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- 00:25 - Show intro
- 03:25 - How does he coach his teams to foster trust
- 07:17 - How does he put the right people on the right projects
- 09:38 - Alex talks about his work at the top of the design organisation
- 15:31 - How to talk about design at the C-level
- 23:36 - Why designers are supposed to ask questions
- 29:16 - Talking about design critiques
- 32:06 - Having data to back up your design decisions
- 39:00 - The importance of testing your products
- 46:01 - End of show questions
Connect with Alex
Selected links from the episode
This transcript is provided by an automated transcription service and might not be entirely accurate.
Christian: Welcome to Design Meets Business, a show where design leaders talk about practical ways to quantify design, about making our work more transparent, and about how designers can make a bigger impact in their organization. I’m your host, Christian Vasile, and before we begin, I’d like to thank you for tuning in today.
Today you will hear a great conversation with Alex Cuthbert, who is really a design legend. He’s been in the industry for almost 30 years. And right now he’s a Global Head of Design for Gojek, Indonesian unicorn, but has been with GoDaddy in the past, PicsArt and designed some of the basic fundamental technology of Google translate.
So he’s got products used by billions. He shares with us a lot about the work he’s doing behind the scenes as a head of design, including how to frame design to the wider business and how to deal with features that trickle from the top. Prepare your notebooks because today you’ll need them.
Alex welcome to Design Meets Business. You’re a design powerhouse, having worked in the industry for almost 30 years. So it’s crazy to think you’ve been around for so long and not only that you’ve been around, but that you’ve worked on products used by billions of people, whether that was Google translate or go daddy or now Go-Jek.
So I think there are a lot of things that designers can learn from you. So I’m excited to have you on the show before we dive into the goods. Can you tell us a bit about your journey of becoming a designer, you know, working at Google, go that it go Jake, and about who you are a little bit.
Alex: Yeah. Thank you so much, Christian.
So I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of the larger companies, as well as smaller ones. So Pixart as a startup, which is now one of the top creative platforms, Google for a long time where I came in through an acquisition. And you know when people have what’s your background telling the story of the companies.
Isn’t really the real story. The real story is that I’ve been passionate about how people think, what they believe, how their habits change over time for a long time. And that’s what really got me into design. I was a computer science and Spanish double major, and then studied, um, human computer interaction, cognitive science.
Um, spatial cognition, how people perceive and represent space and a lot of work on some of the earliest learning environments, collaborative tools that look a lot like things like Myro and slack for schools. And so the foundational work in that really opened up my eyes to how people use tools to work together.
And this collaborative nature of design is something that’s really been inspiring to me because. It takes a group of people working together, a product engineering design business to create something in the world. And a lot of times now that’s used by groups and networks of people, either at the enterprise space or social media.
And so really part of being a designer now is really understanding how networks of people intersect with culture technology and belief systems. And that’s something that I, I, it really inspires me. As a design leader to help uplift. Foster and bring into the, bring to life in the world.
Christian: Yeah. Well, let’s start there.
You said design or it’s a well-known quotes. Design is a team sport. So let’s start there because we’ve been talking a lot on this podcast with other guests about fostering. Uh, trust mostly trust in organization with your product teams to be able to, to deliver better work together with them. But we’ve been talking mostly about it from the perspective of the individual contributor.
So you, as a designer, you join, how can you build that trust? How can you foster those relationships with people in your team? So let’s talk a little bit from the perspective of someone who’s at a much higher level. Obviously you yourself needs. Relationships at your level, but how do you encourage and motivate and coach your teams can underneath you to do that relationship building and how to build trust with their teams.
Alex: I’ve seen a lot of different models for management and you don’t really know what a good manager is until you’ve had a bad manager and the manager really determines the quality of your life and reflects the culture of the. And it was very interesting coming into Go-Jek, which is collaborative consensus based very much, um, derivative of the Indonesian culture, which is a beautiful culture, proton Ryan, which is rising together in partnership and inclusivity.
And Google also had that same approach early on. But perhaps with a bit more of an individual streak. And so that’s where I developed my approach to manage. Which is, I’m not the strict father model with rules and evaluation. I’m very much a partner to people, it’s more of the servant leader model and I’m really looking for how to identify people’s strengths and amplify them rather than penalize them or highlight weaknesses.
I think it is important to have constructive criticism for people and goals that people are held accountable for. But part of being a manager is inspiring people. It’s creating a culture that people want to be part of that’s purpose driven that has a clear sense of values mission, and, and it’s gotta be ground up.
And so that’s why I, I, my management style is very much a partnership model of trying to figure out how I can help people identify the things that are they’re uniquely. Uh, and amplify those. Yeah.
Christian: So it’s a matter of fitting puzzle pieces together, the best way they can fit. Right?
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, your topic of business and design is one of the areas that is something that I push on.
So there are areas of growth that people may not have as primary strengths that I do think we need to develop as designers and the business element of that is a critic.
Christian: Yeah, for sure. And we’ve had a lot of conversation again on the podcast about the differences between the different tracks of a designer, whether that’s you go straight into that straight into, but as you grow, you go into management or maybe you stay as an individual contributor, but even an individual contributor can have different paths.
Someone can stay more on the visual design side and that’s entirely okay as well. And someone can go maybe to a bit more strategy or a strategic role and that’s okay as well. So there are different parts and different strengths and weaknesses that everyone has. And I think let’s go talk about that because one of the things that I truly believe in is that.
Get to do your best work when you are put in a role where your skills or your best skills align with the work that’s required of you. It alludes a little bit to what you said earlier about putting teams together in a way that it fits for them. So how do you work around people’s strengths?
How do you at that top of where you’re sitting leading a design organization, how do you put. Do you change teams around? Do you know, how do you assess who’s good at what w how does that happen?
Alex: Yeah, I mean, I think I would answer that question by starting with sort of how this has changed over time, because you’re right. I’ve been part of the technology industry for 30 years. I started programming at age 16. Trying to recreate asteroids, not very successfully as a computer geek.
Um, and I think that when I first joined Google, you had to have a computer science degree to be part of Google’s design team. It was very much a technical organizational with a design focus. And I’d say over time, it’s really shifted to, we have much more specialization. We have motion design, we have illustration.
And so there’s a merge this way that you can become specialists. And so a lot of teams and companies are hiring these general designers and then creating pathways for specialists. And so I’m a big proponent of having a individual contributor path all the way up to the highest levels in the company and having CX strategists that are senior IC level people working individually.
I created a studio at Go-Jek, which has high-level designers in it that are doing two levels of work, the vision and, and acceleration of key projects. And that enables other designers to have access to senior designers. So one of the ways that I, we create this sort of growth path and help people is through mentorship programs and access to senior designer.
And so from that, you’re getting a mix of people with different skillsets and people can learn 3d motion graphics. They can learn about UX writing. They can figure out the latest illustration tools they can understand prototyping. And so I think it’s important to have a foundation in all of these elements as a designer.
Um, even if you’re going to be a specialist in one area, really knowing the other parts of the craft is. And so I think, you know, how you identify those was that part of your question. I have maybe not identified all of your questions, maybe
Christian: there’s yeah, I think there’s something you said there that would be interesting to continue building on, which is that studio that you created at Go-Jek.
I heard that idea before. We’ll talk a bit about it. What’s what are the particular aspects of the studio? How does it work on a daily basis and how do you choose people to kind of run it in a way?
Alex: Yeah, it’s interesting. We had a studio at Google. It was New York and it was more of a marketing creative studio.
And you would just try to get those people to work with you. So if you had a cool project, they would pick it up and Google translate with its instant camera translation. Um, that’s something that was humanly exciting to be able to instantly read texts, to have real time conversations with people that don’t speak your language.
And it was very marketing focused and the studio Go-Jek is different. It is marketing and product focused. So we’re really looking at this end to end journey of how. Whatever is put out as promotional material integrate into the product experience. So the end to end journey. And so as part of that initiative we’ve got two parallel groups.
One’s the studio, which is really doing innovation work and accelerating key projects. Then we have another group called the creative council, which is really a blend of our creative lab that creates the video content. The crazy beautiful Go-Jek. Visuals that you see, um, and then marketing with the regional leads and design and visual identity from the design team.
So those groups coming together to think about the brand identity, what our differentiators are in the marketplace, and really what people remember and think about when they use the product.
Christian: So we already started talking about the work that you do as a design leader of such a large organization, let’s keep on that topic.
What else is there that you do on a daily basis that maybe people lower down, maybe individual contributors don’t really know that much about, but obviously there’s a lot of work happening at that C level that we don’t really get to hear a lot about. So what’s that like?.
Alex: Well, I think, you know, over time I’ve gotten more involved in.
And so leading the, some of the brand work for GoTo financial, which is our PayPal equivalent and beyond for financial inclusivity and empowerment of people. And then recently we’ve been looking at Go-Jek and as a global brand and how we can elevate Go-Jek and. Yeah. A unified brand architecture that resonates with people in different regions like Vietnam, what’s cultural embeddedness, and relevance look like there.
So there’s this north star work that I spend, um, some of my time on to shape that direction. And so this is really setting, working with the executive. The business leads, the, the setting this direction for the company. And I think that’s balanced by a lot. Sort of design reviews and technical details on interaction design at a product level.
So we have maybe 20 different product teams working each with their own. Streams and reviews. And then with a team that says large, as we have a hundred fifty, a hundred seventy five or more people, we are continually hiring, interviewing, trying to move resources around. So as a manager, a lot of this is figuring out how to meet the needs of product teams with a limited set of resources, how to optimize those resources financially.
And sometimes that involves centralizing teams. So we have a group of centralized teams, um, and then balancing that with product design and our design systems team. And so there’s a number of moving pieces that I’m calibrating to try to reduce our expenses and costs as much as possible while making sure there’s enough capacity to meet the product team needs.
Christian: It sounds like a lot of the work that you’re doing is what in our organization is known as design ops, the operation side of design. And I would assume that your managers are playing a key part of this. So if obviously they, they have to be experienced and know what they’re doing to be able to take on such responsibility.
So do we tend to promote from the inside or you do tend to hire from the outside, what’s the process to find those key managers who can help you run the operator?
Alex: Yeah, well, so Avenade who was the head of design and who hired me along with Bruce, the CPO and Kevin, um set up a design ops team. So we do have a design ops group within Go-Jek that manages our design principles, our process, our hiring our all hands and a number of different things, including the studio speakers series, where I bring in external speakers to talk on various topics.
It’s really critical to have a design ops team with an organization that large, to be able to manage this. Um, and each of the, I started off with 22 direct reports, which was not sustainable and we’ve reorganized the team to have that smaller and a little bit more hierarchical. And those people are responsible for the business metrics for helping with the hiring for identify.
And directing the project stream. So we’ve got a row a level of, directors that are responsible for all of these things that I described as well.
Christian: You said there was a head of design there before you, and I assumed that that meant that design had some sort of a buy-in already at the highest level, eh, You wrote an article though on how to get that buy in at a highest level and how to talk about design at the C level.
And I can imagine a lot of designers, maybe not necessarily even design leaders, just individual contributors, joining maybe smaller companies where. They haven’t yet bought into design. So let’s talk a bit about that article and some of those learnings that people could get from that things they could apply, things they could try to do to bring design into the light at that higher level.
Um, we’re obviously also put the article in the show notes afterwards, so people can really thoroughly, but let’s just walk through some of those paths that you have outlined there.
Alex: Yeah. So Albany is, we have three companies within go-to, so there’s go check go-to financial and Tokyo. So Albany, it’s the head of design for go-to financial and go pay.
And I’m running the a Go-Jek team. I see ahead. So we have another head of design for taco pedia, Momo, um, Monica. And so we work together to set the culture. We’re still, we’re integrating the cultures of Tokyo pedia, and Go-Jek so that’s a separate topic. Uh, yeah, but I would say in terms of. Promoting the value and impact of design to the senior level.
We’ve done a number of things. So we, we produced an executive summary, which highlights the work across the teams. What I’ve found is that executives rarely read documents and so you need to present them in some way., Synthesize to what are the key decisions? It’s not as much a status update as here are the things in motion that you could provide feedback on and add value, because that’s really what I’m looking for is not to just showcase how great design is and the impact we’re having.
I’m looking to bring them in and empower the senior leadership team to provide input on things in most. And so that’s the real goal of these executive summaries. I typically send them out some, sometimes with a loom recording where I will talk over it so they could just play it while they’re having coffee in the morning.
Um, and because I found at Google, if you presented at you might not even make it past slide. And an executive level presentation, but the executives will watch a video. Right? Right. So as soon as the video starts playing, people will watch that. And having been side railed in executive reviews, At slide two, about 10 slide deck.
I’ve learned that you need to get everything in upfront including the visuals because people will, if it’s too long, a story, people are like, well, what is, show me what it looks like? Cause there’s designers. We want to represent things visually to people so they can get a sense of how it feels and looks.
And that’s, you know, I wrote a little bit about that in the article of how we are visual people, creatures. We respond visually to. And as designers, we can leverage that to our advantage and the benefit of the people that were presenting here.
Christian: Yeah. So executive summary deliver it really, really fast and think about who your stakeholder is they’re busy, they don’t want to read, so try to deliver something that they would actually want to watch in that case.
Alex: It’s interesting. There’s different cultures. Um, so Go-Jek is a reading culture. There’s some famous articles about this, whether it’s a talking culture or a reading culture and go check, we’ll have silent meetings with executives for the first 15 minutes that everybody reads the document and comments.
And there’s silence. I love this because it’s really acknowledging the busy pace of meetings that we have, and it gets everybody on the same page. There’s a history of. GoDaddy was very different. It was much more of a discussion culture where meetings would decisions would be talked through, reached consensus or other manner.
And that was really the record of how the leadership there built consensus and alignment was through these meetings with discussions. Yeah. So very different cultures, pros and cons.
Christian: So in case you don’t have access to the executives in your company, how can you on a daily basis on the ground show the value of design?
Alex: Yeah, I think, you know what you brought up before about understanding your audience and what they need and the language they speak is really important. So typically designers are working with product managers and engineers. Triad. And so really just understanding the goals and needs of those different roles is a great starting point.
I started off as an engineer for 10 years, doing developer tools and compilers and for Silicon graphics, primarily, which is the campus where Google sits now. And. Yeah, really understanding that as an engineer, you guys typically want to be protected from product changes for at least a two week period. So this is sort of the agile model of iteration.
Where does designs are locked? Engineers work on them. Design can go off and explore and develop the next set product can then come in and reprioritize because there’s. Direction that product is working toward, which is the first lunch designed. Typically in the best case scenario has a vision for a longer term solution and is working back towards the MVP and engineering.
And the best case is considering that long-term solution and building an architecture that is flexible and scalable enough to support. The changes and the product direction. Yeah. And so those dynamics are a key piece of understanding how to show the impact of design is that’s just the starting point.
That’s like you have to be in relationship to the needs of the people around you, and we can talk a bit more about how to show impact within that dynamic, if you want to,
Christian: for sure. Yeah, go ahead. Go for it.
Alex: Yeah. So I think within that dynamic, we’re really looking at how to bring principal design into the process.
So I continually get feedback from designers that either their PM is too directive and basically drawing the wire frames or they are not specific enough and setting a kind of general. Yeah. And I’m my response to that is we need to have strategies to deal with both of those situations and they both afford great benefit.
It tends to be the senior PM’s give the more general goal. I remember Susan would just ski gave us a goal in travel for UX, which was come back in two months and show me what you recommend for the query warm places to go in. Wow. And so that’s very general for like it’s launched, you know, pricing on Google maps, it launched Google flights out of that, a number of different things.
And the counterpoint to that as someone who’s drawing the wireframes for you. And so as designers we’re are, our role is really to tease out the hypotheses and assumptions. Behind that to figure out the use cases and the scenarios come up with design principles, questions that help us from a neutral position, almost look at the pros and cons.
And I do think we need to make recommendations as designers, but it should be based on this analysis of fit between the solutions and the.
Christian: I’d like to build upon what you said there and continue the discussion of what happens when someone, whether it’s a PM or someone even higher up the organization gives you the recipe and says, this is what we need.
And you said, you know as designers, we’re supposed to, to unpack that, to ask questions and to try to understand what’s the hypothesis behind that. I think that as designers, especially maybe early on in your career, you maybe don’t have the confidence to do that. But I find that to be such an important thing to do, where if a feature trickles down from.
Just to feature not a need but in exact feature, I think it’s your responsibility to start asking questions. Why we’re doing this. What’s not working at the moment. Why are you trying to change it? How would this change the lives of our customers. And one question that I’ve heard, and I think I could be wrong.
I think it comes from base camp. They said that whenever someone comes with the feature from the top, the question they’re asking is how are people today doing that same thing with work around. Right. So instead of you as a product, having to create the feature, how are people kind of innovating by themselves to work around the product, to do exactly that that thing.
And that can also teach you a lot about well, ways of solving the problem, but also is this really required? Do we really need to prioritize this right now? Because apparently customers can figure out a different way and maybe we have other priorities. So there are a lot of questions that you should ask and you, you have to ask as a designer rather than just blindly following.
What’s being given to you from the top. And I think you a lot, you also wrote an article about this in, you mentioned the last customer syndrome. I think you called it when a feature trickles from the top. Let’s talk a bit about that. What is the last customer syndrome?
Alex: Yeah, that was, um, that was. In the enterprise space, typically where we’re trying to get these big customers on board and you need to build a couple of features specific to them, for them to sign the contract.
And so that dynamic of do you just go build those features? And the responsive newness that a team needs to pivot to be able to do that. Um, I do the answer is yes, you probably do need to do that. How you go about it is the key, right. And thinking of the generalized ability of it and how it can become something.
That’s the. More applicable to a wide group is a problem that people in agencies face, right? And as you’re an agency lead, you want to build products eventually, but you need to serve your clients. And so this is a common problem that I think design and in engineering and partnership can drive. This is this partnership between design and engineering, for scalability components, design systems, modular functional architecture is really the basis to the.
The approach for this type of scenario. Um, but coming back, there’s variations of that, of last customer syndrome. There is, uh executives coming up with ideas that they drop in. And when I was at Pixar working for Havana Savoy on who’s one of my favorite CEOs and people, because most of his ideas were right.
So if you’re going to be doing this as a CEO, it really helps to be right. And. You know, when you’re working for somebody who is coming directly to your designers and saying, Hey, what about this? And that’s the CEO talking to a junior designer. They come over to me and are like, Hey, what should I do? Yeah.
Christian: valid question. What should you do? Right.
Alex: Well, the first thing is you ask him why he thinks it’s a good idea, cause he probably has a good reason for it. And then you mock that up. And so the designer went back and did that. Of course, he had a great idea for the thing, reason for it. And she’s like, but I’m seeing this data that says this other approach might be better.
What should I do? And I was like, well, why don’t you put them side by side with the data and take them back to him. And so he went in and actually in this case, looked at it and he looked at the data and he’s like, oh, you’re right. We should test this. And you might actually be. And a few weeks later, she came running back.
I was like, oh my God, the data showed that this other approach was better. And the CEO said that we should go with my idea and she was ecstatic about this. And. So that gets back to how do you empower these designers? Right? How do you empower people? And so that’s the whole data, the pros and cons, the principle design pieces that come together so that it’s not like your us versus them or your idea versus my idea.
It’s really, which of these ideas have life, right? Which of these have life? And I love Dave. Um, and so Bosky, who’s a, uh, One of the Disney illustrator who talks about this spiral of creativity and how at Disney, they wouldn’t talk about Christian’s idea or Alex’s idea. They would talk about this idea on its own.
How can I add to it? How can I give it life and power on its own to grow? And this is a very different mindset than critiquing things. And so I take this as an interesting piece because we have design critiques, right. Which we go around and we kind of they’re based on the head of the studio walking around and everyone would be silent and they would give their feedback.
And it’s kind of like the baking shows now is the current example, but this idea of like blessing and adding to things is a very different culture than a critique. And so I think this is something for us to look at as designers and builders of culture.
Christian: We had a, another head of design on a previous episode talking about critiques.
And he said, what he’s successfully done is change the narrative around design critiques, because it is what you call it. And the moment you call it a design critique, it’ll automatically have some sort of a negative connotation because critique is a negative connotation word and said, we started just by calling it design.
And then automatically the mentality around what’s supposed to happen in those conversations has changed from this is not good. And I don’t like this and too will have you thought about this or, oh, we could add this on top of it or, Hey, I remember this idea, another product that I’ve tried, we could do this.
So it changed from a critique to a much more positive conversation. Ended up helping the product teams and the designers do better work. Because I remember when you go into critiques, you cannot go into the Lion’s Den, then don’t you think, oh, someone will, will pick out a piece and we’ll tear it apart and it’s not a comfortable situation to be in.
And if you’ve been through a lot of them as a more experienced designer, that’s fine. But in the beginning of your career, It’s hard to go in one of those and think that everyone is there to just tear your design apart. So even changing the conversation around what’s supposed to happen in those chats he found to be very, very good.
Alex: Yeah. I think I would add onto that and save it a lot of designers when they first come into reviews or chats, or even just presenting their work to anybody. Talk about. Here’s the thing that happens. And then you click on this and then you go there and then this says this, and if they click and that’s not particularly helpful.
Um, so I, I think when we’re thinking about chats within the design team, it’s sort of like scrum stand-ups informal. That’s great. But I think when we’re sharing back to product or even executive level, we need to really think in terms of this like problem action result or situation, the stem models, and really be focusing in on what are the problems we’re solving and what are the design decisions that we’re making.
Because a lot of the focus needs to go on those critical points, the pieces of understanding. That are required by customer to take an action that we’ve created, uh, in a situation. And without that, you’re getting story and process without the why you’re getting the, how without the what, and the quickest way to turn off product and executives is to talk about how yeah, and we need to learn to focus and frame what we’re doing and the problems we’re solving.
More effectively as we present our work.
Christian: Yeah, for sure. And I think there’s also a lot of components are that you’ve mentioned in the past, which is in the past, it sounds like we’ve known each other for 10 years. I met previously, not in the past. And you’ve mentioned that example from someone bringing data and then kind of proving the CEO that there might be a different way of doing this.
I find data and analytics to be. A, an ally of the design team. If you understand data bit better, or if you have a product analyst or an analytics team, and you have continuous conversations with them, they can help you inform your decisions. Obviously we already know this, but they can also help you whenever you present your work, they can help you frame your work in a different light rather than here’s. Here’s what I’ve done. Tell me all your subjective opinions about the I can do better. Versus here’s what I’ve done. Here’s why. And here’s the data to back it up. It’s a different two different conversations there.
Alex: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think, um, there, there was a shift maybe five years ago and I think it was driven by Facebook analytics. We were at Pixar, we were partnering with them and really focusing on these high performance users, we call them super users at the time. And the idea was like very analytics driven.
Let’s see what they’re doing. What their patterns of interaction are, how they’re doing these workarounds that you described, and then trying to clean up those friction points. And this became, this was a buzz for a while because it turned out that those friction points, if you clean, if you fit, identified them and fix them also helped other users who are just starting to engage with the platforms or tools.
And so this really elevated the power of analytics. Um, because the results we were getting were far beyond anything that we were getting through AB testing. It was very valuable to just see, like you said, how are people doing work arounds for things? And one of the examples was at Pixar.
We had a tool for creating on your photos who picks hearts of one of the, is the top photo editing, collaborative photo editing tool that lets you make these quick edits, right? You can quickly on your mobile phone, do this crazy beautiful stuff. Headache 10% of the traffic or something like that.
Going to Instagram at the time was coming through Pixar and we looked at what these super users were doing and they turned out to be first of all, totally different people than we had targeted as our core users. And then the things that they were doing repetitively, the tools were not supporting very well.
It wasn’t remembering fonts and colors you used previously. And so updating those. To make it easier for that group made it easier for people who are just discovering how to use the functionality of these tools. And so it’s it’s the equivalent would be search results or at Go-Jek remembering that the place that you go to or send things to it’s these quick little one touch, magical things that happen that add efficiency, delight, and convenience to the experience.
Christian: I think those words that you said, efficiency, delight, convenience. Those are. As they’re supposed to, you don’t notice them as a user when they don’t work, as they’re supposed to that’s when you notice them and they irritate you. So it’s kind of a bit of a thankless job, like, oh, you’ve done. Well, nobody notices, but you haven’t done well, everyone throws a tantrum.
So I, uh I use Go-Jek on a daily basis and I, for example, the remembering your location and all of those, those, I noticed them as a product person, but I bet that most people don’t. And that’s okay. That’s a good thing. As long as they have a frictionless experience with the product, that’s great. That’s here, which
Alex: are well done.
Yeah. And I think as a designer, you know, noticing those things is important and we see the world very differently from the way other people do, because we’re aware of the visual details, the layouts of things, the balance what’s primary. And so I recently did a lot of field testing when I was in Indonesia.
I still have not been able to send cookies to my admin. I’ve been working on this for a long time. It turns out it’s really hard when you’re in a different city to send gifts to people, right. And there are workarounds. You can set your location to be in that city and then sends stuff and looking at Ramadan, we’re trying to promote sending gifts to people.
And they may be in other locations. So figuring out how do we make that as easy as possible, culturally embedded, linked to these special occasions. And I remember my first time, one of my first times using go send for the addresses are very long in Indonesia. Yeah. Right. And they’re hard to tell apart until I’d sent something to my boss, Bruce, the CPO’s house.
And I was trying to send another package to somebody. Put pasted the address in, and the one that came up was actually the previous address, but because they were so large and looked similar, I thought it was just an auto-correct for the address. If I said that package and Bruce was like, Hey, I think I just received a package from you with a bunch of things in it.
I was like, oh, that was close to go to the other house. And so, that’s that kind of friction, there’s a workaround for that. There is a workaround. You can just check and make sure the address is correct. Right. But really what you want is you want the convenience or even a label that says the person’s name or the time that you last sent to that location, or even just a simple, this is history and not a correction.
So, and I think the challenge for us as designers is that there may not be a big measurable impact. To the business metrics for that. If we updated that and put to that work, we may not see that. But like you said, all those inconveniences, those friction points that determines whether it’s a world-class experience or not.
And at that point, we’re getting into customer sentiment. We’re getting into these metrics. It is measurable, but it may not be like a click-through rate kind of. And so I think design, we need to advocate for these customer metrics, these brand related kinds of attributes of on demand. It feels.
You know, delight is sort of a lie. I wish we had a better word for delight. I like how marketing talks, where they talk about soul inspiring and mind blowing. So we need something between delight and soul inspiring. Um, as a way to talk about the value we provide by making things seamless, frictionless, um, that’s a challenge for our.
Christian: I mentioned this on the podcast in the past of how you show the importance of some of these brand related changes that don’t necessarily impact the bottom line and how we can convince people that these are important too. And the story goes like this. I had the entire product team in the observation room of our usability testing lab.
I was in the room with the customer and we gave her a task. A menial task. We were tested. We would try to experiment with something new and she got so frustrated that she couldn’t complete the task. Obviously the design wasn’t good enough. And she got her face, got red, she got angry, visibly frustrated, visibly angry, kind of took it out on me a little bit.
Cause I was the only one in the room. Anyway, deflating the situation she goes, we say, thank you all of that. And. We had an issue. We had a fix for that issue shipped within a week. It was not something that would impact the bottom line. It was not something that would make a dent in the universe, but with the product team being in the other room and noticing the effect that our product has on the well-being of customers.
That was enough of an example for them to say, this needs to be prioritized because if this happened in a controlled. In here, it will happen out in the wild as well. So sometimes bringing product teams or even executives. We had testing sessions with executives coming into the observation room, just putting their head in and seeing what’s happening and changing their perspective on what we need to prioritize.
Just because they’ve seen a customer struggle with something or just because they’ve seen a customer have a really good time with something else. So I find testing to be really good testing with, with your whole productive, not just you as a designer.
Alex: Yeah. I remember the GoDaddy. The one time I could get the CEO’s attention, Scott at the end of the day was at the end of the day.
And I’d show him some of the research from the customers that we’ve done. And he’s, he said to me, he’s like, you know, this is the most valuable part of my day, seeing customers and their interactions with the product. And you’re right for engineering too. I’ve had engineers sit in the room doing testing and talking, and they’re like, why aren’t they clicking on the.
But that’s right there. I built the button and you know this sort of disconnect between like, they could not understand why this person did not understand that. And I, that’s kind of how I got into design too. I was working for a John Kevin. Who was, uh, the adventure of basic programming language. And he was Einstein’s research assistant, did all his math.
And I remember coming in sometimes and he would have the mouse in the trash can and he would be like, I don’t understand this mouse thing. The keyboard is so much more powerful. Why do people use the mouse? Right. And a lot of his friends who were, you know, aerospace engineers, and I remember doing a design review in a says, not once with somebody who wanted to talk to me in their airplane about the tools I was building for modeling, and they didn’t understand them.
So I was an engineer and these very smart people who were not computer science, people couldn’t understand the things that I was. And this really got me to think about how do we create things that work with the mental models, the language that people have. And this is true for learning and middle-school kids who are the most ruthless user testers you have ever seen.
Um, they will just break and repurpose, whatever you build. And I think it’s so eyeopening because you start realizing. The way people use technology is not in a controlled room, in an environment it’s socially, they’re going to get their friends to help them. They’re going to add a go daddy, setting up sites.
It’s not typically the business owner. It’s like the nephew. Who’s going to go in there and do something with the DNRs record. And, and so there’s this understanding that the tools we build are used by groups of people, communities, friends, family, Is one of the ways we can shift this dialogue, because I think as designers, what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to frame and shift the dialogue to be not just customer centered, but human we’re trying to build a human solutions.
And I really loved that. Go jacks. Um, essence brand essence now is heart and technology. And it’s important. Heart is first, right? Because we’re really trying to figure it out. How do we connect and support entrepreneurs, drivers, restaurants how do we help people that are at different stages with their business succeed?
And that’s how you provide the best customer service is by helping these entrepreneurs, giving them the tools and empowering them. And so I think that’s the other valuable shift we need to make as designers is this shift in discussion and framing for the problems that we’re solving.
Christian: There’s also on top of what you said, there’s also the context in which people use the products we’re building.
Maybe it’s outside in the sun. Maybe it’s a, when they can’t con here, cause it’s in the silent, room or whatever, is it called of a train which is why it’s so important to test your products in as many ways as you can outside of your office. How would this work when I’m on a train?
How would this work when I’m on a plane? How would this work? When there are a lot of people around me who are talking out loud and I want to meditate or do my Duolingo lesson or whatever it is, it’s so interesting that. We’re at the moment, we’re kind of only thinking in a box, like what you imagining people sitting with our products, the way we see with our products and that couldn’t be further away from the
Yeah. You said you were in Indonesia. I’m curious. Having spent the last few months there, riding around on a motorcycle on the back of Go-Jek scooter. Are you riding around on a motorcycle or a scooter?
Christian: I have my own motorcycle. Yeah. I use Go-Jek on a daily basis. It’s a fundamental part of my life here.
Alex: I was curious do you use Google maps while you’re driving around on your motorcycle?
Christian: Well, most of the time I ride to places. I know. So not any more, but if it so happens that I do, yes, I use Google maps and I put it on my watch so I can get the directions on my watch while I ride.
Alex: Interesting. Yeah.
Cause I I’ve been riding around on one of the scooters with the phone in the little scooter pocket has like, we’re talking about contextual uses. It’s not loud enough with all of the scooter noise around you. And so it really, if somebody had tested this, they would have been like, oh, we need a motorcycle speaker system volume.
It needs to be amped up like double or 1.5 when it is. So you for you to hear it turn left, turn. Right. And
Christian: yeah, I think that’s a 100%
Alex: visceral example. Understanding people in contexts, right?
Christian: Yeah, for sure. All right, Alex, we’re I really wish we’d had more time, but we don’t. So I’ll just go straight to the, the end of podcast questions that we ask everyone.
And, uh maybe one day we’ll bring you back on again, because I think this conversation could continue for hours. So a first question is what is one soft skill that you wish more designers would possess?
Alex: The one-stop scale. I wish designers would possess is succinct business communication. That’s
Christian: that, that was very succinctly delivered.
Alex: Yeah. We tell a lot of stories and it’s possible to tell a story, but it needs to be short, have a message on a punchline. This goes back to what I was talking about before, which is the, how versus the, what as designers and researchers. Our process is very. Uh, we’d like to bring people along on that journey so that they have the context to understand our decisions and the value of the output.
But I think we actually need to turn that around on its head. I’d start from the problems we’re solving, the actions we’re taking and the results. And we’ve in the context where it makes sense. And this is the shift I’m talking about for having more succinct business community.
Christian: And I think it’s important to set at the end.
They’re weaving the rest of the context, because if you just come in and say, here’s a problem we’re solving, and here’s a, here’s the design that we’re proposing people might have something to say about that because it’s kind of subjective the way you’ve solved the problem, but that’s how you, that’s where you need to add some of your pro.
To kind of show we’ve got to this result in a, in a way, in a mathematical way, right? If this it’s a process, we didn’t just pull it out of a drawer of somewhere. So I find that little nuance to be very important as well. The other one is what is one piece of advice that has changed your career for the better?
Alex: Yeah, one of my friends and my manager at Google when I first got there with Simon Smith and. I remember him giving me a post-it on it. That said the word simplify. Right. And so I think it’s really just understanding that people do one thing at a time. It’s very much a mobile first bind set of focus, simplicity, sequence of things that you can do with one thumb.
And as designers, we have a lot of context. We have a lot of knowledge of patterns. We think about all the dimensions of the experience. And we explained things a lot. We ran some AB tests to go Jack showing that actually our conversational tone in some cases, Connection relate-ability but in others, it detracted from people getting things done.
And we’re shifting our tone as part of the brand work to be a little bit more action oriented. And that’s showing actually a business outcome and conversion in specific situations that are critical to the user of.
Christian: Alex, where can people find out more about you get in touch with you, read up your stuff and
Alex: any of that good stuff?
I wrote, maybe I wrote a lot of papers in the early days on learning technology. And I think while those were 20 years ago, I think I should bring. Some of that into the dialogue now, because it’s really the anchor points for things like slack. Myro a lot of the collaborative tools we were doing foundational work in those areas at that time at UC Berkeley and the other learning technology groups, Sri.
And so I think, you know, I really appreciate you reaching out to me for this podcast because this is a great way to get information out. People can listen to this. Um, it’s very accessible. They can play it while they’re cooking. Right, right. And so I really liked this format and thank you for reaching out.
I think this is a great way to get that kind of information out in a way that people can relate to experiences anecdotes versus, uh, some of the articles that are need to be more polished. Right.
Christian: We’ll put your LinkedIn in the show notes, so anyone can, uh, connect with you. And if you have any follow up questions there, they’re welcome to, to get in touch and maybe, uh, build another conversation like this.
Yeah, I wanna, yeah, Alex, this has been amazing. Thank you very much once again, for being part of the show and we will be. All right.
Alex: Thank you, Christian.
Christian: That’s a wrap for today. I hope you found this episode useful and that you’ve learned something that you’re ready to implement at work tomorrow. If you’ve enjoyed this as always, it would mean the world to me. If you’d share it with your community, if you’d leave a review. And of course, if you’d remember to tune in for the next one, peace.