Through this interview series “UX STAR INTERVIEW”, we provide a learn-from-peer approach for the UX space from diverse perspectives and make UX more understandable to the public. We invite UX practitioners and professionals, instead of focusing on UX theory or knowledge itself, to share their insights about UX, the inspirations they got along the way, and how a local community is engaged in different regions.
Starting off the interview, David was asked how he would explain UX to the general audience without any relevant knowledge, which is always an interesting way to learn how UX is interpreted from different individuals.
“We also ask this in the community but there is no consensus; however for me, it’s essentially making things easier for people to use. UX helps one to mitigate risk and increase convenience through an evidence-based approach. And the human-centered design is the key component.”
David’s favorite quote “UX = Discoverability + Feedback” was from Don Norman, the director of The Design Lab at UCSD.
“It gets you to consider when you are creating and testing a product, you need to think about how people are finding out how to use it and how they are getting feedback.”
To elaborate on the concept of “a perfect balance”, David shared an example. “Did anyone ever give you a rulebook on crossing the road? But you know it when you cross the road. You push the button, you wait, the car stops and that’s the feedback and you walk across, right? No one ever told you that but it’s the perfect balance of discoverability and feedback. It’s perfect UX.”
Until now, it’s still usual for David to explain what he is doing to his family or classmates. “I essentially say, think of the worst digital experience you have had. What’s the worst website you have used? They would answer something like government websites and flight booking websites. Then I go, great, now think of the best website or digital experience you have ever had. They say, Airbnb, Facebook or Instagram. And I say, excellent. That’s what UX aims to do, to create those delightful moments for you.”
How David Found His Passion for UX
“Before working in the digital space, I specialized in organizational psychology where I helped individuals to be more productive through one-on-one coaching and helped leadership development through running programs. How you get people to change their behavior within organizations was super fascinating!”
Though David was doing great at his job, he was perturbed by the fact that he had limited technological knowledge. “Increasingly I noticed the technology has become very pervasive in all of our lives but I had no idea about it. I understand human behavior, but I had no idea about technology.”
David thought he had to understand technology more so that he could find the connection between technology and human behavior, enabling him to help people achieve their goals more efficiently.
After doing a little research at the time, he thought he was going to drop psychology and become a developer. He invested his time and efforts in coding until he realized he couldn’t code well.
For an individual who seems fixated on psychology, having both bachelor and master degrees in psychology, one would hardly image that he actually wasn’t always set on psychology.
“Something a lot of people might not know is that I did start a law degree, halfway through my psychology degree because I got a bit disillusioned by psychology. At one point, I had contemplated being a lawyer and soon realized that law was not for me after six months, so I decided to call a quit.”
Before making any decisions, David went back to his root, thinking about what he really wants to do and what he is best at.
“It came down to empathizing, listening, understanding my own behavior and others’ behavior. So that’s when I came back to psychology and really focused on understanding human behavior and how I can drive positive impacts on society.”
Later on, he went to a Startup Weekend where his eyes opened up on the possibilities of UX. “It is through Startup Weekend that the entire UX concept of talking to users, empathizing with users and validating ideas fascinated me. I saw an opportunity where psychology can add value to and that’s when I really started to dive into the field of UX, which is very valuable and enjoyable.”
The Drive to Build a UX Community
Wondering how he could separate himself from other academic psychologists, David knew he needed to do things a bit differently. “The reason I chose UX out of all the areas in tech was because of the human element. I thought about what I am strong at and how myself, as a psychologist, could add value to this space?”
David was greatly inspired by books such as ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhig and Hooked by Nir Eyal, leading him to the UX space. Later on, he found that there were many people in this industry taking a similar path to what he was interested in doing. It’s also motivating for David when he got a chance to talk on the phone with BJ Fogg, the founder of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, providing him some great feedback on a project.
“These little things along the way has been motivating me to continue the work in this area. And when I see the outcome, when I see that what I’m doing is actually helping people, for example, to become more self-reflective, all these things give me a lot of value and pleasure.”
“When I was starting out in my UX career, I noticed that I was alone and I had many questions about what I needed to do and how I needed to approach things. And I knew that there was a lot of people out there that having the answers, but they were just scattered.”
It’s not hard to relate his personality to why UX Psychology Melbourne was created in 2016. “Ever since I was a little boy, I have always been told that I have a neck for bringing people together. For example, at my parties, all my friends are always amazed at the variety of people that come and also wonder how I keep in contact with all these different people. It’s something that comes very naturally to me.”
Combining an eagerness to learn and the ability to connect people formed the first meetup. It evolves to the UX Psychology Melbourne meetup on a monthly basis. Until now, the meetups are not only in Melbourne but also in Berlin and London, which was beyond David’s expectation, fantastically bringing him farther.
The Challenges and Learnings During the Journey
“The beautiful thing about working in the digital space is that you can scale all the benefits whereas working one on one with people is great but you can’t scale that as much as you can scale with tech solutions, which I find incredible!”
However, building a community is not taking a walk in the park. There are numerous challenges that one has to go through to succeed. Due to financial constraints at the beginning, he stayed up very late preparing food for the guests during the meetup. He believed it would help to cement the new found relationship.
“I’ve really been learning throughout the process. One thing I learned is the importance of relationships. It is important to maintain a healthy relationship, especially in the UX industry. The UX community is a small community and everyone knows each other, so it’s very important to always be genuine because you never know whom you’re going to come across.”
David also learned that one should understand the target audience. This line of thought is backed by the fact that he was expecting senior UX designers and developers to join the meetup but those who were initially attracted to the community were junior people.
“There are challenges such as scaling a community and providing the relevant content to make the community engaging, which we are always trying to improve. One approach is that we partner with other organizations, such as UXTesting. Also, we have formed great relationships with our presenters who help us generate content.”
As more juniors than seniors are joining the community, from David’s observation, to be competitive in this industry, the key skills one will need are the ability to collaborate, the interest in technology and analytics, a solid grounding in human-centered design and ethics essentially.
The Next Step of UX Psychology Community
Ideally, David aims at a stage where he could provide the support and training within organizations about human behavior and technology, but not until he continues to grow the community.
“The community is now organically growing. We’re getting more engagement from in-person workshops and it’s always more encouraging when seeing a lot of value is given to people, whereas online interaction is more disconnected from your end user.”
David will keep running workshops at least once a month and try to scale the meetup to other cities across Australia, such as Sydney or Brisbane. His global community, which was just started about 4 months ago, will also seek to grow its members to over 1000.
“The real purpose of the community is helping people connect. I don’t make any money doing this. I just do it out of the goodness of mine and I especially enjoy connecting with like-minded people and helping them find opportunities that they didn’t know existed. What communities provide is an ability to connect with multiple people, with very little effort.”
David thinks there will be great opportunities in the UX industry and increasingly it’s not just about UX. It’s about people who understand human behavior and technology. “We need more people working in this industry to make things happen.”
There’s one thing that David really wants to change about the UX space nowadays, which is having more support and mentoring for UX juniors. In his opinion, many people are getting into this role but they couldn’t because they are under-qualified or they just don’t have the support.
“I think there are two reasons. One is because the UX industry in Australia is quite young and still developing. All the companies that are asking for UX don’t actually understand what that means.
On the other side, there are people claiming that they are really experienced and overselling themselves; however, they’re actually hindering their growth and their performance.
From the individual perspective, they need to be honest about the skills they’ve got and what they want to develop. And companies also have their role. If a company is hiring UXers, it should support them in their growth.”
Something More on the Founder…
Q: What do you like to do when you are not UXing?
“I love keeping fit. I like going to the gym, doing yoga, cycling and scuba diving. I also love traveling and nature. I just came back last week from hiking in Tasmania, which was beautiful. Put me in the ocean and that’s where I belong.”
Q: Could you describe your community in one word?
“I think it would be ALIVE, like really bustling! I’m so much interested in this space, wanting to know how you can design great products and experiences. And it’s fascinating to know the community is so interested in what we know about human behavior.”
Q: If you could give an aspiring UX junior any advice, what would it be?
“Keep an open mind and don’t doubt yourself. You never lose, you either win or you learn. In this industry, a lot of the learning happens on the job. Your mindset, how you approach obstacles and how you tackle your fears and doubt is really what separates you.”