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Hrishi Mittal (HM): Hi, Matt. How are you doing?
MI: Yes, sure. It’s good to be here. So I’m Matt. I’m a UX designer, so UX design consultant. I’m also an instructor and writer. I’m doing more sort of writing and things. And I do a lot of work with startups mostly in the e-commerce or marketplace space. Although not only that but that’s kind of where I sort of specialised, and that’s generally companies in London or Europe. So I've been doing this for about the last year or so, been out on my own doing this. Before that I spent about 3 ½ years with a company called Onefinestay. We were kind of a startup when I joined and grew rapidly over the time I was there. Whilst I was there, I was the UX designer on the website and also ended up product managing the website for a few years as well. So that was a really good sort of crash course and learning a lot of how startups work and grow.
HM: That sounds great. Yeah, Onefinestay is... Yeah, one of the big success stories from London, isn’t it?
MI: Yeah, totally.
HM: So tell me... Let’s go back and tell me a bit about how did you get into design in the first place?
MI: I guess it’s really come from since school. I guess I was lucky in that I knew pretty early on what I wanted to do since I found this thing called graphic design. I knew that’s what I wanted to get into. I was always into kind of art and drawing and stuff in school and graphic design seemed like a way you can actually I guess have a career or something in that without the sort of vague riskiness of doing art as a sort of thing. So I really liked the way it kind of merged. So design is a good merging of art and sciences like getting the most of the two. There's kind of rules to fill so you need some inspiration in that. So I ended up doing my degree in graphic design, which I loved, but I wasn’t really doing anything to do web design at that point. I don’t really think I did any web-based projects.
HM: Where did you do your degree?
MI: That was in Falmouth, so down in Cornwall. It was College of Arts when I started there, now a full university. But it’s got a very good sort of artsy...
HM: Yeah. I know a couple of people who studied design there, actually.
MI: Nice! Yeah. Yeah, it was a great place. It was kind of isolated, sort of separate down all the way in Cornwall and really good atmosphere with the students and quite collaborative way of working which I really enjoyed. Anyway, yes, so I didn’t really do much in terms of web design. I came out. It wasn’t until the companies after university where I managed to land a job with the BBC on their actual designee scheme where they kind of taught me UX design from scratch really. It was a great place to go and learn and kind of learn and get experience on the job and be taken to work across different teams from like the journalism team to the audio music team, and eventually spending a couple of years at the World Service. So working on all sorts of different language sites, which was a really interesting challenge. Yeah, it was great. I guess at the time, so that was in like 2008 when I started there, and they had a team of I don't know, 100, 150 UX designers and information architects, something like that. And I think they're probably one of the few people doing UX design that early on. It’s kind of become a lot more popular now. But that time, certainly at that scale I don't think many other people in the U.K.
MI: That was 2008 when I started.
HM: I see.
MI: I've tried things like calling myself remote UX designer, lean UX designer. I think those are really just ways of working and not really a specialism. You need to come up with something… came up with an output that really benefits... benefits the client.
I've tried things like calling myself remote UX designer, lean UX designer. I think those are really just ways of working and not really a specialism. You need to come up with. . . an output that really benefits the client.
HM: Did you...? I mean, why did you pick e-commerce specifically? Was that because you worked at Onefinestay or…?
So that was where I spent the last 3 years really until it felt natural to follow on from that. I realised that’s kind of what interested me. I've certainly had a growing interest in the sort of psychology of selling online as well and convince people to pay for things and trust you and part with their cash online.
HM: On your website you mentioned that you have three main areas of focus: data-driven design, e-commerce, and mobile apps. Is that right?
MI: So the data-driven UX design has kind of come from… so a lot of it came out of this workshop I've been teaching for a while which is called Data Driven UX Design on a Budget. And it’s all the kind of tools I sort of taught myself and ways of working I taught myself as a sole UX designer at a startup who also realised it. As I was kind of transitioning to become a product manager I realized I needed to understand how to use things like Google Analytics and how to incorporate some quantitative data into my process. But also I’m a real advocate of qualitative datum, pairing the two up and doing a lot with those two. And so doing remote testing and other ways you can get both of them working well together. So that’s why I positioned, that’s kind of how I work, I guess, the data driven UX thing, and kind of showing like what… I believe that any designer now has to be able to kind of backup their results with showing that you're improving conversion or you're improving something on the site. That’s kind of how a lot of clients are gradually coming around to understanding that and working that way. I think it’s quite healthy to move away from this idea of, “Oh, we’re just going to do a redesign project that’s going to last.” Just because we’ve got a few months available rather than saying, “Okay, this is what we will improve, this is what we’re going to work towards to get there.” And it might take a couple of weeks, it might take a few months, whatever it takes to get there is more important. So it’s that and then e-commerce is kind of how I position myself as my specialist area, I guess. Thinking about only for e-commerce. And then mobile is just a thing almost as an area that I was kind of lacking I would say a couple of years ago. I've just made a concerted effort to be working more on mobile projects and teaching myself more so I felt right, that’s going to be an area of focus as well. So I've kind of got it down to these three areas of focus. Any more than that I think it would get a bit messy.
HM: Yeah. Well then it’s not a focus anymore.
I think that mobile is almost like the epitome of the challenge of UX design because they're so little. There's no more kind of half-assing it and messing around with putting loads of things on the screen. You've got so little screen space you've really got to define exactly what your product is and exactly how it works in a really small space.
MI: Roughly, that’s kind of what… I mean, it’s not necessarily that simple every time but that’s kind of how I look at it.
Basically it’s a site that allows you to book yacht holidays or sailing holidays for people who basically… really aimed at people who’ve never been on a sailing holiday before. They sort it out with the captain and a boat and they sort out the itinerary. It’s actually relatively affordable. A lot of people talking price start thinking it’s a really scary, expensive holiday. Actually it works out, you can go on a decent week’s long holiday for about €500 per person. But what I really enjoy about that, that was a great product of trying to… A lot of that was about distilling it down. They started off almost like an Airbnb for yachts before realising that most people if they're a beginner user, you have someone who don’t actually know what yacht they want to take. They want to be told what they need to do and need to be handheld a lot more through the process. It’s a lot more about refining that and understanding how safe was their journey. And also just the images are great on that site. They have a great visual design and great look and it was already into hundred site to user test because every time users were just being blown away by how great the images were and really enjoying just the experiencing themselves in the site, which is an easy thing that’s overlooked I think, and just realise how much work great imagery can do.
And then sort of a flipside, a totally different example I guess is one that I've been working with this year. Very small startup. Very new. A company called Drover and they are like kind of an Uber for Uber drivers. So it’s kind of going really almost inception-like…
MI: Basically they allow people who want to be Uber drivers but don’t own a car to be able to rent one by the shift or by the week. So it’s great for this kind of people who are in this big economy. It’s actually one of the hardest things to get a hold of is the car and that to me the biggest outline-based expense is opening up to a wide audience. People who can now become drivers. And they've partnered with Uber. That’s been really interesting because we’ve been doing bits of stuff on the website but a lot I've been working on that app which is upcoming, of their mobile design. Well, it’s not out yet but it’s going to be interesting because it’s a process where we have a bit more control over the user’s experience all the way from booking a car to drive all the way through… In the future, we’re going to be developing features around what they do when they come to make the booking, when they come to start the booking, when they're driving, when they come to drop the car off. You've got that whole kind of customer life cycle there which is really interesting. And also what’s kind of cool is their office. It’s up in Dovaston and they have an old shop as their office. So they're almost onto the street front and there's drivers dropping in all the time so you're really close to your users. We needed to do a quick kind of user testing and grab them to one side and test our prototypes with them. So it’s really nice to feel the sort of, understand pretty quickly what the pains are of the users and see how you can change how they enjoy that side of things.
And the tool I use mainly for that is UserTesting.com. I’m a big fan of UserTesting.com. You can set up a test in the morning and by the afternoon you can have back all your test results. They all come back in as videos of users either scrolling around your website or you can do mobile apps as well. And you get a video with them speaking so you can hear their thoughts when they're moving around the product. And then you can make clips from that video really quickly and easily, put those clips into highlight reels. Just great for sharing with clients. So it’s great for working when you're working remotely with clients sharing that sort of content around is really easily.
And also even if you're working with kind of bigger companies where there's management involved and they want to see user testing but they have no time, you can put together a quick highlights reel of your user testing and just send it to them and say, “Look, if you've got 10 minutes watch this. These are the key things you need to know about how your site’s got problems or where you need to improve.” And it does cost a little bit of money to use UserTesting.com. It was at about $50 per test, which is actually pretty reasonable, I'd say. But if you want to give it a dabble beforehand, you go to peek.usertesting.com. You can try out up to three free tests on there, free 5-minute long test.
MI: So that’s a quick way if you want to just practice on how to go and see how their system probably works. That’s peek.usertesting.com.
And really simple things as well often. It’s a thing that some sites do, some sites don’t. You know when if you’d say Click a Link a lot of the times on hotel booking sites, they might open that page in a new tab. And I’m always still amazed to see how many people… not amazed but it’s kind of surprising, I guess, to see how many people still don’t understand that pattern. They don’t realize it’s opened a new tab. Often so many users rely on the back button of their browser and they kind of get trapped because it breaks the back button. They try to get back and they can’t work out why. It’s never been clear they're opening a new tab. They don’t realise the site’s still at another tab and they kind of again get trapped. So those kind of really painful moments when you start to think, oh, this is so easily avoidable. But it’s really useful for some to motivate and change that can be done quite quickly.
HM: Right. Well, I’m going to go and check all the new tab links on my website. I've never thought about that. You know, the other one you mentioned about getting trapped in a different sub-domain, like a help site or something, that’s one of my pet peeves with a lot of startup blogs. They'll have their blog on a blog.whatever startup.com domain and 90% of them never link back to the main site. And it’s fine if you're a techie and you'll type in the URL or you'll Google the site or something but most people don’t do this.
When someone likes your page and they want to find out more about the company, don’t make it hard for them. You've got to think about that journey otherwise you're just writing content that’s going to be lost to the world and it’s not giving you any benefit.
And so I just think it’s one of those things that people need to be really careful of. It’s easy to just kind of set up an A/B test quickly and say, “Oh, we’ve got a winner,” and then think you've done your work whereas it’s really heavy statistics involved in A/B testing. There's a lot to understand. I think unless you're a data scientist or unless you've got that kind of setup which is a really robust A/B testing setup, it can be more dangerous than not doing it.
I'd say for a lot of companies they should be looking at user testing rather than this kind of A/B testing. And I understand why A/B testing has become sort of popular because it gives just such great headlines. It gives so many great blog posts so they can say, “Oh, we increased conversion for 30% on this.” And then I’m always left thinking did you though? Really? What are your numbers? Can you publish your numbers? Let’s have a look at were they really significant, were they meaningful or did you just run it like 100 people or something?
Then there's also other things like you're making sure you're testing with the same kind of traffic each time. So really if you're running a test, you should make sure it’s only traffic coming from PPC companies, that only those people are seeing it. Because different types of traffic behave really differently. If you suddenly turn on a new campaign halfway through it could totally change the kind of traffic you're getting and sort of corrupt your results. There's so many ways you can incidentally and accidentally kind of mess up your results. You've just got to be…
But last year, I made myself write an article a week. I think that was really useful just kind of forcing yourself to find something and find something interesting. I really didn’t put a limit on what I'd write about. I wrote a really diverse set of things, some stuff about practical UX design also the odd opinion pieces around what Twitter is doing and how Facebook is working and things like that before realising that actually that’s not what I should be writing about because no one normally cares what I have to think about that. If I was like a VC in Silicon Valley then maybe.
Then you realise actually here’s my specialism, what I’m expert. And I've been an instructor in UX design for a number of years so I've got these sort of practical skills and thought that’s the kind of stuff that will be useful. That’s the kind of stuff people like. And it’s kind of more evergreen concept as well. I think if you're teaching something or giving tips and ideas that’s always something people will come back to and doesn’t dent so much.
So I've already got this kind of specialism so it’s actually kind of… and some of the ideas come from questions that people ask when I do teach. You think something I haven’t covered before that could spin off into its own blog. Or even just sometimes I kind of take a slide from one of my talks and realise actually I can really expand on this and say a lot more about it. You kind of gloss over and sort of posit when you're just talking about it in the context of a bigger subject and you realize there's a lot more that could be said here.
So I think it’s kind of realising there's no niche too small that it can’t be turned into something more to be said. In many ways, a good blog or article was actually just taking something very narrow and just focusing on that rather than trying to be everything.
When I taught the full UX design course in the past at General Assembly, I could tell pretty early on who’s going to make as a good designer. Because for instance, half of that course is all research. We don’t actually sit down and do wireframe or anything. It’s on the second half. So there's some people who come along just expecting it to just be learning some more software skills and others who come along thinking, oh, we’re just going to… I thought I'd just sit here and listen to all the lessons. I'll understand everything. I don’t think you can really learn until you actually do and actually understand the difficulties of it and try stuff out and work out what’s going to be experimented. There's going to be things going wrong. So just a very practical subject area.
I think your best way is either I can recommend the General Assembly course. I think that’s a well put-together course. And also what’s really good about it is that the people teaching it are real practitioners who work in the area of UX design and teaching assistants as well. They're UX designers and still getting genuine advice, you know? But if you're not in a city where General Assembly are then maybe if you've got an employer who’s willing to kind of let you move into UX design and try and sort of do that, then it’s kind of really about having someone spoiling you and saying how you're free to try this out and do it and meet with users and test stuff out and put prototypes together, put it in front of people. I think that’s really the way you learn so much quicker that way. Of course there's loads of articles out there you can read. Of course there's plenty of sites you can pick things up, but you'll exponentially improve yourself by just sort of doing and practicing.
HM: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
So really it’s kind of a guide for designers, UX designers for how to get the most out of Google Analytics and tools like that and help with things that I think a lot of designers are kind of aware of and they think that would be a useful thing to have as part of their armoire but are a bit scared of because maybe they're not naturally inclined towards the numbers side of things.
I guess I wrote it because I've wanted to write a book. It’s one of those things I've wanted to do for a while and I really like the idea of having my own product that I could kind of sell on my site. The dream of having passive income and you can put something in the site and just get people just buying it in the background. You don’t have to do any work. But there's a lot of work upfront. It took me over a year to end up putting this book by me together. And I went through a long process of it initially really bloated and then I realised I had to refine it down. So that’s where I just decided to take the quantitive side of things and just focus on that. But I was actually really inspired by the work of Nathan Barry. He's written quite a lot about this and he wrote a book called Authority which I recommend if anyone’s interested in writing their own. It talks about how you can write something and then eventually set up and sell it. But the whole process is really just an experiment. I had no great expectations how many I was going to sell to, how many I was going to… I had no great aims. I just wanted to get it out there, have a practice at writing, designing, marketing it and just see how it goes. I feel it was all kind of a test for doing more in the future. My aim is to do a few more in the future and I've actually got another one in the pipeline maybe coming out soon.
MI: So that one is going to be on mobile side of things. That one’s going to be about iPhone app usability. So this one’s actually based on a series of blog posts I wrote over the last year. So it’s a different approach. I’m taking concepts I've already written and then completely updating it and refreshing it, putting it all together into a book around and all the things you need to think about to make iPhone apps usable when designing them. So again, it’s a bit of an experiment. I’m trying to turn it around on a lot quicker timeline as well so it should be out in May this year. It’s like a practical book around showing lots of examples of how you can make a great really usable iPhone app so users are satisfied and want to come back for more.
Again, it’s kind of a little niche size but I don’t think we’ll announce as really kind of doing this. But, yeah, I've really enjoyed the whole book process and it’s something that kind of does give rewards later on. Now I sell a few books a week and it’s already a nice feeling to get that kind of little notification pop up in your phone saying someone’s interested in what you've written.
I wanted to take a minute to ask you specifically about your thoughts on online education because here at Learnetto we are running an online education site where we have various courses on all sorts of tech skills specifically related to making and designing and selling products. So I wanted to find out what you think about online education and where you think it’s going?
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