Interview with Steven Ma, Sr. User Experience Designer at Amazon Mechanical Turk

Steven Ma is a Sr. User Experience Designer at Amazon Mechanical Turk.  He is a believer in interaction efficiency and intelligence, and this belief forms the core of his interaction design work.  Prior to joining Amazon in 2012, he was the lead UX engineer at the IBM Rational Enterprise Modernization group where he spent a decade designing Web and desktop applications for enterprise systems.  You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

1.       “Collaboration” is a phenomenon that appears on myriad levels. How does it impact and contribute to user experience? Can you share an example of how you’ve employed collaboration to improve the user experience?

 First of all, thanks for having me on the UX blog of WalkMe. It is an honor to be here sharing my thoughts with you.  To answer your question, I view user experience (UX) as a multi-dimensional attribute that evolves continually over time through an aggregation of touch points between a user and the product/service.  Many of these touch points have different owners and sometimes the same touch point can have multiple owners.  If you share this view then it becomes obvious that no one person on the production side truly dictates UX.  We collectively do things in this loop that ultimately influence how a user experiences the product/service and the brand as a whole.  Companies that are successful in managing their brand’s UX tend to have collaborators who understand that, and they work with this common understanding to enable delivery of this shared UX goal.

 2.       What are the top 3 things businesses should implement in their UI to successfully introduce a new online feature on your website/online service?

 I should preface my answer by saying that I don’t believe UI is the “end-all, be-all” to every problem.  When a business introduces a new feature they should entertain all possibilities within reason and not try to solve every problem with UI.  The best solution may not involve much of, if any, UI at all.

 Having said that and scoping this question to just the UI level, I think all good UIs share a common set of characteristics:

i)                    support the high level user goals in using this feature,

ii)                  work reliably, and

iii)                work efficiently.

 If your products/services follow this set of guidelines then you have built a solid foundation for your user experience.  Flashy stuff may get users excited at first, but if a feature doesn’t do what they expect it to do, is buggy, or is inefficient to use, then any positive impression can turn sour very quickly.

 
3.       What do you think website owners would describe to you as their key challenge to make a WOW on first impression?

I suspect most owners would cite that there is a lack of control on the delivery platform as a major challenge.  Websites reside on an open ecosystem where the permutation of standards, operating systems, browsers, and form factors is always evolving.  You also have to factor in third-party scripts, add-ons/plugins, and assistive technology that a user may have installed, all of which have the potential to impact that first impression.  There are certainly things we can do to mitigate some of these factors, but they do come at a cost (time- and resource-wise). Recognizing this ever-evolving landscape will give you an edge in designing for that first memorable impression.  Responsive web design is a good start, but I think we are only beginning to scratch the surface.

 4.       How do you create a UI that will appeal to billions? 

A senior executive at my last company once said, “you can never please 100% of the people 100% of the time” and that’s how I look at design.  It is unrealistic to have a single design that everyone “likes” (no pun intended), but I believe if you pay attention to the details, i.e. the little things, and build the task flow to support them, you can turn an ordinary user interface into an extraordinary experience for the majority of your users.  For example, I have a GPS navigation system that asks me to enter the city name manually every time I seek direction, even though the majority of my travel is within the same city.  This is not just inefficient, but dumb.  One simple solution is to remember the name of the last city I entered, and set the entire string in focus.  This way, when I need to enter an address in the same city I can reuse it, and when I need to enter a different city I can just type over it.  If you do enough of these little things in your UI your users will notice and they will appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the design.

 
5.       What do you see as trends or best practices in product design in 2013?

 This is a very broad topic and the answer depends on the product category or industry.  Designers in mobile devices are likely to give you an answer that is quite different from those who work in appliances, and from those who work in enterprise software.   Sticking to what I am familiar with – for web trend, Jake Rocheleau wrote a really nice piece on http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/web-design-trend-2013 that captures many of the hot design practices trending now on the web.  Web design is a lot like fashion so it wouldn’t surprise me many of these trends do not last beyond 2013 (or even this season).  That’s the nature of the business we are in.  From a best practice point of view, I think the key for designers is to figure out whether a design technique or practice fits their product/service/brand. More importantly, does it work for your customers?  

 6.       If you could tell a UX designer one piece of advice, what would it be?

 Love what you do, keep on learning, and keep on raising the bar set for yourself.  If a UX designer can do that, I think s/he will have a long, fun and enjoyable career.