"We care, so that you don’t have to,” says Ruth Kikin-Gil, senior user-experience (UX) designer in the Microsoft Office group in Redmond. “My team and I aspire to make the words of Mark Weiser come true: make computers and technology blend into the background, so that they become ubiquitous.”
Weiser is considered the father of the “ubiquitous computing” concept. Technology could be embedded into our lives so that it’s virtually transparent and available to us. “If computers were truly ubiquitous, you would be able to get stuff done faster and with less frustrations than those encountered in some of today’s common interactions,” Kikin-Gil says.
Kikin-Gil is in charge of making the interaction between users and Microsoft Word as smooth as possible, particularly with mobile devices. “You can’t simply take something that was designed for a mouse and move it to a small screen that uses touch,” she says. “With these devices, our users can be on the move, or distracted, but we still need to make it easy for them to use the software and be productive.”
Kikin-Gil works with program managers to develop the framework to design the application. This requires a lot of research to understand how people think and where their minds go when trying to accomplish a task. “If we do our job right, it allows our customers to feel they are focusing on the right things instead of on conquering the technology,” she says.
Getting to that level was a long journey. After finishing her BA in visual communications at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, she started her own company called Max Interactive, and later traveled to Italy to study at the prestigious Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. From there, Kikin-Gil spent some time in London with her husband, Erez, who was then recruited by Microsoft for a position in California. After a few years with Microsoft, they decided to move to the Puget Sound area in 2008.
They now live in Bellevue with their children (10 and 6). Israeli culture and heritage play a big role in Kikin-Gil’s family. “Even though the religion itself is not a critical part of life, we have a very strong connection to the language and history, and we celebrate the holidays as a family,” she says. Despite full-time work and family commitments, Kikin-Gil finds the time to teach a Capstone course at the UW’s Human Centered Design and Engineering program. The class has grad students designing projects that often end up getting sponsored by companies.
“I’m very proud of the work done by our people at Microsoft,” Kikin-Gil says. “We put the user at the center, try to understand their needs, and make their lives better.”