Recently I had the chance to interview Kerry Thompson and Dan Zola, co-owners of UX agency SwayUX. I was able to get a little bit of insight into what UX actually is, and some other fun information about what their work is like as well as some key advice.
What exactly is UX? How would you explain it to your average person with no knowledge of the field?
Kerry: UX stands for user experience, and encompasses how a person interacts with a product or service. Usually the product or service is digital in my line of work, but it’s sometimes used to describe non-digital products as well.
Dan: UX is how a person experiences a digitial product. It’s about increasing value and reducing friction at every touchpoint.
How did you each get into this line of work?
Kerry: I started out in digital design in the 90s. I was an early adopter of user-centered design, before “UX” was even a term that was used. I took a workshop from the pioneers that created the frameworks we still use today, and feel in love with the idea of user-centered, data-driven design.
Dan: I fell into it.
Has this field changed or advanced since you first started? If so, how?
Kerry: There are more tools at our disposal that help us do our job better. Remote testing has come long way, for example. We also have easier and more detailed access to performance data, so we can make better identity areas that are working well and areas that need improvement.
Dan: There’s a greater awareness of it now than there was 10 years ago.
People sometimes correlate working with UX experts with giant companies who have deep pockets. How accurate is that idea? Could UX services be useful to smaller companies with varying budgets, and if so, what are some ways in which they can be accommodated?
Kerry: Everybody needs UX! Especially small businesses. A solid UX effort can be the difference between success and failure for a small business.
Dan: I think small companies need UX the most. They can focus on a few key pages that will generate the most lift.
Since you do a lot of user testing, you must see a fair amount of poorly made applications and websites. Do you have any specific pet peeves or bad concepts/execution that you see time and time again?
Kerry: Confusing navigation labels, overabundance of copy. No one is EVER going to read all that copy!
Dan: I don’t have any specific pet peeves.
Conversely, are there any notable trends you see that work particularly well and you would encourage people to keep up?
Kerry: Trends change so much, especially as technology changes. So it’s hard for me to advise people to commit to any one trend. My advice is to anticipate change!
Dan: Hero images, ghosted buttons, and clear calls to action.
What are your favorite or most interesting parts of your job?
Kerry: Working with Dan. Showing clients user testing results for the first time. People are so (understandably) captivated by it. Dan once said it’s like showing someone fire for the first time, and I think that’s a really accurate metaphor!
Dan: Working with Kerry. Wireframing!
What are some of the biggest challenges you face working in UX?
Kerry: Managing client expectations.
Dan: Educating clients.
What is the most rewarding part about working in UX?
Kerry: Working with Dan. Hearing a client get excited about test results. Getting referrals from a client that loves working with us.
Dan: Working with Kerry. Getting paid. Exceeding client expectations.
If you could impart some special knowledge or advice onto web designers and/or developers based on your experience, what would it be?
Kerry: Embrace change, especially new technology.
Dan: Pick an industry you want to be in and start small.