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Why User Testings Sometimes Don’t Matter

May 12th, 2015

User Testing

The fact that people need to test their designs to the users don’t make it a long-term commitment. Testing designs can never be the single most defining metric there can be in making a successful design.

It can be helpful in validating some ideas, but not every idea. One annoying thing about user testings is that it validates just how naive and biased users can be. I mean it: not every user is smart enough. Of course, not every designer or team is smart enough, either. However, the danger is with throwing all responsibility to the user testing. “Let’s test it and find out, then use whatever result that comes in.” This is absolutely disposable.

Designers and product teams are largely responsible in the product design direction, not even the business team, not even the engineering team, not even the customers. If you always validate your things with the customers, your product becomes shaped solely like them. You can never have a solid product. You can never have a vision to realise. You’ll only be following the crowd.

Imagine this scenario. A sign up page. The main purpose of this page is to sign up. Then, you’d like to test if somebody would bother to read the Terms & Conditions. Let’s say the business team, or the government mandates that you have the users read Terms & Conditions — not just a checkbox that says you have read them, they actually have to open the page and scroll down to agree.

As a designer, your instinct is to make everything clear, but clean. In no way you’d make Terms & Conditions link more prominent than the others.

During testing, 5 out of 7 users fail to locate the Terms & Conditions link within 2 minutes. They say, “it’s too small to discover quickly.”

In this case — the natural solution would be to make the Terms & Conditions link more prominent, or maybe, you’d give a shot at flashing the Terms & Conditions upfront as a popup.

That, if you take only the 5 out of 7 statistics as the final defining result. It ruins the design, and the flow.

What would be the better flow? Tell a story, maybe? Use a wizard format, perhaps? Make it simpler and fun to follow a “story” or a “flow”?

Imagine a flow where we ask the users in short, sweet, simple dialogue to sign up one stage at a time.

“Welcome to xBanking! Let’s sign up to discover and enjoy seamless banking. What’s your name?”

“Great! Thanks. Now, what are your details?”

By the end of it, you’d ask them, “Some nitty-gritty details we’d like you to read and agree with. It’s always cool to be compliant!”

Then the user clicks agree.

Design decision like this is the ultimate job of a designer or product team, and that cannot be defined solely by user testings. User testings only discover the problem — and somehow validate it.

On Living Off the Airport

May 11th, 2015


I go to Changi airport almost daily. Not to fly, but to transit — so to say — before I come to work. My office is just one subway station away from it. Taking the bus from home to the airport takes a little longer than the subway, but it’s worth it.

I usually have breakfast at Terminal 3. It’s the first terminal that bus 53 comes into, and it’s the most spacious terminal there is.

On my way home, I also take the same subway to the airport, then take the same bus 53 back home in Pasir Ris.

There’s a direct bus from the office to where I live but I find going to the airport route is the happiest route for me. It makes me happy to be at the airport. I don’t know why. Maybe the anticipation of going on a plane. But then, I am afraid of getting on a plane these days.

A routine that makes you happy. When was the last time you feel that?

When you anticipate something, you are happy — regardless of it being a positive anticipation or a negative one. It’s good for my mental health, especially when things go rough at work.

Singapore does make it easy for people to visit the airport just for the sake of it. It’s like a destination in itself. You can go there just for food. You can go there just to shop. Having the destination as the reason is what it is.

The key to happiness at work and life is anticipation. It’s what keeps motivating you. One’s life purpose is not just for the sake of living, but to be alive. Having an airport is not just for the sake of its purpose, but to make it close to the heart of the people, to have a real purpose, to have anticipation.

On Fanciness and Neistat

May 10th, 2015


Lately I’ve been watching Casey Neistat a lot — the past three days, to be exact. I didn’t know him before. I accidentally stumbled into his YouTube channel somehow when I was watching another video.

Boy, how was I smitten by his video blogs, or vlogs, and his films in general. I like his narrative style. It’s brutally honest, yet charming. It’s a social critic for many of its episodes, but not an under-appreciation of somebody else or something else. He’s a good human being, a bit reckless at times it seems, but things seem to work wonder for him and his family. What I love about his attitude is that he’s frank, adventurous, and appreciating little things in life. He’s into his life and filmmaking. He’s into his passion. He takes risks. He cares about process. He gets things done. He cares about the big picture.

He works hard and delivers.

This style of attitude is something I admire of. It also shines in the people behind Basecamp, the one company I also admire for their honesty, get-shit-done mentality and no-bullshit policy.

At one point in his vlog he says he is very annoyed when people ask him about what tool(s) he uses to do his videos or films. It’s such an uninteresting question, he said. Early in the days he used basic low-resolution DV camcorders and edit them through free iMovie app. Nothing fancy. I also saw in some of his vlogs that when he shows the computer monitor, he’s indeed using the iMovie app.

Yes, he might have used other “pro” gears and software to make films but that’s not the point. Achieving a good result in film is about storytelling and ideas. It’s always the men behind the tools.

This somehow correlates to digital design.

Digital designers fuss about using this and that as tools — they fail to recognise that the best solution isn’t always using the best tools. The best solutions are also not always the pretties, the fanciest.

Designers can have the best tools but if the idea sucks, it gets nowhere. Designers can have the prettiest designs and animations, but if it fails to tell a story, it gets nowhere.

Try to tell a story or have the best idea, get it out as fairly quickly as possible, no matter how bad it looks. It’s this mentality that’s missing in some of today’s digital designers. Being adventurous or making mistakes is hell of a world they won’t enter.

Human Engineers

May 7th, 2015

I would like to revise the job titles of Software Engineers, Computer Engineers, Web Engineers, or Mobile Engineers into just one: Human Engineers. After all, that’s what they do — they engineer for humans.

The same might also go for Designers. They are no longer UX Designers. UI Designers. Visual Designers. They’re none of them but one: Human Designers.

Engineers for Human. Designers for Human. Or Humanity, whatever.

When I speak to engineers about my design, whether it’s about the specification, the flow, the concept or anything, sometimes they’ll get back to me with a wall: Sorry, I cannot do this if you don’t document it in details. Sorry, that’s beyond our job description. Sorry, that’s something I’ve never tried before. Sorry — what if things mismatch?

While designers do their best to collaborate and explain their design to the engineers, and sometimes also help with coding and implementation, we also expect these engineers to have a bit of humane side — please improvise thoughtfully. I am not saying they should just improvise everything and whenever. They should do it with empathy, care, and with a full sense of ownership to the product. They should learn about ergonomics, user experience and design.

Think beyond the specs. Think for the users.

If the design specifies that the margins are X and you find out that they don’t stack together too well with each others, then do what’s best: Try to adjust and recommend the correct margins.

If the design misses some specifications and you think you can’t continue work — think again. You’re grown adults trying to make sense of your work, right? Own this thing, this work that you do. Perfect it. Make it better. Have the best guess. Then you can talk with us designers.

While designers need to think about technical limitations, we need you, engineers, to think wide and sound about ergonomic possibilities… or simply about what makes sense.

After all, engineers are humans, not machines, right?

Acing That Job Interview

March 5th, 2015

No, this is not another article to ace that job interview, actually. If you mean “acing” as in the way to land that dream job ultimately, please do not continue to read. This is about how to not sugarcoat, be frank and be direct — honesty matters more in the long run, and I learned it the hard way.

If you don’t agree with something, say it

I had a job interview once when the employer says that every designer has to use Photoshop. It simply is not my tool of trade, and that it is also not suitable for UI design. I said beforehand that I do not want to use it and gave a reason. Not only it gives me less of a headache in the first place, it also gives the potential employer enough reason to decide whether to hire me or not. Also, it will help me know how good the employer is. Do they really care about design? Will they sort designers only based on the tool they use, which is a shame?

Name your price

One of the tricky part of any job interview is the “what is your expected salary” question. I’d say, be brave. You know what you’re worth. Don’t be fooled with the market rate. If you have to care for the market rate, add additional 10% to 20% to it. Don’t be fooled around by the prerequisite question that goes like “what is your current salary?”. You can say any number, but don’t base your bargaining based on your current one. Base it on market rate, your skill, your experience and how much do you think you can contribute to the company. Are you of a certain value to the company?

Introduce yourself, please

Usually, this is the first question that comes from the interviewer. It can be a sign of laziness — just to have it all started. It sometimes shows how unprepared they are. Use this opportunity to be brief. Start with what you do, what you want to do and then what you have done. For example, “I am a designer who specializes in user interface or user experience design, I’d like to do and learn more on the user experience design side of it, which I believe I can do in your company. I bring to the table a multitude of experience in X, X and X over the past X years.” You can go into details later.

Where you’ll be in the next 5 years

Seriously, why ask this question, right? Who knows what you’ll be and where you’ll be in five years. People can change. Seriously, I usually just say — “Perhaps, I will still be doing design and helping organizations excel through it.” That is all. No need to sugarcoat or dream high like, “I want to be a renowned, world-class designer who speaks frequently at conferences.” So much bull shit.

Why do you want to move here?

There are almost always 3 main factors. Money, team/leadership, environment. I’d suggest to do all three or pick two.

Can you do this assignment?

Some companies do testings, especially for engineers or designers, to gauge how well their work is and if the work is a good fit. Be careful with this. Always ask for feedback later on — even if the result is negative. Do not work for nothing. If they don’t give thoughtful feedback as to why your assignment didn’t go well, chances are they are not good companies to work for.

Say thank you

Always say thank you in written form later on, normally by email, to the hiring manager or the recruiter. This goes a long way.

I Moved to Singapore

February 23rd, 2015

I took the job offer as Product Designer with DBS Bank last December last year and I made the move. It’s my second month, going to my third month. I will write my comments about the experience in two parts. The first part is about Singapore itself, the second part is about the job.

On being in Singapore

Please note that I am here alone, I still leave my wife and soon-to-be-born kid in Jakarta until the kid is born and we are all ready to make the move together. I stay at a small cheap HDB flat common room (for $650 a month) in Pasir Ris, a largely residential area east of Singapore, which makes it very convenient for me to go to the office since I work at Changi Business Park. I take only one bus to go to work, which is bus 12, and usually take the train home, changing train at Tanah Merah and going in easterly direction towards the final terminus of Pasir Ris.

First — it’s been a convenient ride so far with the budget. Budgetary wise, Singapore is very manageable, especially for singletons. I try hard to not spend over $20 every day for meal, although it’s the hardest part of my budgeting, since I really love eating and snacking. Over the weekend, it can get more than that, easily reaching $30 mark for a day. I try saving in other parts, especially communication and transport. I spend only $50 for mobile data plan and phone plan each month, spending $7 each week just for 1GB of data, which translates to a total of 4GB of data. I spend $70 – $100 for my transportation card and I only take MRT and public buses. Sometimes, when I meet friends until late in the evening, I take a cab home from the city to Pasir Ris, which equates to around $20 – $25 a trip with the surcharge fee. Most of my salary goes back to Indonesia, to prepare for the birth of my first daughter. A nice amount of the salary also goes to monthly airfare to home, and I normally take JetStar or Air France which are around the range of $150 – $220 return. So that makes it look like this for a month: $650 for accommodation, $750 for meals, $100 for transport, $50 for mobile, $250 for airfare and everything else for groceries, the accidentals and a big chunk of savings at home. All in “Sing Dollars”.

Second — life is very easy in Singapore. Public transport is very efficient, although sometimes they can be congested. Generally, coming from a city like Jakarta, I find Singapore a breeze. Nothing that I cannot do with my ezLink card. Train, bus, cab, even drink and food, I can buy with the card. Singapore is a food heaven, and they’re very affordable if you can look into them. In Pasir Ris, some stalls can even have $2 rice meals. If you’re really that frugal, bring your own water. If you get hungry in the night, you can always hop in to nearest 24-hour food stall (although it can be a bit challenging here in Pasir Ris). I mean, if you live in the US, the cheapest meal would be junk food. Here, you can have a full healthy meal at less than $5. Again, if you look carefully. Also, everything is very conveniently located that you can almost always walk to where you need to be. Parks — tick. Malls — big ticks. Food stalls — don’t ask, they come to your sights. 7-11s — a gift of God. Top your magic cards up — almost everywhere with AXS machines.

Third — the government is very efficient. It took me 5 minutes to process the issuance of my Employment Pass and they sent me my card in a week. I didn’t have to come to Singapore beforehand to do this, all I did was take a photo, scan my thumbs and sign things off. I can check my tax status online even faster than my Indonesian one. I feel more welcomed coming to Singapore than to Indonesian airport with a greeting of my name on the autogate machine.

What I still worry is whether having a family life would mean the same thing for us, but we’ll see.

On being a Product Designer at DBS

This is my second corporate job after Oracle, which I left 3 years ago. It’s been challenging.

First — I didn’t even expect I’d go back to corporate life. However, this was an opportunity too good I couldn’t miss. Not only for the chance to move to Singapore — although that’s relative — but also because of the team members, and the opportunity to push design thinking in a big corporation. I also wanted to learn more about banking and what challenges and lessons it brings to me as a designer.

Second — It turned out that to move a company this big is not an easy thing. I am so used to startup mind where every decision can be made in a swift and everyone’s consensus can be received in a single sitting. It doesn’t work like that of course. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be quite challenging at times.

Third — I learned that iterative, agile, quick-shipping product development still work way better than waterfall, perfecting-it-all attitude. This I learned so hard at Ice House and Bukalapak, but sometimes I have to unlearn or step back a bit here at DBS. Again, I think we’re all still learning, and eventually, I believe we can lean towards the first.

Fourth — It’s hard to be the only team who actively use Apple products in the whole company. Wink.

Advice for Startups by David Noël

February 19th, 2015

There are 22 of them, but here are the ones that hit me the most.

1. don’t get fooled by disproportionally spending energy externally. Companies are built from within. Focus on that.
3. overcommunicate rather than undercommunicate. Early investment in documentation and information-sharing will pay off in long term.
4. hire those excited about the future vs. those nostalgic about the past.
5. solution-orientation > problem-orientation. BUT: make effort to truly understand the problem and once done, move on to solution.
8. for things to move fast, sometimes you need to start slow.
11. good hiring managers hire with diligence. Remarkable hiring managers hire with diligence *and* trust their gut #culture
12. building a company > doing a startup
13. hire (and develop) builders, not runners.
14. as a leader, use every opportunity to connect with a team member. A look, a high five, a thank you, a challenge, an ask for help..
17. company culture = values + people.
18. people are tempted (and attracted) to join startups. Ensure that they know what they are signing up for. Clarity of expectations.
20. you’re one company. There are no ‘they’, there’s only ‘us’.
21. start with a philosophy, then create a process. Not the other way around.
22. guidance > policies

More here.

Why Limit the Tool of Design?

February 19th, 2015

I bet you’re all familiar with some of the things like — “It’s the company standard to use tool X for design.” So standard that it becomes the last gate to decide whether a designer candidate could ever make it there to work with the other stellar people in the company. “I’m sorry, it’s the standard here. We have decided to use it because the engineers think it’s easiest to collaborate with it.” Okay, I’d say it out loud — Adobe Photoshop.

It baffles me that in this age of problem-solving, we are still limited by tools. I understand where it comes from, though: workflow. People want stress-free workflow, so they make a consensus together. What tools are easiest to work with with everyone. However, this alienates good candidates. In my past experience giving job interviews, I ask what tools the candidates use to design, but I never specifically say they must use one tool or another to succeed in this company. I focus, instead, on their problem-solving skills. Their actual design skills. You know, the skills that really give value.

I also understand that Adobe Photoshop is the standard of the industry — but to be honest, it’s not the best. It’s made for digital imaging. Photo retouching. Image enhancements. It’s not made for user interface design, it’s not made for product design. It’s not even made for agile process. It’s cumbersome, slow and nerve-wracking. Every single thing needs a plugin. It’s a duct-tape kind of design tool.

Now, I understand if Photoshop is really the best — I’d die learning for it, and I’d die learning to use it just to land that dream job of mine. But no. It’s hard for me to learn something that is actually not something I believe in, and that more and more people are not believing in anymore.

It’s also a shame that a company would force its designers to use a failing (albeit not dying) tool.

Is wireframing dead?

November 4th, 2014

A wireframe example.

Some designers say that wireframing is dead and prototyping is the future. Some say prototyping is dead and iteratively designing (and developing) the actual product is the future.

I have nothing against any alternative process recommended by designers. If they think it’s the most comfortable and faster way to do it, then by all means go for it. What I understand is that in startups where the stake is high and rapid delivery is required, it’s actually helpful for designers to launch the app quickly and iterate further. It is also sometimes imperative that the designers can actually build or code. In larger, established companies however, the process can be more dedicated within each “silo”.

From my experience working at Ice House, a mobile design and development company, wireframing is favoured in the first part of the product development process: the Design & Define phase. This is an initial “product design” sprint or phase in which designers, developers, product managers and business analysts sit down together with the client to define the product. It is in this phase where we actually do wireframes and a Flinto prototype (with full UI design, of course). When we get client sign off, we can start iterative, agile development afterwards.

Two things that I learned wireframes can help.

First, the developers favour it because it helps them create data model and relationships. It also gives them a good impression on the flow, whereas a prototype is more of a “one screen at a time” in nature, where the next possible screens are hidden and that the developers could be clueless. A huge diagrammatic view over the app flow and user journey is helpful making a mental and visual model for the developers.

Second, it gives a great start for the business analysts to create epics and stories. Again, it helps create a mental and visual model for them to convert the wireframe screens to actionable chunks of stories. It call circles back to development.

Prototyping is useful to further furnish the details, especially interactions within a screen. It also helps the detailing of what exact colors, buttons, layout or shapes should go into specific screens. A prototype is also more useful to the clients as they would have a better grasp of the app.

I think both wireframing and prototyping help — a wireframe creates a good guide on how the app works almost in its entirety, while prototyping creates a good feel of the screen-by-screen user experience.

The Designer’s Dream

September 5th, 2014

Every digital product designer dreams of a perfect ecosystem: a company or an organization capable of carrying their designs to life in the exact ways they want, as accurately as possible, and that these designers wish to be treated like the single source of truth.

Welcome to the real world, instead, where no company or organization that you join does this exactly. Even if you go solo and you have to select a developer friend carefully — that developer friend who knows your work inside out, knows your passion, nurtures your wishes — in short, your soulmate, you will realize that he too needs a life. A realistic life. Occasionally, he wouldn’t be able to fulfil what you wish perfectly and in timely manner. Same as you as a designer. In their eyes, designers are just perfectionist stubborns. Don’t even talk about the sales, the marketing guys, the C-level executives. Wake up, designers, you have to be able to sell your ideas to the organization. If you can’t, but you wish to be heard, you will fail miserably.

Designers think they are unicorns. No. We are just the same. We fight for our ideas. We work together with others. Sometimes we compromise a little — on time, on matters, on people. What we don’t compromise, however, is the vision. Even though the MVP doesn’t have what we wish for, we know it’s an MVP, things will get better and we’ll continue to fight. However, we have to ship. Now. Or never. Designers should deliver, not ponder forever.

My advice is as a designer, you have to work fast & as accurate as possible, but not perfect. Just imagine agile development. There should be agile design. Design simple things that work now, and perfect overtime. With every ship, it has to work, to some extent. Don’t forget to brush up that communication skill with other departments. Sell your ideas, move around, don’t be a unicorn and don’t build castles.