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UX design FAQs: user experience expert Simon Vandereecken reveals all

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I was super happy to have a conversation with Simon Vandereecken recently for my podcast, People&Digital. UX is not yet a hot and trendy topic in every area of our sector – but it should be!

Simon has been a user experience designer and researcher for a bit more than 10 years now. He loves working on products and services to make them easier for people to grapple with while also helping companies understand their users better. 

I spoke to Simon about not being too afraid to interview users, what he wishes people knew about UX design, and why he hates the word ‘phygital’!

Why is UX so important? 

Because it puts the user or customer at the centre of the process. When you work on a product, you want it to be the easiest and most efficient to use. So UX helps you focus on how to create your product in a way that will seduce people and make it enjoyable to use. It’s a great asset because the product with the best ease of use is also usually the product that wins the market.

There are lots of crossroads between digital and physical products, which is sometimes called a horrendous word: phygital! 

But what is UX? How would you define UX user experience for a beginner?  

It’s the process of making any product or service the easiest and most efficient to use for a certain group of users.  

The UX designer is the person who will go to meet the end user of the product and try to understand what their roles, pain points and expectations are, as well as their life cycle with the product. They’ll think about: 

  • How did the user get to know the product? 
  • How do they use it? 
  • Why do they use it? 
  • What do they want to accomplish? 

The UX designer will take all of this, along with lots of other data and analysis, and try to build a solution – or several solutions – to fix problems with the interface, product or service.

What is the crazy stuff you hear about user experience?

People mistake UX with the way things look. They think it’s about making things pretty, but it’s not – it’s about making things more efficient. Making them pretty is also important, because then your product will become more likable, but it’s not UX. 

Some people also think all we do is build wireframes, but it’s not a set of principles that you have to apply and then, boom, you’re done with the UX of your website or application. Each one is really different. 

So, for each of your projects, you have to meet the end user. You have to encounter them to get to know exactly how you’re going to solve their problems. The most important part is the research because you need to make a product that answers your user’s pain points.

People often create a product thinking it will solve something for the user, but then it launches and nobody wants it because they didn’t look into the market fit. 

Are you trained to ask questions for interviewing users? What kind of questions do you ask as a UX designer? 

You want to get to know why people do things. There’s also a whole process called active listening, where you pay attention to what users say and dig into certain parts of it. But then, on top of the user interviews, you can use a lot of matrix surveys to try and reduce bias and understand what’s really happening in people’s heads.

However, you also have to quantify things between the user interview, the metrics you have, the surveys you can make, and the data that you collect. 

What’s the most important? Data analytics or the qualitative information you get out of the interviews?

Both are key. But the mistake people make is thinking that the quantitative data is always objective. They don’t realise that the way they interpret it means it’s already biased.

And sometimes, the amount of data won’t tell you everything that’s happening. For example, with websites you’ll know that users tend to go to a certain page and not another one. But the data won’t tell you why. You can use analytics or heat maps and so on, but you’ll never get to know why. 

And you need to know why your customers are acting a certain way before you can start to make assumptions, because if you could rely only on data, it would mean that human beings are logical creatures – which is far from the reality!

We like to think that we’re logical creatures, but we’re not! And most of the time, our actions don’t align with what we do and say.  

When do you know you’re ready with your qualitative and quantitative data?

For the qualitative data, like user interviews, usually they say to go on with the research as long as you’re learning something new at each stage. So, as long as the people you’re interviewing are telling you something new that you can use to improve your product, then you can continue. Once people start to say the same thing all over again, it’s best to stop. 

For the testing part, usually with 5 people you get around 90% of the errors spotted.  

Through the whole UX process, I won’t be able to tell you at which point your product can be launched and will be a success. But what I can do is reduce the error margin of launching your product. 

With the UX process, you can get a clear idea that the launch might succeed because you’ll have spotted a number of issues. You’ll have solved user pain points. You’ll be answering their needs. So there’s a clear chance that the product will work.

What are the steps you take when you start a UX project?

Usually I’ll do a stakeholder interview. So I try to interview people inside the company and team to get to know exactly what they are expecting from the project. 

I look at: 

  • Why are they doing it? 
  • Who is on board? 
  • What is the decision process? 
  • What has already been done?

Then I check if we already have any data so I can start to process it. 

After that, if there’s already an existing product, I’ll do a first analysis to get to know where the product is failing in terms of accessibility, ergonomics or other UX criterion. Based on the data, I’ll run a workshop with the team to begin making assumptions like:

  • What is the biggest question that we have towards this part of the work? 
  • Will the service work? 
  • Is it answering anything? 

I’ll try to list a maximum number of these points then go to management with my assumptions and data and start asking to meet users. I tell them that solving these questions will help us improve the product in a way that will make it more efficient and  improve its market fit.

I also tend to go talk with functions like the support team because they’re already meeting the users and have a lot of information about them. 

What are 3 good questions to ask when hiring a UX expert? 

  1. Ask how they would describe UX. 

A lot of people say it’s applying common sense, but it’s not because humans are not logical. 

  1. Ask about their process. 

It’s really important that they speak about meeting the users. You’ll be surprised by the number of UX experts who never meet the users. Unfortunately, they satisfy the way clients work and just say, “I’m the expert. I don’t have to meet the user.”

  1. Try to get to know the candidate a bit better.

Because UX is at the intersection of many topics, from psychology to design, your UX designer must be someone who’s really curious. Try to get to know how they keep themselves updated and dig into the subject of user experience design. Ask them about their interests, what they’ve read or discovered lately – those kinds of things.

It was a pleasure to discuss and learn more about UX with Simon. I’m so pleased he came on the show and I hope you learned as much as I did! For more info on UX from Simon, check out the podcast episode we recorded together. 

Amélie Beerens

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