Today, we continue to highlight each member of our team here at EchoUser and let all of you know a little more about us. You’ve had an opportunity to learn about our co-founders Mick McGee and Aaron Rich, Experience Director Vel Prakhantree and Design Director Rally Pagulayan, and now its time to hear from our Director of Business Development, Patrick Stern.
1. How did you get involved in the user experience field?
My first real experience with design was at Apple as a Lead Mac Specialist, working directly with the products and customers. I was extremely interested in customer experience and ensuring that the entire Apple experience was seamless, from the hardware to the interaction with the software. I saw what I was doing as a way to bring my education in Psychology into the real world. While I was working there, Apple released the first iPhone, so it was a very exciting time to be on the ground and to see a whole new breed of products introduced.
I have spent the majority of my time working with products, being surrounded by people who spend massive amounts of time thinking through each interaction their users will potentially have. With my psychology background and this exposure, I really find myself intrigued by people’s motivations and what motivates them to engage with a product. Overall, I really love trying to hone in on what users enjoy in a product and figuring out what pushes them to the point where they not only love the product, but where they want to share that product with someone else.
2. How do the UX needs of enterprises and startups differ?
The fundamentals of user experience design can really help a company at any stage. The most important thing is understanding the core experience you are trying to achieve, and every company needs to understand this. Across both enterprises and startups, companies need to understand that research goes far beyond just analytics. They need to really answer the “why” when users are doing something – and that’s what our approach does.
Now, startups do have a harder time determining that because of resources, but there are certainly ways they can figure it out. It could be beneficial to actually go out and ask people, and not just family and friends, what tools they would use, what tools they would like to use and where they would use them. This can be done with a small team and be so valuable to a company in its early stages. I’ve seen small and large companies gain valuable insights from this kind of work that has saved them from going in the wrong direction, which can be catastrophic for small companies.
3. How have you applied UX to the new business role?
I don’t get to sit in and work on projects, but I get to bring the business to those who do. It really is a beautiful thing. I bring in a project, build a relationship with the client and introduce them to the team that will guide them through the process. An important part of this is building the relationship and talking to clients about their goals and desires for the end product. With this discussion, I align everyone’s goals and assure them (and ourselves) that we can achieve them together. We have a unique perspective on UX and design, and it’s not for everyone. I need to ensure that we all have the same passions and motivations and that our approach to UX is a fit for their product, as much as the client needs to decide that we’re a match. It’s as if I am a matchmaker, and I need to make sure that our approach to UX addresses their needs as much as the client needs to make sure it aligns with what they envision for the project.
4. What is the most important part of bringing in new business?
I would say that it is finding a client that cares as much about the experience as we care about it. The most successful deals are the ones where we truly become partners with the companies we are working with and can achieve better results together. When imagining the best new business scenario, it really goes deeper than the work we are doing and the money exchanged.
People may think that new business is always on my mind, but building relationships is an integral part of my job. For example, in our recent Design Jam event, we were given more insight into how Oracle designers work internally at the company. Our connection with Oracle is important. While we aren’t always doing work with them directly, we have a strategic partnership with them and there is always potential to collaborate in the future.
5. Since you’ve helped with the development of EchoUser Design Jams, can you explain what they are all about?
We held our first Design Jam event in June, which focused on wearables in the workplace. It was a lot of fun. Roughly 20 designers and researchers from a variety of Oracle teams, EchoUser and Studio Fathom spent the day discussing use cases for wearables and proposing solutions — by way of wearable technology — to some of the challenges in the workplace.
The main point of something like the Design Jam is to keep building relationships, which could lead to doing great things together in the future. We’d really like to keep doing these types of events and collaborating with innovative companies on a regular basis. That way, in the future we can harness the knowledge and insight our team has learned to work with new teams on the challenges they face. Instead of asking people for work, we want people to come join us, see what we’re capable of, and see where we can potentially work together.
6. How do you like to spend your free time?
I know it’s hard to believe but I don’t constantly work. I grew up in Hawaii, and thus, I have a natural love for the outdoors. I do a lot of mountain biking and backpacking. I think the best time to tackle a problem – no matter how big or small – is when I’m hiking around by myself and I’m able to look at life’s challenges from many different angles. I find my answer then, and test them out in the real world.
7. What is the number one thing you want people to remember about EchoUser walking out of a new business pitch?
We love getting to know new clients and products, but we really want to work with people who appreciate our process and appreciate the end product they will gain from us.
We’re not a standard design firm, and I hope prospective clients walk away from our initial discussions feeling our unique offering is what they need. We have a finely tuned approach to product development and have helped a lot of companies in many different industries. But it’s not going to be a fit for every company we talk to. My job is to understand what challenges the potential client is having and look into our toolbox to see how we can help them. It may not be our whole toolbox or whole process that the company needs, it could be just one part, and that’s a great place to start our relationship.
We really just want to be able to help where we can. For example, at Plug and Play we hold designer and researcher office hours for free. People can sit down with EchoUser employees and pick their brains. We really just try to do things like this where we can provide perspective, insight and guidance.
Google I/O 2014 ended a few weeks ago and it was full of exciting news for the tech industry. Among all of Google’s newly announced features and products, Android L, an operating system for phones, cars, tablets and televisions, got my attention immediately. This new OS, along with Android TV and Google’s acquisitions of Nest and Dropcam, make Google a very strong player in the smart home market.
Not too long ago, at Apple WWDC 2014, Apple unveiled HomeKit, a platform for pairing iPhones with home appliances, to enter the smart home market. Is it a coincidence that these two tech giants decided to jump into this space around the same time? As I see it, it’s just something that happens naturally. Since it’s very likely that “everything will have data in it” in the near future, extending their reach beyond phones, tablets and laptops seems like a logical next step for these companies.
A smart home is like an ecosystem, or a network of interactions among devices, people, and their environment. This kind of connectivity, many people believe, will help us feel more secure and live more comfortably and efficiently. Apple and Google, among other tech companies, have made tremendous efforts in building digital ecosystems over the past few years. For examples, Apple’s new feature Handoff enables the user to switch from one device to another and continue an ongoing activity seamlessly; Google Now integrates a set of web services to enable the user to check customized weather, traffic, and delivery information under one platform.
What does the emergence of the smart home ecosystem mean for us, as user experience designers? As promising as it seems, there are a couple of design challenges associated with smart home. One big challenge is protocol fragmentation, or the fact that current systems and devices use a variety of wireless protocols to talk to each other. Google and Apple are the kind of companies capable of leading the smart home industry and breaking the fragmentation. However, if they stick with their closed systems, either it’s Android or iOS — “works with Nest” or “made for iPhone” — and we are going to either get stuck in one system or jump from one system to another endlessly. This is not good news for designers or users.
Another challenge is with taking a more holistic approach to the smart home space. Although by definition “user experience” is any aspect of a person’s interaction with technology, we as a profession usually put a lot more focus on the software interface than the other aspects such as hardware and physical environment. To design an effective connected experience, it’s important to think through different aspects of an experience.
Take a smart fridge, for example. If you are asked to design a new-generation fridge that has the potential to create a mass market, how would you go about designing it? Here’s what I would do:
First, understand how people use refrigerators right now: Why do people use their fridges? How do they interact with their fridges? They may say, “I want to store food I bought and extend its lifespan so I don’t need to do grocery shopping that often,” and you may observe that their interactions with the fridge are very quick. These kinds of stories and observations will give us insights on their behaviors and context of uses.
Second, list all the possible touchpoints and use cases. We know we need to consider both mobile and home contexts because people buy food somewhere and then store it in their fridge at home. Also, some people tend to organize food in specific spots inside a fridge based on categories, while others tend to place food randomly wherever there is an empty spot. Therefore, a smart fridge that requires users to place items in specific spots to help it keep track of food will not fit everyone.
Finally, design systems rather than individual components. Based on user research insights, we can start connecting nodes and drawing meaningful patterns. For example, it will be pretty handy if a fridge could create a shopping list for you based on your preference and current inventory and send it to your phone or car before you are heading to a supermarket. Another useful feature could be when, after you are done with your shopping, your mobile phone or credit card sends your purchase information to your fridge so it can better maintain your inventory.
Smart home is all about the connected experience, and we are the group of people designing that experience. It’s going to be an exciting era for us.
Originally posted on Wired’s Innovation Insights
In the wake of global warming, sustainable design has come into its own over the past decade. People and companies not traditionally known for their environmental beliefs are undertaking programs to mitigate their effect on our earth. Just looking at projects in the bay area, one of the most prominent in its efforts to be sustainable is the design of Apple’s new headquarters.
The headquarters, envisioned by Apple and architecture firm Foster and Partners, is conceived as embodying the values of “innovation, ease of use and beauty.” The project is a complete redesign of the Apple campus, creating a new space that truly represents the Apple ideals and fosters a respect for its employees and its community. Through the design process, the project also became one of giving back to the landscape, drastically increasing the amount of open space and aiming to achieve net-zero energy through the use of 700,000 sq feet of solar panels.
Current green space on Apple’s campus vs proposed green space
While Apple aims to make its campus net-zero and products such as Nest allow individuals to monitor and control their personal energy usage, it’s evident that sustainable design will be at the forefront of innovation for years to come. This got me thinking, how can sustainable design be taken the next level? Are we meeting the individual’s needs while trying to meet the environment’s as well? Can we design sustainably while still creating beautiful and captivating experiences?
Click here to continue reading the full article on Wired Innovation Insights.