Lessons for Aspiring Designers: UX People are ‘People People’


By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—How do you get a job in UX when it’s not even on a school curriculum yet and many of the UX designers come from various fields? It turns out there are many ways of answering the question because there are no specific skill sets required for a UX designer, as the panelists conveyed last October 19 at the qLabs in Chelsea.

You could be an architect (yes, your sketching skills will come into play), an advertising copywriter (yes, the way your process information and organize your thoughts in writing is right on the money), a graphic designer (yes, your visual eye will be of immense help) or a sociologist or anthropologist (as work can comprise understanding human behavior),

If you’re the numbers type and you like to use Excel, it’s said to be a beautiful skill to bring to UX as well. The field is wide open. Something you have done before can be leveraged for UX.

If you’re a good storyteller, it mitigates lack of experience but you will need to be all-round, multi-disciplined, and passionate about acquiring more skills. You could be doing user research, sketching wireframes, doing prototypes or thinking of the strategy behind a project. It really depends on the company. The bigger the company, the more specific your role becomes. The small company will have you holding multiple titles.

In terms of thinking, you need to have an opinion on visual space, designing a product or service, having design as a mindset, calling out assumptions.

Most important of all, you need to have empathy. A suggestion points to reading lots of literature to develop empathy, if — horrors of horros — it doesn’t come naturally. Usually, writers are empathetic, which also qualifies them. One panelist said, “If you are a good note taker and you organize your thoughts well, you already got 85 percent of the job. It’s all about being a very good listener.”

So if you think you can be a UX designer, what do you think?

For a start, look to learn from experienced UX designers by checking their portfolio online and doing your best to do the following:

·        Find UX designers on Linkedin. Reach out to them

·        Go to meetups and conference as well

·        Participate in hackathons.

·        Find projects you can do.

·        Read everything and know the writers writing about UX.

When it’s time for you to show your expertise, you won’t get a job right away. The valuable advice: “Volunteer. Work for non-profits to test your new skills”

And don’t forget to build a portfolio. If you have nothing to show, make case studies and do spec work. Applying a narrative approach is said to be the best way to present your work out there.  For reference, check out UX case studies from the Airbnb and Netflix sites.

If you’re still intimidated think of it this way, “You don’t have to be a Photoshop expert, but you must be able to simplify things.” You can use paper for prototyping, if you don’t have the graphic software skills.

And while you’re doing all these, don’t forget to build on your social capital. Sometimes it’s about connecting to someone with power and influence as much as your need to relate to something and connect to something.

As a junior UX designer, you need to show initiative, curiosity, and passion. You need to have a sense of collaboration. “UX people are people people.”


How Craft Works With Invision App


By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK – Imagine if you could prototype an app that allows you to put in a photo sample without downloading it on your laptop; that’s how the new Invision product, Craft, works. Thinking of adding hot spots, you add in a url and Google Maps appear.  And if you want to configure pop-ups in your prototype, it can also do that.

Watch a demo on this link https://vimeo.com/153858834

Last July 21, UX Prototyping NYC featured Invision’s new Craft, with Rocio Werner, product designer/UX Designer, WeSolv, explaining how it works at the offices of Lifion. She was joined by Simon B. Kirk, Business Development director at Invision and John Laberee, Business Development specialist, also at Invision.

InVision is now one of the world’s leading design playforms with such impressive client as Apple, Disney, IBM and Verizon, to name a few. Craft brings real data to your design but from the demo, it’s impressive to see how photos from a URL need not be downloaded for use if you are merely doing a prototype and need sample photos.

But what really is Craft? It’s a suite of plugins for Photoshop and Sketch that help streamline your design workflow by automating cumbersome actions and pulling in more realistic sample data. As explained by Sean Kinney, Craft consists of three tools:

  1. Duplicate: Quickly copy and arrange a layer in no time at all
  2. LibraryGenerate a style guide inside of your Sketch file. It makes a new page with separate color palette, fonts, text styles and custom elements you can set up yourself. Share and sync the entire library with your team.
  3. Data: Bring real text, images, JSON, and live web content to your prototype, helping make your prototypes feel real without spending time making mock data within the app.

You will need the Craft Manager, an Os X app in your toolbar panel. With this, you reportedly get instant access to all Craft plugins. This will be music to your ears. It is free. You only need to go to http://labs.invisionapp.com/craft and submit your email address so its team can provide you with a download link.

As for the versions of Photoshop and Sketch that it supports, you have to have PhotoshopCC 2014.1 and later or Sketch 3.7 and later

 For a quick overview of Craft, visit https://labs.invisionapp.com/craft

Design Driven takes Airbnb, Google Ventures and Equinox to the UN


NEW YORK — Last July 12, Design Driven NYC made history when it held its meetup at the United Nations. Because of the security measure at the revered venue, it took some time for attendees to get inside but once everyone took their seats in one amphitheater–with hundreds of microphones for each attendee to use–the venue took on a halo of significance.

“I loved being in the giant UN conference room with the microphones and earpieces. It felt very much like a Soviet Era secret government gathering!” attendee Maria Stegner said.

Just as awed by the venue were Amber Cartwright, design manager at Airbnb;  Verena Haller, SVP of design at Equinox Hotels and Braden Kowitz, design partner at Google Ventures: Design Culture – Creating Workplaces Where Design Can Thrive.

Jeffrey Zeldman and Jen Simmons also talked about the Past, Present, and Future of Web & Interaction Design. Zeldman has been recognized as the king of web standards, while Simmons is a designer advocate at Mozilla and host of “The Web Ahead”.

Cartwright talked about her work at Airbnb and how she “works with machines (machine learning).“In tapping machine learning for a new pricing tool we wanted to build for our hosts, she and her team worked on a model that would answer the question, ‘What will the booked price of a listing be on any given day in the future’?”

Cartwright then showed a Smart Pricing regression model which explained the model made up of three parts.

Cartwright emphasized the importance of working with a team that consisted of a design manager (herself), product lead, data scientist lead, engineering manager and financial manager. “We collectively made decisions with each other’s disciplines in mind. I learned how the other worlds operate and how to leverage the expertise and capabilities of my partners to build something better.”

The work with her team takes many forms, from storyboards to prototypes, strategy decks and diagrams, which result in a shared understanding of a product vision. She believes a “shared knowledge allows innovation to happen as a step change on in micro steps. Visualizing the roles that data and the machine play in the discovery process is the first part of Invisible Design.”

Cartwright talks at length about Invisible Design in her piece on Medium. “I’m continuing to work with my teams to build data visualizations that tell stories along with the interfaces our users interact with. These visualizations tend to vary as much as the products we’re creating, but the outcome is always that they help to motivate, inspire and educate the broader product team.”

“After understanding what we’re designing and how it works, we can start building the product with a variety of tools. A carpenter has a hammer. A photographer, a camera. A product designer, sketch. A software engineer, code. What’s interesting about all of the examples above is only one of them has a tool with the ability to learn, change and grow over time.

“Most product designers today sculpt UI with reactive tools–shapes and pixels are drawn on screen input directly from a designer. We also use these tools for designing outputs that are controlled programmatically in systems like responsive platforms and components. Our data partners in product are adept with tools that evolve over time. Physical systems, economic models and algorithms organically grow as variables shape their outcomes.”

As a result, they have created a new Design Language System (DLS) at Airbnb.

Can machines do design? “No, because we are the arbiters of interpretation,” she said. “Machines are good with constraints but not with images ratios, brand, style and legibility, but our (DLS), we have an intelligent framework for creative expression.”.

Google Ventures’  Kowitz came from Silicon Valley to talk about creating workplaces where design can thrive. He showed an old video about “group norms.” In the video, a man facing the elevator turns his back when people coming in did the unconventional by facing the back of the elevator as everyone did.

He talked about setting 3 cultural values in an organization:

  1. Have faith in quality, even if it can’t be measured. Create a process around critiquing.
  2. Hold designers accountable. Designers go through this process in understanding design based on surface value, user value and  business value, the latter being what designers should focus on.
  3. Design is everyone’s job. Borrowing a quote, he said an employee should be exposed to customers for two hours..He added the importance of how an employee would need to write down a critique before every meeting

Haller of Equinox talked about how the fitness company is building a hotel that is rising on Hudson Yards. “We want people to maximize their potential,” adding how they are doing a “slightly hedonistic take on elevation.”

WeWork’s Sharon brings UX thinking to co-working spaces


NEW YORK– Wework is bringing UX thinking to buildings and communities with Tomer Sharon, its VP Head of UX, talking about it last June 21 at WeWork in Chelsea through the Design Driven meetup.

Formerly with Google, Sharon recounted how he went about studying how the WeWork offices could be redesigned starting with its office on 18th Street by asking his new employer not to announce his appointment. “I pretended to be a (startup company) looking for an office,” he said.

In one portion of his presentation, he showed a time-lapse video of the people coming in and out of the building at the lobby, watching how he could make the lobby work efficiently for everyone–those entering the WeWork offices–300 at one point, not including deliveries. But we assume no one missed the big sign at the entrance, “Do what you love.” That should inspire everyone coming to its office.

Sharon didn’t stop there. He showed a photo of a smoker just outside the entrance but he didn’t offer any solution. Inside, he showed a photo of a wooden wall panel that looks like it belonged in the sixties. Perhaps you can gain some more insights in his book, — “Validating Product Ideas: Through Lean User Research.”

What is lean user research? For him, lean user research is a discipline that provides insights into users, their perspectives, and their abilities to use products and then gives this information to the right people at the right time so that the research is invaluable for developing products. Lean user research focuses on answering three big questions about people: What do people need? What do people want? Can people use the thing?

But how is lean user research different than “regular” user research? It turns out lean user research is mostly conducted by non-researchers who have burning questions about their audience (or potential audience). They want to answer these questions quickly, effectively, and on their own without hiring a professional.

However, lean user research can be at times quick and dirty, meaning some corners are cut. For example, since non-researchers might not have very good control of their body language, lean user research calls for more indirect approaches to learning. It values remote techniques over in-person ones.

Where does intuition come in, an audience asked? “We don’t always have evidence. Sometimes we take leaps of faith. But we always test,” he said.

The book is meant for product developers and managers who are not skilled researchers. Thus, research techniques are described in a relatively prescribed manner, skipping underlying factors, options, and dilemmas. The goal is to help non-skilled product developers to do their own research. “We use the language of experimentation,” he said.

If you only have time to read one chapter, he suggests Chapter 3 “How Do People Currently Solve a Problem?” It’s a guidebook, so you can choose to read any chapter in different sequences, depending on your most burning question.

Sharon also talked about the hiring process at Wework, at least for those who applied in the past. “For every role, we have asked people to write something, and asked them about their biggest design accomplishment.”

The other presenters were Mandy Cotta, head of Design at Burt’s Bees Baby & Kids, Simon Corry and Hilary Greenbaum, design director at Whitney Museum of American Art, who showed us the museum in all its new modern glory and the whimsical photos of the goings-on there, some caught napping and making use of the big program museum guide as a face mask, another even showing a blurry photo of her coming out of the subway platform.

UX Panel: Show data, validations to prove how UX design works on company bottom line

NEW YORK–A tremulous voice from the audience posed this question, paraphrasing here, “When do you put your foot down and convince your stakeholders to listen to you about your (UX) design proposal?”


You never do, it turns out, at least to Macy’s UX designer Chris Nordling, one of the other four panelists at the Tech in Motion talk about UX design last March 31.  But how do you actually convince the naysayers your design will help the company?

Nordling clarifies his response by saying how important it is to lead by example: Show them studies and current research from the team and go into the details of how a little micro-interaction or placement of a button has proven to work for a company and how they can do the same.  

“If at all possible, break it down into dollars and cents, back it up with heuristics, other data. Tell them they will lose 40 percent of their audience if they put a certain interaction where it’s not supposed to be. Get validation also from other practitioners instead of saying you’re right,” he said.

And if we heard right, one panelist said UX’s major role in the success of a company cannot be underestimated., if over 200% of the companies in the stock market has UX to thank for their success. The other panelists, US practitioners all, were John Walker of Verizon, Jess Brown of Vice Media and Danny Setiawan of the Economist.

For those new to UX or user experience, why does design matter? A question that still persists because not many people think design is all about solving problems.

Said Brown, “It’s not just superficial,” as she recounts how it’s still common for people to wonder what UX designers like her actually accomplish in a brainstorming session, which did not really needed a response as we’ve seen how those sessions energize the staff to improve on things.

Overall, the panelists were in agreement about how UX is there solve human problems and our interaction with the world—from a door knob to a road system. Setiawan said UX delivers value to users when UX practitoners applies user research and customers’ feeback to their product or service.

When creating products, Walker reminded UX professionals about the need for consistency across platforms and devices. “You don’t want users to lose progress (from one device to another),” Walker said.

Where is the UX esthetic getting some significant believers? Nordling said everything he’s doing now is for mobile and how, at least at Macy’s where he works, the customer is always defined as a “she.”

Said Setiawan, “We need to be more open how customers want to use a product,” adding how the next driverless cars will need content – and UX thinking.

How do you test your product? Setiawan says The Economist is holding a user test soon to find out how to attract a younger demographic for The Economist which is a good, accessible read and just perceived wrongfully as snobbish by many and business-centric by most.

For startups looking to hire UX designers but cannot afford them, Nordling advises them to build a network of contacts like the people they will meet at meetups and just talk to them. He said he relies on his friends.  

For aspiring UX designers, one has to start somewhere. Walker’s advice: “Listen to everybody.”

DaVanzo of Sparks mines cultural insights for UI design

NEW YORK– Sarah DaVanzo, Chief Cultural Officer at Sparks & Honey, an Omnicom agency, has many UI cards up her sleeve when it comes to cultural strategy. DaVanzo is known for researching, designing and piloting methodologies to mine cultural insights for brands and advertising agencies, thanks to a career in global marketing all across the world.


At the NYC Card UI meetup last February 1, she literally showed how UI cards has helped her take her audience to mega shifts and micro trends of cultures in easy, digestible chunks. Scrolling through her card designs to reveal insights about her work with Sparks, she revealed a unique approach to scoring and predicting trends.

She showed how cards are everywhere to inspire us to use it for presenting our ideas. From her mobile phone beamed to an audience, she went over one card trend over another — these days, the unusual popping of Tarot cards, in Pravda fashion, card fights, carded music, calling cards like Tinder, memory cards to remember passwords,cards as snackable educational content and cardistry athletic forms.

No one would argue about the need for “content to be parsed,” because we’re overloaded with content. DaVanzo said card-like designs allow for unpacking and modularization which makes it easy to share “structured serendipity” or discoveries out there. Now there’s snackable media/content, and layered and parallel storytelling.

In TV shows, she shows us how Orange is the New Black taps simplexity (simple and complexity) to make a drama series work. She elaborates how the 80s detective TV series, Columbo, cues us in or glues us to the story with his visual antics that may be considered showy or hammy acting by most if it wasn’t Peter Falk doing it.

DaVanzo uses Columbo to show us how you can apply the following to allow you how to go about imbibing Card UI in your system:

  • The prepared mind forms hypotheses
  • The prepared mind repeats the same process
  • The prepared mind has habits and
  • The prepared mind looks beyond the obvious

So how do agencies approach her “cultural foresight”? She laid her cards on the table.

“Clients tell us this is the challenge. We set up our system to listen to signals. Then we help them plan based on a specific trend,” she said.


For Peatix, future of ticketing will have some form of empowerment

NEW YORK–The future of event ticketing will have some kind of empowerment and engagement, according to Taku Harada, CEO and co-founder of Peatix who presented at last November 2 at the Japan NYC Startups at Pivotal Labs.


Peatix is a mobile event and ticketing system that closed a $5 million Series B round led by Digital Garage last March. It has raised a total of $9 million. About 70 percent of its attendees find out about coming events through its mobile events solution which has no service fees.

Peatix is designed to let event organizers manage their events from a mobile device and it has done so in 80,000 events. Its innovative, mobile-centric solution for event management ranges from concerts to conferences.

Harada was born in the United States, but grew up in Japan. Having lived in both countries, Harada knows how important it is to target the global marketplace. Which is why he has offices in Japan where he started back in 2011, Singapore and New York with about 30 employees.

Harada admits that the ticketing world is “ridiculously competitive” with high maintenance and low margins, which is also why he thinks having authentic and distribution (methods) are important factors to succeed in the space.

Peatix is always rethinking event ticketing as it also makes event recommendations. It offers new events and communities, offers from sponsors, smoother entry to communicating with attendees and organizers.

Harada founded Peatix together with his former colleagues at Amazon, and has served as its CEO since its inception. Taku also held the position of representative director and CEO of YOOX Japan until August 2009.

Prior to YOOX, Harada held various positions at Amazon Japan, including head of its mobile and online marketing divisions. He also launched the iTunes Music Store in Japan while at Apple in 2005 and led its marketing team.

Harada began his career at Sony Music Entertainment’s international business affairs division in Japan. He holds a B.A. from Yale University.

‘Think jobs, pains and gains, not build, measure and learn’–Osterwalder


By Dennis Clenente

In the startup world, who doesn’t know Alex Osterwalder, the lead author of the global best-seller, Business Model Generation, the handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers? Osterwalder invented the “Business Model Canvas,” the strategic management tool for designing, testing, building and managing business models.

Last October 22, Startup Grind in New York City hosted a brief live Skype interview with Osterwalder from Switzerland and his co-author Yves Pigneur about their latest book, Value Proposition Design. Host Bob Dorf, co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual, gave a short introduction of Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas before introducing him and Pigneur, saying how it was initially developed for big companies but was discovered and used more by startups through the years.

Taking a cue from that, Osterwalder, speaking from Switzerland, began his talk talking about how the once-mighthy Kodak fell by the wayside. “It failed to create a value proposition for the digital camera.” Now even big companies use the canvas.

In the new book, Osterwalder expands on his canvas concept to include Value Proposition Design (VPD), a guide for creating products and services that customers want

Determining customer needs certainly takes precedence here. For him, it’s about relentlessly taking a customer perspective, listening to customers than selling to them.

It’s not surprising to hear this from him, since he has utmost respect for Steve Blank’s work on customer development. For him, building first is a waste when the way to go about conjuring up your idea is to think about what he calls “jobs, pains and gains,” NOT build, measure and learn.”

“There’s a danger with build measure and learn. You do this you start in the worst possible way to test your ideas,” he said.

To avoid this, he suggests using the Value Map to determine the jobs, pains and gains. They come in a square and circle.

So we have come from the rectangle in the Business Model Canvas to the square (value proposition) and circle (customer development). In this manner, he says in the book, you (see and) achieve fit when your value map meets your customer profile.

“(But) you will want to test the circle first before the square,” he advised.

There is more to explore in this colorful book, including how it states these statements plainly yet clearly, “The Business Model Canvas helps you create value for your business. The Value Proposition Canvas helps you create value for your customer.”

[slideshare id=39659749&doc=jwsosterwalder10characteristicsinfographicfinalhires-140929110346-phpapp01&type=d]

Osterwalder says he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with the book. VPD goes “hand in hand with the Business Model Canvas.”

The important thing is to turn your ideas into value proposition prototypes with the many available practical tools offered in the book.

Why add more tools?

Who wouldn’t believe Osterwalder when he says, “I believe (why) a surgeon (needs) many tools than just a Swiss knife.” No pun intended even if he’s Swiss.

Still, wondering if the new book is for you, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Are you overwhelmed by the task of true creation?
Frustrated by unproductive meetings and misaligned teams?
Involved in bold shiny projects that blew up?
Disappointed by the failure of a good idea?

If so, Osterwalder believes Value Proposition Design will help you in the following ways:

Understand the patterns of value creation
Leverage the experience and skills of your team
Avoid wasting time with ideas that don’t work
Design, test, and deliver what customers want

How not to overdo on your site or app’s features


By Dennis Clemente

If studies indicate 50 percent of a product’s features go unused, how do you make sure you don’t overdo it? The answer is quite obvious: You need user testing. What’s less obvious is how you go about this process.

At the Kaplan Center last September 22, The Agile/Lean Practitioners group brought back Danielle Tomson of the Occum Group and Steven Cohn of Validately to discuss various ways of gaining user insights from the prototyping stage.

Tomson said there are three types of user tests: desirability, usability and feasibility.

In terms of desirability, she said it’s important to interview, observe, survey and A/B test. When interviewing, ask for open question, making sure to dig deep.

“Instead of telling the user what specially needs to be done, give them a task,” she said. “Ask the user what he expects to happen. What’s in it for them?”

Breaking it down, asks the what, when and how questions. Does the user want to use it? Would they use it? How would they use it? When is it essential in the early phase and in creating new features on old products? How is the minimum viable service (.i.e. test the service before the product, figure out the interviews, surveys, paper prototyping)

Quantity is not always quality when it comes to number of users. Tomson adheres to Jacob Nielsen’s five-user test method: test more users if they are in a highly different group (egg. 5 students and 5 teachers). Read more here http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/

As for usability, ask what does the product fulfill in the user’s needs? Why and why not? Do the features or UI/UX enable them to do so? Does the product do what you intended? Figure out how what tools to track behavior.

As for the feasibility part, ask how this feature can achieve business goals?

Constantly validate, but Tomson says it’s also important to keep two things in mind: the goal and hypothesis. “A goal is something you hope to achieve—what do you want the behavior to be? A hypothesis is something you think will happen—what do you believe the behavior will be?”

Cohn talked next about his startup Validately and how it is supposed to recruit users, create tests and get rapid feedback for different types of prototypes. Demonstrating Validately’s functions, he shows how it can show both low fidelity and high fidelity, including support for Axure and Balsamiq. With Axure, he said you can just add in the URLs and test the prototype on Validately. For safety, he said you can create a non-guessable URL to send to just a few people.

Overall, the validation site should be able to gauge desirability, measure usability, test the look and feel and make custom tests.

Cohn’s key takeways about user testing involved the following:
• Test what people do in their native environment
• Filter qualitative feedback based on actions
• Test on customer segments
• Be open to data

Designing your web or app? Axure can make you a prototyping badass

Danielle Tomson
Danielle Tomson

Click here to view the presentation
Badass prototyping

By Dennis Clemente

Last August 12, about 80 people showed up at Kaplan center to “Learn (how) to Prototype Like a Badass” with the host group, the Agile/Lean Practitioners visibly surprised by the audience’s strong interest and engagement in the demonstration presented by Occum’s Danielle Tomson.

The audience warmed up to Tomson’s presentation style right at bat. She gave an equal dose of expertise and humor (“no slow claps please,” “there’s always a troll”) on a tool not many people use but which is considered the best out there—Axure.

The slow adoption of Axure in the U.S. may account for the fact that other tools are more affordable (it’s too expensive, with the pro version over $589) while the rest of the world may have “copies” to use freely, if you catch my drift. This is just to stress how the tool always intimidates with its price, more than its effective use.

The huge turnout shows the strong interest for it but it’s also surprising how many UX designers in the States don’t know how to use it, even if Axure has been around for more than a decade. It is actually everything that a UI/UX designer can dream of in prototyping a website or app without front-end coding.

But old habits die hard. Some designers use Adobe Creative Suites or even more basic ones like Balsamiq. Among graphic designers transitioning to UX, Omnigraffle seems to be the most popular choice as well, as one designer claimed that it almost mimics Adobe Illustrator which she has used for many years.

Axure does better. It mimics a finished site or app without a single line of code, saving developers from the constant changes a project undergoes. On the other hand, there are developers who prefer to code right away.

They plunge right into coding because they work on their startups and think they have a clear vision of what they want, while designers who work with companies would need Axure to give them more leeway to pivot when a company’s far more complex business needs require it. The coding happens once clarity is achieved.

Still startups would do well to recognize how it’s important to learn lean principles and agile development philosophies beyond its business model. Honing a vision, giving it life with a prototype, and validating it with users first are just as important.

In her presentation, the audience followed Tomson in prototyping a travel booking platform in minutes. She also showed some prototyping tips and tricks and how to test Axure prototype on customers using Validately or share within a network using Axure Share. The audience was receptive to the idea of a possible follow-up meetup.

Tomson, a Yale grad with an international development background, is a product partner at Occum which, in turn, has Avon, Johnson & Johnson, KPMG and the United Nations Foundation for its clients, among others. She echoes the company’s belief that a great idea starts from a real, clearly articulated problem.

As for the title of her presentation, “Learn (how) to Prototype like a Badass.” It’s really more about how the best prototyping tool, Axure, can make you a badass. Like this blogger thinks he’s on his way to becoming one, too—if not yet.