The Designer I Wanted to Be

This fall, at Ironhack, we are introducing a brand new UX/UI bootcamp. Despite this writing has nothing to do with that — well maybe a little bit, but more on that later, it is a great segue to a more personal story that recently has brought back some memories from my 23 year old self.

The launch of any new product at Ironhack always involves the industry from the very beginning in order to craft an educational experience that trains students with valuable skills for employers. Since we started researching for this new bootcamp, we have already met with a lot of companies to understand their needs, reached out to dozens of experts to iterate on the curriculum or gathered our industry friends to discuss about the importance of UX.

Because of it, I would say all the team is right now pretty fluent in UX parlance. But at a personal level, from the beginning I was particularly passionate about this new bootcamp. I kept providing resources, apps, blogs, people doing great work in the field... and consequently, my team kept asking me the (reasonable) question: how do you know all of this?

And I know all this stuff because believe it or not, when I was 23, fresh out of college, I wanted to become a UX professional. Maybe back then I did not coin the exact UX term, but it was crystal clear to me that I wanted to be the guy who designed the interactions with products.

Crafting the experience, what actually happens when you tap that button, was absolutely mind blowing to me. Back then I did not understand how this role played out within a team or if it even existed inside a regular company, but I loved the idea of designing a holistic experience: Design with capital D.

But despite this has been a recurrent theme of mine after college, it is obvious that I have failed to become a UX professional. Life routed me to other paths, but the obsession with interaction and design, has stuck with me in every single thing I did.

That is the reason why regardless I have been pulled away from explicit design roles as my daily job, I have always tried to embrace design principles when making product and business decisions. I quote from the iomando’s design recap I wrote last summer:

During my years at iomando I understood that design is a much more profound concept than "how it looks”. To me, design means falling in love with the problem. You are really designing when you break the problem down to pieces and get to the roots of it. Because getting features out of the door is an easy task, but getting the right ones, the ones that are really solving a problem in a meaningful way, that is hard.

Yet this precise thing, the joy of building great products and putting them in the hands of people is the ultimate reason why I started this company. And my job, everyday, is to just try to instill this enthusiasm to every single corner of iomando.

We built an entire company around this foundation because we deeply cared about what people experienced when they interacted with our product. That is exactly what I mean with "embrace design principles". I loved the idea of designing for experience, and despite I could not allocate all my time to this endeavor, I have always made sure that the we were putting attention to the last, small detail. I think I put it much better here (emphasis mine):

I co-founded iomando almost 4 years ago with just one goal in mind: building an amazing product and putting it in the hands of people. That’s all I cared about. I was thrilled watching our customers fascinated by the fact that they were able to access their parkings, factories, or whatever place, with their mobile phones. That feeling was the fuel that kept me going, and to me, the most tangible expression of happiness, aside from my family.

Crafting this experience, building something that people were actually in love with, has always been my guidance, my little contribution to the world.

Anyway, I have countless examples like these. You can read it here, or here. But going back to the point, despite learning some of this fascinating stuff on the side, and doing my best to deliver a great experience in everything I did, I did not become the UX designer I wanted to be.

But back when my professional career started, I did not know where to start. I did not know what the hell a UX job was. And I was afraid because it was not clear to me how I would get a job out of this. It was 2011 and some industries have changed a lot since then, but I am sure nowadays someone who wants to become a UX professional, still shares the exact same fears.

Luckily for all or them, there has never been a better time to be a UX designer. I keep hearing people talking about UX and how we desperately need to put more care in the products we design. I hear it and read it over and over again. How we need to humanize technology and ask ourselves whose problems we are solving to begin with. Without a question, the demand for these skills is right in front of us.

As technologies commoditize entire product categories and industries, the experience will be the differential factor that will drive the next generation of successful products. The information age has brought us stuff that we could not even imagine a few years ago, but it has also overwhelmed us with tons of products and data.

Now more than ever, we need to allocate time and resources to make sure the products we build are actually useful and aimed to address real needs. Therefore, and circling back to the beginning of the post: what an amazing time to be a UX designer.

All of it made me think a lot of my 23 year old self. The doubts I had back then, and what would have been of me if I had pursued that path. I wish I had found a program such as the Ironhack bootcamp to kickstart my career back in 2011, because I was not brave enough to go on my own. The frustration that derives from knowing where you want to go, but not where to start, is usually the precursor of giving up.

Looking back it seems that all I needed back then was somebody who trust. Somebody that clearly knew what was talking about and could light up the path. Maybe a mentor, or maybe a program that not only would teach me how to build stuff, but also connect me with the industry and create the opportunities so I could get a job at the end. I have never thought of that from this perspective, but this is exactly what we are doing at Ironhack for our students.

UX designers have one of the best jobs in the world. It is a job for the curious minds, a field that nurtures itself from countless disciplines spanning from Technology, Psychology, Data Analysis... being in this intersection has to be fascinating. I could go on and on, but for you, aspiring designers of the world, you have been presented with a unique opportunity to become the UX I have always wanted to be.

The iPhones 6S

I think that’s a trap — a way to be fooled by your eyes. [...] But it was the 3GS that first improved on CPU performance and gave us the first improvements to the camera. The 4S ushered in Siri integration and a much faster camera. The 5S was Apple’s first 64-bit ARM device, years ahead of the competition, and was the first device with Touch ID. For a typical iPhone user on a two-year upgrade cycle, I think the S years are the better phones, historically.

Iteration and refinement are at the core of great product development. A never ending feedback loop with customers that builds the foundation of the best products. "S" cycles are perceived as minor upgrades because of the same look, but I could not disagree more. Despite the most transformative features of the iPhone have been sponsored by S models, Gruber's points on the underlying thesis behind the S cycles are really well thought.

  • Ecosystem: cases and accessories manufacturers count on this predictability and it makes their business more sustainable.
  • Branding: never thought of it, but it's absolutely true. iPhone is more than a phone, it is an iconic device. Keeping its design consistent and recognizable is the most powerful force Apple has in order to retain this awareness.
  • Predictability: manufacturing at "iPhone scale" is almost an engineering and operations wonder. Having laid out the industrial design two years ahead makes it easier for engineering to plan for the new releases.

Farewell, eBay

I’ve been using eBay since 2007, the day I figured out I could get some money out of my PlayStation 2 in order to buy a PlayStation 3. I was 19 years old and it felt like magic. I’ve been a long time advocate of the company because I truly believe in their mission. But this week I’ve tried something that makes of peer to peer selling a whole new experience and a potential threat to (some) eBay's customer base.

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Apple and Samsung industrial design

Is it worth the effort? For me, as a customer, knowing that Apple had the consideration and took the time and effort to align their hardware speaks to the overall quality of their work. It reassures me that the same consideration and effort were likely spent making sure not a millimeter nor milliamp of battery space was wasted, not a nanometer of die, not a gap left around the screen, or a dead zone in the capacitive sensor.

From now on, every time someone asks me "why it might be worth to pay 699€ for an iPhone" I'll redirect him to this article. It points out exactly the reasons why people that truly care about great products are willing to bet on a certain product and, sometimes, be enthusiasts about it.

And this is not (only) about aligned holes and misplaced stickers, it's about culture, passion and enthusiasm for what they've done. It's about staying true to a vision and believing that they are the ones who care the most about each piece that put out there. That, to me, is the most important value a company could hold onto and also one of the main reasons Apple is the most successful.

Because once you know the back of the fence wasn't painted, not only can you never un-know it, you can never stop wondering what else wasn't given that same care and consideration.

Disney’s Bet on a Magical Wristband

It may look unpretentious, but the band connects you to a vast and powerful system of sensors within the park. And yet, when you visit Disney World, the most remarkable thing about the MagicBands is that they don’t feel remarkable at all. They’re as ubiquitous as sunburns and giant frozen lemonades. 

This article is a master piece that draws exceptional lessons on how technology, business and design merge to create an unprecedented user experience.

It’s amazing how much friction Disney has engineered away: There’s no need to rent a car or waste time at the baggage carousel. You don’t need to carry cash, because the MagicBand is linked to your credit card. You don’t need to wait in long lines. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of taking out your wallet.

Disney has managed to build a marvel of engineering and make it feel transparent for the user. It's an amazing example of applied technology with a clear purpose. It aims to remove friction, it looks for the pain points and intelligently addresses them with a clear goal in mind: providing an amazing experience.

Disney is thus granted permission to explore services that might seem invasive anywhere else. But then, that’s the trick: Every new experience with technology tends to gently nudge our notions of what we’re comfortable with.

This is really interesting. Google, Facebook, Apple are also pushing to make it happen, but some technology like this sponsored by them would look like as an intolerable thread to privacy. But here, at Disney, they have much more freedom to experiment and to push these kind of experiences forward without having to worry about such things.

In fact, it’s called the paradox of choice: You make people happier not by giving them more options but by stripping away as many as you can. The redesigned Disney World experience constrains choices by dispersing them, beginning long before the trip is under way.

Long story short, a fantastic lesson on product management and user experience. It's absolutely worth reading.

My Kindle sucks, but I love it

The Kindle Paperwhite, one of my most-used and most-loved possessions, is a creaky plastic rectangle with an ancient-looking black and white display. As a device, it’s far removed from the sexy, exciting world of tech product design. [...] Here’s the thing about the Kindle: it works.

I felt absolutely related with this piece. A lot of people own more advanced, shinny, multi functional devices like an iPhone or a Mac. But none of them feels as purpose oriented as the Kindle. You know there have been trade offs and you know they stripped everything away in order to make one functionality shine the most. It's a device with a clear purpose and you can feel how every decision about its design has been oriented towards fulfilling goal.

Read Better

I love reading. Books, blogs, articles, you name it. But I can’t read everything. It’s just too much. There’s so much information out there and it seems like the “factory” that produces all this great content is just getting bigger and faster.

Even if your full time job was to just read, you couldn’t begin to grasp the surface of what’s being produced at any given time. And that is a problem. Because you don’t want to waste time and you just have a (very) limited amount of time that you can devote to read the articles of the day.

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