UX people are ‘people people’; lessons for aspiring designers

NEW YORK—How do you get into UX work when it’s not even on a school curriculum 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. 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.”


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.

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.