If I asked you right now which apps and websites you enjoy using and which you don’t, chances are you would probably have your answers ready to go in no time. But if pressed for the reasons behind your like or dislike of certain outlets, you might have some trouble articulating exactly what those are.
There are a huge number of factors that make up the way in which a company engages with its users/customers. First and foremost, there’s the visual design elements: what the app looks like, how it feels, the animation that gets carried out after you press a button, on and on and on to the smallest possible detail. Then there’s how the brand sounds when it talks to customers. The emails it sends out might strike a certain tone.
All of this adds up to what the tech industry calls User Experience (shortened to UX), and it’s a huge part of how a tech company creates a digital identity for itself.
Our guest expert, Leo Galley, sums it up very simply:
“UX design is the art of drawing and thinking of every possible interaction someone might have with your brand or company. It involves everything from an ad in the subway, an email, customer support, social media, and of course your website or app. When you consider all these interactions carefully, you end up creating a better, more consistent, and thoughtful product.”
Galley stopped by our offices to talk about his own UX design goals and what he’d like more companies to focus on to keep them from driving away their own users through bad UX, which could be anything from a glitchy app to unnecessary spammy emails sent out three times a day. He’s the Design Director for AngelList, a jobs site you’ve probably already heard of that focuses exclusively on startups. He also advises two very young startups, CoinList and Republic, both of which have been able to attract massive funding.
To start, I asked Galley to describe his personal approach to UX.
“I was lucky enough to learn UX and web design in school.Since then, I’ve worked on learning engineering as well. Knowing both worlds has tremendous advantages. I know exactly what the technology will let me do, I know the shortcuts and limitation for any design. As a designer, understanding how the technology works means you also have more care and patience for engineering. Being able to design and implement an entire design system at once is every designer’s dream. In a world where the two are often wrongfully separated, it’s refreshing to do both and really own the process.”
Another significant component for Galley has been the very basic exercise of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, an exercise that, unfortunately, many designers bypass entirely.
“I’ve always been curious about empathy, I’ve learned quickly it’s a skill you can train and work on intellectually. I like to put myself in the shoes of a 16 year-old, or someone who just turned 80, who maybe has limited internet access or trouble reading. Going through this exercise quickly highlights which parts of your product are simple and straightforward, and which ones are too complex.”
This perspective has proven to be absolutely key across Galley’s many projects, but especially in his work with AngelList. Galley’s contact with the job search startup actually came from using the site just as a candidate. Then, impressed by their non-traditional structuring and ease of use, he decided to join up with the team.
“I was initially looking for work using the AngelList recruiting platform as a prospect. Quickly I saw a company that cared about user experience. Most job platforms take you through a lengthy, painfully old-fashioned on-boarding process. But AngelList was straightforward and fresh. You could easily find the data that really mattered: salary, location, and the job description. To express interest, you just click a button. The job search was extremely well designed, you could apply to 20-40 relevant job position within 10 minutes and there never was any spam.”
Seeing AngelList’s work encouraged Galley to collaborate with them. And his work and unique design sensibility has rapidly attracted attention, as well as earning him the Gold European Design Award, which validated his forward-thinking approach.
“It was amazing. Loic Dupasquier and I worked so hard on this project, and to see it win an award was more than we ever dreamed of. It definitely helped for networking and job searching, but the biggest lesson for me was, ‘Oh, I can build anything I want, and it can be original, beautiful, and useful if I work hard enough.’”
Galley hopes to spread this message of putting design first, since in tech the user experience often ends up being the product itself. And he sees signs of hope out there, of certain brands starting to make the shift, ultimately for the benefit of us, the users.
“I think more and more startups are figuring out that separation of jobs is not the way forward. Instead of having the designer give mockups to the front-end engineer, who relays it to the Back-end engineer, we see that having someone who does both design and front-end, or both full stack and UX design, and works together across the spectrum, almost invariably leads to a more polished and thoughtful experience for the user and the brand.”
In a recent interview with NPR, famed Innovator and Apple CEO Tim Cook said that his worry with machine learning and AI is not that machines will learn how to think like people, but that machines and the way they work will slowly make people think more like machines. Modern-day programming is an excellent example of this. If you want to make the computer do something, you have to learn the computer’s language. We haven’t gotten to the point where our tools understand our language.
I was interested to see if Galley saw parallels between this statement and design work as a whole.
“I think it does relate to UX. Ultimately, machines won’t be able to replace empathy and UX-thinking for at least another 50 years. Empathy is hard to replicate and that’s one of our very few advantages over computers. I think that’s what Tim Cook is trying to say, that we should not try to be like computers, but instead use our unique capabilities and differences to work hand-in-hand with computer and create better technologies.”
And so far, Leo Galley has been able to do just that.