Josh Shiau
Josh Shiau
User Researcher + Designer


I’m a user experience researcher and designer living in San Francisco, California. From working with a Y-Combinator startup to one of the world’s largest tech companies, my experiences have taught me a lot about how a deep understanding of the user drives innovation and makes truly effective tools to help humans help humans. Otherwise, when I'm not building furniture or writing poetry, I’m usually exploring on my motorcycle. Drop a line at

What brought you to design?
My dad is an engineer, my mom’s an engineer. when I was young I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I figured it was a likely possibility. But when I went to school at RISD, I fell in love with making. Though I majored in Industrial Design, I blew glass sculpture, designed furniture, and took landscape architecture classes so that I could travel abroad and help build a community center. All of these ways of thinking and making inform my design process now.

Why software?
For two reasons: scale and speed. I wanted to make a tangible positive impact, and for that scale was necessary. I also wanted to learn quickly, and for that I needed speed. There is a lot of evidence that shows a shorter feedback cycle to decisions correlates with faster growth.

The subjects should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of their performance…When these conditions are met, practice improves accuracy and speed of performance on cognitive, perceptual, and motor tasks” (

More dramatically, recent studies have even found that doctors with more years of experience are actually correlated with worse patient outcomes, proving that without immediate and specific feedback your ability can actually decline. ( This point is underlined by the fact that surgeons are not affected by this pattern, because they usually get immediate feedback, especially about failures.

This played a big role in my career path in my decision to persue digital design vs. traditional Industrial Design. Compared to the few years you need to test, prototype, work with manufacturers, secure distribution, and coordinate marketing for a physical product, software can ship in months and from then on give you instantaneous and continuous feedback on your designs. With software I can make my mistakes fast, and learn faster.

How do you define design and research?
Design taught me how products start with people, and though words like function, form, ergonomics, and user interface refer to different considerations, they all share the same purpose, which is to shape technology for use by human mind and body. User Research is the study of the culture, psychology, and motivation of those humans. Design requires passion and empathy; Research requires curiosity and objectivity.

What are some of unique challenges of your job?
For many users, especially in healthcare, cognitive computing is still largely a black box. Even if an solution is faster, cheaper, and more effective, it needs to prove itself over the incumbent way of working to balance the risk and cost of switching. Whether it's collecting scores of evidence before conducting experimental studies on new drug candidates or depending on many layers of human diagnoses and redundancies to spot errors, users depend on their current systems, and designs based on machine learning need to earn the trust of users. I think this is the next big challenge for design and health technology right now.