Through this interview series “UX STAR”, 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.
We are delighted to welcome Caven Mitchell, founder and main organizer of Design Japan & Dev Japan to this interview, sharing his local insights and experience about User Experience Design (UXD) in Japan. Caven has six-year experience as a full-stack engineer, however, most recent roles include marketing, project management, technical consultant and developer.
Motivation to start a Design Community in Japan
We were very curious to know about the two different groups, Design Japan and Dev Japan, Caven founded. Design Japan was the first group he started and initially came out of an idea of a previous product that he was working on. Caven further explained enthusiastically, “With Corabbit designers can easily share their logo or other design they created. It also allowed viewing the differentiation between designs side by side. This way designers can share and view design revision with their clients.”
In order to promote and market Corabbit, Caven founded Design Japan to reach the design community in Japan. Intended to create a community to bring creative people together in Japan, Design Japan has now grown into a large community with almost 2K members. The community is open for everyone, especially for designers, artist or any kind of creator seeking meaningful feedback, gain insights, inspiration and share ideas with each other.
The other group Caven founded, Dev Japan, focuses more on developers, designers, engineers and other related backgrounds in Japan. The motivation to start this community originated from the people Caven met. Specifically, those striving to become a developer or programmer, but had the occasional struggle or hit some roadblocks along the way. “In the end, if you lack motivation or space to get work done, this meetup group can solve that problem for you. You may be able to find someone to work on a project with you or give you a clue to a problem you’ve been trying to solve.”
His passion to build user-friendly products
Over the years, Caven has taken on a wide variety of job positions in different industries. However, his specialty lies in building digital products; whether it’s a website, app or prototype. “The most important lesson I learned is to be flexible in how you approach the product. You have to have a robust view when you approach product development. Being able to cover as many bases as possible with a very broad view is important because there are many different platforms. You can always consolidate and make your views more conservative with time after understanding your target users better.”
His passion for building products traces back to his educational background. We were curious whether Caven could share more about his. Caven devotedly shared with us, “I started programming when I was in high school. It’s actually a typical story that you might have heard from other people where we took apart TVs and radios and tried to put them back together and we became engineers. So I started in high school, studying programming classes and taking some drawing and design classes. It was, therefore, no surprise I choose to study computer engineering and computer science at university. Additionally, I took some classes in business. During university, I also took up several part-time jobs. For each job, I decided to do something different and try out as many different things; that way I could explore other options available to me. I figured as long as I try to get a new job, I can broaden my experience.”
Starting a design community in Japan as a foreigner
This very active mindset to always learn, explore new things and taking up new challenges, brought Caven all the way to Japan. “What was intended as a holiday trip, turned out to be for much longer duration as I decided to move to Japan”, Caven elaborately explained to us.
“For me, it’s the same thing with trying out new things. To make things more interesting, I like to move physically, maybe one or twice a year to a different apartment. Additionally, every five to seven years I usually move to a different city. I have lived so far in Jamaica, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and ended coming to Japan. I just love how completely different Japan is from other cities I have lived in.”
We were inquisitive to know what specifically inspired Caven about Japan from a design perspective. Caven immediately pointed out, “From a design standpoint, one of the things that intrigued me about Japan was how every aspect of a product is considered and every resource is used. You might not use 100% of the resource in one single product, but that resource will still go towards the creation of another product. There’s a lot of humility and inner reflection that comes in from living in this kind of society; from its people and as well as its nature.”
Being the main organizer of two big groups in Japan, we asked Caven some of the challenges he faced when building this community. One of which is the wide variety of members in terms of their profession. “Although the majority are UI/UX designers, we still have many people who are graphic designers, traditional artists, photographers, videographers, sonographers, and many more.” Caven admits, “Finding a meaningful event that appeals and interest everyone can be rather challenging.”
Another challenge Caven had to face is in regards to cultural difference in Japan. “Because Japan is a pretty shy society, therefore not everybody feels comfortable going to a networking event. What motivates them to attend a meetup, which comes back to what I mentioned before, is having an appealing and interesting topic. In my experience, as long as you can offer something informative, they tend to be more willing to attend a networking event. Compared to other places in the world, such as L.A. where people are more social. The importance is more on networking rather than the topic of the meetup.”
The first time Caven learned about UX
Being involved and having a vast amount of work experience in various aspects of design, product development, and programming, we were curious to know when Caven heard about UX for the first time. “My experience thinking about UX, and UI/UX as a whole came from Corabbit. When I started working on Corabbit, I learned about user personas, roadmaps and how the user actually interact with a product. Our target users for Corabbit were designers. Therefore, it was increasingly important to think about the same concepts that designers thought about. This motivated me to regularly attend UX workshops and being more involved in the UX space.”
For any aspiring junior wanting to join the design community or UX industry, Caven advice would be, “Go to as many creative events as possible and try to talk to as many people as you can. Try to meet as many people as you can from these communities. It’s a good way to get hands-on advice, learn how they became who they are, and how they moved into their position.” I think it’s also a more fun way to gain knowledge. Another thing you can do is, studying design and read about UI/UX tools. It’s rapid and constantly developing industry, therefore you definitely need to keep up and continue learning. Try to dedicate your time to study daily. One easy way to study for me was to attend UX events and meet people.”
“For people new to UX space, in basic terms, I would describe UX as the way your customers or users interact and feel about your product. Of course, there are many things that come into play. But ultimately, as I said in the beginning, it comes down to how you make your users feel about your product or service.”
Q&A Talk with Caven
Q: What do you like to do when you are not UXing?
When I’m not doing anything related to UI/UX or programming, I usually love to spend time with my dog or just playing video games.
Q: In terms of UX, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned since you built the community?
“The most interesting aspect of UX that I learned would be personas. More specifically, developing personas and the different ways that you can develop them. When creating personas, you really have to try to imagine what a user might do or how they might interact with your service. I think that’s probably the most interesting that I’ve learned so far.”
Q: What’s your favorite quote about UX?
It’s basically the KISS principle, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. “When it comes to the user’s experience, if you have too much going on, you can unnecessarily overcomplicate things. This can lead to frustration among your users, resulting in a bad experience. Therefore KISS is a good design principle to remember; Keep It Simple Stupid. Try to trigger them to take 1 no more than 2 actions.”