Every fellow user experience designer I meet during my time in this profession never fails to astound me with their unique creativity. Kai ByRoade is no different. With over 10 years of experience as a Product UX and UI Designer, as well as a Front-End Developer, Kai has a vast amount of creative wisdom to share.
Understanding and executing the key components to a user-centric design takes skill and experience, and Kai has mastered this concept with flying colors. I had the pleasure of interviewing her in order to learn a little bit about what inspires her unique work, discuss the design word of today, and gain a little inspiration.
It’s no secret that more companies are now bringing in their own UX teams in order to keep up with the competition. However, designing a seamless experience while incorporating key content is challenging, especially for a company who is new to the concept of UX designers.
How would you classify the steps it takes to create a successful design?
It’s our job as the UX designer to help teach companies the best way to integrate our skillset into their workflows. Businesses now realize the value we bring to a project, but sometimes fall short in the way of implementing it. Designing with a purpose is often the first thing to fall through the cracks in a project.
It’s easy for a business to jump to the benefits they want to reap and even easier for a designer to get caught up in the glory of designing the next Ferrari of the UI world. However, a Ferrari with no engine will never go anywhere. The same is true for any beautiful product lacking a seamless experience. A successful design leaves you feeling better than you did before you started using it. Consistency is a seemingly small detail that leaves a brutal impact when overlooked.
Everything from the verbiage to the placement of elements makes an unconscious impact on the user experience. A beautifully crafted widget doesn’t benefit an experience if the user has to look in a different place for it each time. Minimizing the friction of each interaction- especially effects to the cognitive load- is what puts the engine in the Ferrari.
What are some popular and innovative trends you’ve seen in the design world lately?
This was a question I thought about for a while because I find the terms “innovative” and “trend” to be contrasting. What I mean is that I think the idea behind many trends are sparks of innovation, while the artifact of the trend itself often becomes unhinged from the original idea. The example I always use is Parallax scrolling. While the logic behind it has been around for some time, it was heavily popularized by W+K’s Nike Better World Project. The team put a focus on this concept, not the technology, and the concept was built upon interactions that would draw the user into an unforgettable experience. Parallax in this project was an artifact of carefully tuned interaction.
Today, designers often give little thought to where they use Parallax and more importantly, why. Parallax instead has transformed into a ‘trend,’ a feature designed to give an illusion of being ‘modern’ with little to no value on the actual user’s experience.
How do you make sure your design stands out from your competition?
“Who care what [the competitors] are doing?” That’s a quote from one of my favorite books, Rework. For me that means not looking at a competitor’s site until I’ve started the blueprint for my own. Every brand has a living, breathing personality and that’s what separates one product from another.
In order to bring that brands to life we need to lovingly craft every detail, from the verbiage to the interaction. The human mind has a funny way of regurgitating the thing it has seen. Since my goal is to be unique, I don’t want to risk subconsciously replicating their brand. It’s a good thing to understand what your competitors are doing, but it’s more important we don’t aspire to- or accidentally- become them.
We are flooded with buzzwords lately- design thinking, IoT, brand storytelling etc. Where do you think the user experience world is heading?
I think a lot of trendy buzzwords today explain concepts that have existed for a long time. They can be mysterious to those that don’t understand them. The terms that describe time-tested philosophies will stick around for a while. The trendy buzzwords such as ‘Context Transparency’ will likely fall by the wayside. I think the lesson here is that concepts we’ve seen repeated throughout time are important things to learn for a UX Designer, not the buzzword.
What inspires your work? What steps do you take to remain motivated?
I get the most work done when I’m not working. The best inspiration for crafting an online experience is drawing parallels from experience in the real world. I let my motorcycle take me to new places and I draw on each micro-moment as a lesson. A quick gander around your room, a walk around the park, or a peruse through a bookstore will teach you something. Pay close attention to your experiences and the factors that contribute to them. What artifacts from those moments can replicate that experience in your product? What do you see when you look at a full page catalog ad? A striking background image and attention-seeking text that draws you in to the message.
You should recognize this pattern in the web, too, in the form of Hero’s or covers. We can speculate this is why Apple incorporates varying levels of skeuomorphism into their products. Humans can successfully interact with what they already know without having to learn a new behavior, so drawing from our everyday experiences helps build the foundation for our online experiences.
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