UX Breakfast : Craig Peters Interview

December 6th, 2012 by | 4 Comments »

At last week’s UX Breakfast: Service Design & Design Thinking event, I was able to sit down and speak with Craig Peters, CEO of Awasu Design and UX Evangelist. Craig leads a super talented team of strategists, designers and writers who pride themselves in finding eloquent solutions to complex problems including those in UX design. Awasu Design’s growing list of clients include HP, Wells Fargo, Ancestry.com, SocialEyes and Flurry.

1.) Hello Craig. Tell our readers a little bit about what you do.

I run Awasu Design, an agency in San Francisco. We love complex design challenges; sites, applications, strategy. Clients come to us for great designs. More and more, they’re asking for organizational help; they want their design teams to be more effective. We “design” the organization, as well.

2.) The words “experience” and “learning” have a lot in common. How did your experiences teaching help you become better at UX design?

I love this question because there are so many ways that teaching has helped me when it comes to UX design, both as a designer and also as a leader and facilitator.

As a teacher, it was my job to create an environment where my students could learn something. As much as I might have wanted to, it wouldn’t do any good if I simply gave the answers to the class. They needed to go through the process of figuring things out, make connections, and really take ownership of what they were learning. Not only that, but when I forced my ego out of the way, I realized that I didn’t really have all the answers; there was a lot of creativity, energy, and perspective in those kids that needed the right space to flourish. My job was to create the environment and facilitate the experiences for learning.

“When we push our ego aside, we’re able to realize there’s a lot of creative design thinking in everyone on the project.”

It’s not much different leading a UX design project. My job isn’t to solve all the design challenges. It’s to create the right situation for the design team to do what they do best. And, as we’re evolving as a design team – and also as an industry – it’s our job to spread that outwardly to everyone else on the project team; business partners, engineers, product managers… everyone. When we push our ego aside, we’re able to realize there’s a lot of creative design thinking in everyone on the project. Sure, we’re still experts at UX design, but we’re going to get a lot further when the entire project team is part of the creative process.

3.) Storytelling is the new buzz word these days. Why is this concept rising back to the top of UX design world?

We’re living in an age of increased interconnections that brings with it complexities like we’ve never had to deal with before. Storytelling is one of the best tools for making sense of a complex situation such as those involved in UX design.

Here’s an old example from kids TV to illustrate what I mean. In the 70s, there were these wonderful animated shorts on Saturday mornings that taught kids something. One of them, “I’m just a Bill,” showed kids how laws are made. They didn’t do it by describing different branches of government, listing how many congressional committees there are, or showing some sort of business-process diagram. Instead they made a main character – a bill (named, of course, Bill). By riding along with Bill through his journey, even a third-grader can understand how laws are made.

Today’s UX design challenges, and the organizations that are trying to tackle them, are complex. If we can get the audience – the project team – to feel like they’re identifying with a main character – a persona – then we can walk them through a complex story – a scenario.

5.) What does your team do to test out new ideas and concepts for UX design?

As a general rule, we try to get user feedback often and early. In the early stages of UX design, we test with static screens and flows. Those quickly turn into low-fidelity prototypes. Since we specialize in rich, complex interactions, we often need a more interactive prototype to really get into the experience. It’s invaluable for user testing, and it’s also a great tool for making final tweaks and adjustments to the UX design.

We also have a process/culture that helps us validate our work internally along the way, so there’s a better chance the prototype will be awesome, and only require tweaks and evolutions, not full overhauls. Here’s how we work.

1. We share ideas constantly, whether it’s showing our own sketches, whiteboarding together, reviewing wireframes internally, etc.

2. We don’t get attached to our designs–we’re always coming back to the bigger questions/high-level goals and throwing out things that aren’t working, finding better solutions, so that by the time we’re ready to show work to the client or build a prototype, we feel pretty confident that we have a solid foundation.

3. We design flows, not individual screens, so we’re always checking the design’s ability to support scenarios.

6.) Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. As we leave today and return to our projects, what can our readers do right now to become better at UX design?

There are two things that always help. First, take your current design challenge; whatever you’re working on today. Step back from the traditional notion of “designing” and ask what the big picture purpose is. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to lose sight of. Then, extend that to every meeting you have with your designers, the project team, and any business partners. At the start of the meeting, revisit the reason for this project. We sometimes call it the Eyes on the Prize page of our presentations.

The second thing is to pay more attention to how you present your work; how you tell the story of the project. Put yourselves in the shoes of your audience for every meeting. A business partner likely hasn’t been thinking about user flows and wireframes for the past two weeks, so take a moment to tell them what’s been happening since the last meeting, what’s going to happen today, and how they should participate. A few minutes at the start of the meeting is always worth it.

After our interview, Craig told me that he’s been working on a few event presentations and workshops. Be sure to look for his name at upcoming design events! He has a lot of fascinating concepts and processes that he uses everyday with his team that are definitely worth listening too!

Follow Craig on Twitter at @craigpeters!
Follow Awasu Design on Twitter at @awasudesign!
Visit Awasu Design’s website at www.awasudesign.com!

 


Be sure to check out my event review of UX Breakfast: Service Design Thinking. I run through some of the topics we talked about. Enjoy! Read Review »


4 thoughts on “UX Breakfast : Craig Peters Interview”

  1. David Walden says:

    Thanks for sharing. Love the part about storytelling. That and facilitation are particularly poignant. I agree about the ego part too. Everyone has good ideas. It’s the designers job to wade through the pile and make the best one shine.

  2. Balin Brandt says:

    Great interview. I’d love to hear more about how your team designs organizations. That’s an interesting piece of the puzzle that I think often gets overlooked.

    Your background as a teacher translating to UX work is also an interesting journey. Makes a lot of sense though. How and when did you make the transition to UX?

    1. Craig says:

      Thanks Balin. The approach for designing organizations is remarkably similar to how we approach a design project: Discover, Create/Test/Iterate, Deliver. The main difference is that culture change takes more time than most people expect, so you have to plan on mentoring and coaching teams as they go through it.

      The move from teaching was kinda funny. When I quit teaching, I was planning on bartending or dealing Black Jack at the MGM Grand in Detroit. Then the first crazy Internet bubble caught my attention and I got into usability research.

  3. Joe Rapoza says:

    Great interview Craig. The story telling concept is definitely a strong one and has been a major part of human history. Oral stories were around long before writing and remains an integral part of our psyche.

    I’m sure the former teaching experience helps a ton too. You have to be a good listener and juggle lots of different perspectives.

    Keep up the great work!

    -Joe R.

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