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The Underlying Magic of UX/UI Design

UX/UI designers are a hot commodity today. A few years ago, this job was confusing (“Okay, so you’re not just making graphics?”) and mysterious. Now they’re seen as the driving force of product success, the ones behind creating products that provide a seamless product experience for the people using them. Their job and expertise go way beyond creating nice graphics – understanding target customers, knowing how to properly test their ideas and analyzing the results are just a small portion of their everyday job. Yes, great UX/UI designers do a lot to build successful products, but how do you become one?

This week, we’re talking to Greta Fedaravičiūtė – a UX/UI designer here at Tesonet – all about the UX/UI design world. How has it changed over the years, why it’s now more important than ever and how do you create designs that are attracting and retaining customers?

 

Why UX/UI design is important for all members of the product team?

There are several reasons for that. If we talk about User Experience Design (UX), it’s important because people outside the design team are making significant choices that affect it. For example, marketing releases a discount code that changes payments’ flow. A Customer Service Manager changes a script for replying to customers. A programmer makes a performance trade-off. Do all of them need to have a full set of design skills? God forbid, no. But they need to understand how their decisions affect the overall user experience.

And when talking about Visual Design (UI), the team needs to understand that if we want to build long term credibility, brand identity and consistency are key to success. Leaving loose edges around the brand is like a death by a thousand cuts over time. People stop believing you are building credible software because on the surface the shingles are falling off the house.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face as a UX/UI designer? And how do you overcome them?

It depends on the design maturity in the company and how much freedom you have in your workflow. Of course, sometimes it can be challenging to convince business leaders that you need time for things other than creating interfaces. Good UX designers never start by solving the problem given to them: they start by zooming out and trying to see if the problem is framed correctly, and by looking for all possible angles it could be attacked from. Rather than focusing on a solution, they generate an idea after idea, form hypotheses, experiment with them, and iterate. Many ideas are killed during the process and what is removed is often more important than what is left. Ideally, the end result is very simple.

So as you can see, that’s a lot of “invisible” work and not every environment can embrace that. If you can speak the business language and understand how to measure things, you may be successful in proving that this is the way to go. Typically business leaders don’t think in terms of aesthetics or even usability, they think about sales measures, conversions, users base, etc. To be relevant and to build credibility designers need to focus on the measurable part of the product and to be able to show the value they add.

 

What kind of changes you’ve noticed in UX culture over the last few years?

Uff, it’s a great time to be a UX designer and I am hopeful that it’s going to be even more so. I feel that right now, designers have an opportunity to fundamentally help businesses make better strategic decisions faster. And if they don’t squander this opportunity by working on the wrong things, not asking the right questions, or by not having the humility to go out and find answers as opposed to thinking that they are geniuses, design all of the sudden have a chance of being a core function.

Even more so, I went to UX Riga conference last month and a keynote by Jim Kalbach really resonated with me. Jim spoke about  “Design Beyond Commercial Settings” and told an inspiring tale of how he applied the journey mapping method to understand how former extremists, like ISIS fighters, become pacifists. People working in the tech sector are in a unique position of responsibility to use their skills, tools and reach to help raise awareness and work on solutions of social issues.

 

So, based on your insights and experience, what’s essential to be a great UX/UI designer?

 

  • Cultivate self-learning and be curious, because the tech field is a moving target. New tools and frameworks are emerging all the time.
  • Empathy is not a“nice-to-have”. We’re building tools for people – understanding and caring for them is a must. We have to try our best to be kind and empathetic towards others, especially when we don’t understand their actions and would never behave that way. Designers need to learn psychology more than they need to learn how to code.
  • Get up on your tiptoes and see the big picture. A lot of designers get frustrated because they feel like they don’t have enough time to create interfaces, and I get it – design is fun, meetings are mostly exhausting. But to be a really great designer or a great employee in general, you can’t see yourself as a staff member who just cares about their craft and leaves decision-making to someone else. All that other stuff, outside of design tools, like meetings, research, aligning your tasks with business priorities – that’s design too and if you are not doing that, you are just 1/3 of a designer.
  • Being an optimist helps. I think Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO was absolutely right when he said that, “To harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams, and organizations have to cultivate optimism. People have to believe that it is within their power to create new ideas that will serve unmet needs and that will have a positive impact.”

 

What are your top tips for creating a design that’s attracting and retaining customers?

 

  • Make sure you are solving the right problem. They don’t always come in neat packages. Dig deeper, use the “5 Whys” to address the real issues.
  • Define the metrics. Make sure you know how you will measure the success of your solution.
  • Generate a lot of ideas. Go for quantity over quality. Try the “Crazy 8” method – fold a piece of paper into 8 parts and try to fill it with ideas in a limited amount of time. At this point, don’t think what the programmer or Product Owner will say, set yourself free from any judgment.
  • Do rapid prototyping. Take a few ideas and build a rough and tangible example of them. Go for a lo-fi version, and move quickly. Remember that you are prototyping to answer questions, not to win a design award, so it doesn’t have to be polished.
  • Don’t assume anything. Even a designer with 20 years of experience can’t predict what users will do. That’s what makes this job exciting. Test your prototypes with 5 users.
  • Iterate. Okay, so you have a users’ insights on your prototype. Bravo. Job well done. So, what now? You go back, make it better and test again.

 

Where do you find ideas, an inspiration for your next project?

My inspiration comes from the local design community. Luckily it’s in a tight-knit here in Vilnius. I am inspired by the success and excellence of designers who are not only great at what they do but also find time to share their stories. It’s a nice crowd of funny, down to earth, and really smart cookies.

So, with that being said, I will leave you with my favourite sources – things that really float my boat. Ready – blast it!

Networking:

  • “Fresh”– regular free meetups in Vilnius, where everyone is welcome and you don’t have to be designer to come.
  • “UX & Hello” – UX community aiming to increase awareness of what is good design.
  • Finding a mentor Designed and RookieUp are great places for finding a mentor.
  • “Designers Guild”– Facebook group, where you can be part of international designers’ community (don’t be discouraged by a form they ask to fill before letting you in the group – everyone is accepted).

Reading:

  • “UX shelf”, books selected and donated by various tech companies, available to everyone in Mazvydas library.
  • Reading list by Igor Gubaidulin.
  • “Dense Discovery”– my favourite weekly newsletter helping web workers be productive, stay inspired and think critically.

Videos/podcast: