Session type:
Case Study

Session duration:
60 minutes

Presented by:

Dalia El-Shimy


About this Case Study

Have you ever been acutely aware of a user problem that needed to be addressed, but didn’t have the leverage or resources to get a solution off the ground?

UX practitioners arguably spend more time than anyone else on their teams trying to understand and assess their users’ needs, behaviours, motivations and challenges. By acquiring this context, we help bridge the gap between those who design, build and support a product - and those who use that product every day. An interesting side effect of this, however, is that we also accumulate knowledge beyond that which is directly relevant to a project we might be working on.

This is inevitable: organisations may be structured into different teams or projects, but people’s experience of a product represents only one touchpoint within the broader scope of how the product fits within their lives. Therefore, as we gather knowledge, we also develop a wider awareness of the problems experienced by the people who use our products every day.

And so what happens when we become aware of the problems that no one owns? Those that don’t neatly fit into the scope of existing projects within our organisations? Compared to product owners or project managers, UXers - and particularly those in individual contributor roles - often lack the leverage (and in some cases the experience) to negotiate the resources necessary to tackle such problems. And yet, they are more keenly aware than anyone else of the importance of solving these problems.

I found myself in this very situation during my first year as an individual contributor at Shopify. And through a bumpy process full of trial and error, I finally managed to rally a small team to help build a solution to a problem I had observed. Today, the project I lobbied for almost 2 years ago has shipped, and a team of 30 people (and counting) continues to tackle the problem space uncovered by my early observations. So how did I get there?

From this experience (and those of other individual contributors on Shopify’s UX team), I can distill a few steps that made all difference:

  • identifying your true scope
  • noting what stands out
  • triangulating your sources
  • understanding the metrics
  • building your argument
  • targeting your audience
Together, these offer a rigorous strategy to follow when we encounter those problems that no one seems to own. By diving into each of them, you will walk away with the knowledge necessary to take ownership of the UX problems you observe, and leverage the context you have into the resources you need.

About the Speaker

Dalia El-Shimy is an engineer-turned-academic-turned-lead-UX-researcher at Shopify. At the company’s Montreal office, she leads research efforts on the multidisciplinary team focused on helping business owners build world-class online stores.

Before joining Shopify, she completed a PhD in electrical engineering at McGill University, and a bachelor of applied sciences in mathematics and engineering at Queen’s University. During her time at McGill, her research interests there were largely centred around the intersection of human-computer interaction and music technology, and particularly the applicability of user-centred techniques to the design of new musical interfaces.

Between 2009 and 2014, she was also the teaching assistant for McGill’s human-computer interaction course, where she enjoyed teaching graduate and undergraduate engineering students how to design, build and test products from a user-centred perspective. She still continues to teach human-computer interaction students at McGill as a guest lecturer every year.


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