All posts by Gitta Salomon

How to Make Your Company’s User Experience Effort Succeed

You’ve undoubtedly heard that user experience (UX) is a key competitive advantage for your product or service. You know you need a UX person in your organization. And even though you’ve never hired a UX person before, you’ve posted an opening that lists the job requirements you saw in another company’s UX posting. Fingers crossed, that results in a good hire and a positive UX outcome for your product.

Will hiring a single, hands-on, UX person solve it?
In a quick analysis of current UX/UI designer job postings, many of them include most or all the following requirements:

  • Conduct user research to uncover customer needs
  • Lead multidisciplinary design sessions to define product features
  • Create user flow wireframes
  • Produce pixel-perfect artwork
  • Conduct usability testing
  • Assist with front end coding

It’s my assessment – after addressing UX for hundreds of products and services – that you will be hard pressed to find one individual that meets all these distinct requirements well. And also based on experience, better UX designs arise from having more than one person undertaking UX activities. Two (or more) people can provide deeper coverage across the required skill sets. Discussion and give-and-take between UX peers leads to better outcomes, stronger design rationale and speedier results. A lone UX person is often at a significant disadvantage when it comes to fully exploring the design space and defending design decisions.

In the current marketplace, there are many individuals relatively new to UX who are looking for jobs. The ones who believe they meet the entire laundry list of requirements above are often lacking the depth of experience to be self-aware about their actual competencies.

That creates an awkward situation. You don’t know what you don’t know about who to hire for your UX position. The candidates don’t know what they don’t know about undertaking the work. The likelihood of creating a less-than-optimal UX situation at your company is high.

A lot of people mistake lovely graphics for good UX. Good UX is so much deeper than the visual skin job.

You need more than lipstick on the pig
Because many of the items on the laundry list above are subtle to communicate (except for front end coding, which I would argue isn’t truly a UX skill), UX candidates are often assessed by their visual portfolio. It’s easy for candidates to share visuals and easy for the hiring party to look at them and like them (or not).

Many times, visual design becomes the primary focus of the UX effort, and drives who gets hired as the sole UX person.

I’ve recently tried a few products that looked incredibly beautiful and professional. I was initially surprised at the level of refinement, knowing that they were created by early-stage startups. But that appearance was superficial. The screen designs belied the fact that it was difficult to understand where I was in the app or complete basic tasks. What I could accomplish was significantly more difficult than it should have been. Clearly, no one took the time to design a good flow for product interactions. Sensible behavior is an essential component of an interactive product’s experience.

Be careful not to fall for good visuals alone! A lot of people mistake lovely graphics for good UX. Good UX is so much deeper than the visual skin job.

What do you need?
Before you need a hands-on, individual contributor, you need a UX strategy. You need vision, direction, and big picture goals for the UX. You need user research to ensure you aren’t getting sidetracked by your own biases in defining your product and an initial framework for the product’s behavior that looks out ahead of near-term agile sprints.

You don’t necessarily need an in-house person for these strategic tasks. You do need someone who has significant experience applying design thinking and user-centered UX processes.

Once your strategy is in place, you’ll be better able to define who, specifically, you need to add to the team. You might already have a product manager that can undertake user testing. Or a developer who has good instincts around interface design coding. Or a marketing graphic designer that might be able to help with screen design.

If you don’t know what you don’t know about UX, you undoubtedly will not achieve deep success in UX with one relatively junior UX designer. Invest in figuring out your UX strategy first, and then advertise a position with a clear sense (and a more realistic list) of what you need that person or persons to do.

How does this perspective on UX capabilities relate to your situation?

Swim provides strategy, advising, user research and other valuable services that enable startups and companies lacking in UX skills to position themselves beneficially for growing an in-house UX effort. Principal Gitta Salomon serves as a fractional VP of UX to help put companies on the right track.

Feeling Blue

Last week I had two different user experiences of the same location, and the juxtaposition gave me pause. A beautiful new Blue Bottle coffee had opened in an old San Francisco office building. Passing by, I admired its clean, fresh, and inviting appearance. A few days later, I went to my dentist appointment in that same building, and experienced what the Blue Bottle architects had created from a completely different perspective.

It is important that we understand and consider the full context in which our designs will live.

I’ve been going to the same dentist in that downtown office building for over 15 years. And the same lobby receptionist greets me with a welcoming nod every time.

Last week as I entered the building for my appointment, something felt different. It was loud, and there were people in the foyer. A lot of them. Patrons were spilling out of the new Blue Bottle Coffee into the marble-clad corridor in that unmistakable, ever-present Blue Bottle customer line.

I headed for the elevator, but then I turned back to talk to the receptionist because I realized his environment was now so radically different. He told me it was noisy all day long. “Cacophony” was the word he used. And he remarked that because of the noise, he no longer could read at his desk.

While Blue Bottle (the Company) and its customers are experiencing a lovely new location, there is one person whose life is changed — for the worse — as long as he wants to stay in his job. The receptionist’s experience is peripheral to the one that was designed, but it should have been considered. A line at Blue Bottle is a given; the architects could have situated that line outside, or could have acoustically dampened the sound in the foyer.

While we often assume what we are designing is contained within set boundaries, looking into the places where a design spills over is always warranted. It is important that we understand and consider the full context in which our designs will live.

I hope that I still get a nod next time I go see my dentist, but I fear my receptionist could be gone by then. Will an entry kiosk replace him? Only a computer could ignore the aural difficulties of his current work environment.

5 Ways to Make UI Working Meetings Work

I was participating in a UI brainstorming meeting recently with four other designers and a product manager. The meeting was focused on “solving” the UI for a mobile app. I was struck by how many times I’ve been in this type of meeting — where the team hopes to emerge with the design for the app — but no particular process is in place to ensure it can happen.

Here are 5 techniques for making UI design meetings actually succeed.

1. Know exactly what features you are designing for
You can’t move a group conversation forward if you don’t have shared knowledge of the features you are going to provide. And no individual designer can possibly create a holistic UI framework without knowing all the pieces that need to be supported.

If there isn’t a well-defined list of features that everyone is privy to, then it’s too easy to get bogged down in “are we doing that?” feature wrangling. Inevitably, there is tension between what the MVP should contain and what ultimately could be delivered. It is beneficial to have that ultimate picture in mind so you don’t end up ‘band-aiding‘ additions at some later point. But if you don’t have justification that users would be interested in a specific feature, or engineering can’t possibly build it, or the marketplace doesn’t warrant your product containing it (because it’s peripheral to your offering and someone else is already doing it better), let that feature go. It is just creating noise.

What to do: Identify what your product is going to offer. Make a list, or better yet, construct a taxonomy — where larger features that encompass sub-features are clearly spelled out in an outline format. Then make sure that product management and engineering have signed off on it and that the designers are familiar with it before you head into a design meeting.

Continue reading 5 Ways to Make UI Working Meetings Work

Is Cultural Insensitivity a Side Effect of Digital Calendars?

Why is this year different than all other years? Because so many people are holding events on Jewish High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the most solemn day of the year) – that have nothing to do with those holidays. In fact, the scheduling of events on these days is likely to preclude Jewish participants.

In particular, I noted:

  • A business is holding its 30th anniversary party the evening Yom Kippur starts.
  • The University of California San Francisco is holding a neighborhood fitness festival on Rosh Hashanah.
  • A Jewish friend was invited to her good friend’s wedding shower on Yom Kippur.
  • A neighbor noted that his vintage car club decided to hold their special drive on Yom Kippur, thereby inadvertently excluding a bunch of members.

I have a hypothesis: might widespread adoption of digital calendars have fostered this?

Continue reading Is Cultural Insensitivity a Side Effect of Digital Calendars?

Why Good UI Designers Can Work in Any Domain

Many of our prospective clients don’t understand how an interaction design consultancy can possibly come up to speed on their complex domain. And understanding their domain is central to creating or improving their product’s user interface.

What these clients don’t often realize is that neither an interaction design consultancy, nor their users, need to know everything they know.

Interaction designers fill a knowledge gap between clients and their customers.

The reason complex product user interfaces are often hard to use is because they expose too much. The people creating these products assume their users will be as singularly focused on the product as they are. They expect their customers will equally value every last feature and function, and will devote significant time to mastering the product. That is akin to assuming every motorist wants to be a mechanic. In truth, most people just want to get somewhere.

Continue reading Why Good UI Designers Can Work in Any Domain

Jumbo Jumble

giant remote

I spotted this remote at a senior home. Presumably, the design goal was to make the buttons easier to read and target for elderly people with poor vision. However, this ginormous remote leaves the user awash in a sea of buttons. It has a less optimal layout than any remote I currently own.

While the seniors might be able to read the buttons and accurately tap them, can they figure out which ones to use to watch their favorite show? It looks orderly, but does this arrangement communicate useful relationships between buttons? Does it emphasize the most important functions, making them easy to find?

Communicating how to use this remote should be just as important as making the buttons easily seen.

Many people fail to realize that UX / UI encompasses so much more than the surface-level visual design. It’s also about crafting how the user moves from function to function to accomplish a desired outcome. While the way a product behaves is not something customers notice at a glance, when poorly designed, it is something they become painfully aware of during actual use.

With respect to the remote-for-the-elderly problem: here’s a creative approach to delivering the most important functionality:


The Hole in Some of the Parts

Today I completed my first online purchase / in-store return at Saks. I was excited to try out their omni-channel experience. And the website made it sound easy: present the merchandise to an associate at any Saks Fifth Avenue.

I kind of overshopped, and my return was spread across three unwieldy boxes which I maneuvered through the store’s front door. I was hoping (as is the case at Nordstrom) that I could go directly to a customer service desk and unload them.
Continue reading The Hole in Some of the Parts

Planned Design, Not “PLAM” Design



I drive by this place every week when I take my son to his drum lesson. We both always look to see if the neon sign is still there. How did this business decide it was OK to hang that neon sign? Why don’t they fix it?

I recently started thinking about how it’s analogous to interface design problems Swim encounters.

Did the proprietor truly not notice the mistake? Or more likely, did she think everyone would know what she meant, and that the investment required to correct the sign was just not worth it?
Continue reading Planned Design, Not “PLAM” Design