Tent Talks Featuring Natalie Dunbar: Health, Wellness, and Self-Care: Maintaining a Strong UX Practice Core

Tent Talks Featuring Natalie Dunbar: Health, Wellness, and Self-Care: Maintaining a Strong UX Practice Core
Natalie M. Dunbar
Author & Senior UX Content Strategy Manager
Natalie Marie Dunbar is a UX-focused content strategist with a unique blend of skills as a journalist, content writer, and user researcher

On Tuesday, July 18th at 5:00p Central, Natalie M. Dunbar joined us for a live Q&A session: “Health, Wellness, and Self-Care: Maintaining a Strong UX Practice Core.”

Session Notes

Here are the main points from the Tent Talks session with Natalie Dunbar titled, “Health, Wellness, and Self-Care: Maintaining a Strong UX Practice Core”:

  • Health, Wellness, and Self Care in UX Design: Natalie defines health in UX design as how a system is performing, similar to the way heuristic evaluations are done. Wellness involves having the freedom and control to accomplish tasks without unnecessary obstacles. Self-care involves the flexibility to fulfill individual needs, which she relates to her yoga practice by asking, “What do I need in this moment?”
  • Parallels between UX Design and Healthy Lifestyle: The practice of asking what one needs at the moment serves as a personal heuristic in her UX practice, helping to assess situations, course correct if needed, or keep going if things are working well.
  • Incorporating Health and Wellness Principles in UX Practice: Natalie advocates for slowing down to assess situations when things seem to be getting out of control. This approach involves taking a step back, evaluating the status, and determining the next course of action.
  • Influence of Hatha Yoga on her UX Practice: The idea of making yoga and UX design accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, shapes, or sizes, is a key influence from her yoga background. Natalie compares this to the principle of universal design in UX.
  • Principles of Wellness in UX Projects: The principle of wellness involves recognizing the humanity in her team members, identifying the primary challenge or “monster in the room,” and collaborating to overcome it without causing harm to each other.
  • Themes of Health, Wellness, and Self Care in her book: The book stresses the importance of maintaining a strong practice core with people at the center. It emphasizes the need for self-care, vulnerability, setting boundaries, and managing burnout.
  • Self-Care Tips for Stressful UX Projects: Natalie suggests practicing self-care, fostering vulnerability, setting boundaries, and realizing the power of saying no. She advises creating a practice space that feels secure and building trust within the team. She also recommends establishing a practice charter as a living document to codify these principles and guidelines.

Session Transcript

[00:00:46] Chicago Camps: In the context of UX design, how do you define health, wellness, and self care?

[00:00:51] Natalie Dunbar: When I think of defining health, wellness, and self care in the context of UX design, the first thing that kind of comes to mind is how we do heuristic evaluation. How we, especially in content in the area that I specialize in, how we will inventory and audit to check in to see how things are performing so that health of our content, the health of our experiences. So when I’m assessing health, I might ask, what is the status of the system that I’m working with? Right.

[00:01:26] Might sound familiar, 10 heuristics… and do I have what I need in order to do next? When I’m thinking about wellness, I might jump into thinking about having the control and the freedom to do what I need to do but not having to jump through hoops to do it.

[00:01:42] And then for self care, things like having the flexibility to get what I need in the moment. And I’m going to talk about a question that I asked that is actually from my yoga practice, where I ask, what do I need in this moment? Which I’m sure a lot of folks on the other side of the experiences that we create, ask those questions, too.

[00:02:02] What is my job task? What do I need? But that’s what I think of. It’s like, how do we, it’s like a barometer, baseline. Like, how do we, get that baseline of health and then figure out what we need more or less of to maintain a healthy status.

[00:02:18] Chicago Camps: Can you draw parallels between the practices of UX design and maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

[00:02:25] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah. So that’s that question that I learned when I was earning my yoga teaching certificate. One of my teachers blew my mind when she said I always ask myself, what do I need in this moment? And then she meant just moving from one posture to another in yoga. What does my body need in this moment?

[00:02:43] Personal heuristic, so to speak, that I also will apply to my work in UX, right? It’s a way to check in with myself and my teammates where we can, if we have to course correct, we can course correct if we’re heading in the wrong direction. And then sometimes just to say, Hey, this is working out good. Let’s keep going.

[00:03:02] That would be a parallel that, that kind of comes to mind.

[00:03:06] Chicago Camps: As a content strategist and UX professional, how do you incorporate principles of health and wellness into your work and your practice?

[00:03:15] Natalie Dunbar: I would say one of the things that I do, I call it slowing down to speed up. When things are spinning out of control and everybody’s running around with their hair on fire, I will actually slow down. I don’t necessarily let people see me do that and I don’t articulate that because people freak out. What do you mean slow down?

[00:03:35] But what I mean is I take the time to, again, assess. How unwieldy are things, really? Am I getting caught up in somebody else’s or another team’s drama? And then, if that’s the case, how do I kinda gently but firmly let go what’s not mine? So I can focus on what I need to do to get things to right the ship and mitigate whatever emergency is going on.

[00:04:02] I think it’s just really that taking a breath, like sometimes literally just taking a breath, but really taking that kind of step back, assess, and then figure out what needs to be done next to get things moving forward again.

[00:04:18] Chicago Camps: How does your background as a Hatha yoga teacher influence your UX practice?

[00:04:23] Natalie Dunbar: So many ways, and you were alluding to that earlier. I was like 10 years into my UX career when I decided to pursue teaching yoga part time. And I feel like I learned so much about UX from yoga in one way that comes to mind is accessibility.

[00:04:42] The way that I teach yoga is to approach that work in making yoga accessible to all bodies, all shapes, all sizes, and abilities. If anyone’s read the book or familiar with my book, I use a lot of building and construction metaphors. So I’m going to go to architecture right now and talk about universal design.

[00:05:02] Which considers how a space might be used by different user profiles. Again, all shapes, sizes, abilities, backgrounds, whatever. So I think that’s the thing that. I’ve been able to articulate better over the years as a UX professional, considering how there’s overlaps in how I approach accessible yoga and the same way that we approach accessibility and our UX work.

[00:05:25] And that it’s not a design constraint, but that it’s an opportunity to be more creative with the work that we do. And that applies to yoga as much as it applies to UX for me.

[00:05:40] Chicago Camps: You’ve worked in many diverse fields and with various organizations from Walmart to the Food and Drug Administration. Can you share a specific example where principles of wellness have directly impacted a UX project you were involved in?

[00:05:56] Natalie Dunbar: When I think of wellness, I think about sort of just health. Am I in good health? Am I in bad health? What shape am I in? But then there’s also wellness, which is actively pursuing and maintaining good health, so to speak, if that makes sense. So when I’ve had difficult clients or difficult projects, that’s like the thing that I remember is how do we actively pursue wellness and health in a project where I try to recognize the humanity and the folks that I’m working with.

[00:06:35] And that’s that yoga mindset again, and what I’ve found is that even if we don’t have a kumbaya moment or whatever, again, that stopping and taking a moment, and I say this so many times now, identifying the monster in the room, which is usually a deadline or some other thing that doesn’t have anything to, it’s not the people that are working on the thing.

[00:06:58] That are bad or evil. It’s that monster in the room. I was like, all right, let’s all agree on what that is. And then how are we going to get to the finish line together without killing each other? Right. So I think I can’t think of one specific thing, but that’s like how my approach has changed over the years.

[00:07:16] Chicago Camps: In your book from solo to scaled building a sustainable content strategy practice, how do themes of health, wellness, and self care come into play?

[00:07:27] Natalie Dunbar: I have. Again, that building and construction metaphor where we have the five points of the content strategy practice blueprint. And after you go through that to build your practice, and as an aside, I’ve heard from folks who are not in content, but in UX and other disciplines who have found that blueprint to be useful for practices that they’re building.

[00:07:51] I talk about how to maintain a strong core, a strong practice core. Another building metaphor in high rise buildings, you have this. The core of the building is what everything is built around. That’s what helps the structure not fall down. There’s the practice core, which the outer layer is the environment that you’ve built your practice in, whether it’s an agency, an organization, or however you’re set up in the middle of that core is your system. So for content that might be CMS, that might be DesignOps, it might be frameworks and tools and things that we use.

[00:08:25] And right dead in the center, the most important part at the core of the core are the people. And so that’s where I like to focus on things like self care and I don’t mean bubble baths and that kind of thing, whatever it is that self care looks like for you as an individual. Where maybe you take five minutes and walk away from a problem.

[00:08:52] You turn your camera off because you’ve been on camera all day and you just need, you can listen, but you just need to rest the eyes. It could be so many things. Self care looks like so many things for so many different people and it’s okay. It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.

[00:09:08] I also talk about being vulnerable. And a lot of this starts with the folks that you work with. So for me, it would be my fellow content strategists and designers, we come together and we have a session where we might just chat about how we’re doing and give status and that kind of thing. And then from that place of self care, establishing vulnerability within yourself and then with your fellow practitioners and then looking at the status of like burnout, are we taking on too much? Sometimes we don’t have an opportunity not to take on everything that’s thrown at us, but how can we mitigate burnout to the point that maybe we even eliminate it? And that’s talking about establishing boundaries.

[00:09:55] Which when I talk about boundaries, I reframe it. It’s not about keep out. It’s about defining what happens within a practice space and what does not happen within a practice space. So you’re not getting all these one off requests for things that maybe you could handle, but really is that the best use of your time and then agreeing on things like, yeah, service level agreements.

[00:10:21] And what is the expectation of how many revs we’re going to do on content from my point of view and making sure that we’re in lockstep so that we’re actually including our cross functional teammates and departmental partners and setting those boundaries, even though they’re for a specific practice.

[00:10:40] But that way, everybody sees themselves in the process. And then when somebody comes and asks you something sideways, you can say, Oh, we agreed that this is something that this practice is not going to handle. So maybe we can help you figure out another way to get that work done. And I talk about that in the book.

[00:10:59] It turns out that so much of the talks and things that I’ve been giving have been less about craft more about how do we stay healthy? And I think that’s a product of kind of the environment that we’re in right now.

[00:11:12] Chicago Camps: Finally, could you share some self care tips or routines that you found particularly effective during stressful UX projects or periods of intense work?

[00:11:25] Natalie Dunbar: I might be a little redundant, but definitely the steps of self care, vulnerability, setting boundaries and then knowing that you can and should push back. Like I said, no, is not always a muscle that we can flex, but we can turn a no into a not yet or a not us, but maybe here’s someplace else you can go and get help with whatever it is.

[00:11:48] It really starts with individuals. As I said, just a few moments ago. And I want to say creating a practice space that is safe, but then there’s a whole connotation to safe spaces, right? I don’t get into that so much that I’ll just say that establishing what works for you and your practice team and having that trust in each other and the processes that you create together.

[00:12:23] And then branching out to your cross functional teammates, departmental partners. And not everybody’s going to be someone that you’re going to want to include in the nitty gritty of creating those boundaries and things, but you’ll still want to communicate it out. You’ll still want to say, okay, this is where we’re drawing some boundary lines.

[00:12:45] This is what happens inside our space. You may have a request that sounds like it’s something that we can and should do and here’s the process for how we handle that and so on and so forth. So that could be you alluded to the practice charter and that that’s something that if you want to codify your boundaries, I highly recommend that you establish a practice charter and it’s a living document.

[00:13:08] It’s not a one and done thing, just like. Marketplace and business changes, business needs and user needs change, that document is probably going to need to change as well.

[00:13:18] There are foundational poses (In Yoga) and when you plan a class or a session with a student, you have a theme that you might want to work towards.

[00:13:28] And there’s something called a peak pose, right? So you’re going to start building that firm foundation and work your way up to that peak pose. So if it was a project, that’s the point in the project where everything is getting like, all right, stressful. We’re almost at the finish line, I can see it, I can see the schedule, I know it’s coming.

[00:13:46] But now there’s these five things that are broken in the code and whatever. And that’s where you go, okay, we have practiced for this. And Bob, this is how we’re going to handle this. We’re not going to run with hair on fire. We’re going to articulate clearly what we need. We’re going to articulate clearly what we can and cannot do in a reasonable amount of time.

[00:14:07] And yes, there always may be someone from leadership or whatever that’s going to come in and maybe drop something that’s going to make things implode. But that’s to be expected with pretty much any project, right? There’s some that’ll fly under the radar and they’ll be fine. And then there’s going to be something that, you know, inherently with a lot of different moving pieces something’s going to happen.

[00:14:30] So you prepare, you keep building that base and that foundation. And every time you do, you strengthen it and there’s a win.


Event Details
July 18, 2023
5:00 pm
July 18, 2023
6:00 pm
Tent Talks Featuring: Natalie M. Dunbar On Tuesday, July 18th at 5:00p Central, Natalie M. Dunbar joins us for a live Q&A session: “Health, Wellness, and Self-Care: Maintaining a Strong UX Practice Core.” Join this live session for free and...
May 2024