What do user experience designers do?

what do user experience designers do


As someone who professes to be not only a digital product manager but also a user experience designer, I wanted to devote this post to answering the question, what do user experience designers do?

Think of the UX designer less as a designer and more of a problem solver.
This is not to say that the UX’er doesn’t design. Of course we do, but our roles are much, much different than you may think. If we were to break the goal of the user experience designer role down to the bare bone definition, we would call UXers simply problem solvers.

A good user experience designer is really, really great at solving problems because the process, which is seeped in user centered design, can be applied to almost any issue a company is having.

So, before you can be a great problem solver you have to make sure you are solving the correct problem. Understanding the problem first, before jumping into the solution, is one of the most important arts of being a great UX designer.

Many times, clients will come to me with problems and before they even understand what their problem really means, they already have a solution they want made.

This is a big deal, because in reality, if we don’t define the problem, how do we know if our solution is the correct one?

Often times, clients will present us with what they believe the problem is.  But once you get into the weeds and start digging deeper, the problem often changes and needs to be revisited.

For example, if we ask this client why they needed an iPad app they may say something like, we need to be cutting edge or we need to get more users. After digging even more, we find out that their nearest competitor recently took 5% of their user base,… and they just also released an iPad app.

So the client is assuming that this is the cause of the competitor’s spike. But what if the iPad app has nothing to do with the competitor’s spike in users.

Unfortunately, because we didn’t work to understand the problem in totality and really get to what the client was doing that caused users to leave and go to competitors, we just spent tens of thousands of dollars, creating a beautiful piece of software that nobody wants.

Thus, you need to understand the problem first.

Here are some of the types of questions I try to answer before figuring out the real problem:

  • How is my client defining the success of my work?
  • What impact do they want me to make?
  • Are there numbers we are trying to reach?
  • Will this solution have to lead to another?
  • Are there other projects happening or planned that could influence
    the solution that I will have to take into account?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen during this project?
  • What does failure look like?
  • Who out there has solved this problem, and what makes their solution awesome?

What you are trying to do when understanding the problem is really get to the business, stakeholder’s or client’s pain points.

You are trying to get to the why. And once you have done this, you can begin working on the solution.

If you have any questions about how to approach a user experience challenge, or just want to tell me I’m crazy… please comment.

When a startup should hire a product manager

As as a product manager in Toronto who often acts as a strategic advisor to startups I often have conversations about when a startup should hire a product manager.  I have noticed a common inflection point at which I think startups need to make a strategic HR decision to hire a product manager.

I want to take a step back for a moment and talk about what a product manager does in an organization.  A PM is often described as the CEO of the product.  This is fairly accurate because the product is the central point of the business to which everyone is connected.  Similarly, the product manager is the person responsible to strategically manage the product, acting as the connection point between the product and every part of the business internally and externally.  Even if a company is built in silos, the product manager has to take the product and cut through all departments to ensure it’s success.

When a startup is just getting off the ground with a founder or two and perhaps a few additional team members, everyone is having a massive impact on the product.  These are the developers, designers and marketing people making version 1.0 in a totally flat and cross-functional organization.  It’s super easy to be collaborative and people are really excited and passionately taking ownership over the product.  I’ve been there a few times and I know how sensational it is.

If the team does a good job and creates something interesting, after three, six or nine months there will be some initial movement. This could take the form of investment capital or maybe some decent early adoption, perhaps some media buzz.  Inevitably people start to get pulled into their areas of specialty.  The founders are having more meetings with investors, the developers are squashing more and more bugs as early adopters start breaking things, marketing people are writing more copy, designers are making more landing pages, etc.  And all of a sudden the product, which is the whole reason for all this effort starts to get less attention.

What generally happens next is a resource decision to add people to the existing areas of specialty.  Another designer over here, a junior developer over there, and on the surface this makes sense.  It’s math right, like more cores in a processor… But I humbly disagree. What I suggest is making the next hire a product manager.  Why? because someone needs to be focused full time on the product.  This isn’t about taking ownership away from everyone else, rather allowing the whole team to do their respective jobs they specialize in while ensuring that the product is getting the strategic attention it needs.

A good product manager makes sure that all team members have their input on the product and understand the “why” and the “what”.  They should also be able to relieve bottle necks in different areas of operations to help everyone put their respective fires out until the business is doing well enough to hire more people.

If you’re a startup founder and you’re feeling the pain of growth then congratulations,  you’re off to a good start.  I hope this blog post gives you something to think about and helps guide you to the right resourcing decision for your team.

How to increase conversion rates

If you are like myself and most people today, you go to Google to find the answers to every question. Well, when I started learning how to increase conversion rates on websites that I work on I found a ton of blog posts and articles that all pretty much said the same thing.

how to increase conversion rates

And now after years of actually working on it I’m here to offer my version. But I have to warn you now, there is no formula that you can plug in to any site to make it work. The only way to increase conversion rates is to intensely understand your markets needs and effectively communicate solutions while offering a clear path to the answer.

You can test all the landing page designs you want, use captivating images and videos, make the call-to-action button bigger etc etc. But if you are not saying the right thing it’s all for not, or another way to say it is “it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing”.

  1. Talk to your market. If you think you know your market, think again. Really, I don’t care how smart you are, as interesting as your opinion might be, it’s irrelevant. I’m not saying you aren’t 100% correct but you just don’t know until you’ve spoken to hundreds of representatives of your target market segment. Ask them what their problems are and just keep on digging.
  2. Measure the intensity of the problems you discover. You don’t want to offer solutions to something that doesn’t feel like it’s a hair-on-fire issue. For example, if someone’s hair is on fire and you offer them a bucket of water, they are going to take it. And if you are brazen enough to ask for cash in exchange you will get it and quickly.  Use the chart at the top of the post as a way to measure the depth of pain being experienced as a result of these problems.
  3. Group the problems together. After digging for long enough you will inevitably create a long list of real problems but you will also find that many of them seem to be similar. Now you group them into categories and start thinking about features that will solve the whole group. The best example of this is “bumper-to-bumper warrantee”. There are many real painful issues solved by that one feature but when you are communicating it you don’t want to get specific. You want your features to sell your product like “bumper-to-bumper” sells new car leases. And sell them it does.

Once you have complete these steps you are ready to market your new product. For a stellar example of this check out this feature page for Evernote Business.  Each feature title is not specific, rather they effectively describe a set of features that solve a set of problems.  When the right person views them they automatically start to salivate.  I know because I’m one of them.

This form of communication is called marketecture which is a combination of market and architecture.  The link takes you to a wikipedia page offering a more detailed definition but if you want to learn how to make them like a champ I suggest attending a Pragmatic Marketing training session.

I sincerely hope this helps you understand how to increase conversions on your website and sorry for not offering a how-to on ux design.  I do believe in the power of good web design when it comes to conversions… It’s just not the place to start.