WHAT THE F*#!CK IS A UX DESIGNER, ANYWAY?
We've all heard of UX Design, but what is it? We enlisted the help of Sweden-based WNW Member #2079 Anton Sten to peel away some layers from this mysterious, ever-shifting role. As Anton notes in his new e-book User Experiences that Matter, it really boils down to valuing your customer, and understanding how to make them happy. But he also stresses that while UX is integral, it is only part of a great experience: "Even if your product is amazing - like really the best of the best - it can all be destroyed by one impersonal customer service answer, a slow loading website, or not delivering on a promise. After that it’s back to square one. I think Uber is a good example. Regardless of how ‘friction-less’ the app is, if your driver is bad, then you’ll have a bad experience. Everything has to play well together."
WNW members, use the code 'wnw25' to get 25% off of User Experiences that Matter.
Your book does a great job of breaking down UX Design (and all of the abbreviations that come with it) so that its purposes and applications are more transparent. What lead you to write this book?
Thank you! It was about a year ago that I started writing more and more. When I started, it was purely out of wanting to share my personal reasoning behind my designs in a more thoughtful way. Due to working remotely, I often have to express my concepts in written text. It was only natural to begin to share my ideas and opinions with the world about UX Design and what it takes to make a really great user experience. I started working with a great editor, Joshua Yuhas, who helped me to transform these articles into better pieces, making sure the structure is easy to follow. We both noticed how they would do even better if they were placed in an order where they could build off from each other.
What gaps in understanding UX do you hope to fill?
There are so many opinions on what UX Design is and I wanted to provide other UX Designers with a simple guide to clear up the confusion. I sincerely believe that even the best wireframes - a UX Design mainstay - can result in a really poor experience for the user. A really well thought out plan needs more than just a UX Designer, but participation from the entire team. The user needs to be considered in every step of their journey.
What’s your background? How did you become a UX Designer?
I started way back in 1996 with web design. Back then, there really wasn’t much in the way of ‘design’ and it would be many years before UX Design was even a concept. Because the industry was so young, I was able to get a job at a traditional advertising agency without an education or any prior experience. While working there, I learned all the ground rules of good design (typography, color theory, etc) from the people I worked with.
In 2000, I started at Hyper Island and for the next ten years I spent much of my time working as a designer/art director for agencies in Sweden and Denmark. Ironically, my last two full-time jobs were at large advertising agencies (BBDO and Bates Y&R) teaching the “traditional” staff how to do better digital work. It was a real role reversal.
When I did finally venture out on my own, I was much more aware of what I was good at - and what others do better. I realized that my strengths were in making sure everything fits well together and understanding how people use these “things”. I found that even while working as a designer, I was more focused on the big picture than just adjusting the drop shadow perfectly on a button.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what do you think you’d be?
I like to think that no matter what I’d be doing, I’d still be focused on making sure people are having a great experience. I’ve specialized in digital products because it’s still such a new field and there’s so many exciting things going on. I do have a passion for animals, and working with them would be amazing. In fact, I bring my dog to my office every day. She’s my only co-worker.
In User Experiences That Matter, you stress how it really boils down to valuing your customer, and understanding how to make them happy. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that come with that?
While most of us want to create great user experiences because we know that happy customers equal happy sales, we tend to limit the scope of what really creates that great experience. I have worked with numerous e-commerce sites that only wanted me to improve 2 or 3 pages believing that if we get those right, it’ll be all blue skies and unicorns. I think the challenge with user experiences is that it takes so much effort to build something great and it can be destroyed with just one mistake. Even if your product is amazing - like really the best of the best - it can all be destroyed by one impersonal customer service answer, a slow loading website, or not delivering on a promise. After that it’s back to square one. I think Uber is a good example. Regardless of how ‘friction-less’ the app is, if your driver is bad, then you’ll have a bad experience. Everything has to play well together. For larger companies, this can be especially difficult since they tend to work in silos.
Any advice you can give to our members on the importance of understanding the customer / how to keep ‘em happy?
Become a customer! :)
There are some great books on this topic, but I believe Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh is one of the best. To better understand the customer’s point of view, it’s important to see what their full journey is. What did they do before visiting your site? Why did they end up on your site? If you sell something, why did they choose to buy from you? There are so many questions here and they boil down to the exact same thing - you have to really understand your customer. If you don’t, you can’t make them happy in the long run because you’re just guessing.
If nothing else, what are five things our members should know?
1. Work problems are very rarely solved in the office. I usually take my dog for a walk around Malmö and I get so much more done that way. Staring at a blank canvas on a computer screen doesn’t get good results.
2. Don’t have an ego - it’s OK not to know everything.
3. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, especially as a freelancer, but really as a human being in general.
4. Try new things. About a year ago I finally tried Pilates Reformer and now I love it. For many years I had an idea of what it is (I was wrong) and that I wouldn’t like it. Finding an exercise form that you love makes it a lot easier to keep in shape.
5. Find out when, where, and how you do your best work. Then adjust your life to better support it. It’ll mean you’ll create better work and be happier when not working.
What’s next for you? What are some dream projects?
I was asked to work on the UI of new car models recently and that would have been a great experience for sure. They are so important to our everyday lives, but have evolved so little. I bought a new Audi last summer and basically it has the same UI and UX as a model from ten years ago! While companies like Tesla are doing some great things, their improvements seem to be primarily technical. You get a 17” touch screen, but it’s still showing things that we are all used to. It would be a dream project of mine to create a new and exciting UI and UX in something we use as often as the car.
Unfortunately, this position would have meant moving, which I wasn’t up for. I enjoy the freedom that freelancing brings and will continue to do great work for my awesome clients.
What do you do when you’re Not Working?
I enjoy hanging out with my wife and dog, reading, watching football (soccer), and playing FIFA on my Playstation.
Are there other WNW members whose work you admire?
I’m sure that there are a bunch of awesome people on WNW, but it’s hard to communicate great UX work/projects just through screenshots. Lia Software Art seems to do awesome work and I would love to hear about challenges in working on a voice-controlled experience. Adam Glynn-Finnegan has done awesome stuff and I’ve always loved the Evernote branding.
Tell us about the significance of your email address :)
I’ve always had a love for France and anything related, so when I started my first company I called it Le Petit Garcon (The Little Boy). Mostly, this was because I felt very small compared to the agencies I was pitching against. The last year though, I’ve come to realize that my clients hire me and I might as well just do business as Anton Sten. My website is now antonsten.com and has the added bonus of being far easier to pronounce to someone over the phone.