Written by Matt Caprioli, Content Marketing Associate at eZ

Check out Paul's talk from the 2015 eZ Conference



Just scrolling through some mentions at Paul Boag, you quickly get the sense that people really like whatever he has to say.

@boagworld is my hero!

Spent much of today in a retrospective following @boagworld visit last week. Great discussion

Once again @boagworld fills the end of my day with another insightful podcast!

Paul is a prolific writer for net magazines like Smashing and Sitepoint. He is the author of the very popular and hugely practical “Digital Adaptation.” He co-founded the digital strategy company, Headscape, and runs the very well-received podcast, Boagworld.

Paul will be a major figure on the final day of eZ Conference 2015, which will be held in Brooklyn, NY on November 3rd-5th. He will start the day with his workshop, “A Non-Designer’s Guide to User Interface Design.” During the workshop Paul will explain how to handle the little design flaws that inevitably pop up once a designer has left the project, and how to improve the user experience through design tactics you can implement yourself.

His keynote address, The Future of User Experience Lies in Your Hands, also on Thursday, covers why everyone has a role to play in improving user experience, and what you can do to overcome organizational silos to deliver an exceptional user experience at all stages of engagement.

In this interview, we asked Paul what to expect from his workshop, what skills you need to have to tackle design work, and why workshops will teach you nothing you can’t learn from the Web--and why you should still go to them.

How often do you think designers “walk away” from a project after the software is implemented?

I think it happens all the time between a client and an agency. So if you hire a third-party web designer, you know, normally you’re paid for a finite project. And I think that’s one of the flaws in the client-agency relationship. You come in, you do your thing and you go away. I think that inevitably leads to problems with the user experience.

For example, when I was a part of an agency, I produced designs. I would deliver CSS and JavaScript to an in-house development team, and that in-house development team would then implement it and develop it into their content management system.

But the truth is, even the best developer in the world doesn’t have the same eye for design as designers do. And therefore, they would mess up the design when they implemented it. Sometimes badly, sometimes not so badly, but it would never look quite like how you originally planned it.

There’s always a potential problem there--UX getting damaged when you hand over stuff. Then of course, as soon as somebody gets ahold of the code, then they can really damage user experience in terms of information architecture and the quality of the content. As soon as you walk away, inevitably UX is going to get damaged.

The only way around that is to start educating everybody in good UX practice. Our job as UX designers isn’t just about managing the user experience our job is to educate everyone to care about user experience and to know how to produce a good user experience.

After reading the description for your keynote talk, “The Future of User Experience Lies in your Hands,” I was wondering, what are a couple working practices that organizations repeatedly do that drive users crazy?

I think the problem from an experience point-of-view is more cultural. And that does lead to working practices, but the underlying problem is the culture that exists in pre-digital companies.

For instance, they tend to be very siloed. You have a marketing department, a procurement department, a finance department, an accounts and fulfillment department... And all these different departments pass things over from one to another. And the customer kind of gets passed down these chains, and as a result the experience is not always good because each silo has its own processes. Often, users end up having to re-enter data or provide data again as a result, and often they fall between the gaps of various departments. This kind of siloed mentality is a huge problem.

There’s also a habit of these kind of companies when they have this kind of mass-media, mass-marketing mindset about them. In the past, in that mass-media, mass-marketing era, you had a product, you’d invent a product and then you would basically market the shit out of it.

And you would decide how you would present that product to the world, you know, how you would convince people to buy it. And then you would just bombard people with this broad categorical message. So a lot of organizations still have that broadcasting, marketing focused way of thinking about things rather than what’s the user’s problem, what are the user’s questions, what are their needs, and how can we answer those questions?

Have you had the chance to look at the program and see what other events you may attend?

My attitude when I go to conferences is I try and suck in as much as I possibly can, and attend as many of the conferences as I can. I will likely skip the really techie ones because they will go over my head, but ones I always like are people who speak on subjects I know nothing about.

But I am a great believer in having a wide understanding of a lot of groups of subject areas, and discovering new things, because all of those things ultimately lend toward creating a better user experience. I believe in having as wide knowledge as possible.

If I had to pick one that I was excited by, it would be Karen McGrane’s talk on adaptive content. I think that will be a really fun one.

When people leave your workshop, what are some things they will be able to do that they weren’t able to do before?

Of course that depends on what they were able to do before.

The truth is that no workshop you’ll ever attend is going to really teach you anything that you couldn’t learn online for free, so then why the hell would anyone go to a workshop.

I think what a good workshop can do that reading something online can’t do is change your perception of things. It can make you value something that you didn’t value before. It can make you approach a problem in a different way that you didn’t consider before. It can enthuse you and excite you about a particular area enough to really dig into it and commit to it.

What kind of knowledge is required for a non-designer to really improve user experience? Can just about anyone do this?

I think anyone could and should improve user experience. I don’t believe in this idea of having one person who designs the user experience. Because in my mind, user experience is a lot more than just a graphic user interface. For example, content is a key part of the user experience. Content specialists as well as developers are vital in terms of performance, and those kinds of things.

In terms of what you need to pay attention to, what you need to do to become a great user experience person, the key skill you need, is empathy: the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes, and look for those things that aren’t going to make sense, that are going to trip them up that you can get rid of.

The secret to good user experience design is putting stuff in front of you and watching how others respond to it.

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