Carl sits down with Andy Budd, a pioneer in UX design, author of CSS Mastery, founder of Clearleft, a UX Consultancy and Web Design Agency in the UK, and was named one of Wired UK’s top 100 digital power brokers.
Carl: Would you mind introducing yourself to our students and the people who will be watching this?
Andy: Absolutely, well hi everyone my name is Andy Budd. I am the founding partner and director of a company in the UK called Clearleft. We’re a user experience agency. We’re actually one of the first UX agencies in the country started back in 2005. I was kind of a fairly well-known blogger in the tech scene particularly talking about web standards, HTML/CSS, or a book called CSS Mastery but more recently I’ve been focusing on user experience design and running this small company. And amongst other things, we do a bunch of stuff. We do some software called Silverback, which is great for usability testing. And we do a couple of conferences in the UK as well; Deconstruct and UX London.
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Discussion of UX conferences
Carl: I would love to go to one of those one of these days. I really must go.
Andy: Well you should. I mean we got a really good international crowd of people. I don’t think we’ve had anyone from Thailand but I think we’ve had people from Japan, we’ve had people from Singapore and Hong Kong, from Australia. Not in huge numbers but particularly if you guys are organizing sort of similar things in Bangkok then it’s would be great to have you come over and see how we do it in England and hook up with some of the speakers and make some connections and yeah if some of your students would like to come over, we actually had a volunteer last year from Mexico. A young lady who is student in Mexico, she flew over purely to be a volunteer at the conference just come to make those connections and learn about the world of UX. So if any of your local people want to come and be a volunteer, put them in touch with me and we will chat.
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Carl: I know this might sound like a basic question, but my first question is: “What is your definition of a UX designer?”
Andy: It’s not a basic question. It’s actually quite a complicated question. I think that’s because the term “user experience” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Anything that is designed that people use has some kind of experience around it whether that was considered or not. So some people these days, if they’ve designed a website, might consider themselves a user experience designer because the manifestation is an experience, but I don’t think that’s the right way of thinking of what user experience design is. The practice of user experience design, for example, I work at a user design agency and within the agency there’s people with a whole range of skills. A whole bunch people that will contribute to improving the experience of a product to service so we have dedicated UX designers. We have front-end developers. We have feature designers. And all of those skills go into making a great experience.
When you go kind of go up this sort of pyramid of practices though, then you have the UX designer and the UX designer is really a composite of the bunch of different skills as well. So the UX design is a mix of information architecture, of usability, of interaction design. Some would argue interface design; some would argue front-end development. The difficulty is you can’t really be an individual and be good at all of those things. So what you tend to find is that a user experience designer will probably have some sort of preferences or there will be certain things that they are better than others. So we tend to find that some user experience designers are more focused toward information architecture in the structure of content. Others are more focused on the usability of the product. Some are focused more on interaction design. But it is like a combination of those three areas that I think typically makes a user experience designer. And user experience designers in my world tend to mostly do that.
So by that I mean if you’re also doing visual design, if you do front-end code, if you building the thing then you’ll probably more of a general web designer rather than a user experience designer. So user experience designers are, kind of, in some regard, specialists. On saying that, when I go to general web conferences and speak to general web people they think user experience design in a specialism. When I go to a usability testing conference, or an information architecture conference like the IA summit, they always see us UX people as generalists. So you can just keep going deeper and deeper and deeper into stuff. Like a lot of the Information Architects think that they’re generalists so you can go as deep into a subject as you possibly can, I guess.
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Source of Inspiration
Carl: Brilliant. Thank you for that. It’s really interesting hearing you how you say that it’s a mix of many different things. Like when I got into UX design, one of the reasons was because I was able to speak to the developers and the designers, but also speak the language of the business owners. So being that intermediary was kind of how I got into it. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got inspired to call yourself a UX Designer or how you got into it? What inspired you?
Andy: There wasn’t a single source of inspiration. And I think when we started, when I started, it was probably sort of…when I started my career back in ‘99, the term user experience designer was not common. It might not have really been coined. I know that Doug Norman set up the first user experience practice in the ‘90s at Apple, but it wasn’t a common title at all. I basically started like most people, like a general web designer. I did a bit of Photoshop, a bit of visual design, I did a bit of HTML, I did a bit of back-end programming. But I just got frustrated that a lot of the things that we were designing were really ill considered. The design decisions that we were making in Photoshop, were based on what I thought looked nice, rather than any sort of systematic sense of user needs or user requirements or client requirements.
So around 2001-2002 I guess I discovered Roosevelt’s book on information architecture, and also Jeff Veen wrote a book ages ago called The Art and Science of Web Design and that book was the first time where I had seen what I think now is the modern practice of web design spelled out in this methodological approach. I started, as well as doing my web stuff, I started running usability tests and doing interviews with clients and stakeholders and other users. I started writing sitemaps and running card sorts and doing all this kind of new stuff that kind of very few people had done before or very few people that I knew had done before.
Because I was one of the only people in my agency that was doing this, I started doing less design, less HTML, until it got to a point, maybe a year or two after I set up Clearleft really, maybe 2006-2007, where I was doing no visual design or no front-end design at all. And at that point I felt confident saying: “hey look, my career has changed. I’m no longer a web designer. I’m no longer a front-end developer. I’m a UX Designer.” But that decision was because that was what I was doing. It wasn’t because I heard this trendy term and realized that it could add an extra 20% to my fee. Or that, “oh I’m a web designer, but really I’m a UX designer.” And I see that a lot. I see a lot of people claiming to be a UX designer who really aren’t. They’re more UX focused or user focused web designers and that’s great and I don’t have a problem with that. We need all kinds of people in this industry and we need people who care about usability and care about the user, but user experience designers tend to be kind of a specialist breed. They tend to be working with bigger projects, with bigger clients and so I don’t think there is this need for everyone to suddenly call themselves UX designers.
In fact, I’ve been using a different term because sometimes “web designer” can feel a bit low status and I think a lot of people wrongly actually think that UX design is a natural progression for their career, like I’ll become a web designer then I’ll become a user experience designer. I really like the term “product designer.” “Digital Product Designer.” If you look at the real world, you look at product designers and I go to a lot of university graduation shows and the product designers are often the best people in the course and that’s because they have this cross-disciplinary skill. They can come up with a concept, they can build a prototype, they can sketch out a brand, they can produce a rough idea of marketing collateral, and they can do all of these things.
Now they’re not martyrs of any and if that product ended up turning into a real thing they would probably hire engineers and an agency and a PR company, but they’re really, really good at putting that all together and I think what I’m seeing now is a lot of talented people who get design, who get UX, who get front-end development, who really are product designers, rather than UX designers.
And I know it’s maybe a little bit of a forced dichotomy, but I do think that there is a difference there. I think with a UX designer your goal is becoming increasingly specialized and I think with a product designer your goal is becoming increasingly open and able to explore new ideas, whether it be hardware hacking, or RFID chips, or designing interfaces on different machines. And so I think there a narrowing, or convergence, for a UX designer and there’s a divergence for a product designer.
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How many specialties are there, even within UX design?
Carl: It’s been really interesting hearing you say that there is a dichotomy in this and that it’s changing. In the early days I was a web master and that was one of the first jobs I ever got and from there you become a web designer, a front-end developer, or whatever. It’s been really interesting how you got so many jobs coming up. Like you said, there’s probably even splitting up within UX design. You’ve got information architecture and usability testing as well.
Andy: Well this is it. I mean, just to that note. Clearleft, we’re a small agency, we’re twenty people. Because of that, we don’t really have lots of room to have deep specialists within the field of UX, but if we were a sixty person agency, we would have a testing group or a research group. We would have people that only did information architecture, people that only did content strategy, people that only did interaction design. And so we’re a UX agency, but we have UX practitioners do a little bit of everything.
As we grow, we’ll probably find different specialisms to move into, but I think a lot of this is just a positive sign of maturation of the industry. We’ve grown up. And that means that there’s need for specialists and generalists. It’s like medicine, I guess. If you look at medicine a hundred or two hundred years ago, you just had doctors. Now you’ve got GPs, you’ve got brain surgeons; you’ve got everyone in the middle. You wouldn’t want to have a system where everyone was a brain surgeon because they’re never going to help you out if you’ve hurt your back or something and it would be terrible if everyone was a GP if you needed to have your head opened. So you need to have that whole range and it’s a really positive thing and it just means that we’ve grown up as an industry.
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Do you feel the web design and user design industries are maturing in Thailand?
Carl: Another thing I’ve found as well personally is that the clients are maturing as well. They have a lot more of an idea of what’s going on. I mean, we still deal with people who think this is black magic, but it has been interesting that you have clients coming in expecting certain things. I remember on the first UN project I did, I was brought in as an information architect and I was like “this is amazing that you’re even asking this.” This is great. So it will be very interesting to see how clients are growing up with us as well.
Andy: I would love to ask you a question. I’d love to know how you feel the industry is maturing in Thailand because my experience is that UX thinking and design really was driven by San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I’d say that England was still lagging a couple of years behind the States. I’d look to continental Europe and I’d say that they’re lagging a couple of years behind the UK, but I have very little understanding of what is happening in Southeast Asia so I’d love to get your take on where you think the industry is, if I’m not overtaking the conversation here.
Carl: Thailand is very far behind, but it’s catching up very, very quickly. The other hubs that we have are places like Singapore. Singapore is getting very mature now. We’ve got some great projects, great companies, and great start-ups coming out of there. Thailand doesn’t have very many start-ups just yet, but UX is still very, very new here and I think its still in that phase where, yes, if I put UX I might get 20% extra for my invoice.
It is becoming a lot better because we now have co-working spaces, so they are just popping up in the last five years. When I was first here it was the dark ages here. It really was. They were still using tables for web layout. Their websites, oh my god, they were probably some of the worst in the world. But yeah, it’s growing a lot and I’m getting asked a lot more to do UX projects for companies here in Thailand, which is really nice.
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Carl: Speaking of projects, could you tell us about one of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on? I noticed you’ve worked a lot for Code for America and UNICEF, so what has been one of the projects that you’ve really enjoyed or were really excited about?
Andy: I know it sounds cliché, but every project that we work on is something that we’re really excited about. We’re really lucky as an agency, because we’re quite small, and its not that we get to choose projects, but because we’re quite small, we have a limited capacity, so when two or three projects come along and we’ve only got one slot, we have a little more of an opportunity to filter. So we’re generally really good at picking projects. We don’t pick projects that we won’t enjoy. So basically every project that we’re working on, and the last project, is the best project we’ve done.
Even projects that are kinda tough, there’s often a huge amount you can learn from a really hard project. Whether it’s technically hard, whether it’s difficult charting stakeholder issues. You know at the moment, we working on some really massive projects. We’re redesigning a bank and doing the online banking. A lot of people would think that that sounds like a really dull project, but actually we’re working with this really cool bank in Europe. They’re very, very understanding of design and they get the value that we bring and frankly, banking is something that we all use. At least in Europe, we all use online banking and it’s broken. Most people do a really bad job, so it’s kinda fun solving problems that lots of people have in a way that can give value to the world. A lot of agencies are focused on doing the cool, sexy things. Some agencies will say, “yeah I worked on this project for Coca Cola or Red Bull.” A lot of agencies love doing the really cool, trendy, beautifully visually interesting projects, whether it’s for Coca Cola or Red Bull. That’s not really our style. We’re problem solvers. So some of our projects, like I say, like banking, might not be super sexy and it probably won’t get us any design of the year award, but we feel that we’re solving really interesting problems in a really clever way.
Something that we did so recently that was a little more on the sexy side was, there is a charity and a cultural institution in the UK called the World Trust and they’re like a medical charity so they have all this kind of crazy equipment dating back to Victorian times and we did this project where we did this long-form storytelling and narrative. The first one was six stories about how people treated the mind and mental illness back in Victorian times. There was all this crazy stuff, like mesmerism. Apparently there was this guy called Mesma, who believed that there was this thing called animal magnetism, in which we could get magnetic fields from animals and wave magnetic rods over people and it would cure them. And so we’ve got all these crazy sort of illustrations of these techniques, of severed animal heads being sparked with electricity or all these Victorian gentlemen sitting around a tree as the tree pumps magnetic energy into people. And this was only like 200 years ago, but people believed this stuff. Basically there’s these six stories that you go through and you scroll along this page and there’s an aura landscape, there’s videos, there’s text fading in and out and it’s just a really interesting way of telling long-form stories rather than just a simple page with text on it. So that’s been quite fun, but yeah we do everything between graphic storytelling to big projects for very large companies.
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Discussion of travel for web and graphic designers
Carl: Brilliant. It’s nice to hear that you enjoy every project. I feel the same. When you get that new project and you start figuring out all the different ways you can solve the problems it’s really, really exciting. You recently wrote an article about giving out advice to people, young people looking to break into graphic design and you mention that you should travel a lot. Could you expand on that for us?
Andy: I think everyone has their own life experiences and then when they see other people’s life experiences they think: “oh, you should have done it my way.” So there’s an element of that and you need to take it with a pinch of salt. But, I’m seeing a lot of people discovering the web at a really young age, which is good. There’s a real movement in the UK at the moment to get kids coding, friends of mine run after school coding clubs, and so I’m seeing lots of people who maybe started on the path of their web development career at the age of twelve or thirteen, so when they come into the industry at the age of 18 or 19, they’re not going to university, they’re coming straight into careers, then they’re hitting 20 -25 they got great careers, they have a good house and a nice budget, but they haven’t really experienced life and I think we’re living at a time, a unique time in history, if you look back to Europe where my parents could never afford to leave the country and going on holiday to France was seen as this crazy, expensive thing.But now, particularly in the web industry we have that time, or we have that ability, but so many people I know don’t take it and I just don’t want to see people start their career at the age of 12, I mean that’s Victorian, you know, going to the looms at the age of 12 and then working until you die. That’s not a really nice way to live.
So I think there is a lot that can be learned by traveling. I think particularly if you come from an exclusive background, you’ve always lived well and never struggled for food or money, or parental approval. You’ve gone from living at home to getting a well-paid job. You know, I think struggle is a really good way of building character and traveling is a really great way of opening your eyes and meeting new people. If you’ve only ever met other privileged white kids in Europe then you’re never going to realize what it’s like to live in other parts of the world.
So when I traveled, after I finished university I traveled for six years, I spent about two years in Thailand. This is one of the reasons I wanted to chat with you because I really loved Thailand, I think it’s a great country, I think great people, I think there’s huge potential there and it’s a very literate and educated, technical savvy kind of country and so I’m fascinated by how the internet and the design industry are developing there. I’d love an opportunity to come out and visit with you guys and see what’s happening in Singapore. I know there’s a good design culture in Indonesia as well, so I think the whole area is really taking off. But yeah, I think traveling, seeing how different people live.
I think this goes back to one of the key things that I think is important that we do as an industry, particularly user experience design, and it’s the user and having empathy and usability and user design is very closely tied with anthropology and anthropology is obviously the study of different people and practices and cultures and so I think you can gain empathy for your user in the same way as by traveling you appreciate their own lives and perspectives and I think you can use that and bring that back into your working life eventually. So I think there’s a whole bunch of benefits you get from traveling and seeing the world. And whether that’s exploring Thailand or Southeast Asia or whether its getting the opportunity to go and work for six months in Hong Kong or Singapore, or America, or going an studying abroad, I think that all of these things give you connections and insight so I think its great.
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How travel helps you to better know your users
Carl: Yeah, thank you. Especially if you’re doing things like, when you’re traveling around and you’re meeting people, then you get to know the different users who would be using your system.
Andy: I think the other thing is, the reason I actually got involved with web design in the first place, the actual story was I was backpacking at the time and I discovered the internet by going to internet cafes in Thailand and Indonesia. And this one time I met this Canadian guy in an internet café and I was doing Hotmail back in the day and he had all these angle brackets on his screen and I was like “what the hell are you doing?” This was like, maybe ’95 and he was like “I’m building my own webpage.” I was like “wow, I want to do that.” So I came back to England and I taught myself how to do web design partly because I wanted to have a little travelogue next time I went away and partly because I thought I could travel for six months and then work for six months. That never really panned out because I ended up getting a job and stuff, but I’ve met a whole bunch of people who have done that, who have traveled around the country, traveled around the world. Stopped in various places, whether it was working in Europe or working in Australia or Asia or whatever and picking up jobs and getting to meet people.
In fact, there’s kind of a famous, I can’t remember his name because I’m not really in the programming community, but there’s quite a famous PHP programmer who basically has been traveling the world for the past ten years and he swaps his time for food and a couch. He’s so well known, he’s supposed to be one of the best PHP programmers in the world, so people love to invite him into their company because there is a certain amount of credibility for working along with this guy and all he asks is “give me a place to stay, give me enough money to buy my next meal, or next couple of meals and I’ll come and I’ll come and work with you for a month or a week, or whatever. So you can do that.
Carl: A true digital nomad.
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Discussion of critical thinking skills
Carl: So you mentioned you went to Thailand and stuff like that. What really makes me sad is that the universities here don’t teach critical thinking and as we both know, one of the biggest things we have to do is problem solve with web design and to be honest, when I’m teaching, I try and get people to make mistakes so that they can learn to fix them and that’s the best way that they learn. I actually build that into the lessons; I’ll say: “right, now make five mistakes and then swap with the person next to you and they have to fix it. And so that’s one of the reasons that I’m trying to push Thailand, if I can, to be more critical and to make more critical lessons and to be more hands on because a lot of it is just theory They’ll lecture for three hours. That needs to change before Thailand can really, really blossom.
Andy: It is fascinating looking at the cultural differences around the world cause in some regards I would say that America and Europa have the opposite problem, which is a lot of people in our industry over here are incredibly egotistical and they’re critical of everything, even when something doesn’t need to be criticized. So I think in Asian cultures there’s a lot more sense of the collective well being and I think in the UK people are very quick to criticize and find problems when actually maybe those problems don’t exist. So I think that you can look at any culture and find issues and weaknesses and actually, interestingly I think the Northern European cultures, the Swedes and the Norwegians, have kind of got an interesting balance because they are very much consensus driven, but also they are kind of willing and able to get in and tackle problems, but yeah, it’s an interesting sort of thing you spotted there.
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Carl: For people who want to come to learn how to be a UX designer, what are the four essential skills that you believe a UX designer should have?
Andy: Four essential skills. I’m gonna cheat a little bit because I’m going to say my first one is craft skills and basically that covers every single output that you can imagine. Craft skills in the sense that, you know, you have to be able to understand you medium. You have to be good at doing things like sketching, or building prototypes, or just kind of producing the assets that, the deliverables, or whatever you want to call them, or whatever terminology you think is right, but understanding those craft skills. The problem is, I think that’s what most people fixate on, so a lot of people think that they’re good UX designers because they can create a wireframe sketch, or they can use balsamic, or they can create a prototype and that’s only kind of the base layout. I think you’re right that critical thinking or design thinking is probably the second skill and there are lots of great books around that talk about design thinking and teach design thinking and really that is about that problem solving perspective.
There’s this term called abductive reasoning and I think the key to being a good designer is having the ability to do abductive reasoning. Now I’m gonna be really bad at explaining what abductive reasoning is. A good person to read actually is a person called John Colcombe. But effectively, deductive reasoning, you know, the Sherlock Holmes approach, its kind of like one plus one equals two. It’s a very sort of simple, like I think therefore I am kind of way of stringing things together. So you find a piece of information and that infers or implies that something is true. Abductive reasoning is something that I think a lot of designers do, which is, kind of, you take a bunch of input; you know that you’re going for an out put, but there’s some kind of magic in the middle. There’s not a logical jump from the question to the solution, but that magic that happens in the middle is that abductive reasoning. You can take some kind of leap of faith, or leap of trust, and go “okay, well I think something is going on here. I don’t know for sure, but I think that that implies that here is a potential answer.” I think I explained that really badly, but look up John Colcombe’s article on abductive thinking and I think abductive thinking goes really, really in hand with this kind of design thinking approach.
So that’s two. I think a third one is probably empathy. So having a really good understanding of everyone’s needs and that’s not just the needs of your users, but that’s the needs of your clients and your customers. And that implies the ability to do research and to go and talk to people and to try and remove your ego from the problem and to realize that you’re not designing for yourself, you’re designing for other people. That also means that you can be fallible as well, so you need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
The fourth one is probably the same as the usercentricness, but it really is the ability to manage people and engage with stakeholders because the reality is that most design problems are easy. If all you have is a bunch of pure design problems, then most of our project work would be super simple, but actually the complexity come into having to deal with lots of stakeholders, that have competing needs, that have different powers within the organization, and your ability to chart through that.
So I think the best designers are the ones that can manage to find a way through this often-chaotic mix of competing requirements and come out the other side and making sure that everyone feels they’ve had their say and they’ve been brought along for the journey and the solution might not be or might not solve their immediate needs, but it’s appropriate. So client handling skills, personal skills, and this is something that frankly only comes with time. You can learn craft skills very quickly, abductive thinking is something that can be trained, sensitivity towards users often comes with time and continued exposure to usability tests and frustration, but understanding and being good with humans in general just comes from 10, or 12, or 15 years of working with them, getting frustrated, trying other ways, trying other techniques, and I think that this is what really senior UX people bring. Often its not the hard skills they bring, it’s the soft skills.
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How can meeting with clients over coffee provide greater content for their website?
Carl: It’s very interesting because a project manager and I were discussing how having or how we should do all of our client meeting over coffee because as soon as you make it formalized, you don’t get those stories. We were working with a big German company over here and the guy who was coming to the meeting had this amazing story of how he started. He was renting out gardening equipment and now it has become one of the biggest consulting agencies in Asia.
It was amazing to get that story and we were just chatting over coffee. I think we were waiting for someone so we said we’ll just go and grab a coffee and we were just chatting and what we did is we tried to put that story into the new design and we really wanted to show that it was a grassroots company and even though its big, it really understands the small people and that came through in the content as well. So these coffee meetings help us find the parts that make a client really special.
Andy: This is the difficulty of working somewhere where you have lots of different cultures because the approach that you or your students might take to an American company might be, you know, lets go for a coffee, lets not worry about a shirt and tie. If you’re trying to go and get work with a Thai bank, there might be a certain expectation around how you behave and that would probably seem like a really inappropriate approach. It takes time to realize what people you deal with and how you deal with them, so it’s definitely a skill.
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Carl: So bringing this back down to the workflow of what you do at Clearleft, so what is one of the first steps when you get a new project?
Andy: That’s a very interesting question. Lets start with assuming that we’ve actually got the project, so its not like the sales process, cause that’s a whole podcast in and of itself. Our approach design is very agile, but not necessarily agile methodology, we’re not dogmatic about a particular process, but we see every project as a design problem in its own right. A lot of agencies will have their trademarked process, and you’ll have a diagram that has lots of spinning things going around and saying this is where we iterate, etc. and we try not to do that.
Every project, we design it as we go because every client is different and every team of people is different and some people want to work really collaboratively and will spend time with our team in Brighton, some people are working from a distance and need to be updated via skype everyday, some people want to just hand a problem over, go away and come back and have it solved.
Every client is different, but what we tend to do is we tend to start with some kind of six to eight week discovery process or inception process or whatever you want to call it; problem definition process. Out of that six to eight weeks, the fist couple of weeks are usually talking to people, talking to the customers, talking to the client, talking to stakeholders, gathering the requirements, and gathering the information.
The next couple of weeks are usually sense making, so making sense of all that. Trying to figure out the patters and the structure and what that implies. The next few weeks are usually bringing that together in some kind of design recommendation or concept. So that might be sketching out some user journeys or user flows. It might be creating a quick set of wireframes or a prototype. It might be coming up with some type of visual design. It becomes kind of a designed answer to the question we got asked initially and then the last couple weeks is usually packaging that up and giving it back to the client and saying to them, “okay, this is what you asked us, this is what we discovered, this is the process we went through, here are our findings, this is what we’ve taken from that and this is the design solution we’ve come up with. Or maybe there are two or three design solutions. This is how long we think it will take your team to develop it, this is how much we think it will cost, etc. etc.” So it really is a consultative process.
Again, I’ve used the metaphor before, but it’s like doctors. Like if you went to a doctor and they immediately gave you a prescription without even asking you any questions, you would be like “what the hell is this about?” Like “take two aspirins and go away for two weeks.” What you do is if you’re a doctor you run a battery of tests and you talk to the client and you ask them about their lifestyle and what their pains and aches are. Maybe if it’s a serious problem you go and talk to their family. If it’s a really serious problem and you see a lot of people coming in with this problem you go to find out where they live and where they work to find out what patterns are happening. You take a bunch of tests, you send them away, and when they come back you analyze them, and even then there’s probably even two or three different illnesses they might have and so you give them the probabilities and say w think there’s a 60% chance you have this and a 40% chance of that and this is how we plan to pursue your treatment. We’re going to try this set of drugs first and if they don’t work we’re going to try another set of drugs. It’s very, very similar.
Or you use the architecture analogy as well. We’re very similar to architects. A client comes to you and says we need a building for a family and its got to have four bedrooms and this that and the other. That could be a really, really cheap house built with very simple materials or it could be all the most expensive materials, and marble, and the four bedrooms could all be king-sized and en-suite and it’s only when you start talking to people and asking them. So very much like an architect, we’ll have those conversations, we’ll sketch out what we think the building is like, and the client will come back to us and say: “no, that’s not what I meant, I meant something else.” You just kind of continuously iterate until you’ve got the 3-d visualization of the building. You’ve got the sample swatches of the materials you’re going to use. The client could look at it and go: “yes, you’ve nailed it. That’s exactly what we think we need to solve our project. And then you say to them, “that’s great. That’s going to cost you 200,00 pounds and then they go, “oh, my god that’s far too much and then you have a negotiation about it. You ask: “What are the things you value the most? Where do you want to drop off some of the scope, and then you come down to an approach that fits their budget, that meets most of their needs, but not all of them and fits their timeline.
Basically after that it just comes down to doing it, and I know that sounds a bit trite, but lets say a typical project for Clearleft might be six weeks worth of discovery work, and then we might spend six weeks doing the interaction designs, so working out the information architecture, sketching user flows, building a prototype and testing it on users. When that’s done we might spend six weeks coming up with a visual design and designing all the various elements or pages. Then we might spend six weeks building the front end, the code, and the modular stuff and then working with the developers to get that implemented on their back end.
In reality, a lot of that is overlapping so it’s really not six weeks, six weeks, six weeks. Sometimes when we’re doing agile we break it down into smaller parts, but effectively, that would be a typical project for Clearleft, so quite big projects, but we started doing smaller projects and will use the same approach, but we’ll be doing a weeks worth of research instead of six and we’ll be doing two weeks worth of UX instead of six so you can scale this up or down as much as you want.
Carl: We always try to say to our clients, “you get what you pay for.” “The more you pay, the more you get.” For example, we’re always asked about online marketing and people ask, “How much do I need to pay?” Well, what results do you want from this? If you pay a little, you’re going to get that much content, or you could get more content and better quality. So I see what you mean, it is a very scalable thing. One of the things I always try and ask our clients is what their budget is really early on and that gives us an idea of what sort of scope we can suggest to them when we come up with our proposal.
Andy: Well one person to follow is a guy named Dan Mall. I think, I get a really bad memory with names of agencies; I think his agency is called Super Friendly, but I might be confusing that with somebody else, but he runs a podcast called the businessology podcast and one of his things, one of his expertise is this idea of value pricing where you don’t price things based on time, but you have a conversation with the client to figure out where they value and what they value and then you price based on that. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with it, but it’s a really interesting concept and a lot more people are exploring that so I would recommend you to have a little bit of a look, listen to some of his podcasts because that fits very nicely with what you’ve just said now.
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Carl: Are there any other websites or books that you could recommend to our students to read when they want to do some extra work at home?
Andy: On the UX front, some of the classic books are things like Don’t Make Me Think with Steve Krug. It’s an old book, but it’s a goodie. His old book It’s Not Rocket Surgery about usability testing is also good. I think Doug Norman is a good place to start for the more psychological and academic side of things. I think the IA, Information Architecture, book by Lou Roosevelt is also really good. So these are kind of like canon. These are like classic books that I think every UX person should have on their shelves. More modern books, I know its already about three or four years old, but actually a couple of my colleagues James Box and Cennydd Bowles have a book called Undercover UX and it’s almost like proto-lean UX. They wrote it about six or nice months before the whole idea of lean UX came along, but its very similar and that book actually is very close to how we work at Clear Left and it’s a really good introduction to people who want to understand how UX can be applied in practice, so that’s a really good book. There are so many.
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Carl: Are there any websites you recommend?
Andy: It’s tough. I mean, there are lots and lots of websites and that’s part of the problem. I mean, I now tend to get most of my news through Twitter. I follow a bunch of interesting people and when they flag up interesting stories, I’ll save them and read them later. I mean, there are classic sites like: Smashingmagazine.com, Alistapart.com, and uxmag.com, and uxbooth.com. So there are loads of those sites, but I tend to get most of my information from Twitter and if your classes want to lean more, follow people who are prominent in the industry, who are speaking at conferences, who are writing books and they’ll always have a great source of content.
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Discussion of Twitter and Quora
Carl: We’ll have to get your Twitter account so we can follow you.
Andy: Do. I’m AndyBudd and I do retweet a lot of other people’s links as well, so follow me and look at some of the people I follow and that would be a good start.
Carl: Actually, we get asked a lot. We do a social media class here and Twitter is not a massive thing here in Thailand. Facebook is massive, I mean it’s, actually, I think Bangkok is one of the, it has the most people using it in the whole of Asia, I think. I heard that somewhere. Facebook is absolutely massive here, but Twitter has not really caught on. Enough that when we get older people doing the course they’ll say “I don’t get Twitter.” “I don’t get what it is.” And I say, “well, one of the things I do, which is really similar to you is to follow industry leaders and sort of let them filter through the whole internet for me.” For finding those really good articles, that has been really good.
Andy: It’s fascinating that. Oh, I’ve just noticed that my camera has, um. I think that when we crashed, it didn’t come back on for some reason, I’m sorry about that. Here we go, it’s a little bit late now, but anyway, “hello.” It’s interesting how different parts of the world are into different technologies. I know that in Europe and America, Twitter, particularly among the web crowd is very big and Facebook is huge as well, but there tends to be a bit of a separation because people like to keep Facebook clear of work related stuff in Europe and America and so that’s why I think a lot more work related things have gone onto Twitter. That trend might follow in Bangkok or it might not.
Carl: Are you a fan of quora?
Andy: Haha. Umm, it’s interesting. When it first came out I checked it out and I think there were some interesting questions being asked, I think there were some interesting answers being had and so I think it’s a source of information, but its not something I dip into on a regular basis. I might come across every now and again, a link that someone has asked a question around, like “what are the best prototyping tools?” And you’ll have a whole bunch of really interesting people who have given really good answers. So yeah, I think it has value, but it’s not, I don’t think it’s a huge source.
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Carl: Speaking of tools, Andy, what are some of your tools that you use.
Carl: You mentioned Silverback, so that’s definitely one. I’ve just noticed on your website, you’ve actually come up with another that you use; there are two that you use; fontstack.
Andy: Fontdeck, yeah fontdeck is a web service that we created probably four or five years ago now. Basically when browsers were starting to be able to do good typography because for a long time type on the web was terrible. Now you can imbed fonts in your CSS and your webpage and fontdeck is a really easy way of finding web fonts, buying or renting them per year and then embedding them on your site and serving them to your users. So if you’re looking for a way of doing that, then come and use fontdeck, it’s really good and relatively cheap and we did it mostly, like Silverback we created because we were getting frustrated by the quality of usability on websites and it’s the same with fontdeck. We created it because we wanted to make the website or the web pretty and you can do that with greatfonts.
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Carl: What are some of the other tools you use with UX design?
Andy: I really try and avoid the tool question if I’m honest because I think tools are largely irrelevant. There are a bunch of tools that we use, but we use them because for whatever reason they fit with our preferred way of working, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your preferred way of working will be the same so I don’t think there is one tool set.
For instance, for visual design, we stopped using Photoshop a really long time ago. We used to prefer to use Fireworks, but Fireworks is sort of dying a slow death, so these days we do a mix of Fireworks, Photoshop, and Sketch. Sketch is really interesting. It’s not quite ready for primetime yet so there are certain things that we can’t do on it that we find a little bit frustrating, but I think Sketch is something really worth looking at. In terms of prototyping tools, I mean we like to sketch things as much as possible; we actually like to build things in code in front end HTML and CSS . Some people in the company like Axure I personally hate it; I think it’s a really old fashioned tool, but other people really like weight tools and often times we might just prototype in Keynotes. Keynote is great for doing simple animations, great for faking interactions. There’s also Flint.io or Flintio
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Discussion of using animation
Carl: Yeah, I like that. I was just looking at that myself.
Andy: Yeah, but this is the problem. There are dozens and dozens of tools that all do very similar things. I think the best thing is to check out the ones, check out a bunch of ones and then see what suits you. A thing I’m seeing a big change in; actually I think it’s really important for your students to pick up on is a move from static prototyping to animated prototyping.
Now I think the web has typically been, at least websites have typically been devoid of too much animation, but when your designing for limited screen size, mobile or tablet, animation can give you important cues about hidden information, about things happening in the background that you might not have otherwise been aware of, it can show you affordances that you might not have known or certain things on the screen that you can interact with and so I think animation is becoming a much more important tool. There are lots of interesting tools coming out that allow you to do more with animation.
The guys at Facebook, if your students are really into Facebook created a tool called Origami, which is really, really interesting and I highly recommend people checking that out if they’ve got a bit more of tech focus, it’s really good for doing animation. Apple’s new programming language, is also really, I’ve met a lot of people that are prototyping using Swift. I’ve met people that prototype using Adobe After Effects so there’s a whole range of things, but I would definitely start looking at some of these simple and more involved animation and prototyping tools.
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Discussion of responsive design
Carl: I’ve just bought a subscription to UX Pin, which is pretty good actually, it’s pretty good. The nice thing is that it allows you to do, not responsive responsive design, but you can create one at say 1400, then 768, then one at 320. And then when you move it in, it snaps so there’s actually break points that you can do.
Andy: Just on that subject. I’ve met the guys at UX Pin. They’re really, really cool, but one thing I would say is that when you’re looking at responsive design, I think its important not to focus on break points tied to particular devices. You should be trying to design for break points where the design breaks, so focus on content rather than devices because otherwise, what happens is Apple will bring out a brand new device and all of your designs will break.
The real way of doing responsive design is thinking about the content you have and when it naturally comes the right point to flow to one column instead of two, based on things like line width and font size rather than target, cause otherwise if you’re targeting particular widths, as soon as a tablet comes out that’s a couple of pixels bigger, you’re shown in the desktop screen and that doesn’t really make sense. So focus on content, I think.
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Carl: That’s a great piece of advice. Thank you very much. So, just to finish up now, what three pieces of advice would you give to a budding UX designer who wants to learn UX design?
Andy: It’s a tough one. I mean, user experience design in a really difficult industry to get into because it requires a certain amount of prior knowledge in some way so there’s people that are user experience designers who came from being visual designers or front end developers and they’ve felt the pain and they’ve got five or six years of experience already and have built up their skills on the job. I think it’s really difficult coming out of a university course, having never worked on the web before and saying, “hey, I’m a UX designer.” Often you don’t have the years of experience so you need to somehow develop that experience. You need to have a good portfolio of lots of projects you’ve done whether its projects as part of your course or stuff you can do. So, I can do wireframing and card sorts. As an employer, I want to see examples of that. I don’t want you to just say you could do a card sort because you’ve read a book about it; I want to see a picture of you with a bunch of people, in a room doing card sorts. So building up your portfolio and that takes time and that’s really difficult.
So maybe internships, maybe start as a junior in a company or an apprentice and work up because I think really, if I wanted to be a useful user experience designer, you kind of need to have about three or four years of experience doing it, so there’s that chicken and egg thing. The other thing is, I mean, that’s true in the UK. In the UK ten years ago, when UX wasn’t really a common profession you could be a little bit earlier in your career and make up that role yourself. So it might be that you’re in a fortunate position in Thailand, while the industry in still really young and you can get in there early and make a stand because the people you’re competing against have less experience. As time marches on, people will find it tougher and tougher and tougher. So I don’t have any easy answers, I’m afraid.
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Interview wrap up
Carl: No, they are great answers. Thank you so much. Andy, I can’t thank you enough for your time tonight.
Andy: Well, it’s actually lunchtime now. Twelve O’clock.
Carl: Right, well I better not hold you up for your lunch.
Andy: Well actually, I think I’ve got to run out. I’m meeting somebody at, right now. So I am going to have to sign off, I’m afraid. But look, its been wonderful chatting with you. I really appreciate it. I wish you the best of luck with your courses and I wish all your students the best of luck and hopefully I can come out and visit you guys at some stage in 2015. That would be wonderful.
Carl: Andy, thank you again so much and thank you from everyone at Web Courses Bangkok.
Andy: Cheers, bye bye.
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