Design Q&A


I recent­ly applied to Qualtrics for a Senior UX design­er role. Their appli­ca­tion process took me through a ques­tion­naire, some­thing few oth­er com­pa­nies require. Kudos to Qualtrics design group for vet­ting can­di­dates so deeply. Here are is my Q&A  //

What is the most com­plex web appli­ca­tion you have worked on? Why was it com­plex? What was your con­tri­bu­tion?

I have many exam­ples of con­cep­tu­al­ly com­plex prod­ucts in my his­to­ry. In terms of user expe­ri­ence, we can define com­plex­i­ty as the oppo­site of sim­plic­i­ty and view it from two per­spec­tives; inter­face design and men­tal mod­el. I designed a prod­uct called Opti­mize while with a start-up (lat­er pur­chased). My con­tri­bu­tion includ­ed all the UX design, research, tech­ni­cal writ­ing, test­ing, and some of the imple­men­ta­tion as well. This prod­uct was designed for non-tech­ni­cal users to cre­ate, man­age, and report on A/B and Mul­ti­vari­ate web con­tent tests. The com­plex­i­ty here was pri­mar­i­ly due to the men­tal mod­el that the user had to hold in mind in order to con­struct these test objects as defined by the math­e­mat­i­cal­ly rig­or­ous back­end. I spent a lot of effort design­ing an infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture that mapped to the user’s exist­ing, Mar­keter object def­i­n­i­tions to the appro­pri­ate back­end items. This elim­i­nat­ed the user’s men­tal mod­el com­plex­i­ty with­out com­pro­mis­ing nec­es­sary, func­tion­al back­end com­plex­i­ty and allowed me to design a sim­ple inter­face to match.


What is the most com­plex data visu­al­iza­tion project you have worked on? Why was it com­plex? What was your con­tri­bu­tion?

Data sci­ence, such as pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics, is becom­ing increas­ing­ly acces­si­ble to prod­uct teams. Two exam­ples from my past, both of which I was the sole UX and UI design­er; mul­ti­vari­ate test result report­ing in Opti­mize, and a data cen­ter dash­board web app for Microsoft. Both uti­lized pre­dic­tive analy­sis to project future per­for­mance based on his­tor­i­cal data. This type of data intro­duces uncer­tain­ty as a con­fi­dence inter­val. Addi­tion­al­ly, I designed an inter­face for the user to con­trol over­all sta­tis­ti­cal con­fi­dence, increas­ing or decreas­ing the inter­val mar­gin as a result. This allowed the user to fine-tune the pre­dic­tive reports in both apps to test their busi­ness hypothe­ses. The com­plex­i­ty here is due to the sta­tis­ti­cal under­stand­ing need­ed to accu­rate­ly design a sim­ple inter­face for users who may not have loved their sta­tis­tics math class as much as I did.


Can you give me an exam­ple of a recent prod­uct that you came across that you thought was par­tic­u­lar­ly well designed? 

This is a very hard ques­tion for me, I can find well designed aspects in many prod­ucts. My acoustic gui­tar, for exam­ple, is a hand-craft­ed wood­en instru­ment, expert­ly designed for great sound and per­for­mance feel. It is well designed because it makes users’ needs fore­most; as a play­er, I can feel the per­fect­ly craft­ed neck as I move around, and as a lis­ten­er, the guitar’s body projects the sound out­ward, allow­ing clear and rich music. The maker’s expe­ri­ence is what sep­a­rates this gui­tar from one I may build, just as a senior UX design­er can bring more to the prod­uct team.I often imag­ine soft­ware as a three dimen­sion­al thing. This casts each but­ton and field in a new per­spec­tive, mak­ing it eas­i­er to imag­ine each detail as a hand­craft-able piece of the user’s expe­ri­ence.


What does your design process typ­i­cal­ly look like?

First is research; I want to know as much about the prob­lem, the user, the busi­ness bound­aries, the stake­hold­ers, require­ments, exist­ing design sys­tems, etc. as pos­si­ble. This allows me to exe­cute designs with lim­it­ed waste. If nec­es­sary and time per­mit­ting, I have seen great val­ue in per­sonas and asso­ci­at­ed jour­ney maps. Next is ideation; white­board­ing, ide­al­ly with the prod­uct team or stake­hold­ers. Wire­fram­ing allows dig­i­tal or paper pro­to­types to test the cen­tral inter­ac­tions and work­flows at low cost. Fideli­ty increas­es as out­stand­ing ques­tions are answered, even­tu­al­ly amount­ing to full-fideli­ty comps ready for imple­men­ta­tion by myself or my dev team. Red­lines are specs are often nec­es­sary.


How do you decide if a design is good enough?

Good enough” is a slip­pery slope, I pre­fer to always shoot for excel­lent or game-chang­ing. “Good enough” means the design meets all the busi­ness require­ments, it fits in with the sib­ling designs, it is func­tion­al and doesn’t influ­ence the user’s opin­ion much if at all. It is easy to begin the design process already at the “good enough” state by lever­ag­ing the wealth of inter­ac­tions and mod­els already estab­lished by a decade of smart­phone apps and many decades of soft­ware design. This pro­vides a great advan­tage to a team com­mit­ted to work­ing from Good to Excep­tion­al. Design sys­tems pro­vide a more cus­tomized, brand­ed sta­tus-quo to be estab­lished with­in a com­pa­ny, this sets how good “good enough” looks and is impor­tant for rapid prod­uct devel­op­ment and increas­es the num­ber of excep­tion­al solu­tions com­ing out of the prod­uct design/dev team.

For the last few years, how has your time been divid­ed between the fol­low­ing things: Inter­ac­tion design, Graph­ic design, Infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, Design evan­ge­liza­tion, Managing/mentoring oth­er design­ers, Usabil­i­ty test­ing, Pro­to­typ­ing user inter­faces, Cod­ing User Inter­faces.

45% inter­ac­tion design
10% graph­ic design
10% infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture
5% design evan­ge­lism
10% man­ag­ing design­ers
5% usabil­i­ty test­ing
5% pro­to­typ­ing
10% cod­ing UI


Now that mate­r­i­al design is near­ing its peak, what do you think will come next?

A rich­er, yet still abstract, design lan­guage. More use of pat­terns and motion to sep­a­rate fore­ground and back­ground, more detailed inter­changes between user focus­es. Flat­ness is best when in con­trast to rich detail, so I believe we will see an increase in the lat­ter to pro­vide this con­trast. One major strength of material/flat design is that it is fast and cheap for a phone or brows­er to ren­der. As pro­cess­ing pow­er con­tin­ues to increase, there will be more tech­ni­cal space to fill with more dynam­ic, rich­er designs.


How would you describe your style?

Out­side of the office, I am very laid-back, my style is cen­tered on patience and focused on the moment. In the office, I can be quite assertive, cer­tain­ly when it comes to defend­ing what I can prove is the best design path. I am always cere­bral and rarely emo­tion­al. A healthy office deserves the best from us, and I always show up ready to play ball.Visually, I think my style can be adapt­ed, though most of design work has been in busi­ness-to-busi­ness tools, which calls for lim­it­ing expres­sive­ness. I would love to work on a prod­uct that chal­lenged me into a new style. There is so much great con­tent out there to learn from, I would real­ly enjoy push­ing myself in this way.


If you had to present designs to a devel­op­ment team, how would you struc­ture your pre­sen­ta­tion? How would you struc­ture things if you had to present to an exec­u­tive team instead?

The dev team needs doors, the exec­u­tives need deci­sions. I design dev team pre­sen­ta­tions to force dis­cus­sions and deci­sions on require­ments. This means inten­tion­al­ly exag­ger­at­ing expen­sive or incom­plete require­ments in a cer­tain fea­ture to enable the group to talk through this weak­ness. The dev team is also excel­lent at eval­u­at­ing new ideas and I often reserve some time in these pre­sen­ta­tions to review uncon­ven­tion­al solu­tions. The struc­ture is inter­ac­tive, using prints or pro­to­types as fit­ting to the design process.Executives want to see the deci­sions and under­stand the process that when into them. They need to see the research and the pile of reject­ed ideas so they can be con­fi­dent in the final design deci­sion, even when UX is not their exper­tise. A design­er must invite crit­i­cism to ensure the design is as good as it pos­si­bly can be, and the exec­u­tives are often opin­ion­at­ed. The design­er must also be ready to refute exec­u­tive ideas appro­pri­ate­ly, which is anoth­er ben­e­fit of UX research and test­ing.


What is your ide­al mode of coop­er­a­tion with devel­op­ers?

High­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive. Designs rarely pass from comp to code with­out some com­pro­mis­es. It is a bet­ter design­er that under­stands the tech­ni­cal con­straints of their medi­um, just as an oil painter would not attempt cer­tain tech­niques, the devs are con­strained by the front-end tech­nolo­gies. I have enjoyed writ­ing code since I was in ele­men­tary school, and my time as Appli­ca­tion Dev Mgr at Web­trends allowed me to get neck deep in archi­tec­ture and code while still main­tain­ing focus on the over­all UX. I love mak­ing soft­ware. It is a team sport and I am made a bet­ter role-play­er by know­ing the oth­er roles on my team.


If you had to give a rec­om­men­da­tion to design pro­fes­sion­als for an online resource or a book to read, what would it be?

Hon­est­ly I don’t have a sin­gle go-to. Cross­ing the Chasm by Geof­frey Moore was a short read was a valu­able influ­ence on my per­cep­tion of prod­uct and busi­ness. In terms of design, I fol­low many art and design blogs. I would rec­om­mend some­thing suit­able to the chal­lenge at hand, if it were web design, there are many great arti­cles on Smash­ing, it if were visu­al design, I often pull inspi­ra­tion from fine art. There are some many great sources of con­tent, it’s tough to call out a pri­ma­ry.


Is there a par­tic­u­lar design pro­fes­sion­al that you admire? Why?

Tin­ker Hat­field. The shoes are great, sure, but his inter­nal hon­esty is what I admire. He has found great suc­cess on his own terms, fol­low­ing his own process. He has found a niche for him­self that required zero or min­i­mal com­pro­mis­es and I aspire to this state of being.

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