GrowthX Academy mentor Laura Klein is a leading expert in the UX Design field with over twenty years of experience in tech. Her specialties include helping companies innovate responsibly and improve their product development process.
As a principal at her consulting firm Users Know and author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups, she provides hands-on training to founders and employees of small companies to help them learn how to conduct their own research and customer development.
We recently talked with Laura about her design process and upcoming book, Build Better Products (coming this fall from Rosenfeld Media):
GrowthX: What is your favorite part of or about UX design?
LAURA: I really enjoy taking things that are complicated for people to do and making them easy. I specialize in building products that work the way humans work, so that users can get value with very little effort. I love learning about the context in which people use products or perform tasks so that I can build things that really fit into their lives.
GrowthX: What are your strengths and weakness as a designer? How do you address your weaknesses?
LAURA: I’m very user-centered, which I view as a strength. I often get mistaken for a user researcher, because I do huge amounts of getting out in the field and learning from the people who will use my products. Understanding how to do great research means that I can get insights directly from the source and develop a deep understanding of what my customers are going through.
My biggest weakness is that I’m not a good visual designer. I address this by working with someone who has a great visual sense and can work closely with me to transform flows and screens into something that looks and feels like a real product.
GrowthX: What do you do when you’re stuck?
LAURA: I know it’s stereotypical, but often when I’m stuck, I turn to index cards and sticky notes. Sometimes, being stuck means that I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture of what I’m trying to do, and I need to stop trying to make screens or flows and go back to things like what information I’m trying to convey or what behavior I’m trying to change. I need to step back and think about the change I’m trying to create in the user’s behavior rather than hyperfocusing on the details. The details are incredibly important, but when I really understand what I’m trying to get the user to do, the details become much more obvious.
Other times, being stuck means that I don’t know enough about my users, and I’m just guessing about their needs or context. Doing a day or two (or even an hour) of engaging with customers can answer a lot of questions very quickly.
And, if all else fails, never forget the most important parts of the design process: walking around and thinking about something else. Let your brain work on the problem in the background while you walk around the block.
GrowthX: How do you evaluate your design decisions?
LAURA: I measure the outcome! I evaluate my product decisions by whether or not the change had the desired effect on user behavior. The trick is, you need to decide ahead of time what you think will happen if you make any change to your product, and you need to figure out how you’re going to know whether you were successful. Maybe it’s an a/b test. Maybe it’s funnel analytics. Maybe it’s a more qualitative measure like tasks completed in usability tests.
Before you ship any change to your product, decide ahead of time what user behavior you are trying to change and ask yourself how you’ll know whether you were successful. Then measure that.
In my new book, Build Better Products, which is coming out this fall from Rosenfeld Media, I describe something called the Hypothesis Tracker that will help reinforce this behavior.
GrowthX: How do you incorporate data into your design process?
LAURA: Data is the only way you can reliably know what is happening with your product in the wild. Qualitative research tells you why it’s happening.
I use metrics and analytics to tell me exactly how my users are behaving, and then I talk to them or observe them to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
GrowthX: When does the design process end for you?
LAURA: The design process doesn’t end until I’m no longer working on a product. I might stop working on a specific part of the product once a specific metrics objective has been met, but products keep evolving until they get replaced by something else.
GrowthX: What inspired you to write Build Better Products and why does the world need a book like this?
LAURA: I’ve been doing a lot of workshops and consulting with various product teams, and they were all asking very similar questions. Often, they wanted to know how to pick what to build next, or they were confused about how to figure out if something they had shipped was successful. Sometimes they were just sad that they kept working on the product, but their key metrics weren’t improving.
I started to develop a set of tools and templates that they could use to be more methodical about creating, measuring, and tracking improvement. Once I had all these exercises that I was running with teams, I thought it made sense to get them into the hands of more teams than I can personally work with.
Also, I’m basically a masochist who keeps underestimating how much work it will be to write a book.
GrowthX: What separates your book from the others?
LAURA: I’ve noticed that many product books fall into one of two categories – either they’re high level “strategy” books that describe an overall process but that can leave you saying, “Yeah, seems great, but how do I DO it?” or they’re very specific tactical books that do a very deep dive into a specific method for doing one thing.
I have nothing against these books. Many of them are fantastic, and they can absolutely change how we do things.
But I wanted to write something that gave you a high level overview of a modern approach to product development and also gave you some tools to implement it. It’s specifically designed to be actionable. You can adopt the whole thing, or you can pick and choose various exercises that are the most relevant to you and just run those. Whichever approach you take, you’ll improve your product development process.
GrowthX: Did you hire a designer for it? If yes, what was that process like putting this in someone else’s hands?
LAURA: My publisher, Rosenfeld Media, has an editor and a compositor who lay out all the books so that they have a similar look and feel, and so that they’re readable and have good typography and the right headers, etc. Book design requires certain constraints that I’m not familiar with, so it makes sense to put this in the hands of experts. I also had an amazing illustrator, Kate Rutter, who took all of my weird ideas for images and turned them into reality.
But this question seems to confuse “design” with how it looks. I “designed” the book in that I figured out what the content was going to be, how the information would be structured, whether to include exercises, and all the other things that make up the book. Obviously I did this with a lot of help from my editor, illustrator, tech reviewers, and test readers!
When it comes down to it, I’m not the kind of designer who obsesses about what the typography will be or what color the frontispiece will be. I want it to be readable. I want it to be attractive. I want the images to show up well in print and in e-book, etc. But doing the final layout for a book is not something I’m at all interested in doing. I’m more than happy to leave that to people who know what they’re doing.
GrowthX: Describe a moment in your career where a book like this could’ve helped you?
LAURA: Many years ago, I was talking to a CEO about what I do, and she said, “You’re not a designer. You’re a product manager!” I’ve also had people tell me the exact opposite. The truth is that I’m somewhere in the middle, and I think that can be a very good thing for building many products. I care deeply about both business needs and customer needs.
I transitioned into a more product focused role over years of making more and more product decisions, and I had to come up with a lot of tools and techniques that would help me make those decisions. Having this book at any point during that transition would have saved me a lot of time coming up with the tools or learning about them from various sources.
GrowthX: How do you measure your progress and success?
LAURA: I measure both progress and success in the ways defined in the book. I pick specific, measurable goals before making changes. I figure out how I’ll measure that particular goal before starting anything. Then I go back and see how I did.
Although, on some projects I just decide I don’t care about success or progress. For example, I have no goals for the podcasts I do. Or rather, the goal is, “Have fun making podcasts with people I like.” I care about that far more than I care about success, and it’s really easy to measure.
GrowthX: What advice would you give to someone hoping to get into the UX design field?
LAURA: There’s tons of good advice out there. Read Mike Monteiro’s Dear Design Student series on Medium. Listen to my podcast with Kate Rutter, What is Wrong with UX – especially some of the earlier ones where we talk about what being a designer is really like and what all the different terms mean.
Mostly, I’d recommend that you find someone who is the person you want to be in 2 to 3 years and ask them to help you. A lot of people want to know how I got into design or product, but that’s completely irrelevant to somebody doing it now. My career path doesn’t exist any longer. You need to study the career path of somebody who just went through what you’re about to go through, and you need to ask them to tell you what worked well and what they would have done differently.
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