EN Week 3: Felicitas Sánchez: "Having an unorthodox role is great"

Good morning and welcome to all the new subscribers who signed up this week. You can find previous profiles here. I’m always looking for new people and roles to profile, so please drop me an email profiles@evolvingnewsroom.co or say hi on Twitter

This week I’d like to introduce Felicitas Sánchez, previously User Advocate at Quartz

What does your title mean in practice?

Ha! One of the many things that I miss about being a reporter, is how easy it used to be to describe my work. Now I kind of dread having to explain my job, because I tend to fall down all sorts of rabbit holes.

I’m the “User advocate” on the product team, which in practice means I’m a bit of a product generalist. I do a lot of user research, usability testing, service design, some product management, and UX quality assurance. And I get to do this across all our platforms and products.

But my Grandma would not have any patience for any of this jargon! Abuela: I try to get to know our readers, and make sure that our website and our apps are easy to use, enjoyable and useful for them”.

Where does the role sit/what department does your role report to?

I was on the product team, and within that, on the the design team. My direct manager was the VP of design.

When was the role created, what attracted you to it and what is your background?

I was a User advocate at Quartz from early 2017 to May 2020.

I was lucky enough to get an summer internship at Quartz while I was getting my graduate degree at NYU’s Studio 20 program, and to have them as partners for my graduation capstone project. I loved working there so much that I returned after graduation asking for a job, and willing to do just about anything to stay with on the product team.

Zach (Seward, former VP of product at Quartz and currently CEO) apparently had been thinking about this new role… something he was calling in a very Quartzy manner “User advocate”. He described the role to me as “the person who represents the interest of users during the product design process”,  which I thought was amazing and exactly what I wanted to do. I got really lucky. 

My background was not really in product design, since I got into user research and product strategy mostly during my time at Studio 20, which I was able to attend thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. Before NYU I was a metro desk reporter for a national newspaper in Argentina (home), and I had an undergraduate degree in Philosophy.

What is the most unexpected thing about the role?

Well, in this case I guess all of it was mostly unexpected, because I really didn’t know what it would entail. Maybe the most unexpected thing was that I was quickly able to find my space within the team, and was able to jump in and work on a lot of interesting projects from the beginning.

What is the most challenging thing about the role?

Having an unorthodox role is great because it allows you to define the role at the intersection between what you’re interested in, and what your team needs. But it’s also always challenging for the same reasons.

For a role like this to work, you have to be very self motivated and smart about how and where you invest your time.

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What is the most useful thing you have learnt?

Finding the right people and team to work with is more important than finding the perfect role or job description.

What skills do you need for your job/do you find yourself using most often?

You definitely need to be proficient with data analytics, and an expert in qualitative research methods. Things that I find myself doing the most often: User interviews, usability testing, grounded theory, creating user journeys. And presentation skills!

Learning how to effectively present the results of your work in a way that can  influence other people when you don’t have direct authority, is also extremely important.

Where do you go to find inspiration, what from outside journalism do you take back and apply to your role?

I get a lot of inspiration from listening to my friends that don’t work in product design complain (or not!) about the apps and platforms that they use. And of course there’s design twitter, Product Hunt, Nieman Lab. 

How do you make hard decisions?

I kind of recently started using decision matrices, and I’m obsessed. I highly recommend just about anyone to read up on this technique.

What do you wish you knew when you took the job?

I wish I would have figured out from the get go to focus on how I was presenting my research results, as much as the research itself.

What story or project are you most proud of so far? Tell us about how it came to be and why you are proud of it. 

I researched, pitched, wireframed, and product managed the launch of an explore page on our site. I’m particularly proud of this project because It allowed me to participate in every part of the product cycle, from user research, to ideation, to shipping! 

What’s one thing you thought would be would happen in the news industry when you started but hasn’t? Why?

I’m mildly embarrassed to say that when I started in this industry (It was still the golden era of blogs and RSS readers) I thought that the unprecedented access to information, and the fall of the barriers of entry to publishing, would lead to both a less consolidated, more diverse news environment, and more savvy, sophisticated information consumers. WELL THAT DID NOT QUITE PAN OUT.

But I think we are also seeing some interesting shifts happen in our industry that I’m hopeful about. For one thing some news organizations seem to be really coming close to kicking their advertising dependency, and replacing it with a subscription driven business model.

We are also seeing an increase in non profit news orgs doing really important work. And we are seeing journalists really take the lead in demanding change within their own organizations. These things may seem small in light of the enormity of the crisis we seem to exist in, but I genuinely think they are signs of positive and long lasting change within our industry.

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Keeping up

What is one book/blogpost/podcast/link you’d like to share?

Can I recommend two??? For news people interested in getting into user research I have two books to recommend: 

What or who do you like to read/listen to/watch/subscribe to/follow to keep up with how the industry is changing?

@NiemanLab, @emilybell, @nikkiusher, @gmochkofsky, @Brizzyc, @amywebb

What is your Favourite film/TV series about the news?

Almost famous