MAY 2016


In today’s installment of How We Work, we’re speaking with Mia Lin, Interaction Astronaut, and her extremely well-behaved German Shepherd-mix, Kona in her back garden in Allen, TX. She’s a UXer who has coined the term “Interaction Astronaut” to describe her work.

Comet: So…What exactly IS an Interaction Astronaut, anyway?

Mia: I see an “astronaut” as an explorer, a necessarily adventurous individual who is part of a team looking for something amazing, who isn’t afraid to take big risks with appropriate precautions (don’t forget your helmet!), and who can morph their skills from one area to another fluidly. In the field of UX, there are so many job descriptions, titles, and career paths, and as a “T-shaped” intellectual-worker, I have interests in all aspects of the user’s experience, human-computer interaction, with emphasis on the “human”.

I started my first career as a linguist and ESL instructor. I learned how language is processed in the brain, and how inexpert people learn complex things such as a foreign language, and how the affective space is just as important, if not more so, than the physical space a student is in. How moods, perceptions, and previous interactions inform actions and learning.

This knowledge is easily extensible to user experience, especially if “ux” is taken as a big-picture concept. It’s not only about people using computers, but the translation, if you will, of complex information into processable forms. Identifying the mental blocks that users and students come across as they work to understand an interface and a task. That’s why I earned my usability certification (CUA) through Human Factors International in 2009, to further my education on the topic through training.

C: Why not a UX Unicorn, UX Rockstar, UX Guru, UX Ninja, Full-Stack UXer, something like that?

Mia: Well…I know that those are common terms in the industry to sex up job postings, but I really think they’re very vague and fluffy. Unicorns don’t even exist. In defining my scope, I wanted to choose something that hadn’t been established yet, but something concrete. There’s a general understanding of astronauts, what they do, and a sort of “character” that can be elaborated on and creates a more concrete metaphor for what I enjoy doing professionally.

While I enjoy being creative, I also enjoy being authentic, and precise whenever possible. If a word is going to be chosen to represent me, both its connotations and denotations need to align with my personality.

C: So what excites you about the future of UX?

I read constantly on UX topics, and even seemingly unrelated topics such as grief and mourning on social media, because there’s a convergence happening here between these previously disconnected spheres, and I believe they will be unified primarily through iOT and wearables that do something people want in their lives, that converge experiences in a way even more intimate than the already-addictive mobile devices.

Take for example therapeutic uses for wearables, not just in the physical health sense, but in the mental health and fulfillment sense as well. Through haptic, auditory feedback, or even pleasure, the experience of the user can be altered to naturally induce calm, relaxation, or clarity of thought.

Consider the device, Nervana, which stimulates the vagus nerve through a pair of headphones. This kind of happiness-inducing, relaxing stimulus, if effective, does for you naturally what drugs or alcohol do for you chemically, but without side effects. I’m not a neurologist, and I haven’t yet received my Nervana, but this exploration of future applications of HCI absolutely fascinate me. Imagine a company that can make people feel GOOD with no side effects. That’s a highly-profitable space to play in.

I heard recently in Note To Self about DEEP VR, a virtual reality headset that’s used not just to immerse the user in a relaxing environment, but to also use the power of deep, meditative breath to control their point of view, which in turn relaxes them. This double-layered motivational biofeedback process strikes me as brilliant. The user is motivated by the very method of play to induce their own calmness. Exploration of the enchanting visual space isn’t the only motivation. Again, drug-free self-management of the affective state. This can be so effective for people who resist traditional means of therapy, or find their anxiety and stress overwhelming to the point that they simply cannot self-manage.

Comet: Well, thank you for explaining “Interaction Astronaut” to our readers – we wish you the best in pioneering the next generation of HCI.

M: It was my pleasure, thank you for your time.