An Interview with Jay Carlson, Senior User Experience Designer

Jay is a user experience designer from South Dakota, living in Fort Worth, TX. He slings pixels for The Gnome, promotes bicycle awesomeness in & around DFW, and runs a small photography business with his wife. When he is not at his computer, you can find him tearing up the mountain bike trails or in his garage getting his hands dirty. If you would like to connect with Jay, you may follow him @thejaycarlson or through his creative resume.

profile2-smTell me a little bit about how you got into the field of user experience design.
During college, I took a class on how to use Dreamweaver MX2004 (dating myself a bit here) to create websites. I got sucked into web design! I spent the next 7 years exploring the different aspects of the web & user experience and learning all that I could about how to make the web better. I started following some great designers on twitter and started learning as much as I could about UX. 2 years ago, I joined the Travelocity team and have been putting what I’ve learned towards the travel industry.

Can any graphic designer get into the field of UX design? What are the specific skills that they must attain?
I think that anyone can get into UX, but it definitely takes a certain set of skills. UX is more than just the design of things…it’s how people interact with what you’re building. A good UX designer needs to know about what the user needs, and how to solve their problems through design. Studying things like wire framing, flow charts, and interaction design is a good start.

I feel like UX design is slightly different for e-commerce sites vs. CRM platforms vs. Travel Platforms…are UX design principles the same for all types of platforms? Is it slightly different per site context?
At it’s base, I feel that UX is the same concept for all design: give your user the very best experience you can for giving them what they want. Now, that looks different in each platform, mostly because they have different users. E-commerce focuses on online shoppers. CRM is aimed towards companies managing their customers. Travel helps people who want to get out of dodge. All of them have different users, and therefore, have different UX strategies.

Which business sectors do you think face the most difficulties in their user experience and why do you think that is the case?
This is a tough question, as I don’t have a lot of experience working in a bunch of different sectors. But I would say that all businesses face difficulties with UX. People change on a daily basis, and the web is always evolving. With the advances in mobile technology, now more than ever, businesses need to focus on how their users are interacting with them.

What do you think website owners would describe to you as their key challenge to make a WOW on first impression?
In my experience, not too many people worry about the wow when looking for a new website. They are more interested in getting all their info on the site and getting things moving. Very few website owners have a good eye for design, or care that much about it. I would say that it’s up to the designer to put the “wow” into a site…but with careful consideration. There shouldn’t be “wow” for wow’s sake. if it doesn’t make the user experience better, then it shouldn’t be there.

As a UX designer, do you deal at all with user testing? Or do you work with a team who comes to you with observation and feedback?
Yes, I do participate in user testing. I’m lucky enough to have access to really awesome user testing labs at my job and we try to make use of them as much as we can. It is extremely beneficial to sit with someone and have them actually go through your site or app and use it in front of you. You get to see first-hand where they struggle, where they succeed, and what things they look for that might not be there. It also gives you the opportunity to talk with them and ask them honestly what they think.

What type of user-testing do you find is most efficient?
It depends on what you’re working on. Sometimes using a mock up (coded or built with a prototype software like Axure) is a great way to go. It can be quick to produce and quick to make changes to. The downside might be that not all the parts are working, or the data in the prototype is not complete. In the case where you need everything complete to get the most out of the user testing, a Live Data Prototype would be the way to go. This would be where the prototype actually pulls data from a live source to produce the most realistic representation of your product.

Now I see that mobile is so hot in UX. How do you measure mobile user testing? Does it differ with responsive user testing? Is it even reasonable to separate the two? Mobile vs. Responsive?
Mobile vs. Responsive really is a decision to be made based on the needs of the company. Can a responsive site give the users everything they’re looking for in the best possible experience? Or would a mobile app be a better choice? If the answer is not obvious, testing the two different platforms would be good. Once you’ve figured out which is the better choice, then you can move on to user testing. To me, a fully responsive site won’t always be the answer. At the same time, having your own mobile app is not for everyone either. It comes down to which one will provide the best experience.