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Aarron Walter is Vice President of Design Education at InVision, a division dedicated to promoting design education worldwide. Drawing upon 15 years of experience running product teams and teaching design, Aarron works closely with the creative community, business leaders, and millions of InVision customers to extol how to build better design-driven products focused on what users want and need.

Previously, Aarron founded the UX practice at MailChimp and helped grow the product from a few thousand users to more than 10 million over eight years. He's offered design guidance to the White House, the US Department of State, dozens of startups, venture capitalists and students at design colleges throughout the U.S. and Europe.

He is the author of the best selling book Designing for Emotion from A Book Apart. You'll find @aarron on Twitter sharing thoughts on design. 

He will be live on May 18 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • JP

    John Phamvan

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron - thanks for being here.
    Can you talk more about the role of UX in a startup's growth?
    Does that role change based on stage (e.g, pre and post product-market fit)?
    How do you measure its impact?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      Hi, John.

      UX is critical at a startup as product success is not determined by function alone. Great products address user's needs *and* feel great to use. To stand out in a crowded market we've got to create products that provide a solid user experience.

      Design certainly does change as a company scales. I've written in detail about the challenges of scaling design teams here> https://medium.com/leading-design/7-problems-growing-design-teams-face-5fd94292d405

      In a small company, design is visible to all which makes its value and position in the process apparent. But as the company scales designers need to work harder to socialize their work and get more people involved. When design is no longer visible in a company, it no longer has power.

      How does we measure the impact of design? We tie design efforts to core business goals. User retention, user on boarding, and repeat sessions can be metrics that help us gauge the success of design, but each org will be different.

      It's important for designers to understand the business and think about their work in relationship to the company's goals.

      3 Share
      • PS

        Penelope Singer

        7 months ago #

        When design has historically not been very visible in the company culture, what specific strategies would you recommend to change that? How do you move to get design a seat at the big table?

  • AW

    Aarron Walter

    7 months ago #

    Howdy, folks! Excited to talk with you today. Before we get started I want to let you know you'll find my writings and past interviews that go deeper into some of the topics we'll discuss today on my site http://aarronwalter.com.

    And with that, let's get started!

  • KK

    Kara Kelly

    7 months ago #

    When is the right time to hire a dedicated UX researcher?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      I'm not sure we could be definitive on when to hire a dedicated researcher, but research should be folded into the workflow as soon as possible.

      "Fail fast" is the mantra of the software industry. The surest way to achieve that goal is by basing your product design on guesses and foregoing customer research. By speaking with customers and observing their behaviors, we can de-risk our efforts and dial in on a product that has a better chance of succeeding in the market.

      3 Share
  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron,

    Thanks for doing this AMA!

    There are some things that millions of people will look at and think "that looks cool" (eg Ferrari cars). Are there any frameworks or principles around what about design makes something appear cool as opposed to it just being individual opinion - that too without even having touched or experienced it in any way?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      Absolutely, Javier, but the formula for making cool products is complex. Cultural, social, and evolutionary forces are at play when we respond to cool products. A red Ferrari catches our attention because the color is rare in nature, and is used as a signal to direct our gaze to danger (a poison arrow frog) or pleasure (a sweet strawberry). A Ferrari embodies both of those things—danger and pleasure.

      Social forces also shape our perception. The high price tag makes a Ferrari very exclusive, which makes it a tool for communicating status. And culturally it communicates that the owner is a capitalist consumer of the highest order, which is a badge of honor in 2017 but would have seen as indulgent a couple hundred years ago.

      3 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        7 months ago #

        This is so insightful.
        While I can see this clearly from the example of Ferraris, can you talk more about how these cultural, social, and evolutionary forces are at play in apps today?
        It just feels like, in general, so many more of them are just so well designed from a first impression perspective. How is it that so many of us, from all over the world, are responding similarly?

  • TN

    Tri Nguyen

    7 months ago #

    What is the biggest UX challenge you've recently had to work on and what did you do/learn during that process?

  • GH

    Glen Harper

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron, thanks for being on the AMA. We would love to learn about some of the testing you did in the early days at Survey Monkey. Were there any specific tests, or groups of tests, that really helped things scale? Thanks for your insights.

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      Hi, Glen. I never worked for Survey Monkey but I did work at MailChimp. I'll assume that's what you mean ;)

      We did a lot of typical testing you'd see at most startups. We tested pricing models, landing page designs, workflows, advertising channels, etc. The stuff that was most fun, though was related to emotional design.

      We experimented with interactions inside the app that were placed in just the right spots when users are most receptive to a bit of humor. Some of those experiments failed miserably—like jokes that relied on American humor and were misunderstood in other countries (more about that in my book Designing for Emotion). And some of those tests were incredibly successful, like the famous Freddie high five moment at the end of the email design workflow (https://twitter.com/search?q=mailchimp+high+five). More about the story behind the high five and how it exploded can be found in my Creative Mornings talk here: https://creativemornings.com/talks/aarron-walter

      2 Share
  • AW

    Aarron Walter

    7 months ago #

    Thanks all for so many great questions. Find me on Twitter if you'd like to continue the discussion: http://twitter.com/aarron.

    Cheers!

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    7 months ago #

    Hey Aarron - so cool to have you on here!
    I'm curious as to what founding a UX practice at a startup entails?
    How formal or informal is this process at the start?
    For that matter, when is the right time to start?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      UX should start from the beginning of any business. If you want to sell a thing to a customer it would behoove you to think about the experience that will help you succeed.

      When you create a UX practice you need to hire a good team (views on hiring are here https://blog.mailchimp.com/hire-people-not-skills/), define process and tools (thoughts on that here http://us5.campaign-archive1.com/?u=7e093c5cf4&id=cfe9dbcac8).

      In my experience (and I suspect it's true in most startups), the early days of a company are fast and action-packed. There's some planning, but there's also a lot of discovery and experimentation. We learn as we do!

      4 Share
  • MT

    Mitchell Tweedie

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron - cheers for sharing your experience with us.

    - As a non-designer working with designers, how can I (improve my ability to) contribute to building awesome UX?
    - What are some of your favourite quotes about UX?
    - What are some "what not to dos" everyone needs to know?

    Thanks.

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      Mitchell, you are awesome for asking how you can contribute to UX!

      Here's what I'd recommend:

      1) Spend 2 hours every 6 weeks talking to real customers. Listen to how they use your product. Get uncomfortable as they tell you what sucks.

      2) Get a foundational understanding of the value of design and how it can empower your company to succeed. Take a look at these books > Don't Make Me Think, The Design of Everyday Things, Universal Principles of Design.

      3) Get coffee and chat regularly with a designer in your company. Learn how they think, and get familiar with what they're working on.

  • JD

    James Dunn

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron
    I'm fascinated (and quite frankly impressed) that someone in the government thought they needed design guidance.
    Can you talk more about the scope of that project?
    What sort of user experience were they looking to improve? What "conversions" were they looking to optimize for?
    Were there any lessons from the changes they implemented applicable to startups?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      Hi, James.

      There was a big focus on embracing digital in the previous US administration, and that is still happening today with 18F (https://18f.gsa.gov/) and US Digital Services (https://www.usds.gov/).

      The USDS used my design personas (http://aarronwalter.com/design-personas/) to craft the voice and style for applications that make interacting with the government more efficient and less painful. They studied documents in the Library of Congress to learn how the US government has spoken to citizens in the past and built their persona from their findings.

      I've also helped the US State Department in the office of the ambassador to Spain create more findable content they produced to improve foreign relations.

      There are so many ways design and technology can help make our government better. If this is interesting to you I'd recommend you apply to 18F or USDS.

  • SK

    S Kodial

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron - you mentioned that you've advised various startups, colleges etc in the US and Europe.
    Have you seen any notable distinctions in the design/UI/UX sensibilities between the two geographies?
    What do you think the relative strengths and weaknesses of their approaches?
    Is there anything startups in the US should keep in mind when creating products for a European audience and vice versa?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      There certainly are differences, but too many to explain completely here. Privacy is perhaps the most important issue to keep in mind. Germany, for example, is very guarded with privacy. Students of history will understand why. Storing data on servers outside of Germany can be an issue when selling there, as is storing cookies, or getting access to device APIs.

      With any global design effort, how you write copy will be of central importance. Localization—a native speaker writes copy—is far and away superior to translation—convert one language to another usually through automation. Spanish in Spain is different than Spanish in Costa Rica, and locals perceive all of those nuances.

      All of these nuances or culture are best understood through travel. Designers can learn a great deal and gain incredible inspiration through travel.

  • MD

    Mark Anthony de Jesus

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron! Thanks for doing this. A couple questions.... What is so appealing about enterprise-size marketplaces and content sites to you? How did you land up zeroing in on this niche?

  • PD

    Porus Daruvala

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron...thanks for doing this!

    What advice would you give those who want to transition into UX from a different career and are studying UX on their own? How can they demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge & skills?

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      I once hired an engineer who was writing code for chipsets at a Fortune 500 company. He had no background in design but he demonstrated that he understood design by creating a side project. He rode the train to work everyday, but longed for an easy way to view the train schedule on his phone. He wrote some code to scrape the local government site to grab the time tables (there was no API) and built a responsive page to format the data for a small screen, and did so with a clear attention to typography and aesthetics.

      Here's why I hired him:

      1) He identified a real-world problem.
      2) He had the gumption to create a solution on his own time.
      3) He clearly paid attention to design details, even though he wasn't a designer.

      ^Do that and you'll find the position you seek.

  • DO

    Danielle Olivas

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron,

    Thanks for sharing your time today!

    Building on Javier's question, what is it about certain products that make them "feel" cool (e.g, the first time you used an iPhone or any even other not-as-famous products)? What interaction characteristics & user psychology does "feeling cool" encompass?

    Looking forward to your response.

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      To build on my response to Javier, great products in the physical and digital world need to be functional, reliable, usable, and to be outstanding they need to be pleasurable as well. Here's what the user's hierarchy of needs looks like: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/135389532523512595/

      There's a balance to be struck here. A product that delivers maximum cool and minimum practical function and reliability is destined to perform poorly (Segway, Apple G4 Cube, Nest Protect). Alternatively, a product that delivers maximum function but minimal usability and cool will also struggle (Wenger 16999 Swiss Army Knife Giant, iTunes).

      I'm of the mind that design and engineering need to be balanced to produce a balanced product.

      I'd recommend focusing less on "cool" and more about what can bring joy to your customers' lives.

      Yeti coolers is an interesting example to consider. I would argue that their products don't look cool at all, but they bring tremendous joy to people by keeping food and beverages at the perfect temp for an insanely long time. Their stickers are plastered on the back of thousands of cars because their products do something astounding and are the center of many family gatherings.

      5 Share
  • DH

    Dani Hart

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aarron,

    Do you have any advice for designers that are working on a growth team with a high-tempo experimentation process?

    Looking forward to hearing what you have to share.

    Thanks,
    Dani

  • PS

    Penelope Singer

    7 months ago #

    How did the MailChimp brand and strategy get created? Were both the company and product brand strategies developed at the same time and what did that conversation sound like? I'm especially interested in what roles the people involved had in the company.

    • AW

      Aarron Walter

      7 months ago #

      Ben Chestnut, co-founder and CEO of MailChimp, is the mastermind behind the brand. The founders always had a great sense of humor and humility. They saw the name and brand as a different tack than all the major competitors took, and that helped the product stand out.

      Later Ben passed the reins of the brand to a number of us at the company. It was a great gift to be given the freedom to experiment with the brand. There were a number of us that had a hand in shaping the brand early on including Creative Director Ron Lewis, Marketing Director Mark DiCristina, and Content Strategist Kate Kiefer Lee. I wrote much of the early in-app copy that shaped the voice, and Kate refined that voice to make it accessible to the whole company (see http://voiceandtone.com).

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