Kuba Kulesza talks about UX value
Today we present an interview with Kuba Kulesza. He’s full of passion and a polymath, with knowledge and enthusiasm for technology and humanities. For 7 years now Kuba has been working as an interaction designer on various projects and products – most of this time he spent at EDISONDA studio in Cracow. Currently, he is working on grupa.robocza.org – an interdispciplinary research and design unit. In addition, Kuba teaches Design Strategy and Psychology of Interaction at UX&Product Design post-graduate studies at the Faculty of Humanities within AGH. He has always looked at problems from many different perspectives and he teaches his students to do the same. We are lucky because he has found the time to talk about UX value with us. Enjoy!
You graduated from philosophy, electronic information processing and visual culture at Jagiellonian University. They are not fields of studies strictly associated with design. So how did you become a UX designer?
Since I can remember, I have always been curious about the relationship between humans and technology. I picked my studies to explore and understand this subject more deeply. Usually, when you think about philosophy, the first thing that comes to your mind is a bunch of elderly people sitting under a tree in ancient Greece, debating things that only they can see. This picture doesn’t help to collate digital technologies with philosophical debate. But please trust me, contemporary philosophy of technology or cognitive science is one of the most fascinating fields you can be involved in. On the other hand, electronic information processing – another field of studies I’ve finished – provided me with the practical skills of coding and designing digital systems. Finally, visual culture was a part of Contemporary Culture Studies where I learnt about critical theory and design in relation to art and society. So, basically, I can say that all of these fields are not only associated with design, but shape my understanding on what digital design is nowadays.
My first professional job was an internship in the role of UI Designer/Developer. I remember my first big task, which was to design and implement a simple site, within the Sharepoint environment for a brand new style guide in my company. Then, for the first time in my career I understood that the role of designer is not only to make user-friendly interfaces, but also to know and understand the technical constraints that can have a huge impact on the final solution.
How did your experience from different fields help you in the profession of UX designer?
As I said, I don’t think that those are totally different fields. If you start with a problem that makes you curious, you’re automatically looking for different perspectives that may help you understand it more deeply. To me, it was the human-technology interaction. Let’s take the Internet for example. Why do we need the Internet? How does it work? Could it be designed differently? I can find answers to these questions both in philosophical books and programming handbooks. When I use the Internet, I can also experience it on my own, I become part of it.
Nowadays, more and more of our actions are performed by using digital tools. They became part of our lives, working so close to us that we don’t notice them anymore. But their impact on our actions is huge. I believe that to fully grasp this phenomenon, we need to understand both sides of the equation: human and technological.
What value do you think UX gives to the client?
For me UX is about the quality of the product or the service. The quality that is experienced by the end-user at the particular moment of time, when the product is finished and delivered to him or her. Before we develop and ship our product, we can say a lot about it, promise breathtaking solutions, show eye-catching interfaces, encourage people to use it, but at the end of the day, there’s a person using it and our duty is to satisfy his or her needs. I believe that if the end-user is happy, then my client is happy as well. It doesn’t work the other way round.
This view is related to another very important aspect. I can also say that UX brings a refreshed view and very important lesson to the client. Working on a product is really difficult and takes a lot of effort. We know it. So we try to look for simplification wherever we can. Unfortunately, one thing that is simplified, but shouldn’t, is our end-user. It’s much easier to deal with a user, if we perceive him or her not as a human being, but as a set of parameters that can be easily calculated.
Of course, at the end we can expect to receive some quantified results that may help us to understand where we are heading. But sometimes, to make things easier, we perceive users as a set of numbers from the beginning. And no one wants to be perceived as another cell in an excel document. I think that the UX designer brings back the human perspective to product development. Make one user really happy and you will find another one really soon.
What do you think about working as a UX designer in Lean? What experience do you have?
I think that Lean methodology is a necessity if we want to develop an innovative solution. In my opinion, the Lean approach to design is really close to something that is called research by design. Hi-fidelity prototyping, developing a basic version of our product or service should, first of all, verify our essential assumptions.
I had the opportunity to work in Lean when I was hired as a UX consultant at wingu – a German startup, where we tried to introduce a broader audience to a platform for location-driven marketing. The whole solution was built upon beacons. One of the biggest challenges that we had was to develop the consistent conceptual model for users that helps them use our product, without getting into technical nuances. The lean approach helped us to explore different options and provided us with unexpected insights.
What’s the biggest challenge in UX designer work?
Definitely, the biggest challenge would be to let others understand what my work is and how I can help them to reach their goals. Usually, if you are seen as a UX Designer, people assume that you only draw wireframes and decide where to place well-labeled buttons. And, of course, you gather research insights to show the rationale behind your decisions. But, as you know, our job is much more complicated. We need to understand as much as we can about the current state of the product ecosystem, what are the technical constraints, what is the main product strategy and the common goal we want to achieve? Based on that we can develop the best solution.
A UX designer should be ready to work shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand with other specialists involved in product development. The more people we can work with, the more perspectives we gain. This helps us find the golden mean, the best possible solution for that particular moment of time. If we work alone, or just within a design team, there’s a risk that we miss a lot of factors that may have an impact on the final product quality.
I think it is a kind of vicious circle. If you are a developer, designer or business analytic and you work on a badly designed product or service, you just leave the workplace as soon as your planned tasks are done. And you don’t feel like talking about it with other people. Simply, if you don’t participate in designing a product, you don’t care about it.
We can perceive the role of UX designer as someone who understands not only the needs of the end-users, but also the expectations and views of other people working in the whole product development circuit. The huge skill of the designer in this case, is the ability to find and achieve a compromise between different departments.
How would you describe a good UX designer?
Patient, curious, open-minded and ready to understand another person’s perspectives, experiences, or motivations. Because we’re living in the digital realm, knowledge about how computation works may also be really helpful.
What would be your first piece of advice to people who want to work as UX designers?
First, go for a walk and observe what is going on around you. There’s a lot of things that don’t work and should be fixed. Talk with people, ask them about their problems. When you are coming in from outside, you notice things that people have got used to. If some problems particularly interest you, think calmly about how it can be fixed or improved.
You can upgrade existing processes, add some labels, or, if necessary and applicable – take a sheet of paper and sketch your first app. If you want to be a designer, start designing. If you are stuck, look for hints on the web – we live in times when we’ve got enormous opportunity to access all the human knowledge that there is. Past generations didn’t have this opportunity.
Sometimes I think that we forget about this and spend too much of our time browsing through pictures of cats. When you finish sketching your first solution, show it to someone else – try to find what is wrong – for sure there are going to be a lot of things to change. Remember to show your designs to someone else, be ready for some harsh feedback, but try to catch what is fundamental and what should be changed. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just act and learn. Be patient and don’t give up. It is fun.
What trends do you think will be noticeable in UX in 2019?
I’m happy that we have finally started to think about the consequences of our actions. I mean, lately I have observed how designers have become aware of the impact they make on users’ mental lives. We have started talking about the attention economy, information over-consumption, trigger pollution, and so on.. We have become aware that designing digital tools is really closely connected to shaping our users habits. That’s a huge responsibility.
What do you do in your free time?
Nothing interesting, just simple pleasures. I read books, watch movies and drink beer. I also like hiking with my wife. Lately, I have become passionate about boxing. So, I can say that in my free time, I like to punch other people. ;)