Chrystel Black is the User Experience (UX) Director at JDA Labs in Montreal, where she leads a team of 15 professionals, spread out over three countries: India, Canada and the U.S. Between balancing her job at JDA Labs and organizing her son’s boy choir school’s next tour to Europe, she still finds time to put her UX and architecture skills to use to plan the entire renovation of her house in Montreal.
Chrystel is constantly challenging herself and her team to think at more of a strategic level to define strategy for the user experience within JDA’s context. She advocates for the importance of good UX design and how it can be a competitive advantage for a company such as JDA, and recognizes that there is still evangelization to be done. User experience design is a new practice, and people haven’t figured out how to integrate it into their processes yet.
Chrystel and family designing their own fun!
SCN: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
CB: I was born in Toulouse, France and moved to Canada when I was about a year old. My father was one of the first French people to get a PhD in computer science back in the late 1960s. At that time, the Quebec province was opening many universities and were hiring French speaking graduates. During this time, my father created the computer center in Sherbrooke University. When I was 18, I moved to Montreal for my graduate studies and I’ve made my living here since then.
SCN: Where did you attend college and what degree(s) do you hold?
CB: I have a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Montreal University and a master’s degree in industrial engineering, specialized in computer human interaction from Montreal Polytechnique School. Additionally, I hold a certificate in business analysis from Laval University in Quebec City.
SCN: Can you talk more about your hobbies and volunteer experience?
CB: I always need to keep my mind busy and have a project to work on. I’m currently planning an entire renovation of my house in Montreal from the ground up. Additionally, I’m on the parent committee for my son’s boy choir school. The choir consists of 60 singers, ranging from 11 to 17 years old. They do a lot of tours and right now I’m going to begin the planning of their next upcoming tour in Europe, which is in 2019.
I also have a passion for bees and honey. I’m trying to find a piece of land to buy where I can put some beehives. I want to learn how to take care of bees and honey production. I’ve been observing other beekeepers and want to learn how to do it myself. I bring back honey to taste from each place I visit and I think so far, I’ve tasted honey from about 50 regions and they all taste different.
SCN: What was your first job ever?
CB: Apart from traditional babysitting, my first job ever was at 19 years old and I was a research assistant to a physician. The physician gave me the mandate to do a literature review on the didactic methods in medicine. This consisted of reading more than 100 articles, producing summary sheets for each article and writing the entire literature review. It was a summer job, but I was in the lab reading articles all day and took it very seriously.
SCN: Where did you work prior to JDA?
CB: After working for about 10 years at different high-tech companies as a designer, I felt the need to be my own boss and started my own consulting agency in 2012. My company was one of the first UX agencies in Canada, serving customers all over the U.S., Canada and Europe. I eventually sold my shares and took a position as a senior advisor in a bank. After a little over a year at the bank, I got a call from JDA recruiting services. I took the call to try it out and here I am!
SCN: Can you talk about your current role at JDA and what an average day looks like for you?
CB: I have the great privilege to lead the UX group at JDA Labs. People in this group come from different backgrounds, such as gaming, finance, high-tech, which brings a lot of richness to how we solve problems. Part of my job is to support the team’s operations and make sure they have the tools necessary to excel. I also make sure they’re all able to refresh their knowledge through appropriate trainings, reduce their pain points and keep them motivated.
I attend a lot of meetings daily, where we review the design for different products, such as Retail.me, Store Optimizer, Warehouse Manager, etc. In addition, I coach and support the designers in applying design methodology and delivering a high degree of consistency. Consistency is one of the key metrics we focus on delivering at JDA. This is especially important because one of the roles of UX designers is ensuring consistency in the overall user experience so customers can predict how our products will behave. This reduces the learning curve and errors. The UX team is part of the R&D Labs, so another part of my job involves meeting with customers to understand their business problems and work with other teams in the labs to deploy design thinking approaches to solve these problems.
Additionally, I manage the five-year partnership with Tech3Labs, the largest lab in UX research in Canada. The group does user research projects for JDA Labs on different topics. They’re currently working on a project on how to use artificial intelligence (AI) in Retail.me and the level of explanation we need to deliver to build trust in our users when they’re using JDA software. Sometimes users are shown a score, but they need to understand where that score comes from and the algorithm behind it so they can trust it. We’re working to comprehend how to best present this information to users so they have a better understanding as to what’s going on.
SCN: Why did you choose a career in supply chain technology?
CB: Prior to JDA, I was exposed to many different business contexts. I had seen everything in web design and was looking for the next big challenge for a UX designer. Frankly, supply chain management is one of the most complex areas that exists and there was very little being done in terms of UX in that domain. As a designer, my passion is to identify areas of improvement and solutions, and supply chain management offers a lot of opportunity for improvement, which is a dream for designers. This is something I’m very passionate about.
SCN: What’s your proudest achievement?
CB: I have two achievements that I’m most proud of. First, are my 15 and 18-year-old sons. Second, is the fact that I created a company from scratch and lead it into being a $3 million-dollar business. Although I left, the company still exists today, which makes me very proud.
SCN: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it to you?
CB: My grandmother used to tell me, “If you don’t know something, instead of losing time trying to find the answer, just ask someone who knows.” Asking people for help is a strength, not a weakness and by recognizing other peoples’ qualities and exploiting them, we all win. You can always find me in the UX corner here in Montreal asking for help!