How to Become a UX Designer

Last night I was at a meetup for new designers. Some experienced managers and I reviewed people’s portfolios and gave them mentoring and advice. Alot of the advice I gave them reminded me a presentation I gave last year titled How to become a UX Designer. I figured I should post it.

Most of my presentations have very little text. This one has a bit more. However, it probably still doesn’t make that much sense without the talk track.  So if it doesn’t make sense, then just ignore it.

Links: Microsoft OneDrive and slideShare version.

Ill try embedding them below. Your mileage may vary.

Ask questions in the comments if you want to know what the talk track was.

My First Patent

I actually hate patents. I think they undermine the creativity and progress of technology and startups. There is a great radio program on how software patents are awful and have lost all modern meaning they once held. (Produced by This American Life in 2011)

However, when I was told that there was a bonus involved, I quickly threw my morals to the curb and signed the documents. Yes, I see the dilemma here. How can I be proud of having a thing that I think is terrible?

I have no answer other than plain vanilla greed for money. I won’t justify the patent as “defensive”. I just wanted the money. (Honesty is my brand!)

The patent is for a feature called the Opportunity Influence Analyzer. A nice piece of design, mostly because it hits the emotional heart strings of the marketer. My hypothesis was that marketers (human beings actually) are more interested in anecdotal evidence than statistical certainty.

In other words, a great story is worth a thousand pivot tables.

The design tells the story of a single sale… What happened? Who was involved? What did they do and when? This visualization tells the sales person and the marketer that Sales didn’t do the deal all by themselves. It was a team effort and can be shown visually and clearly.

My mom and dad can now say their son is a patented inventor. (They don’t know what I do anyway) I feel a mixture of pride and embarrassment. Oh well, as Dory from Finding Nemo said, “Just keep swimming.”

UPDATE: It looks like I have two patents! The other one is all about metadata!  Woo hoo!

Magic Triangle Profiles

The magic triangle is used for any decision making model. See Figure below.


The words are sometimes slightly different, but the meaning is the same.  There is only 1 rule:

In any decision, you may ONLY pick two points on the triangle.  The third is deficient.

If you choose Scope, it means that you have a more ambitious feature set. Quick means you always hit your deadlines (on time, under budget). Polished means you do testing, re-factoring, spend time on the frameworks and quality assurance. The execution is about how well you do what you do. Companies can screw up any choice they make with bad people or process or decision making.

Every company chooses, although often not intentionally. It is in their DNA. The funny thing is that there is no correct choice.  Each pair will yield different PROs and CONs.  Additionally, each company can execute their strategy better or worse. Here are some examples to help explain.

This is when a company says, “We will miss deadlines and take a long time to develop, but the result will have the scope we want and the details nailed down.”

Good Execution Apple, Oracle, Adobe
Poor Execution Blackberry, Intuit

For example, the Apple iWatch is ridiculously late and Apple is getting bad press over it. However, the likelihood is that the scope and quality will be very good. Blackberry conversely is also taking their time, but the execution isn’t as good and the results are poor.

PROs: People will love you if you execute well.
CONs: Mismanaged expectations, missed opportunities, slow to market

This is when a company says, “Let’s get a broad set of tools to the market quickly. We may incur technical debt, but we can deal with that later.”

Good Execution Marketo, Salesforce
Poor Execution Successfactors, Jobvite
– (these two are conjecture on my part)

This is a great choice when you are entering a new marketplace with lots of loose competition. It’s high risk, high reward. Feature set is often an important selling point. The key is to try and shift gears before the technical debt gets too onerous.

PROs: Get to market quickly with many features
CONs: Technical debt (and UX debt) can be devastating if left unpaid for too long.

This is when a company says, “Let’s do one thing really well and iterate on it.”

Good Execution Mobile app companies, WordPress
Poor Execution Predictive scoring startups

Agility is key for this kind of company. You don’t architect something enormous. Keep the aspirations tight and focused. Then use agile methodologies to iterate and improve. This works really well for Mobile app startups since apps lend themselves to smaller scope.

PROs: Get to market quickly with a MVP, Learn and improve quickly.
CONs: Depending on the market, you may architect yourselves into a corner.

As you can see, there are different choices a company makes that all can be successful or not depending on execution. So why does this matter? My answer is recruiting. It will yield a cultural mismatch with high tension if the person is a SCOPE+QUICK type person working in a SCOPE+POLISHED environment. They won’t know why they are arguing with people all the time, but it is the magic triangle.

People are nuanced creatures with lots of little preferences and thought processes. We are a bundle of neurosis and past experiences. Culture is one of the most important aspects of hiring and often is the least understood. I hope this model may help you to understand it better.

The 10X Expert Opinion

There are lots of opinions. However, there are opinions you should take much more seriously than others. These are the opinions of 10x people.

A 10x person is someone who can do the work of 10 people. When I worked with Crash Tung, he looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t hold back!” As a designer, that is incredible. He produced code that 10 other engineers would fail to execute. There are several other engineers I have worked with that can exceed normal boundaries of volume, creativity and quality.

We all have worked with people who can do more at higher quality rates than other people.  I believe that I am one of those people when it comes to UX Design and also Presentations (public speaking with slides). I typically can do more in an hour than most can do in a day at a much higher quality level. Humility and humbleness are nice things, but in this case I am proud of my skillz. (That’s right, with a z at the end, boom!)

The point of this post is that the opinion of a 10x person is worth the opinion of 10 people. When Crash tells me something is true, I need ALOT of proof that he is wrong, because he has proven himself to me that he is an expert. When my cousin (who was a professional tennis player) says something about tennis, I give it 10x the weight of a normal opinion. When my mother-in-law tells me something about weaving, I put skepticism aside. She is an expert.

Too often, people think that even normal expert opinions are not valuable. Politicians do it all the time, throwing doubt on the opinion of scientists about their expert field. The truth is that MOST experts are not 10x experts. They are normal experts. Their opinions should be regarded, but it is fine to be a bit skeptical until they prove themselves.  However, when you find a 10x opinion, you should listen.

This post is obviously self-serving. You got me there. However, that doesn’t make the content untrue.

HINT: How can you identify a 10x expert? Listen for opinions that don’t sound anything like a normal opinion. In fact, it usually has counter-intuitive advice. When you found it, it’s either a crackpot or a genius. (or both)

The Three Stages of UX Goodness

Whenever I design business software, I imagine three stages that I need to design for.  See figure below.



How good does it show to someone who has no idea how this thing works?  In other words, how much will this feature help the sales rep.  Generally, I design for the intermediate user, which doesn’t demo as well as it should.  You need to include eye candy and charts to demo properly.  Additionally, good progressive disclosure allows the interface to seem simple to fresh eyes.

If you ignore the demo stage, you won’t make the sale.

First Week
Much of this stage is about how someone gets educated on the product. Problems relating to bootstrapping or setup will cause this stage to fall apart. Some systems are not friendly at first and get better later on.  Doing a good job on this stage will yield more champions and referrals.  All too often, customers get stuck in this stage and end up putting the software on the shelf.

If you ignore the First Week stage, you won’t renew the contract because they won’t use the software.

Ongoing Use
Personally, this is my favorite part to design. All stages are important, but this one is my sweet spot.  It is about making the product ACTUALLY usable.  This doesn’t mean intuitive. Intuitive is about the First Week.  Ongoing Use is about how you use it after you know HOW to use it.  Is the framework slow?  Are there too many clicks to do simple things? Are there keyboard shortcuts? Make it easy for intermediate users and you will have a product people care about.

If you ignore the Ongoing Use stage, you will have a product people hate using.

All of these stages are important and not every feature is meant to be great on every stage.  However, in the whole product you need enough of each to satisfy customers. If in doubt, focus on that Ongoing Use one.

Grade your feature in this context and see how you measure up.

The UX of the Nexus 6

I recently traded in my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for a Nexus 6.  I wanted the latest greatest OS from Google.  I could have gotten an iPhone 6 Plus or a Galaxy S6 (or Note 3) or other device, but I chose the Nexus mainly because I wanted to get the latest OS quicker. (Current version is 5.1 Lollipop)  It is the software, not the hardware that interests me the most. One thing to note, I wear a Asus Zenwatch (and love it).

The screen is big, duh. 6″. I like having a big phone and 6″ is just about right.  I hate little wimpy phones like the iPhone 4. My fingers need room to roam.  With that said, I don’t feel it is any bigger than the Note 3/4 or even the iPhone 6.  At some point, it’s close enough.

However, there is a flaw in the hardware and it is driving me crazy. There is no HOME button.  WTF? I have tried to press the home button about a thousand times only to realize it is not there.  This is a poor design. There is an ON/OFF button and a volume button on the side, but that’s it.  The rest are “soft buttons”, digital icons once the screen is on. You can’t FEEL where they are, you need to look.

Lollipop 5.1
This is super odd, but I can’t find documentation on the operating system anywhere. There are no docs. Boggle!

Anyway, the OS is progressing and getting better and better. HOWEVER, this device (Nexus 6) ONLY contains the Android OS and not the additional TouchWiz UI that Samsung puts on the device.  This creates an interesting dilemma.

On the one hand, the ability to get quicker OS upgrades is important to me.  On the other hand, TouchWiz actually made the experience better. I am finding all sorts of screwups in the OS that didn’t exist when I had my Note 3.

For example: I wanted to remove an exchange account I put in the settings. For the life of me, I could not find where to do it. I finally found this article on Sprint of how to remove an account. I can describe how I tried to accomplish the task.  I did a tap/hold on the account.  It should have given me some options.

There is a major lacking in Android of this sort of anticipation of the users needs.  Tap/Hold = right-click.  Additionally, there is no universal “context menu” for a screen.  The Note 3 had a spot for that.  It always meant, “Give me options for this screen.”  Nexus, no dice.

The battery has been acceptable.  The speed is fine. The screen is beautiful. The fact that I have this powerful computer in my pocket is awesome. There is so much right, yet I am still left feeling frustrated.  I want the UI to be smoother. I want it to anticipate my requests. I want more.

Maybe with the next version of Android.

The UX of Windows 10 beta

Let’s get something out of the way.  I appreciate Apple, but I don’t like MacOS X.  I have many different kinds of devices, iPods, iPads, Laptops, Wearables, Mac Minis and desktops.  They have a wide array of operating systems.  I think iOS is brilliant for the iPad/iPod/iPhone family.  However, I think MacOS X is inferior to  the latest versions of Windows. I could spend the whole post explaining why, but here is the short list:

  • I hate the way windows maximize.  Aero Snap on Windows is a million times better and anyone who disagrees has never used Aero Snap.
  • The Start Bar is better than the Dock. The Doc is pretty, but the Start Bar is more useful and customizable.
  • Office is better on Windows.  I use Office 365 all day.  The newest versions on the Mac are closer to parity, but they still are inferior in a million tiny ways.

This is not to say MacOS X doesn’t have nice things.  I love GarageBand, but overall, the OS is not better to me.

Now let’s focus on the beta of Windows 10.

First thing, it really is buggy.  It crashes all the time and reboots.  It’s starting to piss me off actually.  OneDrive, which I once considered the best cloud storage tool is now a hindrance because it crashes so often.  I can’t save files there anymore because it is crashing Office.

The next thing is the Metro UI from Windows 8.  It’s mostly gone and replaced with a more traditional Start menu.  This is fine, I suppose, since I didn’t much care for the giant set of tiles.  However, it doesn’t feel like a step forward.  It feels like a step backwards.  Innovation is required here.  A Start Menu is fine, but it needs to be designed better than what it is now.


The dark gray is a mistake to me.  The darkness needs to be replaced with vibrant colors mostly on the lighter side of the color spectrum.  I appreciate the complete lack of skeuomorphism, but the trend is actually starting to go in a different direction.  My recommendation would be for them to introduce “Jelly” or “Liquid” effects.

Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri.  I believe they are making the same mistake with Cortana that they made with Metro.  It is a tool that works well with a phone or tablet, not a desktop or laptop.  Maybe they have the Surface on their minds, but most people don’t have a Surface.  I appreciate that Cortana is a better technology than Siri, but so what? I don’t need a voice controller at my desk at work.

So overall, it’s a bit underwhelming.  I don’t see much improvement from 8.1.  I am hoping that more polish and love is introduced in later versions.  We shall see. One thing I really appreciate is that they let us install it easily and quickly.  I have tested every version of Windows betas since 3.1.