Designing Happiness: Lessons from Warm Gun 2014

Continuous learning is a big part of our culture here at Alexa. Aside from personal and professional growth, we believe that our own continuous learning has a significant impact on our customers. And being able to reiterate our experiences to you is a part of us paying our knowledge forward.

A couple weeks ago, our UI/UX designers Liza Rivai and Marcos Moralez attended the design conference Warm Gun. Produced by 500 Startups, an early-stage seed fund and incubator program focused on consumer and internet startups, and User Interface Engineering, Warm Gun unites designers and startups to discuss industry trends, the impact their skills have on end users, and how it all affects the bottom line.

I sat down with Liza and Marcos to get the inside scoop on what they took away from their experience. These are their key takeaways, lessons learned, and mantras for 2015.

Jennifer: Tell me a little bit about your experience this year at Warm Gun.

Liza: Each speaker has a slightly different perspective, but the overarching takeaway for me was that it all comes back to the user, his or her needs, and behaviors. If you are in doubt, the best thing to do is to talk to them. They will guide you to a solution. At Alexa, we live by customer-focused principles, always finding what help them win in their organizations, so this really stuck with me.

Aviva Rosenstein, with DocuSign, made a good point about analysis and getting feedback. She said you have to make sure that you combine data analytics (a retrospective analysis) with user feedback to make sure business goals are aligned with user needs.

Marcos: To add to that, the conference was a good reminder of the important core principles of design – why we do what we do. Sometimes crucial fundamentals can be overshadowed by fads, deadlines, and general expectations.

Unknown-4“Using Analytics to Solve the Right Problems”, Hiten Shah

Jennifer: In one day you all attended 12 sessions each, that’s a jam-packed day! Did you have a favorite session that really resonated with you?

Liza: For me it was Samuel Hulick’s ( ‘Growing Your Userbase with Better Onboarding’, where he talked about the importance of first impressions. A good quote from his talk was, “start your design where your users start their using”. An example of this is when customers enter your product; don’t expect them to memorize the steps or features. A better approach is to make the onboarding actionable, let people learn by using. Create prompts as they use the product instead of a single overlay all at once. Also, reward and motivate users at each state of success.

Marcos: I liked PJ McCormick’s (Amazon) talk on ‘Fostering Effective Collaboration in a Global Environment’. I liked his view on involving other teams in the product development process, as opposed to going into a black box of creation and then reemerging with options. His point was, when you have involvement and buy in from other stakeholders early on, you avoid potential disruptions and roadblocks that may arrive late in the process. I especially liked his suggestion of an asset wall – a place with early stage sketches, wireframes, and thoughts that serves as a timeline and invites others to review the progress. This is something we are going to start doing at Alexa.

Unknown-1“Growing Your Userbase with Better Onboarding”, Samuel Hulick

Jennifer: Let’s talk bottom line takeaways. What did you leave the conference thinking about?

Liza: Hiten Shah (KISSmetrics) said, “Work on things that matter. Make those things better. Be happy”. In this context he was talking about analytics helping you solve problems. But, from a design standpoint it’s about our calling to really make people’s lives better, no matter what medium. If you achieve this, you make other people happy and also feel highly rewarded.

Marcos: I go back to the talk I mentioned earlier – Leah Buley’s ‘Hunches, Instincts, and Trusting Your Gut’. She said, “Patterns and prototyicality matter a lot in design. The designs of low prototypicality are generally thought of as unattractive”. She means that you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t create something new for the sake of it. Ultimately, if you drastically change things customers are already comfortable navigating it may distract from the experience as a learning curve. When you think that people’s first impression is about 50 milliseconds, that’s how much time you have to make an impact. They have to be able to find what they’re looking for, and quickly.

Unknown-2“Using Analytics to Solve the Right Problems”, Hiten Shah

Jennifer: Based on what you learned, what are you looking forward to practicing day to day going into 2015?

Liza: Continuing to build out and refine our products based on our customers’ needs.As Maria Giudice (Facebook) said, our job will never be finished. We will always work to solve problems for our customers.

Marcos: Using data to see where our customers are struggling and where they are succeeding. We are here to help them help themselves. It’s our goal for all our customers to succeed in marking the most informed decisions.

Jennifer: Thanks guys! Any final thoughts?

Liza: Design really matters. We can solve people’s problems if we think critically.

Marcos: Yes. I think about what Braden Kowitz from Google Ventures said about how design has evolved. In the past, design was mostly surface and making things pretty. But over the last 10 years it’s evolved into much more than that. Designers now have the skills and tools to solve core problems for businesses because of data. He encouraged designers to take a seat at the table and involve themselves in decision-making.

Marcos Moralez is an Emmy Award winning UI/UX Designer with over 15 years of experience (CBS, NCAA, and FoxSports, to name a few). At Alexa he leads interface design from conception to completion, delivering delightful experiences for users.

Liza Rivai is a Senior Interaction Designer. Passionate about how design can impact people’s lives, she strives to design fluid interface experiences that empower users to confidently make decisions and connect with the brands they love.

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