Touted as the “LL Cool J” of UX Design, Kyrillos Samaan has had an impressive career spanning 10 years, 5 industries and an abundance of impressive organisations like Virgin Money, The Cancer Council, Westpac, Dan Murphy’s & the nbn just to name a few.
Now as the Senior UX Designer at Fox Sports Australia, we asked him some big questions on getting that first UX gig as a rookie, standing out in a saturated field, looking for inspiration in the right places and where the future of UX is headed...no pressure.
At the start of my career, what helped me get my foot in the door was building a personal portfolio from doing small projects for friends, family and small businesses. Once I started to curate a collection of projects that I'd worked on, I was able to approach employers and say, "hey this is the work that I've done and this is what I'm passionate about.”
Moving to UX, what really helped was being able to speak the same language as developers, understanding what their limitations are and really bringing a more holistic approach to UX. Making that effort to understand how UX works in conjunction with design and development is key.
Establishing a personal brand is the most important thing. What helps is showing off your personality a little bit and really giving potential employers a sense of what it's like to work with you.
They'll know when you’re a junior or just getting into the industry, so they're not expecting to see a huge amount of case studies. What they really want to get a feel for is how you are to work with and how hungry you are to learn more and grow. If you can bring that across in your personal branding and if you’re strategic about how you position yourself, it can help you ensure that your portfolio is not just one of 50 other portfolios the employer will be looking at.
Using inspiration from other portfolios can help too.
I think initially it started off as an exercise for me to try to land a job at a certain point in my life. I decided to revamp my portfolio and started posting actively on LinkedIn and Twitter. Over time, it’s become an essential part of my career and it’s development.
Social media platforms really help you put your face out there and add value to the community.
If I'm Googling someone's name and their portfolio is coming up as a first result, followed by their Twitter account, followed by their Medium profile, that shows me that this person wants to be part of the wider UX community and add value to it.
Two words: massive communication. I think it’s essential to make the work that you’re doing super, super visible across the organization.
So, whether that means printing out large A3 sheets of results you've gotten from testing or printing out your personas and sticking them up around the office, if there's a dedicated space for design, you can really kind of try to own that place and show your work physically. This means that as people are walking past, they can see exactly what the UX and Design teams are up to.
I think the most important part of this is evangelizing design in such a way that the wider business feels like they're part of the design process and that it's not just something that designers do. Sure, it's something that designers lead and facilitate, but the entire business should be thinking about users, about human-centered design, about empathy, and making an impact on users' lives in a way that's on scale.
From a quantitative standpoint, there are a few frameworks that can be helpful. Google has a framework called HEART, which measures engagement, happiness, adoption retention and task completion in a quantifiable way. For example, happiness can be measured by what your app store ratings are, while engagement you can measure by what your analytics could be saying about user behaviour and so on.
So there are ways to show that these changes and this piece of discovery led to a certain amount of change in user behaviour, and how that's impacted the business.
I think once you start thinking of UX as being a practice to alleviate suffering, it can really widen your perspective and give you much more of a passion for the work that you do.
UX is not just about designing screens, it’s ultimately about solving problems and reducing suffering where we can.
Bringing that into business, you kind of have to find balance between trying to meet business objectives and trying to do the right thing because ultimately you need to do both.
Finding that balance and the middle ground is part of what makes UX interesting.
UX sits at the intersection between design, development, business, and philosophy and we kind of have to wrangle with these all the time to find the right solutions.
Over time and with practice, you become better at finding that balance, where your personal comfort lies and keeping stakeholders happy.
I think voice is going to get much bigger. User interactions with devices like Alexa, Google Home and Siri will start to become much more ubiquitous and accessible.
As UX designers, our best attribute is adaptability, willingness to change and a hunger to constantly learn more. The environment and technology around us is changing all the time so we can’t get too comfortable designing just for screens, or even just certain types of screens.
We need to think of everything around us as being a potential type of interface and consider how we can solve problems for those mediums.
Other than voice, more companies will start to become a lot more design-centric. So you'll find that UX will become a much more prominent voice on the table when it comes to business decisions, not just design decisions.
Companies are starting to see more and more how the experience really is a make or break factor in success. It's not just a “nice to have.” When I go to the app store with the intention of looking for a Calendar app, I'm really just picking the one that gives me the best user experience, and spending an extra 2 or 3 dollars to buy it won’t be an issue.
The type of testing where the tester and the test are as invisible as possible. Things like analytics running in the background of your website or heat mapping tools, to me, reveal the most interesting insights.
A lot of times when you have a user sitting in front of you and you're testing with them, they have ample time and a lack of distraction to go through that experience. They're not distracted by their group chats or they're not on the bus - which are both real world use cases. This is how they would be using your app in the wild.
But with dedicated user tests, it's kind of a bubble, it's not necessarily giving you the best possible picture.
Feedback and NPS surveys can also be valuable. The tricky part is ensuring that they don’t interfere with the experience. If you can craft a survey that elicits unbiased responses and is presented in a way that doesn’t interfere with their experience, it can be a great source of insight.
What’s been really handy for me is seeing how design is expressed in other verticals and industries. So not just design in interfaces, but everything from product design, actual physical objects, architectural design, the design of how food is presented, to fashion design.
Contemplating how design is expressed in those areas and what we can bring across from those verticals and apply to interface design is really interesting to me. Especially for industries where processes and methodologies are much more established, like in the architectural space.
With industries that have been around for thousands of years, they can often have much more rigid, scientific and in-depth processes. So being able to look at how they do things and see what we can bring across to UX is often a good source for inspiration.
What's helped me in the past is working across a few different industries, like finance, telco, agencies, charities, media and so on. Being able to see how problems are solved in different industries and having a variety in the kinds of projects you do can help you find new and unique angles for approaching certain problems.
I think a big part of innovation is not necessarily just coming up with something that's original, because it's extremely difficult to do that. We’re inspired by everything that's around us.
It really comes down to what can we take from different places, how we can bring those things together, and how an amalgamation of these things can produce something useful that solves a particular problem for our users.
So, just being open to what's around and trying to get a variety of experience has been the most useful part in becoming more self-aware of what my distinctive style is as a designer. The goal is to produce things that are a little bit different, but in a way that creates and adds value - not just different for the sake of being different.
I've been getting into quite a bit of lo-fi recently, just lyric-free music that can put me in the right kind of mood to relax and also feel inspired.
I recently put together a Spotify playlist called Human Centered Sounds, where I picked out the types of sounds and states of mind that can be induced by music that I found have been most useful to my creative process.
I also really like Lupe Fiasco and Kendrick Lamar.
Stay tuned for more insightful chats with people who know what they're doing, people who are figuring it out as they go and people who, like most of us, are stuck somewhere in between.
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