Episode 43: Vidhika Bansal, Intuit - Intentional language for better experiences

October 12, 2021

The language we choose is an important part of the user experiences we create. Vidhika Bansal, UX Manager at Intuit, cares deeply about language for the audience and also when communicating internally. She talks to Kristina about connecting language to decision making, using language as a tool for acceptance and belonging and the importance of avoiding bias in data when making content-related decisions.

Want to hear more? Join Vidhika at Button: The Content Design Conference this fall.

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About this week's guest

Vidhika Bansal

Vidhika is a UX Group Manager at Intuit with a background in behavioral science, brand strategy, and human-centered design. She’s convinced that words are magic and that stories can change the world. She also gets really jazzed about good food, memorable analogies, the power of human connection, and exploring new places and perspectives.


Episode transcript

Kristina Halvorson:

Hello and welcome to the Content Strategy Podcast. I’m your host, Kristina Halvorson, and every episode of this podcast I chat to established leaders and exciting new voices exploring our ever-evolving field of content strategy. We cover all the topics that inform how we shape digital content. From user experience design to customer experience, accessibility to content design and everything in between.

Hello, friends and neighbors. Welcome back to The Content Strategy Podcast. This is in fact, take three of my introduction to today's episode. I have a very lovely and patient guest who is waiting to speak with you. I will tell you why this is take three in just a moment, but first, I want to introduce her.

Her name is Vidhika Bansal, and Vidhika is the UX Group Manager at Intuit, with a background in behavioral science, brand strategy, and human-centered design. Vidhika is convinced that words are magic, and that stories can change the world. She also gets really jazzed about good food, memorable analogies, the power of human connection, and exploring new places and perspectives. That may have just won best bio of the season, I'm not sure. Welcome, Vidhika.

Vidhika Bansal:

Thanks so much, Kristina. You're too kind and it's great to be here.

Kristina Halvorson:

It's really good to have you. So the reason this is take three, well take one was just stupid and I didn't like it so I wanted to start over, and for take two I got all the way to introducing Vidhika, and realized I could not pronounce your last name. This is exceedingly ironic, because at our last event you gave a talk called Say my name, Say my name, about the importance of pronouncing people's names correctly.

Vidhika Bansal:

You were just medium is the messaging. You were just trying to prove a point

Kristina Halvorson:

That's right. It was intentional. It was all intentional. Anyway, so Vidhika at the top of every episode, I do ask our guests to share with me their journey through user experience and content strategy, so I wonder if you would share yours with me now.

Vidhika Bansal:

Yes, sure. Happy to. I can't promise it'll be nice and linear, because I think we know a lot of UXers have these maze-like journeys and I'm no exception. So I'll give a little bit of background. I think for me, I've always been obsessed with words since I was a kid, and obviously content is more than just words. I was the editor of the literary magazine at school and things like that and didn't know I could actually potentially make any money doing anything with content. And then in college, I actually did pre-med which surprises a lot of people because most people who do that don't become UXers

So I went through doing pre-med, and I did a couple of minors, because I think I always knew deep down that wasn't my one true calling or passion. Not that there is just one and then I realized "Okay, I'm scared of needles, I'm scared of blood. This is probably not a good fit, and any patient that has me would be in not so great hands." And so I still finished all the coursework just because I had already begun it, but one of the things that stayed as an interest of mine since I was little besides words, was psychology.

I loved the idea of being able to apply psychology in industry. So that's where I started. During college I ended up doing content marketing. I essentially would help, there were a couple of companies I was working for over the summer, where I would just help them create a newsletter or help them create content for their social, and their website and things like that.

That was just to make a little bit of money over the summer as a kid and to get some experience, and it actually — in some weird way, I realized in retrospect only — laid the foundation for some of the things I did later. After that I started working at a consultancy, and it was a consultancy that did marketing and research work. I think it was my second day of that job, I was just told to shadow somebody and help out on this project, and the project was for NASDAQ, and what we were trying to do is help them improve their website.

At the time, I did not know what the term information architecture was, but looking back, that's what we were doing. We were trying to figure out how could we use labels that actually would make sense to the average person more, how could we organize information so that it wouldn't be as confusing to navigate, things like that. So that's sort of where I started, and then I did qualitative and quantitative research for a while, moved to a different UX consultancy. Then I stayed in consulting for a couple of years before finally making the leap to in-house.

I think I had a lot of friends that just talked about impact, and how much more of it you could have in-house, and so I moved to that, and that eventually brought me to where I am today, and now I work at Intuit where I lead a team of talented UX researchers essentially. I also represent content design at our product leadership forums for my segment. And so I have a little bit of a... I've always been the type of person that likes to do multiple things. In my last job I did research, content, and design. And so that's where we are now.

Kristina Halvorson:

What an extraordinarily well-rounded background. It's almost like you went around picking up useful things that you could put in your basket. "Oh, I might need that tool for later." And now you have just come into your own as this leader at Intuit. That is amazing.

So, I also really love that there is a, tell me again what you called it, that there is some kind of a meeting that happens between design and research and content. Tell me about that.

Vidhika Bansal:

Basically we call them product leadership, and they're these weekly meetings where all the product leaders within our product org. And when I say within our product org, it's within my specific segment. I work on QuickBooks, and within QuickBooks there's a couple of different subgroups. For my subgroup, we have this product leadership forum where you have development, you have design research, you have design. We don't technically have content design represented at the moment, and so I'm the de facto person.

I think earlier on a Button call, I said something like the rah-rah content person, but that's basically my role. I'm just constantly making sure that we have some visibility, that we're bringing in content designers to the process when they need to come in. The purpose of that forum is largely just to surface big issues happening in the company at the time, and if there's a challenge it's brought to that table, and that team sometimes deep dives on topics, and so they try to have it be pretty cross-functional. We also have customer success leaders in there, a couple others that I'm probably forgetting, but that's kind of the gist of it.

Kristina Halvorson:

That's amazing, and I feel that any content design practice that does end up maturing over time always has cheerleaders and sponsors that are able to attend ongoing leadership meetings and so on. We're constantly saying we need these voices in the room, we need to make sure that we're involving these folks in decision-making processes, and so you are on the front lines of helping that practice mature. Good job Vidhika, thank you.

Vidhika Bansal:

It's a labor of love, Kristina.

Kristina Halvorson:

You really seem to have a very clear understanding and passion for the relationship between UX research and content design. Talk to me a little bit about how those two practices really feed and nurture one another.

Vidhika Bansal:

Yeah, absolutely. I think, as any good content strategist knows, content strategy has to be informed based on your audience, based on who you're actually trying to connect and communicate with. I think research and content need to work closely together so that whether content designers are shaping just a strategy or whether they're actually sitting down to write the words, at Intuit we do all of the above. You want to make sure that for instance, you're using words that will actually resonate with your audience, and that is often informed by research. 

Sometimes it's not even a matter of having to do the research yourself. Sometimes you can just go chat with the researcher and say "Hey, when you do interviews, do people usually say this word or do they say this word?" And based on that you could reflect that back in-product.

I think in research it's really easy to sometimes do research where if you're not using terms that are really obvious to people, if you're using internal jargon in let's say an interview question or a survey question or something like that, you're automatically making it hard for the other person to respond to you in an honest and authentic way, and your results are going to reflect that. They're not going to be meaningful. And you may not even realize that in which case you may be making supposedly data-driven decisions,  I'm not fond of that term, but you may be making those decisions thinking that they're based on good data when they're not. 

Somebody on my team just put out a survey and shared it with the team for feedback, and there's obviously lots of methodological things that we were giving them feedback on, but one of the things I went through and did was just encourage, make these questions easy to understand, make it really obvious, put it in the words that somebody would be expecting to be asked this question if it was said out loud. I think sometimes in research, there's this tendency to be overly formal, and I don't think that actually leads to good outcomes.

And the second thing, and the last thing I'll say on that is just, there's some fascinating studies on this, but using one word that's different in a question can lead to pretty significantly different outcomes in terms of the answers that you get. I just think it's important to be really careful with what words we use when we do research. And so I think the more that content and research can partner, it's kind of a win-win, the better outcomes for everyone.

Kristina Halvorson:

You really just described both sides of the language coin, right? Like not only does research need to inform the language that we are choosing, and creating, and our building blocks of language in any digital product or property that we are writing for, but also language has got to inform the way we get at that information in the first place. So it's like the language of love is what it is, but I just think it's fantastic that you're able to make that connection. And in my mind that is even... That draws even clearer, the case for content designers and researchers to be joined at the hip.

And of course the way, and design is going to be in there too. Everybody's joined at the hip. But as we talk through these topics though, the case becomes more and more clear all the time for when you're talking about a product strategy or a feature decision or designing a feature or making decisions about your user journey within a product or across products, that trying to have those conversations without all three perspectives in the mix, whether or not the person is there or at least the right questions are being asked, it just doesn't make any sense.

This is the way that it needs to be done. You talked about your love of language as a kid. How do you get to play with that at work these days? Are you writing for yourself? Are you digging into specific language studies? How are you bringing that to your day to day?

Vidhika Bansal:

As I mentioned, just being that advocate for others to think about language. I think some of it just comes from that. Some of it is in being really, really intentional about the language I even use. The last year and a half between the pandemic, between lots of tragedies that have happened, things like that, there have been a lot of moments in which I think I've had to communicate with my team. I don't know if others maybe realize how intentional I try to be with that stuff, but I'm always thinking about, for instance, I have people on my team with vastly different political inclinations and things like that, and I have to make sure that I'm addressing, let's say, a difficult topic, but also bringing to bear that I'm being inclusive, and that I'm caring about what everyone thinks.

That's one tiny way. It's just in my internal communications with people. I also try to be really mindful of just making sure that we're using, I mention jargon a lot because it's something that drives me a little nuts, and I think that internally there's often a lot of jargon that's used, and that's not just at Intuit, that's at most companies I think. I understand jargon serves a purpose and things like that, but I often am trying to get, I'm trying to beat the drum on plain language and just trying to get us to not just use plain language when we talk to our customers, but also trying to get people to use that in our communications with each other.

There's no point adding a ton of cognitive load to say something simple for no good reason if you're just trying to get someone to understand you.

Kristina Halvorson:

So a theme that I'm already hearing coming through that I just love, and I admire so deeply just in the way that you approach communication across channels with different kinds of people, whatever, is that it seems really important to you to honor the language that you are choosing in order to honor the people you're interacting with, and that you're speaking with. I just love that idea or that concept of language, not just as a form of expression, but also as a tool of reflection and acceptance, and what's the word that I'm looking for, affirmation, I guess.

Vidhika Bansal:

Belonging, almost.

Kristina Halvorson:

Belonging. And in fact, that leads me to ask about this talk that you gave that we started with that I was laughing about, Say my name. Can you talk a little bit about the substance of that talk, and what made you want to address it with an audience?

Vidhika Bansal:

Yeah, absolutely. It's called Say my name, and it was about the importance of honoring people's identities in the ways that are true to them. I think things, talks, often are especially fun when they're personal. And for me, my name is Vidhika Bansal. That's not a name you hear every day, and I've tried Googling it, there's not very many others with my name. And so it's something that I'm really used to my name, A, being mispronounced, B, being misspelled. I've seen, you'd be surprised, I should really have kept a journal of the many iterations or permutations and combinations of misspellings of my name. I understand that it's not a common name, but growing up, I'm so used to writing and let's say putting together a deck or starting a Word document, and my name is always underlined in red, right?

Which is typically seen as "Oh, this is an error, this is a typo you made, you made a mistake and it should be fixed." It has been something that has always stuck with me, why is it that we... who are we to assume like one name is correct and one name is not? It's such a personal thing, no one can tell you if your name is right or wrong. I also think it reflects a lot of the fact that it's a very Western-centric medium or a standard for the names. One of the examples I shared in the talk was for a last name being told that "Oh, it's only two letters, it's not a valid last name." When there are millions of people in the world with last names that only have two letters.

So ultimately I think for me it was personal. I think it's really beautiful when people honor other people's identities. Whether that's names, whether that's gender, whether that's how you associate in terms of ethnicity, whatever it is. I think it's important that our digital systems reflect that, because I think in some ways, we had more flexibility when we did everything on paper. To this day, unfortunately, you have to go to the doctor and fill out all these forms on paper sometimes, but the paper is not going to scream at you that "Oh, this is a mistake." You can just submit it and that's fine, and so it makes me think about ways that we can make sure that our systems, especially digitally, are more malleable, and that we're not going backwards in time.

Kristina Halvorson:

And that I think is so interesting, because so often I think, when we are tackling topics of inclusivity and respect in our digital design, we're oftentimes thinking of not pushing people away, not offending people, not saying the wrong things versus inviting them into something as simple as a signup or an onboarding process, and not making them feel pushed away or pushed aside or negated simply by entering their own information. I just think that is just a lens on the content design process in general, that I just had not thought about clearly before, granted the worst I've ever had is, I'm Kristina with a K and people are constantly spelling with a C-H, sound the alarm, right?

One thing that I said before we started this podcast, I said that one of the things I want to ask you is, what's getting you out of bed in the morning these days? A thing that I have learned about you over the last several months, it seems like there are a lot of things getting you out of bed in the morning, but what is something that's been on your mind lately that you're really excited about and curious about? And it doesn't have to be anything that you know everything about, but something that's got you all fired up.

Vidhika Bansal:

Okay. Yeah. Like you said, Kristina, this is a hard question for me, because there's a lot on my mind. I guess I'll throw out a couple of teasers and feel free to ask me about anything that you're more curious about. One thing that I think a lot about is just this whole, I mentioned earlier I'm not fond of the term data-driven, and I know a lot of companies use this, and I think a lot about the fact that right now in design especially, I understand obviously the need for data, I think our decisions should certainly be informed by data, but I think that there's this misconception I've noted in the field in general and beyond, that data itself is not biased, and data is objective. Especially if it's quantitative people think that "Oh, it can tell no lies." When... I can't recall... I'm going to butcher the exact quote, but it's the whole thing about if you torture the data for long enough, it'll tell you anything. You know what I mean?

That's something that I really would like to see all of us, as design practitioners start to think more critically about, is that, are we using data just to give ourselves this false sense of confidence? Is this truly something that's informing our strategy and our design, or are we gathering data in a way that is potentially really biased to begin with, and really just patting ourselves on the back? That's the kind of thing that I really like to think of data as an input that's driving an understanding, and then you can use that, plus your experience, your intuition, other inputs to come to a decision versus just "Oh, here's the data, the data's speaking for itself." No, the data never speaks for itself. So that's the one thing that's been on my mind a lot recently.

Kristina Halvorson:

I want to ask you a question about that actually, because one thing that I will often say to clients when we're entering into a content strategy project, let's say for a website that we're trying to go in and say "Is this content working or not?" We'll ask for data. What kind of data analysis do you have? What sort of inputs do you have? They'll give us these giant data dumps. One thing that is clear to me is that, oftentimes people are not framing up questions prior to examining the data in a way where the data will present them with meaningful answers to help inform ethical choices. So this comes into the research play and how we choose our language. We have all the data, we have all the points, we have all the dashboards, and the readings and so on. How can you help your stakeholders frame up meaningful questions that will then assist with mining the data, analyzing the data, deciding what points are meaningful and which ones are not.

Vidhika Bansal:

Yep. So I think that's a great question, and I think one of the best ways to do it, or one of the things I like to lean on a lot is trying to make people take a step back and asking them "What decision are you trying to drive with this data?" A lot of times I think teams will get inundated with requests for "Oh, we need more data on this, and this, and this." And understandably, they're just trying to get a picture of a landscape of what's going on, but like you said, without a clear objective or plan for even analysis, sometimes that can just be a fool's errand, and it doesn't really help. That's a question I really like, is just sort of, what decision are you trying to drive with the data?

I've noticed that this can be a really thorny topic, a lot of people get really defensive about data, and another thing that I'm really passionate about, which does kind of get me out of bed, I guess you could say, is just the power of being able to convince people of these things, if you can connect with them personally first. Before telling someone "Oh, this is not actually a good approach, maybe you should think about data this way" is if you can become friends with them or at least be on good terms, show them that you are there, you're on their side. They’re a lot more likely to listen to you, and realize that you have some shared goals and maybe they should listen.

Kristina Halvorson:

So what you're saying is that data alone is not going to make me friends. That's not a thing that I can count on. Darn it.

Vidhika Bansal:

I know.

Kristina Halvorson:

I've worked so hard on these spreadsheets, Vidhika. What are some of your tips for creating those friendships or connections or allies within the workplace to help move conversations in a direction that you feel will be most beneficial to our end users? What are some of the tips you can give people who hide behind spreadsheets?

Vidhika Bansal:

I think being able to talk to people in a way that makes them not defensive. So if you can talk to people in such a way of basically leading with curiosity, I think if you can lead with curiosity and really try to understand, what are the pressures on them? Why do they, let's say, need this data or need to get this thing done or whatever.

One of the topics that I'm super excited about is just connecting with other humans, and I'm going to be speaking about that a little bit at Button this year, and I think there's a lot of different ways to approach it. The one that I'm going to be speaking about specifically is the five love languages, because it's a fun framework, and I think it's a really easy to digest framework, and it doesn't have to be taken super literally, but can offer a lot of good tips. And so I think ultimately helping people realize that we have shared goals, we want the same things, we just need to work together to do those things, can be really valuable.

Kristina Halvorson:

You are a wise woman. The way that you are able to connect the importance of language to the importance of decision-making, to how we ask questions, to how we approach our research, to why we're asking the questions in the first place. You are just like the ultimate UX practitioner.

Vidhika Bansal:

That is the biggest compliment coming from Kristina Halvorson, I will take it.

Kristina Halvorson:

Take the compliment from all of our listeners too, I'm sure. Unfortunately, we are just about out of time here, but I am super excited to get this out into the world, and I'm excited to help people connect with you more. So the first place that people can see more of Vidhika is at Button, which is coming up in just a few short days, October 20th through the 22nd, and you can learn more about Button at buttonconf.com. See the whole program, and read about all our amazing speakers and get yourself registered. Then, I also want to be sure that people know where to find you, Vidhika, online. So how can people connect with you?

Vidhika Bansal:

I think the best place to connect with me is probably Twitter. I spend way too much of my time on that site, and so feel free to reach out, say hi, and I'd love to chat.

Kristina Halvorson:

Awesome. Thank you so much for appearing today on The Content Strategy Podcast, and I will see you at Button, very soon.

Vidhika Bansal:

Yup. See you at Button, Kristina, and thanks so much. This was a fun conversation.

Kristina Halvorson:

Thanks so much for joining me for this week’s episode of the Content Strategy Podcast. Our podcast is brought to you by Brain Traffic, a content strategy services and events company. It’s produced by Robert Mills with editing from Bare Value. Our transcripts are from REV.com. You can find all kinds of episodes at contentstrategy.com and you can learn more about Brain Traffic at braintraffic.com. See you soon.

About the podcast

The Content Strategy Podcast is a show for people who care about content. Join host Kristina Halvorson and guests for a show dedicated to the practice (and occasional art form) of content strategy. Listen in as they discuss hot topics in digital content and share their expert insight on making content work. Brought to you by Brain Traffic, the world’s leading content strategy agency.

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