Fundamentals For User Interface Design Career Success
Onward Search Career Cast, Episode #20
This episode of Onward Search's Career Cast podcast explores how the fundamental principles of user interface design are essential to every successful UI design career.
Special guest David Hogue is the Vice President of Experience Design at Fluid, Inc., an applied psychologist and a UI instructor in the Multimedia Studies program at San Francisco State University. As an expert in the user interface design field, David offers insightful advice on how UI design professionals can apply the fundamentals of their practice to the challenges they encounter at all stages of their careers. Career Cast host Hillary O'Keefe, Online Marketing Manager at Onward Search, asks David about 4 main fundamentals of UI design that can support and further a UI design career.
Whether you've been working in the user interface design field for years or you're just starting out, these tips about applying UI design fundamentals can help you get your design career back on track, or heading in the right direction. Tune in for all the valuable advice!
PUBLISHED ON APRIL 21, 2011
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Peter Clayton: Welcome to an all new Onward Search Career Cast. This Peter Clayton bringing you another excellent episode with Hillary O’Keefe, Onward Search’s Online Marketing Manager. Today, Hillary is speaking with guest David Hogue, Vice President of Experience Design at Fluid, Inc. about user interface design fundamentals and how they apply to UI design careers. Hillary?
Hillary O'Keefe: Hi Peter, you are correct; today’s episode of Career Cast is about how the fundamental concepts of user interface design are essential to a successful design career whether you are starting out or you’ve been in the industry for many years. I’m very pleased to be speaking with an expert on this subject today. His name is David Hogue and he is not only the VP of Experience Design at Fluid, Inc, he is also an applied psychologist and a UI instructor in the multimedia studies program at San Francisco State University. In addition, he is the co-manager of the Fire On The Bay Adobe User Group and he completed a video series on the principles of interaction design on Adobe TV.
David, it’s wonderful to have you here on our show today. Thank you so much for joining me.
David Hogue: Thanks Hillary. I’m really happy to be here talking with you today. It’s always a joy to be talking about a field that I really enjoy doing.
Hillary O'Keefe: Absolutely. I recall when we first spoke, it was so neat to get your insight on how user experience and interaction design really is all about affecting the everyday parts of our life and making them better and that got me thinking about how the act of unlocking my Droid X is such a reflexive and almost thoughtless act at this point that you mentioned that that experience is essentially the goal of effective UI design.
David Hogue: Right. I like to tell a lot of my designers and my students that if we do our job well then no one will ever realize we’ve done our job. Our goal really is to design things that are invisible to people. It’s only when things go wrong that people pay attention to the interface, right? It’s when you start saying, “Why did it do that? Why is it here?” and “Why can’t I do what I want to do?” that we get frustrated by the interfaces, so the really good design just completely vanishes.
Hillary O'Keefe: What kind of challenges do you see your students and even experienced UI professionals facing these days? Is it all about avoiding, just that sort of noticing factor or is it something different about the practice?
David Hogue: Right. Well, actually interaction design, interface design, it’s a really broad field and we’re not just talking about websites or mobile phones. We now have a growing field of tablets. There are kiosks. We all have devices and appliances that we carry around and have in our homes that we don’t even realize have interfaces. Almost everyone has a DVR today and so there’s a television interface and a remote control that we’re using to figure out, “What am I going to watch on TV this evening?” All of these design principles in all of these different fields of information design, interaction design, people will even say interface design, it’s kind of hard for people to define sometimes what it is and some people think that interaction design is just, “You know, I make buttons and I make rollover states and I do banners that blink on the page,” but what we’re really talking about in the end is that interaction design is about the behavior of the end user. It’s about the behavior of the person.
It’s really not about whether or not something slides into view or fades into view. These are all design decisions that we make and we need to remind ourselves that there are fundamental concepts to interaction design that we need to apply all of the time and sometimes we get caught up in the design process and we think, “Oh, I want to do something different. I want to do something radical, or I want to do something innovative,” and we start to make design decisions to be different just for the sake of being different and sometimes we lose track of the real goal and that is to make things easier and more effective for the end user, for the person who is gong to be doing this and we need to remember that we’re always trying to craft something that is going to be a better experience, a better interaction and not just different for the sake of being different.
Hillary O'Keefe: So let’s talk about those fundamental concepts that we had gone over before and especially the ones that you recommend the most as staples to a successful UI design career. The first one I have here from our notes is just being pragmatic. How should someone apply that throughout their design career?
David Hogue: Being pragmatic is really about being practical and thinking what is it that people need to do, but it’s also being pragmatic in terms of how you apply your own skills and your own knowledge. Like I say, we’re designing for other people. We’re not designing for ourselves and so we have to think about what are other people doing? What do they need to do? What are their tasks and what are their goals? But also being pragmatic in how we think about our own skills and our own knowledge so if you're a new designer and you're just coming out of school and you're trying to get into the field thinking about how can you describe the work that you’ve done, your projects, your research, your course work, even your own personal projects as things that are relevant to the audience of a potential employer, you know, for their visitors, for their customers, what do they need and how does your experience and your skill set match for what that employer’s end users need.
For more experienced designers, we also need to be pragmatic in terms of when we go back to updated design or to fix problems that have been identified. We do lots of usability testing, we monitor analytics, there’s research from the site visitors and consumers and there’s always something that we can make better. There’s always an opportunity for improvement and as technology changes, we have new opportunities ahead of us so we need to think about, “What do I need to fix? What are the priorities? Why do I need to fix it? What’s a better way to do this?” And remind ourselves to avoid trying to do things like solving all of the world problems in one day. You know you sometimes hear the phrase boil the oceans?
Hillary O'Keefe: Right
David Hogue: We need to focus ourselves and be realistic about what we want to tackle and what we can accomplish.
Hillary O'Keefe: Well, it sounds a lot like designers need to maintain a perspective of being in the user’s shoes a lot and of course, tailor their practice to that. What do you think about when it comes to skill sets and portfolios especially when you are trying to impress a prospective employer? What do you think about giving that potential boss the best image of what you’ll provide them?
David Hogue: As both the teacher and a hiring manager, I’m lucky, or maybe unlucky, to be in the shoes of two different perspectives. Sending my students out to find the jobs and then reviewing resumes and applications for people who are seeking jobs and so there are a few things that I tell my student and a few things that I look for when I’m interviewing. When we’re in school, it’s very easy to become very comfortable in that ivory tower and to be very idealistic and having these big, big thoughts and wonderful dreams and being able to ignore constraints in technology and then getting out into the real world, suddenly they go, “We have a budget, we have a deadline, we can’t do that because there’s a technology limit,” so when I’m talking to people for interviewing, I look at two things really initially and that is I look at the fundamental skill set and the knowledge. The experience that they’re coming in with and I think of job ads as being wish lists in a way. Many job ads are a bit unrealistic in that they’re asking for one person who is a master of all trades and there are very few people out there like that.
Hillary O'Keefe: That would essentially be the best case scenario for any hiring manager, right?
David Hogue: Well, it would.
Hillary O'Keefe: Someone who has everything.
David Hogue: Right and there’s what? Like three people in the world who fit that description.
Hillary O'Keefe: Yeah, maybe.
David Hogue: Right, so when I’m looking at resumes, I’m looking at the foundational skills – just the fundamental skills – and then probably the even more important thing that I’m looking for is are they able to demonstrate or communicate their sense of potential, can they grow into a really great design role and become a really great designer? Can they learn? Will they get the experience on the job? Can they apply what they have learned? I don’t expect everyone to know everything. I don’t know everything. I’m learning everyday, so I can’t really expect to hire someone who’s going to come in and be perfect on day one, so I’m looking for that potential and I’m looking to see if the foundation is solid. Are there really good fundamental skills and the ability to grow from there?
Hillary O'Keefe: It’s impossible to be that perfect candidate, but there are ways to prepare yourself and you can do things to ensure that you are really attractive to those hiring managers and one of them which brings us the third point I have here is about remembering exactly who you're designing for throughout your entire career.
David Hogue: Right and as I mentioned earlier, a core thing that every designer should be saying to themselves is “I’m not designing for myself. I’m not designing for myself.” There’s only one time you ever design for yourself and that is when you build your own site so that you can visit it and feel good about yourself and you're putting yourself out there to show the work that you’ve done, but most of the time, it’s someone else who you are designing for, so we need to remember that.
Also, if we take a look at who the really good designers are and how they approach things and listen to how they describe their work, they’re always talking about the people. They’re talking about the end user. They talk about their needs, their motivations, their behaviors, how are they feeling, what are their attitudes, are they pleased by this, what are their desires and does this satisfy them, how does a product or a service fit into their life and so they’re always thinking about the design as part of a much bigger picture. It’s not just, “Oh, I think this yellow button is pretty” or “I think that header is really well written.” It’s much more about the context of the person.
We also to be sensitive about the technology that we are designing for because it moves so quickly and people are doing things in so many different ways in so many different venues, just like the challenges of designing something for the web and/or a mobile device and/or a tablet when you might be moving from a mouse and a keyboard to a small type screen, to a large type screen. How do we deliver these consistent experiences that will accomplish the same goals for the same person even though they are going to be interacting in very different ways? And so always being aware of our opportunities for design and of what the end people really need.
Hillary O'Keefe: Got you. So that takes us to our last point, because you had mentioned that there’s a big difference between being a designer and being an artist and in essence, it really does come down to exactly who you’re creating for. How can someone balance this throughout their career?
David Hogue: I was thinking about this. It’s funny, it’s a topic that sometimes comes up in conversation with designers and I think there’s like a syllogistic relationship here. Maybe we could say that all design is art but not all art is design.
Hillary O'Keefe: Interesting.
David Hogue: Artists have a vision in their mind and they’re trying to craft and create something and make it real and then as observers, we look at it and we marvel at their talent and at their skill, but the art itself is not always functional. It’s not always about accomplishing a goal. Looking at the Mona Lisa isn’t doing anything for me other than aesthetic pleasure. On the other hand, designers are trying to provide an opportunity for people to do things and we want them to be aesthetically pleasing and we want them to be simple and elegant.
We want people to enjoy them but I think there is a difference between design and art and you know, Don Norman actually talks a lot about how pretty things and how emotions, people’s emotional reactions to design, in the book Emotional Design and how we use objects and basically, if you’ve got two objects that function the same way but one of them is prettier than the other, people think the prettier one functions better, so aesthetics are of course very important and we’ve all had the experience of the website or the web form that it works but it’s clunky or it’s blocky or it’s ugly. It does what it needs to do but it’s not as pleasing of an experience and so we all strive to make things pretty in what we do.
Hillary O'Keefe: David, those are all wonderful reasons to keep the fundamentals of user interface design in mind throughout your entire design career. I feel like I have learned so much just speaking with you today and this past week. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.
David Hogue: Great, thank you.
Hillary O'Keefe: Do you have any upcoming Fire On The Bay meet ups or any sort of Adobe TV releases you want to tell everyone about?
David Hogue: Sure. There are a few things coming up. Just generally, Fire On The Bay which is an Adobe User Group that focuses on Fireworks/Catalysts and Dreamweaver, we’re located in San Francisco. We meet on the third Tuesday of every month at the Adobe headquarters in San Francisco and so you can find us online. It’s easy, Fireonthebay.org and we’re listed in Meetups so you can see where all of those sections are. I’ll be doing one coming up in just a couple of weeks actually on using Fireworks and Flash Catalysts together, so generating graphics in Fireworks to then take in to Flash Catalysts.
I have a series of articles and videos. They are available on Adobe.com in the developers’ center and on Adobe TV and I’m working on another one right now that should come out in a few weeks also on Fireworks and Flash Catalysts. In Kansas City in July, I’ll be speaking at the Designer/Developer Conference, that’s D2WC. It’s a workflow conference. That’s July 14th through the 16th and then for anyone who’s interested, you can always keep track of where I am and what I’m doing on Twitter. It’s really easy. I am @DaveHogue on Twitter so can find me there as well.
Hillary O'Keefe: Excellent. Thanks again so much, Dave. It was really a pleasure to have you on the show, and thank you all for tuning in to another episode of Onward Search Career Cast. I’ll meet you back here real soon.
Thank you for tuning in to Onward Search Career Cast. For more information on the career opportunities available through Onward Search, you should visit us online at onwardsearch.com or call 1-800-829-0072 and speak with an experienced recruiter. And you should also follow Onward Search on Twitter at twitter.com/onwardsearch.