Esri staff in our R&D Centers have ongoing collaboration with development teams in Redlands through regular phone calls and video conferences, but they also come here several times a year for meetings and personal interaction with teams. Mabel Ney from the Portland, Maine R&D was in town recently for just such a visit, so I took the opportunity to get to know her and the work she’s doing.
How did you find your way to Esri?
I got my Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Graphic Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York and worked in advertising there for a while. My husband and I eventually moved to Maine and we both ended up at a mapping company called DeLorme. Esri uses their data, so often times when you look at a web map, you’ll see DeLorme as one of the sources. I worked there for 11 years. I started as a traditional cartographer working on films, transitioned to digital cartography, and finally to Director of Research and Development.
I left there when I became interested in user-centered design. I went into consulting and focused on information architecture and user experience design. The job for Esri came up in Portland—certainly I was aware of Esri because of DeLorme, and several people from DeLorme had gone to Esri. I wasn’t looking to change, but it was Esri and it was in my own backyard. It sounded like a really good opportunity…very user-centered, a really interesting design process. It mingled with the process I was familiar with, but took it a bit beyond, where everybody on the team was much more involved. That was very appealing.
Going from a graphic design background into what you’re doing now—is that out of the ordinary, or are more and more people doing that?
Oftentimes people who go into user experience design either come in from a graphic design background, interestingly from a library science background, or a technical writing background. They’re interested in helping people find information in a very user-friendly way, helping them on their path and supporting that visual learning aspect we have. So it’s a likely transition for them.
How would you describe what your typical workday is like?
I primarily work on design documents. I white board out and sketch the flow of what I think the path will be as you move from screen to screen. As I’m doing that, I will pull the developer over and have them validate what I’m doing. If it’s something bigger or more complex, we’ll have a design session in which we bring in a couple of designers, some developers, and QA engineers. We’ll all take a stab at sketching ideas and start to see how that comes together until we have an agreed-upon design.
I also try to have touch points with our customers routinely. I get out of the office to be with our customers or be on a phone call with them so I can discuss things that are perplexing us at that time. We have some questions, we don’t know the answers, and we want to hear from people who will actually use the product. We’re trying to do even more of that and get the broader team out to do that as well. I’ve also been working on animations, which is really fun to do. There’s really good tools right now to do that.
What about your work keeps you challenged?
The depth of challenge at Esri is really what holds my attention. In other jobs I’ve had, there was a very narrow customer base, and you knew them really well. But here, you can talk with somebody from city government and you can talk with five different agencies and start to see a pattern, but then you go over to somebody in utilities and it’s totally different. They have all these other considerations you have to think about. So now I feel like when I design, I’m designing for at least five different personas, where before it was one or two.
And with Esri customers, they want everything to be as good as it can be too. They want to be part of that solution, so they open the doors and say, “Yes, come on over. Talk with us. We’ll give you time.” They understand the importance of doing that and it benefits them in the long run.
Do you work with a particular product, or across the whole ArcGIS platform?
Typically I am involved and focused on one product, but I do design reviews for the other designers on the other products. This way we can make sure that across the platform, there’s a consistent experience. You never feel like you’re focused only on one product.
What do you feel makes Esri different as an employer. You talked about the scope of work and the customers. Is there anything else?
Yeah, the benefits are crazy good. When I was told that not only I would be covered, but my husband would be fully covered, I was like, “Wait, what?” One thing I notice when I come to Redlands is that you see these long-term friendships. People run into each other and you can tell they’ve known each other for 12, 16 years. You don’t get that in many companies—that long-term relationship. And yet, they’re very accepting of new people into that relationship, it’s not closed off.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The DevSummit and the User Conference are amazing for employees to be able to go to. If you are in development of products or marketing, it’s nice to see what everybody’s working on and how they relate to each other. Last year I was fairly new and we were just starting to talk about mobile web, an aspect of what we were working on, and this tool called PhoneGap. It just happened that somebody from the team who was using PhoneGap was walking through. I heard them say something about it and said, “Wait a minute, this is what we’re talking about. Can you come over and talk to us?” Even if you were here at Redlands, you may not have heard that conversation, but it’s because everybody is huddled up suddenly. To have that open dialogue is an awesome opportunity.
Want to join Mabel and the rest of the Portland team? Check out current openings.