#StartOutAMA April Takeaway
Kevin Hawkins on User Experience and Design
Kevin Hawkins is a Customer & User Experience consultant with a track record of launching and refining products for Chase, Capital One, Circular Board, the Gates Foundation, and 3 of his own startups. He leads visual design for Customer Loyalty at Gap Inc brands and is an accredited investor in startups. Using his knowledge of launching brand design systems, Kevin can help you create a professional pitch that hits home with your personal aesthetic and is a home-run for your business. Visit his linkedin.
#StartOutAMA is a live, online event held each month with VIP guest experts. Join us on the Entrepreneur Forum May 30th from 4–6pm PST to post questions and receive live feedback from Karen Hartwig on Generating Growth and Revenue. Register here.
Questions are submitted by our StartOut members on the Entrepreneur Forum. Usernames are removed for privacy purposes and to maintain a safe space.
Did you go to college / university to learn design? What is your opinion about freelancers / designers who want to break into the market without getting a degree?
Kevin: I get this question all the time and love answering it! After graduating high school at sixteen, I went to school for a year to hone my front-end development and interaction design skills but left after a year to pursue a unique work opportunity. I freelanced for years as an employee of contractor companies and loved it. Though it’s not for everyone.
The process for choosing a client is just as important as choosing an employer. Kudos to anyone who wants to get into design. It takes an open mind, a desire to answer questions, and years of practicing solving problems correctly and incorrectly. In my opinion, doing so with or without a degree didn’t matter for me. As I always say, “an easier journey isn’t always the best journey”.
At what stage do you think a company or business owner should consider hiring a UX designer?
Kevin: I love that designers seemingly now have a “seat at the table” in companies big and small. However, I think many companies should get senior-level designers earlier than they typically do. A consumer-facing product company should think about hiring a designer with direct access to customer data, executives, and be factored into the decision-making process as soon as the second new hire.
Even for a company that doesn’t make a typical product or face average consumers, they should dedicate a resource to direct research and business development changes based on their users or service recipients (think retail store associates for Visa, tow truck drivers for car manufacturers, etc). Businesses have more users than they usually realize.
How did you get started in UX design? Can you share some of your more recent work and how that helped their business?
Kevin: I got started in UX by tinkering with computers at the age of nine. I started a physical product business before starting a digital product business, and in the process learned that a product is so much more than what the customer is delivered. As a young business owner from a family of small business owners, I’d always call out how things -seemingly outside of the control of a business owner- impact customers.
The entire scope of a customer’s experience (before, during, and after using a product as well as how it’s thought of, researched, used, and abandoned) all affect the perception of that product and the brand that produces it. This early lesson made me leave web development for UX/CX design. I’m now hired as an experience designer for all types of user interactions (physical, digital, and in-between). I work for Gap Inc, run a startup, and freelance actively.
Of what I can publicly share, I’d check my website. As far as how I help businesses, changes I’ve actively made lead to: more clarity and understanding for consumers and less calls for call centers, high revenue per visit based on consumer experience for a ‘test’ of products that I’ve made changes to, and in direct user interviews I’ve tripled the number of times a customer says “this is exactly what I’d expect.”
What differentiates a UX/UI designer from a graphic designer or any other “designer” that a company might hire? I feel that I’ve heard a lot of terms thrown around as if they’re interchangeable. Is that the case?
Kevin: The lines between the specialty of designers and their actual skillsets are always going to be fuzzy but in the classic sense, I like to refer to this graphic.
I am what they call a “T-shaped” designer. I seek to exhibit my high-level expertise on behavioral psychology, typography, placement, development component libraries, expected user interactions based on past experience and pattern detection, and content strategy.
Other designer types, such as graphic designers, share many skills sets but usually have less focus on responsive web design and the compounding needs of consumers living their lives across multiple devices and in a multitude of physical environments and mental cognition.
While all designer should learn about ethos, pathos, and logos, User experience design (UX) is different from both User Interface (UI) and graphic design because it focuses on the logic and structure behind the elements a consumer actually sees and interacts with.
For example, my research and discovery phase of a digital product design includes understanding marketing, the context a consumer has when making decisions, customer support protocols, industry best practices, and more. It can be several days, weeks, or months before I even start assessing colors, fonts, layout, etc. It all depends on the needs of the product and its users and/or consumers.
I have a question about UX in VR and AR. Last year at CES GAP released the DressingRoom app, are there any takeaways you can share for retail brands trying to make use of VR/AR to improve the customer experience? If not then where do you think VR and AR can add value when it comes to UX design?
Kevin: Regarding the DressingRoom app, I’m not at liberty to disclose anything specific. However, as far as retailers and any business assessing how VR and AR can contribute to the experience of their customers, I think it depends on the specific goal and business. UX in VR and AR includes some of the most complicated scenarios for meeting user expectations. From my experience, companies really need to talk to their customers more.
Talk to your customers!
Talk to and ask yourself, your business partners, your service providers, and your customers about what their goals are and constantly get a pulse on their priorities. AR and VR are simply another set of tools in the toolbox of media solutions to choose from to solve customer needs, achieve business goals, and create delight for all sides. Designers and companies should keep in mind the advantages and disadvantages of using technologies that require a lot from the user — it be a space, time, software, hardware, internet speed, a desire to learn a new technology, etc.
AR and VR are great for helping consumers understand scale, 3D references (I especially love applying these to medical and surgical efforts), changes in time, etc. AR and VR take words and digital user interfaces into the physical realm with the benefits and expectations of the third dimension and physics. It’s up to each business how they want to teach users to apply their known interaction models with physical objects to digital experiences.
There is a recent focus on the concept of storytelling in marketing. Where is it best for one to keep messages short versus long, in which stores behind brands and products can be told?
Kevin: This is a unique question and I’d be curious to learn more. I have experience storytelling in marketing, editorial, and in product design. From my time at the Brookings Institution, I used to work on the online editorials The Brookings Essays. Long-form vs short-form storytelling is an art form that I believe is rarely executed well. In the form of Snowfall by the New York Times, the world saw a totally new way to bring long-form writing (5000 characters and up) to the web with immersive interaction, animation, audio, video, and more.
In product design and marketing, the storytelling leans on the same principles of interaction design and branding. Just like in-person, storytelling needs to feel relatable, genuine, and memorable. In marketing, you have recognition of visuals (people, places, interfaces, objects, etc.), relationships with color (positivity, urgency, desire, status, worth), and so many ways to convey your message.
The root of marketing is the same as UX: understand your audience, research and anticipate their wants, quell their concerns, and think about how to meet the most needs of 80% of your core audience. Illustration is a great method for branding and communicating lots of information with shorter text (examples include Dropbox, Shopify, Mailchimp, Banana Republic, Facebook).
To define what’s best for you or any end user, determine priority based on the context. Small, bite-sized chunks of instruction with context usually lands best for process-driven tasks while long-form editorials are great to establish or initiate context, provide a rich background, explain history, and educate users of importance. More content requires more energy, time, and cognitive load so ensure that the user is trading all three of these things for something they find valuable. Again, I repeat, always talk to you customers/users.
My question for you today is what are some metrics/measures of success when it comes to design and user experience in your opinion?
Kevin: The metrics and/or measures of a good design are based on the goals it tries to accomplish. The design of paperless invoices for Amazon may have been to reduce cost on paper, meet environmental pledges, appease eco-friendly consumers, and also because 90% of customers didn’t need to make returns. However, without the intended goals and priorities, the ability to judge the design of a process or experience is poor at best.
For the products I usually work on, I aim to reduce the amount of information a user needs to remember or hold on to. I like to think that products that provide you with everything you need at the time you need it and how you like it are the best products. A lot of that assessment comes from having the right context and a magic blend of data used to create delightful personalization.
An experience tailored just for me usually beats a cookie-cutter experience made for the masses, regardless of it being a process for returns, changing the radio station, or landing a plane. Success for users should be rooted in causing less frustration, enabling them to detect a pattern, consistently applying rules or logic, and providing users the affordance to learn at their own pace and with the least amount of work. Don’t make them think (too much).
For someone completely new to the startup scene and small business world, what tools and/or resources would you recommend for them to dip their toe in the water with UX design?
Kevin: Regarding, education on user experience, I have several go-to resources that I’d love to share:
- InVision’s Education site: Design Better
- For more formal education, Amy Smith put together a great list and includes her reviews here.
- Design Genome by InVision, a study of design-forward companies
- Smashing Magazine’s online journal of Usability
- Design Everyday Things by Don Norman (the godfather of user experience)
- Don’t Make Me Think by Steve King
What are some common mistakes startups have with UX design?
Kevin: I often see startups fail to dedicate a resource to collect valuable user data by skimming on user analytics and not dedicating someone to talk to customers and synthesize those research findings. There’s also an assumption made my startups and large companies that the experiences and opinions of a few people (whether they’re a team at the business or small handful of consumers) is enough to get statistically significant recommendations.
Often startups only react to feedback from a few people or very confident senior or executive staff versus researching what a majority of customers or users of a key demographic think en masse. A Lack of good research and the proper application of qualitative vs quantitative data is likely the biggest downfall of companies that rely on digital user experiences.
What do you believe to be the top 3 misses companies and organization have when it comes to creating and launching a new brand?
Kevin: Launching a new brand is always tricky. I often see companies assume too much of the audience they’re targeting, rest on the laurels of their existing brand(s) and/or products, and forget to prioritize differentiation.
Assumptions are dangerous in a fast-paced, digital world. Forgetting to explain elements of a business, product, service, or other interfaces to a user can lead to confusion, abandonment, and reduced perception of value. I always heed organizations to analyze the reality of what is “obvious” or intuitive to their target audience. Conduct competitive research, interview customers, create and test hypotheses, and provide additional clarity at the most convenient time to reduce cognitive load and start users on a journey that prioritizes ease-of-use.
2. Resting on Laurels
When launching a new brand, there is a lot of pushback by the average consumer. In a world of constantly new brands, products, platforms, etc, every new ‘option’ needs to prove itself. The trust of a new brand’s creator, owner, or past versions, and all the comparable experiences must factor in for each decision. Especially when one is branding, marketing, selling, and disrupting an industry with a new brand.
3. Prioritizing Differentiation
Differentiation is the core factor of user experience. In its raw form, users need to know when statuses change, how products are better than competitors and how the results of a service compared to those of others. How a brand communicates what makes itself unique, trustworthy, user-focused, reliable, and effective can be the difference between a viral launch or an uphill battle for existence.
StartOut: It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on our Entrepreneur Forum providing such incredible information on UX Design as well as your own experience in the field. I know many of our users will benefit from your shared expertise and insightful feedback. Thank you again for your time and willingness to come in today and engage with all of us.
Kevin: Thank you all for the opportunity to share my learnings and opinions. I’m always open to helping more and feel free to add me on LinkedIn. Thank you for having me StartOut!