Article 5 min

Alexandria Heston: an advocate for accessibility

Alexandria Heston

August 28, 2019  

Alexandria Heston

In our last installment we spoke to Susana Ponce-Froment, executive risk advisor at iCreditWorks. This time around we’re talking to Alexandria Heston, a UX and interaction designer at Magic Leap Studios.

Alexandria has spent the past couple of years researching, developing and publishing multiple projects on the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI) as it relates to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences. Prior to this, she graduated from Indiana University where she majored in computer and information sciences with a specialization in HCI.

Interested to learn more about Alexandria, her work advocating for accessibility in the VR/AR industry and what motivates her, we asked her a few questions.

Trulioo: What prompted you to pursue a career in UX and interaction?

Alexandria: When I was starting out early in my college career, I was really interested in learning about interpersonal communication and how people interact with one another. I was also interested in learning about three-dimensional content, and new industries such as VR/AR were emerging at the time. I found UX and interaction design a natural place for me to gravitate towards as a marriage of these two passions.

Trulioo: Can you share a little about what a typical day looks like for you?

Alexandria: I work for Magic Leap in the Studios department as a UI/UX resource, so I provide a holistic view of the product as a bridge between the art and engineering teams.  Generally, my daily tasks fall into one of two categories: design or research. With design I create a wide range of 2D and 3D graphical assets, in various levels of fidelity, and implement them into the project. With research I identify the core needs of users through A/B tests, market analytics and usability studies. My daily work depends very much on the phase the project is in, and what kind of support the other departments need.

Trulioo: What is the most important aspect of design in today’s distracted, digital world where you are constantly competing for consumers’ attention?

Alexandria: From my perspective, the most important aspect of design is user consent and acknowledgement of what is happening with their data. A lot of consumers aren’t given the full knowledge of how their data is being used, or they’re being given options that bias or influence them in a certain way. This is generally called dark UX, and it is using economic theory or understood cognitive bias to influence users to give consent to share data, buy a product, or affect their decision.

Trulioo: The rise of the sharing economy is shining a bright light on trust in the digital world. With so many online marketplaces popping up, how can businesses leverage UX design to create trust in a peer-to-peer marketplace?

Alexandria: There are multiple ways that UX design can be leveraged to help bridge the trust gap between individuals. I think it is important to have affordances, constraints, fail-safes and flexibility in your system that allows users who have experienced a negative interaction the opportunity to report it immediately.

Trulioo: You’re an accessibility advocate in VR/AR — what does that involve?

Alexandria: Being an advocate for anything means giving a voice of support to a concerning topic or policy. In regards to marginalization of a community, especially individuals with disabilities, I find it important to lift up their voices and raise valid concerns that they’ve had in regards to technology for decades. VR and AR are a special type of advancement in technology that is changing how individuals interact with digital content. It is a spatialized form of digital interface that moves content from a 2D to a 3D interface. Because of this, it requires a huge amount of different types of physical interactions that even many abled individuals aren’t capable of doing for long periods of time. This leaves individuals with disabilities, of any combination or type, at a significant disadvantage from the start. For the sake of the VR/AR industry, I advocate on behalf of flexibility and accessibility of 2D interface and 3D object design. I do this for all users, but also specifically for users who cannot do specific interactions.

Trulioo: Finally, here’s a quick-fire fast five round:

My eureka moment was …

Trying on my first VR headset.

My go-to app is …

The clock app on my phone! I use it to wake up, to remind me to go to sleep, general daily reminders. I always have it on me and I program it with short-term reminders by naming the alarms.

I like to decompress by …

Going for long walks outside to enjoy the world around me.

If I wasn’t a UX/interaction designer, I’d be …

This is a really difficult question! I feel like I would still work in the tech industry as an AI engineer. I really enjoy 3D art, science and education, so maybe if I couldn’t choose the technology industry I’d try to work in curating museum exhibits.

The biggest risk I ever took was …

Quitting my full-time job in enterprise consulting to focus on the VR/AR industry.

To learn more about Alexandria and keep up to date with what’s she doing, follow her on Twitter. If there’s a female trailblazer that you’d like to see featured in our Women in Tech blog series, please send your suggestions to [email protected].