MSU’s professional and technical writing program prepared Linda Chadwick-Wirth for a career creating user experiences.
Linda Chadwick-Wirth thrives in the great outdoors. She loves hiking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding. She credits her love for wilderness to growing up in the wild brambles of the Ozarks.
“…that started early in childhood in the Ozarks and has stayed with me and is flourishing in the outdoor wonderland I now call home.”
These days, home is Colorado. And if you have the option to work remotely, Colorado is a great place to pick.
Just like the hiking and horseback trails that Linda likes to explore, digital journeys require well thought-through navigation. Linda leads a large team of user experience (UX) strategists and specialists working on AT&T’s special network for first responders.
Linda earned her degree in professional and technical writing from Missouri State. She admits that leading UX wasn’t what she envisioned for herself as a professional writer.
Career options amidst rapid industry change
Her first job after graduation was as a technical writer for a software company. She quickly found her role shifting from strictly content creation to having a voice in how the content should appear on the screen.
Since then, Linda’s role has kept time with the break-neck pace of change of the technology. As technology has grown and shifted, so has her career. She transitioned from writer to information architect.
“The technical writing program prepared me well for the evolution that was taking place in both the print and digital worlds.”
As an information architect, Linda organized information to make application use intuitive and efficient. She designed bridges for sending and receiving information in a comprehensible and enjoyable journey.
Although she was no longer strictly writing, her job aligned with her skill set, a fact she credits to her education. Linda was able to evolve in her role because it was “Exactly what I had spent both my undergraduate and graduate programs learning at MSU.”
Who are you leading?
Know your audience. The biggest lesson Linda learned from her time at MSU was the importance of understanding who you are writing for. Who is your user? What do they need? What can you offer them, based on your technological capabilities?
It boils down to balancing the user’s needs with the business needs, plus the technological capabilities. Linda describes these three factors as “the three-legged stool” of user experience.
Technology has continued to change. So too, did Linda’s role.
“Information architect” gave way to “user interface design” and eventually “user experience.”
Instead of designing for a single screen, her team now works on designing information for each touch point in a user’s environment. Instead of just designing the bridge for sending and receiving information, she’s also designing the interstates, off-ramps, and side streets in a user’s information quest.
Despite many changes, the key questions have remained the same: Who is your user? What does your user need? What do you have the technological capability to provide? These questions have really been the main track of Linda’s career, no matter what her job title was.
UX in emergency response
Linda is excited by her job because she’s always challenged to grow as a professional. She focuses on usability research.
It is the first line of exploring tech solutions for specific audiences. At this high level, she works with a team to explore possible touchpoints for a potential user.
Right now, she’s working with an audience that is new to her: first responders and special forces.
- A tool set that agencies use to administer services
- Special maps for incident command
- New equipment for fire response
- Communication devices for SWAT teams
Just to name a few.
“Our designs accommodate a unique niche of users— front-line fire and police responders, agencies like the FBI and Homeland Security, and those folks you may not normally think of in time of emergencies, but who also need clear access to network communication and incident response: hospitals, utility companies, child welfare services, etc.”
Her team is exploring some of the unique challenges of designing for such a specialty user. They are designing solutions for use when every second counts. The technology must be foolproof and error free. How do you unlock a device if you are wearing both gloves and a mask? Even in this situation, the answer is still “know your user.”
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