their own language, and we could just do that. Oh, let’s see if the Google translate works on this content. You know we could just do that without even trying. So that’s a that’s a bonus. I guess we get in Canada.


Paul Blunden: Well, it yeah, I mean may well be a bonus. But I can imagine for a brand thinking about that global proposition in Canada that presents issues.


ILONA POSNER: There’s a reason why many of the giant global brands are leaving. I just heard Nordstrom’s leaving target didn’t make it. Yeah, it’s like that. They They don’t translate one to one. Yeah. That’s why localization is so important

Paul Blunden: indeed. Right? Well, look, I’m, we’re running out of time slowly but surely. But I’ve got a couple of more questions really. Want to ask you a lot of what what’s inspiring you at the moment.

ILONA POSNER: and my students, and the the young generation, and the and the all the opportunities that that are coming. The pandemic was really frightening. For 3 years I still haven’t been back to a classroom. I’ve been doing everything remotely. I love the fact that I can always remember your name when i’m in Zoom. I am actually the Queen of Zoom. If anybody is interested you could look. Look up Bidley, Queen of Zoom. I do massive parallel. I think these tools that we’ve created, and they we’ve been thrown into necessity of having to use them are providing some really interesting possibilities and opportunities, for you know, 1 one to many, one to one, and the combinations of those.

So the what am I excited am I? I’m excited that I learn a lot from my students every time, and my children as well, and I think the new generation is a different way of looking at things as does the old one, which is why research is such a cool place to live, because we keep learning every day something new about both ends of the spectrum tech and low tech and high tech, and and no tech. And let’s mix those things in the appropriate ways that would make everybody’s life better. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Paul Blunden: I wouldn’t it. Just guess well that beautifully, to my final question, which is, what is your biggest learning since you became a researcher.

ILONA POSNER: that there’s so much to learn, there’s no no end of learning. Yes, yes, absolutely. And no matter how much I think I know I go into a project. I come out extra extra enriched, and and and so to my clients. It’s always really exciting. It’s. It’s always it’s always a matter of okay, how much can they take? I learned so much? Do I really tell them everything can like? Is there such a thing as too much learning.

Paul Blunden: I’m not sure there is, and I found it fascinating Listening to you. I’ve learned to so much myself, actually, and thank you alone for for investing the time to to speak with me. I think people will be really interested to hear I’ve learned so much about Canada. They, you know all the the things you think you know about Canada are just sort of crumbled away as we spoke, and so it’s been brilliant.

ILONA POSNER: Well, i’m so glad that I I could be of assistance in of interest. I look forward to watching the others. You’re welcome. Thank you.

Paul Blunden: I hope you enjoyed listening to a Ilona about Canada as much as I did. I think what I find when i’m talking to people is that my preconceptions about a place suddenly sort of crumble, and they certainly did about Canada.

My name is Paul Blunded, and I’m founder of UX24/7, and if you’d like to know more about what we do, please visit our website. That’s or find me on Linkedin and you can message me there, and of course better still subscribe to this channel, and there’ll be another video coming along soon.

Thank you for listening.