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HCDE Connecting Generations

Mother-daughter HCDE alumni Connie Missimer (MS '02) and Annica Garfield (MS '17) reflect on finding the department and their careers since graduating.

Conie Missimer & Annica GarfieldConnie Missimer (MS ‘02) and Annica Garfield (MS ‘17) at the HCDE Alumni BBQ in Sept. 2017

Mother-daughter pair Annica Garfield and Connie Missimer graduated with master’s degrees from the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering fifteen years apart. Since graduating in 2002, Connie has worked in leadership roles in User Research for Microsoft and AT&T, and published her second book about critical thinking. Today, she owns a company focused on helping companies apply critical thinking to the workplace. Annica graduated from the department in 2017 and now works as a User Experience Designer for REI.

We caught up with Annica and Connie to hear about their experience in the department and their career paths since graduating.

What led you to enroll in the HCDE program?

Connie: My background is in philosophy, so after I graduated from college I went in that trajectory – I did graduate work at UC Berkeley, I started teaching, and I wrote a book about critical thinking. I was, and have always been, very interested in using science and empirical evidence to understand how people think and operate. I was interested in breaking into the corporate world, and came across this department called Technical Communication, and it was intriguing to me. I am thankful for two amazing instructors I had while in the program – Judy Ramey and Erin Schulz – who both had a big influence on me and helped me discover my love of this field.

Once I enrolled in the program and took Judy Ramey’s Usability Studies class, I thought – ‘This is empirical heaven. This is really what I want to do!’ I was excited to work on solving complex problems that can really help people and improve their experience in the workplace. 

Annica: I graduated from UW with a degree in biology. After volunteering in a lab for a while, I realized that I wanted more of a direct connection with the impact of my work, opposed to the down-the-line impact that tends to come with scientific research and discovery. I knew I liked research and I liked science, so my mom connected me with her colleague Erin Schulz, her former instructor in the department, who now runs a company called LaunchBox.

I was fortunate to get hired as a research assistant with Erin at LaunchBox, doing a mix of market research and usability. Like my mom, I thought – ‘Wow, this is really fun!’ I was doing research, and I was connecting with the people I stood to impact through research interviews and the subsequent experience improvement recommendations. I knew I would need more training if I wanted to advance my career in that direction, so I did some research on what the HCDE program looked like now, and applied.

Tell us about your careers since graduating from the department.

Connie: I worked with Erin at LaunchBox, and I worked at a few other startups until I was hired at Microsoft in 2003. At Microsoft I worked for eight years doing User Research in the tablet group and Windows. Then, I moved to AT&T as a senior manager of devices where I advised product manufacturers about better practices for software applications.

Annica: I was working at the Seattle REI store while I was in grad school. I was able to get an internship on the REI UX team over the summer, which was then extended and converted into a full-time role. And I’ve been with REI ever since. Now my role is as a User Experience Designer, and even though I have designer in my title, the job entails a lot of research.

What are you working on now?

Critical Thinking at Work cover

A new book by HCDE alumna Connie Missimer (MS ‘02), leverages existing scientific data to help companies make and save money while helping employees be happier. Learn more at

Annica: Right now I’m working on a research project to understand the end-to-end customer experience of the REI Adventures program. I love working at REI because I work with such kind, talented people, and the work is always new. One day I can be researching how to better serve our ski customers, and the next looking at what our membership experience looks like. REI’s values so clearly match my own that is hard to imagine working anywhere else – There are very few companies that I can so fully get behind what they do and what they stand for.

Connie: I left AT&T a year ago to start my own business, Critical Thinking at Work, where I do training and consulting for employers including people at Google, Edward Jones, and Microsoft.  I recently wrote a book, Does Your Company Pound or Flex? Critical Thinking at Work, and I’m teaching online courses with O’Reilly Publishers about critical thinking in the workplace. This has to do with taking an empirical look at the workplace, and using the best data from the brain and social sciences, to help companies make more money and at the same time make employees happier.

Actually, Annica helped connect me with the O’Reilly Media folks, after she met them at a UXPA conference! She said, “Hey! My mom is writing a book about critical thinking, maybe she would be a good teacher for an O’Reilly class on the topic.”

Annica: Yeah, well it was my turn to return the favor for connecting with me to the department!

Connie: That’s right! We really are just going to bootstrap each other up to the sky.