6 things I learned whilst looking for a job

In late 2010 I set out to find a new UX job in London. I’d like to share with you some of the things I encountered on my quest for a workplace.

1. Know yourself.

The first thing I learned was that, although the job title might be the same, User Experience Designer can mean many things depending on the environment you are looking at. A start-up might expect you to be knowledgeable in user testing whilst also capable of doing some front-end coding. An agency might expect that you’ve have created and presented pitches, whilst client-side might expect you to design email campaigns as part of your job.

Because all of these different expectations it is important to know what you want, what you can do and where you might find the most realistic fit for those two. In my case I found that what I want, –growth in my knowledge and skills in designing advanced web-applications– was quite hard to achieve with my mix of skills (best to be described as senior web-designer). This showed itself by the variety of salaries that companies were willing to pay me for roughly the same job title. Best advice would be to contact a more senior practitioner, who knows about your work, and gain a good understanding about your strengths and interests.

More to read:
How to get a job at a webdesign agency.

2. Have a portfolio

You might have a well written CV, hundreds of connections on LinkedIn and Twitter, and a well maintained blog, but without a good portfolio you’re unlikely to land an interview. I would advise to have three versions available: one pdf version that you can send out to recruiters, an online version that you can link to, and a set of printouts that you can take with you to an interview. You’d be surprised to find out how many times it’s quite a challenge to get online during a job interview.

As for what should be in your portfolio, have a look at Jason Mesut’s rant over at London IA.  As you can see from my portfolio there is still room for progress. It’s not completely clear which story I want to tell: am I a visual designer with some IxD experience, or a beginning IA with some visual design experience, also the items seem to be in a random order. The positive feedback that I received was mainly on my sketches and more conceptual work; which probably proves the point that the process is more insightful to look at than the end product.

More to read:
To portfolio or not to portfolio that is the question

3. Recruiters

As soon as you’ve uploaded your CV on Monsterboard you will get plenty of phone calls from hungry recruiters, all of them will promise you that you are exactly the right match for their inspiring position. Therefore make sure you’ve done your ‘know thyself homework’ and are able to quickly judge if the proposed job is matching your criteria. From my experience, there are some recruiters who are really good, who are interested in you and are willing to invest time to follow up on conversations. Here are some agencies that took the decency (or precaution) to ask me to come over for a talk: ZebraPeople, Futureheads, Propel London, Ecom recruitment and Vanburn at ITHR. Don’t forget, however, that many companies don’t (or even refuse) to work with recruiters, so it’s worth doing some active searching yourself.

4. Automate your search

No need to keep on visiting websites to hope for an update; modern technologies come with plenty of options to stay in the loop without working too hard. The following services allow you to sign up for an email update on your search query: the Guardian, Monster, the Ladders. And these services you can follow by RSS: uxwork, UK UPA jobs, London IA jobs, etc. What also might be an idea is to search Twitter for UX jobs and to choose the ‘show tweets nearby’ tab.

5. Linked In

LinkedIn was for me the site where I kept coming back to. It has the ability to do background checks on the companies and the people who are interviewing you. Also more and more companies are actively using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool.

6. Quality over quantity

At the moment there is a strong demand for UX designers in London, therefore if you aren’t too sure about a company don’t worry too much about turning down a job offer. In the end it’s better to only go to job interview with companies you are interested in, better one well-researched and prepared interview then ten careless conversations.

more to read:
Improve your changes of a job in UX
Grow your UX skill set
Things you need to know to get an IA/UX job
Getting hired

Please let me know in the comments how you’ve experienced finding work and which knowledge you’ve found essential. And if you have some free time, maybe now is the right moment to brush up your skills.

An interview on UX design

A while ago I answered some questions for .Net magazine about my work at Webjam, only a few quotes got published, so it seems like a good idea to share my answers with the world.

What does user experience mean, as far as you’re concerned?
User experience is about aligning the existing elements –information, visual style and interaction- in such a way that it creates the best experience for the user whilst still adhering to the company’s goals.

Why does user experience matter? What are the benefits?
Creating a user experience is a given, creating a good user experience is hard work. A large part of human decisions are non-rational decisions, there is no checklist to conclude if we trust a site, or if a site is friendly, instead it’s a feeling felt about the whole experience. Structurally improving the experience of the users will therefore benefit business in general.
How do you approach user experience when creating websites and working with clients?

You have to be clear on two areas, first, what does the client expect that a user will do on a site? Selling their car is quite different from downloading a press release. Second, what is the type of experience they want to achieve? Trustworthy for a finance site is different from cutting-edge for a 3D designer, equally child-friendly for a Zoo is different from quality for an established tailor. Knowing the usability and experience goals will help you to determine the right approach for a fitting user experience.

How does psychology impact on UX, and are there any basic key rules designers should bear in mind when  working on projects?
In the diverse and crowded Internet marketplace the time of easy revenue for Internet companies is definitely over. A useful and usable website are conditions for entering. To get ahead of your competition you have to do more, and it is here where knowledge of psychology comes into play. From persuading a visitor to sign up to convincing a member to stay actively involved, a UX designer has to use a wide range of design elements to influence a user’s behaviour. In a way UX is borrowing more and more psychological tactics from marketing and sales.

What do people get wrong regarding UX in web design? What common mistakes do you see or misunderstandings do you find are rife?
Often there is a strong focus on just one of the elements of UX, the site looks beautiful but it is very hard to complete any task, or the site is very usable but has become so minimalistic in design that filling in your tax form seems like more fun! It is important to understand that good UX comes from understanding the customer. After that you only need to add great information architecture, great interaction, great visual design and great copy to create the winning formula.

What do you think the next big development in UX will be?
In a saturated market with highly competitive products and services, creating usable sites won’t be enough. The key question is not if the user can use your site but if they want to. Therefore, understanding and influencing user’s behaviour by using lessons learned from psychology, sociology and marketing will become increasingly important.

Where marketing and experience design meet

Would you thread an ordinary notebook like this
Would you thread an ordinary notebook like this

Are those who use a Moleskin more successful, richer and more creative? Maybe a weird question. Logic tells you “of course not!”, writing in an expensive notebook should not differ from writing in one that you bought for a pound. But think with me for a moment, to be able to buy a Moleskin you need to be mentally and financially capable, so it’s quite likely that you are successful enough to allow such expenses and mentally ready to be seduced by style (or quality as they say)

Another question, are the owners of an Austin Martin more successful, richer and more powerful than those who drive to work in a Vauxhall? I bet you’d agree with me on all the three questions. Allow me to take you to another question: what came first, the Moleskin or the success? Maybe you need some success to buy your first Moleskin, but what about the second, and the third. Would you rip pages out it (like you do with that one you got for free), would you write down your shopping list, would you loose it somewhere on the way?  Or would you follow the lead that the Moleskin sets and focus more on quality and tread your ideas and behaviour with more respect?

Experience design is designing in such way that it influences behaviour, thoughts and believes.

Where have we heard those words before? In the very fine art of marketing. In the field of web-applications design we should follow the path set up by many designers before us and make products that are not only useful, (or usable) but are also a pleasure to use. From the first click on the link to your site to the very last check-box on the last tab, it’s not only the usability, the amount of features,  the personalisation options or the amount of free web-space that counts, but the quality of the experience

And it’s the quality of the experience that adds the most value to your proposition and your business. Does Coca-Cola work better against hydration than tab-water, is a Jaguar more useful to bring you from A to B than a Vauxhall, does a Suit from Savile Row keep your warmer than a trainings-suit from Primark? Of-course not, in the first world people pay a premium for a better experience. And who can blame them, for don’t you deserve the best experience?

design and emotions

In this article I want to discuss the relation between emotion and design, but first let me say why I think that we are having this discussions at this very moment (and not a decade ago (or next decade)) I see five reasons.

  • Interaction design is more than graphic design on a screen or industrial design in a browser
  • Enlightenment, modernism and the questioning  of man being rational
  • The rise of neurological research, and the continues psychological and sociological experiments
  • The availability of a massive amount of behavioural data
  • Internet companies have found themselves in a saturated market with highly competitive products

I believe this is the right moment  to connect emotions with design research. Let me first go over the word “emotional” (again) in our language emotional is often used as the opposite of rational, when you are ‘all emotional’ you are not acting rational, and even worse both also carry a value connotation, to be emotional is bad, to be rational is good. I (and many with me) think this is a strong oversimplification that will not help us any further. Emotion is in accepting that in order to make a decision we  take much more into account than only  ‘is this cheaper or will this last longer’. As Malcolm Gladwell tried to explain in his book Blink or Weinschenk in her book Neuro Web Design there is a lot of thinking going on beyond closed doors.

The estimate from neuroscientist is that our five senses are taking in 11 million pieces of information every second. And how many of those are we processing consciously? A mere 40! (Weinschenk)

Is it pure magic what happens with the other 10 million inputs? Luckily we can already say quite a lot about the way those other inputs are processed, they are (mostly) in-line with our needs (A theory on needs was developed by Maslow, the so called hierarchy of need) I don’t want to go in this too deep, but I hope you agree that there is an awful lot to take into consideration when making a decision. This taking into consideration is what I for the lack of a better therm will call ’emotional’ decision making.

Interaction design
Interaction design (or user-experience design, information design, webdesign, etc) although there isn’t makes one thing pretty clear, designing for digital interfaces is not the same as just applying old design knowledge (architecture, graphic design, industrial design) to a new medium. We need the old knowledge, but it’s not enough, we have a new thing to learn about what happens when time, humans and mediated social action meet on a screen, magic happens. To know more about this magical field many people have turned to fields originally hardly associated with design such as psychology and sociology, as I shall try to make clear in this article, it was about time.

Enlightenment and modernism
Now let’s move back a bit in history -and make some terrible generalisations- and try explain why in the first place we have to defend emotional design over rational design. In the period of enlightenment the idea man could get out of the darkness and get on the path of progress if only we would be rational came to the surface . If we would follow our mind and with the help of technology we could work towards a better future for all mankind, we could put ourselves on a infinitive track of progress. In the 20th these ideas shaped thinking about design and architecture the idea of modernism rose on the horizon. If only we would remove every non-essential part, all the clutter, all the fluff, than at the heart we would reach a perfect blend of man and technology the essence, buildings would be white and shiny, products would be simple and clean and font-faces would be simple yet beautiful. Even the short rise (and fall) of post-modern design could not stop it, post-modernism gave us a change though to question our believes, maybe there would be more in life than this.  Now with the knowledge that there is more to progress than just simply removing everything that was not necessary to the job. Emotions came back to the table.

Psychological research
A lot has happened since Sigmond Freud uncovered the subconscious, experiment after experiment prove that humans are not as rational as we think. Research keeps on proving that people are influenced by reciprocity, commitment consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity (for a short introduction on these: Neuro Web Design) So although people are not rational, the factors that influence their behaviour are known and can be studied. This of-course with the hope that we will come to a rational way of understanding irrationality.

Data crunching
Now we have stated that although humans don’t behave as rational as expected, patterns in their behaviour can still be found, it is time to move on to the rise of the internet companies. Because any action that happens on a network can be registrated by that network, there is a massive amount of data available on internet usage. Data in itself is not really meaningful, just a long strings of zeros and ones. Meaning only appears after we work with this data and turn it into information. The quality of this information both depends on the kind of data, the quantity and most important the questions you try to answer with this data. If you start mixing psychological insights with quantitative data, interesting patterns start to emerge. You could for example base authority on the amounts of links that any web page gets, or you could use data clustering to create statements as ‘people who bought this also bought’. Or use it to answer if a border should be 5 or 6 pixels. Important to remember is that data is only useful when you ask the right questions.

So now we have the right mindset that by doing research we can improve the workings of technology, we have the psychological models to know where we have to look for answers and we have the data to give us the answers. Now the only thing we need is a financial stimulus to actually start working.

Web companies face a saturated. mature market
To be a successful company in the online sphere is at least as hard as to be successful in any market, there is no easy money any more. Although it might be easier than ever to start an online service and to have visitors coming your way, this is true for everyone. Thanks to the growing awareness of good usability practices most new web applications are now usable, this however is also true for the competition. To make the most out of their visitors companies have to make each visitor count. The psychological lessons about humans emotional behaviour are therefore really valuable, design that anticipates human emotional behaviour can make a visible difference in the amount of people that will actually use a website. By applying this knowledge we can move on from ‘is the user’s task doable’ to ‘does the user want to do the task’


So there we have it, the mindset, the questions, the answers and the money. This is why we will hear a lot more about psychology, sociology and emotions in the design world the coming decade.

more to read:

Donald Norman’s Design and Emotion
Predictably Irrational

The amazing slide shows by Joshua Porter
Pieter Desmet research emotions method

Neuro Web Design – a book review

This review is of the book Neuro Web Design – what makes users click by Susan M. Weinschenk. As the title suggests this book is supposed to be about what web designers and web marketeers can learn from ‘recent’ insights from psychology to build websites that are better up for their tasks. I.e. how do you get a user to click, write, engage with your website in a way that you want.

The book is divided into eleven chapters that all support one main concept and end with a handy summarizing bottom line. Because the book is neatly structured it’s not that hard to summarize. Therefore I will first provide you with a summary, and secondly a conclusion. As you might notice, that there are hardly any mind-blowing new insights, but one could say its the execution of ideas that count, not merely having them.

First chapter is about the working of the brain in general. We have three brains, working closely together, Susan uses the easy to remember names, new brain – where the active thinking happens, mid-brain – where emotions are processed, where your feelings are, and the old brain – that focusses on general survival, also works with the automatic functions in our body, as walking and breathing. An interesting fact is that we receive around 11 million sensory inputs a second, but our concious brain – the new one- is only capable of handling 40 of them simultaneously. To create successful websites we should therefore not only focus on our new brain where reason and logic live, but just as much -or even more- focus on the other parts of the brain that are outside our concious regions.

Second chapter is about social validations, we want to be normal, we want to be like others, therefore we continuously scan the environment to get a feeling of what might be expected from us. We therefore are particularly influenced by the decisions that others made, recommendations on Amazon for example, or the interestingness factor on Flickr. An other great way is to use case studies and stories of people who we can imagine to be real and who’s stories we can connect with.

Third chapter is about reciprocate and concession, about how giving things away for free actually helps working on peoples guilt feeling to balance out their relation to you, give them free information, and they might be willing to give some information back. Give them a free trial period, and they will consider your offering to pay for a service more happily.

Forth chapter is about scarcity. If things come in endless amounts, than or they are too easy, and we might take them another time, or they are not good enough, and people wouldn’t even want them if it is free. If there is some price to pay though, we feel more interested, expensive things must be good right, hard to reach places must be more interesting. Make information harder to get, make product offers run for a limit time, and they all appear to be more interesting.

Fifth chapter is about not providing endless choice, give people distinctive choices. We can only handle one or two product features at the same time, so if you want people to choose a particular product, make it appear on top of the list, let the most expensive one have more features, connect it with a story about a identifiable person and the deal is closed. Or if you want to sell a model X of 20 pounds, present it next to model Y of 110 pounds and model Z of 12 pounds. Even if X is only a slightly bit better than Z people will still go for it, because it looks like such a deal compared with Y, and Z is so cheap that there must be something wrong with it. (supermarkets love this trick to sell you their home brand) Perhaps here filtering techniques start to help too. As long as we have the feeling that we are slightly in control. Not every advanced search delivers on its expectations. Horizontal browsing might therefore provide a good alternative to vertical search (Check this presentation on Amazon)

Sixth chapter is about you! have you noticed how many times Flickr uses the word you on the logged in homepage? -nine times the word you, two times your name, and a whole menu named ‘you’. Your old brain is completely you focusses and loves to know more about things that are there for you to provide you with a better life. This focusses on three general themes of survival. Avoid danger – even if the danger isn’t focussed upon us, our brain will still be extra alert when we see risky things, show advertisement right after a scary film scene and we are more likely to take notice, and by having things flicker and blink they will get our attention. Find food: if you are by any chance in the food business, lucky you, show food lusciously and the customers will run into your shop. Sex sells, pretty people, girls with Bambi eyes, it all still helps to close the deal.

Seventh chapter is about commitment and consistency. Get people on board and they are more likely to stay on-board, increase your fees slowly each year, and they still feel committed and stay with you. Speak towards an inner vision of who some-one things she is, and more likely she will go for your product to stay consistent with her inner story and with her history of being. Writing positive reviews for example will not only give other people the feeling that they make better informed decisions, but it will commit the writer of the review stronger to the product.

Eight chapter is about similarity and sameness. Attractive people still are a good way to sell products, celebrities go a long way, and if your site is created for a specific target audience, than do show them. People that appear to be just like us, are trusted more.

Ninth chapter is about the fear of losing. Losing an offer because time runs out, buying the most expensive version because fear of missing some of the good stuff. (Nine is also about chapter four) Threadless can be seen as a good example here

Tenth chapter is about pictures and stories. We are in general not that good in remembering dry information, but when folded in a delicious story and topped with emotional pictures of real (attractive) people it moves right into our unconscious brain.

Eleventh chapter is a conclusion; we are social animals, think in stories, in emotions and in humans and your next product that will help people to communicate more divers, more easily, faster and more engaging will become a hit.

Although the book is not really bad, it’s lack of web bases case studies (even the most famous ones are absent) and the chunks of information that leave you behind hungry for more (yes, I really was able to summarize chapter nine in one line, it was hard not to write more words than Weinschenk about this topic) make the purchase of this book doubtable. I got the feeling that Weinschenk certainly does know her psychology facts and research reports, nevertheless her lack of knowledge on the area of web and design do prevent this book from being exciting and engaging. At least 60% of the book is filled with examples that have nothing to do with the internet. Although I actually learned a few things about the latest neuro-research, calling this book neuro web design is misleading. My advise would be that she teams up with web designer and writes a follow up as soon as possible. Until than, just read my summary and save up for books that are filled with passion for the field. Susan’s conclusion is a great example of her doubtful motives:

I don’t know what the next big thing online will be. I wish I did know. Than I could create it, make a lot of money and retire.

Her desire for money unfortunately led to this joined attempt with New Riders to create a book that promises much, but fails in execution.

I will give this book three stars, one for the great topic, one for the nice construction of the book, one because I did learn something, a minus for the lack of related case studies and a minus for the lack of real engaging content.

Another definition of design

As I pointed out in my previous post, I think that there is still something missing on all the great diagrams that are already made about design. And that is “why bother about design in the first place”. I placed my writings in a nice little diagram that hopefully explains what I meant, but also opens new questions.

What is the function of design

As far as I can explain from this diagram is that the goal of design is to enable people to work with technology in such a way that they can do their task they think they need to do to achieve their goals.The most important thing I wanted to make clear is that not only should designers focus on which task a user want to preform with a certain technology, they should also consider which goals (and vision) a user has, for their might be other tasks more suitable to achive their goals.