This week’s interview is with Natalie Buda Smith. Natalie is a user experience team supervisor here at the Library of Congress.
Describe your background.
Most of my 25+ year career has been in the field of user experience, working in different countries for a range of organizations including Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and federal agencies. My undergraduate degree was in film, but I was quickly swept into computer science through my internship at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. I was working on point-of-sales interfaces and was fortunate to be located next to NCSU’s School of Design. The School had a forward-thinking curriculum that integrated technology with more traditional fields of industrial and graphic design.
After attending NCSU for my master’s degree, I went into teaching design at the college level and was lucky to have university resources and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study hypertext on the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1995. That was the beginning of my interest in all things Internet. I spent most of my career prior to the Library of Congress as a consultant, designing user experiences for such enterprises as the World Bank, Washington Post, Freddie Mac, Discovery Channel, NPR, PBS, the National Student Clearing House, Dow Corning, Blue Cross Blue Shield and more.
How would you describe your job to other people?
The easiest way to describe user experience is to point out a frustration someone has when they are online or using their mobile phone. Our user experience team (which also includes Fred and Zachary) tries to make those points less frustrating and easier to use. And if we have done our jobs well, the experience is also more enjoyable. In order to make that happen, there is a lot of information to gather, iterations of the product to design, collaboration, and user feedback to work through.
On Congress.gov, we work with an amazing team of end users, subject matter experts, and a product development team to release new features and updates, so that Congress.gov is as useful and easy to understand as we can make it.
What is your role in the development of Congress.gov?
I am the user experience team supervisor at the Library of Congress and am lucky to work with a very talented user experience team. Since I participate in many of the digital projects here, I focus on cross-pollinating best practices across the Library and fill in as an additional resource on Congress.gov as needed.
What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov?
We recently conducted some user research on Congress.gov and its searches. One comment that was repeated by multiple participants is also my favorite feature: that Congress.gov exists. It is an objective, timely resource that gives the general public access to current and historical legislation. I’ve lived in countries where the government’s policy was to obscure the legislative process, not make it transparent. It is an honor to be able to assist in making this digital resource easier to use for everyone.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process while working on Congress.gov?
How dedicated and passionate people are in the Legislative Branch, at all levels and functions. Whenever we conduct surveys or user research, we get very thoughtful and engaged responses.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
That I was able to study harmonium and tanpura while I was in Kolkata. These are the starter instruments for Indian music and playing them makes you appreciate the music’s complexity.