In the fall of 2016, a small group of founding fathers and mothers gathered to reminisce about their birth and preservation within the User Experience industry, through cycles of boom and bust.

Nick Cawthon

Thank you for coming this evening. This is a talk for IxDA San Francisco, we're a non-profit organization, we have 5,000 members in our local chapter and tonight's a very special evening. I want to thank our hosts, the Blackbelt Agency, they're a brand experience agency based here in San Francisco. I also want to thank our volunteers and our co-organizers, Sharon and Maria. Tonight's talk is called UX in 2001. Venture capitalist John Doerr called the late '90s the greatest explosion of human wealth, legal human wealth, in human history. Fueled by overpriced tech stocks and low interest rates, the Bay Area was the epicenter for this the first, the original, dot-com bubble. Unlike some of the boom-bust cycles to come, this one was unique in that nobody had ever experienced this before. The Internet was still a new media, one being defined by the resident journalists, library scientists, photographers, and the art and technology community that San Francisco was globally known for: an extremely diverse set of backgrounds, coming together to fulfill the utopian visions around the democratization of technologies. Alas, tonight's talk is not about the boom, but instead about the bust. In the 18 months that followed the turn of the century, the market corrected itself losing over $15 billion in value; 2,000,000 jobs were lost, many here right in San Francisco; Amazon fell 90%, Cisco fell 96%; 30% of the 2000 Webby Award winners were out of business by 2001. Tonight's story is about the survivors of this crash, how they picked up the pieces, and out of the ashes something more powerful and potent than mere commoditization arose: a desire to better understand and empathize with the user. What stories can be told from those who have helped forge this path to a user's experience?

“...and out of the ashes something more powerful and potent than mere commoditization arose...”

Our audience is you, the mid-level practitioner, as today marks a 16-year high in technology stocks, and we're at a generational low in interest rates. When the next bust happens, what will you do, how will you pick up the pieces? How will you motivate yourself to take a unique perspective as those participants here tonight had 16 years ago? Our host tonight is Lynne Waldera, for the last 20 years she's worked as a consultancy for InMomentum, a management consulting and organizational psychology firm, she helps executives and their companies create lasting cultural change.

Lynne Waldera

Yeah, so let's go. We're gonna talk about dimensions of experience and with the theme of 2001 as our starting point, what I'd like to do is structure questions about what was it like back then? What is it like now? And if anyone wants to proffer an idea of what it's gonna be like forward, this will be your way of prognosticating over what the future might hold. We have Mike Kuniav-it-skee. (crowd laughs)

Mike Kuniavsky

Koo-nee-ahh-vahh-skeee!

Lynne Waldera

Mike Kuniavsky, we can edit that (we didn't). Mike Kuniavsky, co-founder of Adaptive Path, and author of Observing the User Experience. He's currently Principal Scientist of Innovation Services at PARC, Palo Alto Research Center. Welcome, Mike. - Thank you. - How did you, we'll ask each of you this, but how did you get started in UX? Tell us your story...

Mike Kuniavsky

I was a Unix System Administrator at the University of Michigan in 1991, and I read O'Reilly's book about, it was the Whole Internet Catalog, and one of the things in that book was a vague two paragraph mention of this new thing that was called the World Wide Web. I set up, because I was the Unix System Admin and I could do it, I downloaded the server software and I set it up for, the Collaboratory for Research and Work, it was called CREW, it was my day job. It turned out to be one of the, I don't know, probably the first like 200, 100 websites, something like that. One of the other people that was there was a graduate student, Andrea Gallagher, who is now a Senior Information Architect at Intuit, and she and I started talking about the Web and how you structure it, and how you organize things on the Web. It turned out that her husband was with a fascinating company that was kind of spun out Caltech that had gone from making space hardware to websites, and I ended up there in like 1984. At that point, I was the only person who was going to (drown out by sneeze) designer 'cause I had a film degree. And so I started doing design, and it turned out to be one of the first e-commerce sites. And another old friend of mine was working for this, Dave Thow, who's currently I guess a Principal Scientist at Google, he was working for a thing called HotWIRED from WIRED Magazine, and he invited me up to the Bay Area. Initially, I thought that I was gonna be a programmer, 'cause I do actually technically have a degree in computer science, but I was really, really, really bad at it. And so, in their generosity, they said, "Well, since you're really bad at being a programmer, "maybe you can try something that's related to design, "but you can't be a designer, "'cause we have real designers here."

“you're really bad at being a programmer, maybe you can try something that's related to design.”

And so, I ended up doing something that I actually had some experience with, which was usability, and it turned out to be some of the first usability that was done for the Web. That essentially led me into being what is now a User Experience Designer. So that's my trajectory.

Lynne Waldera

Good founding story, thank you. So, next we have Indi Young, co-founder as well of Adaptive Path, and author of Practical Empathy and Mental Models, the book. Indi, how did you get started in this field?

Indi Young

I was a software engineer, possibly better than Mike, I don't know. (laughs) Seriously. - But I was interested in the front end, this was back before there was a graphic user interface. I was kind involved in the iterations of that, and as we started iterating, we were no longer writing software for other engineers and scientists, and it became quite obvious that we didn't know what the heck we were doing, and we needed to understand who we were designing these things for, so I just jumped into that.

Lynne Waldera

Interesting, very good, thanks Indi. All right, Sara Khoury, UX Design Director at Google. You were Vice President of UX Design at Walmart Labs, and Senior Vice President of User Centered Design and Research at Bank of America, how'd you get started?

Sara Ortloff Khoury

I got out of graduate school at Art Center College of Design, and I had met a really influential person in my career from MIT who exposed me to some really, really, really early interactive software frameworks. I'll go ahead and say 'cause we're here as legacy leaders, things like Director and HyperCard. Which you have to give me props, they were so primitive, I could tell this was not gonna go away, this was gonna be the future of design. Despite my pedigree and offers from big design firms, I decided to move to San Francisco and pioneer a career in figuring out how to blend product design, and graphic design, and software design together, and ended up at some small startups early on. Some design firm consultancies like Organic or Ikonic, where I really learned how to build teams, and how to work with strategists, and engineers, and business people to build businesses on the Web, versus software that gets shrink-wrapped and shipped or, databases and... My early career was about forging a way for cross-functional teams to come together, and build new experiences.

Lynne Waldera

Hmm, interesting, very good. Okay, and last we have Jesse James Garrett, hi Jesse. Currently co-founder and COO of Adaptive Path, and author of Elements of User Experience, so what's your beginning story?

Jesse James Garrett

I was a journalist, I was working as a freelance journalist, not very successfully. But I think like a lot of people around that time, '94, '95, saw the Web and immediately was drawn to it as something that I wanted to be involved in. I found myself suddenly making more money than I ever could as a freelance journalist writing marketing copy for websites because I understood something about the Web. That then transitioned into being an editor and leading a team of writers, and being the one guy from the content side who got invited to the design meetings. To the extent that design for the Web was even very well understood, all of it was still being figured out moment by moment. It was in those meetings that I realized that I had something to contribute and a sensibility that came from my background actually, came from my interest and investment in storytelling and help people derive meaning from what they read. Those things ended up having a really strong influence on the design of websites, and I realized I couldn't do my job if I didn't also understand the design pieces, and that's where I discovered information architecture. That then became my stepping stone toward User Experience Design.

Lynne Waldera

It's interesting when you all were thinking about dimensions of experience, one of the topics that you identified is cross-functional, like this algum of different skills that you bring to this. Back in 2001, describe what it was like to work on the Web, and predominantly on what we would now call a desktop. What did it mean to have a cross-functional design team back in 2001, what did it look like?

Mike Kuniavsky

I'm not sure there was that much at that point. Yeah, it was not very differentiated, it was essentially a lot of, there were people, I mean, I guess this was past the era where people were webmasters, where that was kind of like an everything Web. But it was still not very differentiated, the design and front end coding, like doing stuff in HTML, was essentially one kind of cluster of skills, and people didn't really, information architecture had even barely budded off, maybe it hadn't even budded off from that cluster yet; interaction design was really only kind of a component to it, it wasn't really thought about that much. And then there were people who wrote software, and then that was kind of it. There was the people who could generate the Perl scripts, and then there was the people who could do stuff in Photoshop, who would then either give it to the people who could write the Perl scripts, or they would try to do it themselves in HTML.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

So for me, cross-functional team leadership was more about design, business and technology coming together with a strategy, and moving the conversation beyond, "Make me a website," to "Help me build my business using technology."

Jesse James Garrett

I completely agree with Mike the way that the roles were sort of, fracturing off from this central role of person who makes our entire website and everything about it. What you did find was a different sort of cross-functionality happening on these teams because, as you heard in our introductions, all of us came to this place by very different paths. We were motivated by different aspects of what was going on with the medium that were interesting to us, and because of our different educational backgrounds, and experiences, and just the sensibilities that drew us to those things in the first place, we brought different frames to problems, and we brought different ways of thinking about problems.

“…we were motivated by different aspects of what was going on with the medium…”

That created a lot of chaos and confusion, (chuckles), but also created opportunities for us to learn from each other, and in the process learn our own strengths, learn what we were good at, and help us to focus our roles until, like I could be in a position and say, "You know what, editor is too big a job here, "you need someone who is just focused "on information architecture, and I can be that person."

Indi Young

I think that there was, it was possibly a little more pioneering, where if there was something that needed to be done, you would do it as opposed to saying, "Well, that's not my job."

“…if there was something that needed to be done, you would do it…”

Lynne Waldera

Was it inevitable that it was gonna have its own path? That it would come together in a way that would.

Jesse James Garrett

If a tenth of the promises that people made about the medium actually came true, it's no surprise that all of the strategists were gonna be all up in our business, right? They will be taking an interest in all of this.

Mike Kuniavsky

Well, by 2001 it was clear there was value, it was just still a lot of wrangling, a lot of pieces, many of which were based on the fact that businesses didn't really know how to make money yet. Organic, Scient and all these companies took a lot of money from businesses that failed, building totally reasonable digital products, it ended up being that the easy part was the technology and the design, the hard part was actually making a business. But by 2001, it was clear that there were some business to be made, and it was a question of how are we going to organize that, either for ourselves entirely in our organization, or for clients externally? And a lot of us end up in, I was at HotWIRED where we were not consultants, we were making our own products, but our products were all failing. So we essentially, I think Jeff and I kind of took on more of a consulting role internally, and then moving externally became much more explicit, you had to really like figure out how is this specific entity going to make money here?

Indi Young

There are still teams that don't have money as a necessary profit, necessarily, right? And yet, I think they were maybe not following that as directly.

Lynne Waldera

Tell us a little bit about where the practice was in terms of how did you at that time, and we'll stay with 2001 and then see how it compares but, how did you practice? What were the tools and the methods you used in 2001 to observe behavior to understand the user experience? Tell us a little bit about what it was like.

Jesse James Garrett

There's a lot of inventing and new deliverable for each project. Trying to define the parameters of the problem while simultaneously trying to solve it is a little bit of a juggling act, and sometimes we get to a place where you realize you framed the problem wrong, and the document had to change because the frame was wrong, and was never gonna get you to the proper solution, right? So, there was a lot of this sort of tinkering with the form of the things that we made in order to help them best communicate an idea, and to some extent serve as a proving ground for the idea, that if we can all look at this document and agree, "This looks like this would work," then we can go ahead and make it.

Lynne Waldera

Can you think of an example, or any of you think of examples of that from that time?

Jesse James Garrett

Especially after we started Adaptive Path and working as a consultant, I always tried to be as non-specific as I could in the contract about exactly the shape of the thing being delivered, because people would bring a preconception to it, it's like, "Oh, we're gonna deliver a research report." Maybe a research report isn't what you need, maybe a visual model of human psychology and behavior is what you need, we need to go make one of those, right? We did a lot of that kind of stuff of trying to figure out, we had a general idea of what we needed to get across, but not knowing really what form it needed to take.

Indi Young

There were several times where we would get proposals and the client would say, "Well, we want the this, the that, and the other," and we'd go like, "Well, we need to ask you some questions, "and based on those questions, "we don't think the this, the that, and the other "is what you really want. "Can we maybe explore it with you a little bit, "and then we'll figure out what we want?" And they were like, "Yeah, you're the experts."

Sara Ortloff Khoury

I build on that and say one thing that really worked well for me was to try to extrapolate just even from secondary research who the users we were trying to reach were, because that was often not a known set of characteristics, or behaviors, or kind of an understanding of the people that we were serving with that product or service that we were pitching. And so, a really effective way for framing that around 2001 was, "This is what we know about your users," just based on secondary research. "We haven't conducted any primary research, "you haven't hired us yet, we don't have a budget for that, "but this is what we know about your users "just based on syndicated data, "and we think that they need something more like this, "or that, versus what you're asking for." And so, that helped kind of neutralize the conversation, kind of change it from the consultants, to the clients, to the users that we're all trying to serve, let's try to understand them, what they're trying to do, what their fears, their worries, their needs are, and how can we reframe the problem to better focus on that, versus getting your upside up, or getting your e-commerce transactions going?

Lynne Waldera

What were the tools of research? Like you said, primary versus secondary.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

I would like to completely honestly straight up in 2001, no one was paying for primary research that I was working for. Really just basically benefiting from secondary research being synthesized and cast back in a way that was more relevant to their users.

Indi Young

I was doing primary research that I got paid for, but that was I don't know how, I mean, how do you convince them. We just acted.

Mike Kuniavsky

How did you get Web Men to let you walk around [inaudible] people?

Indi Young

Yeah how did we?

Sara Ortloff Khoury

That was Ikonic, right?

Indi Young

No, no, no, no, no, that was me, yeah. That was me. Like how did we get PeopleSoft to trust us to go and do this primary research? I think it was because when you had to ask a question, it was like, "Well, what's this?" "Well, we don't know." "Well, let's find out." There was this, I think like I said earlier, the interest in it, but I think there was also an understanding that if we don't know the answer, we'll definitely take the wrong turn. There was more of a...

Lynne Waldera

A beginner's mind loss.

“…a beginner's mind loss…”

Indi Young

Well, yeah maybe so, or more of a, since this was so new, it was easy to take the wrong, or maybe more fear about taking the wrong turn. There was less established practice, so there was less stuff for people to say, "Well, this is how it's done, let's just do it that way."

Lynne Waldera

Fast forward to today, how does it compare?

Mike Kuniavsky

Well, I think there are a couple of things that in like doing it this way 20-some years haven't changed, and it's that the big questions are always the why questions, not the how questions. Like, "Why are you trying to do this? "Why have you defined the problem like this? "Why have you not defined the problem in this other way? "How can you define it better?" And then the technology stuff, the design stuff, kind of falls out of that. I mean, I think if we're talking about an imminent collapse of you know, you apply but you know, it seemed like if we have another... What do they call that? If we have essentially another apocal event in the, in the business and we have, you know, sales force goes down to like 200 people, and Google has to close down a shop because Baidu's got all the market share. And all these people are, and then housing prices in San Francisco crash, we can all hope. I mean, the core problems are gonna be the same, the core problems are gonna be about educating people about, educating both clients and internal stakeholders about what the potential of the technology is, and understanding the business reason. I mean, ultimately it's all just a tool for people to either connect with other people, or for people to make money from other people, or a combination thereof. And so, that has not changed, I think that actually hasn't changed from when it was video production and you had to explain why do I make an industrial film from when it was publishing industrial magazines? Yes, there's a kind of qualitative difference in the immediacy of the technology and its pervasiveness, but the core questions of why you use it, or how you go about designing it are essentially the same. And they're probably the same as the industrial designers, the independent industrial designers, the Dreyfusses and the Balgeddies were talking about in the '50s.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

There's a lot more, from where I stand, appetite and interest in what people are thinking about the products we're designing, meaning people, the users of those products, and how to inform the design of those products with those insights. And so it's not like, "We're gonna do a study to validate "that our design is correct, it's usable, "the information architecture makes sense, "the mental model is set," it's more, "How can we take continuous insights about the product "back into the product development process?"

Mike Kuniavsky

Well, but you're looking at the Web, which is an old medium at this point. What about the new media that are coming out? Let's talk about AR, talk about screenless embedded.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

My husband's a game designer, he works in AR and...

Mike Kuniavsky

Sure, totally agree, I'm not working any harder, so this is my experience. My husband does, and he has a similar journey to what you're describing, which is demonstrating, prototyping, convincing, communicating that this is going to be relevant in the future, much like I did back in 2001. But I'm for one, very happy to see that sitting with users is an embraced method now, and that was not the case for me in 2001.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

I think in those emerging things it's actually still the same old questions, people have to be convinced to bring, to like leave the building. People have to be convinced to step away from the technology. People have to be convinced to think about the business reasons for having the technology.

“…people have to be convinced to step away from the technology…”

Jesse James Garrett

Well, I think the research component is the one piece of the whole blossoming practice that has really concretely and consistently demonstrated its value in terms that the people paying for these things can understand. I think that we've finally got a critical mass of executives who have had that oh shit moment when the usability findings came back and they're like, "Oh wait a minute, if we had shipped this product, "I would have been fired," right? Enough of them had that thing where, yeah you're right, there is gonna be usability testing in every budget because they're gonna make sure that they don't have a close call like that again.

Mike Kuniavsky

Tell that to Quarky (?)

Jesse James Garrett

Well but see, this is the thing, there is still obviously an enormous amount of raising the bar on quality that needs to happen, and part of that has to do with giving designers the time, and the space, and the resources to do the parts of their job that aren't usability testing to help them deliver more fully-thought-through products into that test process in the first place, 'cause you're never gonna usability test your way to something that is gonna have business impact at least.

“…you're never gonna usability test your way to something that is gonna have business impact…”

Sara Ortloff Khoury

Yeah, it's more formative, versus summative now, I think for sure.

Indi Young

Some of the things I'm trying to get people to do, which is the thing that I've been trying to get people to do for a long time is to look outside of that solution frame. To look at really just the people, and really what are they trying to get done? I don't care what tools they're using, and that's still, I think it's actually a little bit harder to get people to do that now because they're like, "No, we do this, we do this, we do this. "I'm out in the field every week, we've got our thing, "we're getting all of our numbers, "we have our qualitative data, we know, "we've got our finger on the pulse of the product," or of the service, but not of the people, right? I'd like to see that get a little easier to get that pulse of the people. And the reason, there's a reason for it, and that is that I think that products and services are really focused on this single kind of an end, like I am making this product, singular. As opposed to this product that has many heads that serves a diversity of thinking styles, a diversity of people. It's the same service, but it's different in the way that people will interact with it because people have different thinking styles.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

I think it's kind of nice to get an effect of this systems of scale. All of us now are designing systems that have to scale in a way that they didn't have to in 2001. I mean, you take it in your pocket, it's an entire ecosystem of many, many, many applications of personalization, and many, many ways of understanding people's attributes and their behaviors, and responding to that dynamically.

Indi Young

And learning from the data.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

Yeah, and so I think that's just kind of a fact of the power of competing, and the power of design for that broader range of solutions. We're not designing solutions for one type of user, or even three types of users anymore, the solutions we design now have to scale to like hundreds of millions of people, and feel personal, and feel tailored.

Mike Kuniavsky

I would love to hear your comments on that, I know from Adaptive Path's experience of going into service experience design, you're no longer designing for one form factor, you're often designing across form factors, multiple channels, how does that factor in today, now? What does that do to the practice?

Jesse James Garrett

Well, everything's a lot more complicated. (group laughing) You know there's, I feel like we get to a place where we have so much data that it's easy to use it to tell almost any story you wanna tell. The priorities are gonna come back to the prejudices of the business owners, and the gut instincts of the designers, one hopes that those instincts are as well-informed as they can be.

“…we have so much data now that it's easy to use it to tell almost any story you wanna tell…”

But at some point it gets to be it's impossible to triangulate among 40 different user types, and feel confident that tool is even doing its job for you anymore, and helping you make design decisions. And so, if it doesn't help you, ignore it, and you just do whatever feels right.

Sara Ortloff Khoury

What would your advice be to future practitioners on cultivating that intuition or, I presume there's a sense of wanting to make data-driven decisions, and to be a good practitioner, but yet have an intuition, how do you...

Sara Ortloff Khoury

I think data and form design makes a lot of sense to me.

Jesse James Garrett

And informed DESIGNERS, is what it is, right?

Sara Ortloff Khoury

Fair enough. I just think that really keeping the people that we're serving in our sights, and keeping their needs and their goals as primary objectives is a critical piece. Data can tell you all kinds of things but...

Indi Young

Data can drive an experience, Mike is working in machine learning.

“…Data can drive an experience…”

Mike Kuniavsky

Yeah, I mean, my feeling is is that a lot of the things that we as the Web designers do, and I actually barely work in the Web anymore but, as Web designers do I think it's going to go away as the tools become smarter and more sophisticated, and the infrastructures start becoming more kind of, the design's gonna be at a higher level, they're gonna adapt at a certain level; and the design is going to be the design of those adaptations rather than the design of the end product of those adaptations. So, a lot of the pixel-pushing's gone away and... I mean I think that, yeah... I think that the challenges are different, I don't know if that answers your question, (mumbles). I think there's a sea change in terms of the level of complexity at which design needs to happen, and that that becomes a new kind of design, just as there was a change in complexity when people went from designing a single web page, to a website where you needed information architecture, so now you are...

Lynne Waldera

We're gonna talk a little bit about education and preparation of UX professionals, and what it was like in 2001, what it's like now, how has it changed? We have Erin Malone, currently partner at Tangible UX. Erin, before we get going, just tell us how did you break into UX and what did you start out doing?

Erin Malone

I started my career as a graphic designer, an art director in advertising and I got, back in the '80s, I'm dating myself, I decided to go back to grad school. I went in a print designer, and I thought I was gonna come out a print designer, and I took a class in HyperCard, and discovered interactivity, and then did my thesis project, which was a design history project, but I had video, I was doing some essentially what was cataloging and information architecture, but I didn't know it at the time, of a series of magazines, and I had all this material that needed to be presented in a multimedia format. I came out of school working at Kodak and doing touch screen kiosk, and HyperCard, and Director kiosk type work. I came out to the Bay Area to work at Adobe on their first website because I had taught myself HTML because some other guy at Kodak and I decided, "Hey, let's do a website for Kodak," and they said, "Sure, we don't know what that is, "but yeah, go ahead and put it out there." And because I had done a website I got a job at Adobe back in '95. I went from there to a startup, I worked for Elon Musk's first startup back in the late '90s. That eventually got acquired in the whole boom and bust with CMGI and AltaVista, and then I did the big companies, AOL and Yahoo, and now consulting.

Lynne Waldera

Nice. Okay, thank you. We have Kim Lenox, is currently Director of Product Design at LinkedIn, and was on the board of directors at the IxDA, and experience design lead at Adaptive Path. So Kim, what was your start in that profession?

Kim Lenox

I have to say listening to everybody's origin stories has been really interesting. For me, I started as an intern at a edu-tainment software company doing CD-ROMs, and I worked for free for 10 weeks, and then I got paid $7.25 an hour. By the time I left after 13 months, I was the Interactive Product Manager, actually I got the Interactive Product Manager title once I started getting paid, and it was one of those jack-of-all-trades, you kind of wear everything. I was doing director work, and I found my home with director because it was time-based, and it was telling a story, and it was technical, but it was also very visual. I have a fine art background in photography, and so technical and visual, so it all kind of just came together. After that, I had finished all the international products, and so I started freelancing at Organic, and Sara and I, one of our first conversations was me quitting. She had just started and I said, "I quit!" She was very gracious, and it's pretty awesome. Long story, more beers necessary. I realized that for me, HTML looked, I had come from CD-ROM which had been commoditized and, what is it, offshoring, so all these jobs had left San Francisco. So, I looked at HTML and said, "This is too easy, it's gonna be commoditized," and so I just skirted it. I worked for Organic, and all these other places doing new business presentations and that sort of thing, and then I started getting into software that's embedded on products, because that seemed unique enough and hard enough. Doing an entire software application on 256K for a set-top box is hard, and so I did that for awhile, and then I just stayed in product, consumer electronics type of stuff. And then at Adaptive Path I went there because I really wanted to have a community, and I really wanted to share knowledge, and Adaptive Path was really killin' it with that, they had this great community that they had been fostering, and I loved that it was about teaching people to fish, and that was part of my personal goals, as well, and so I really appreciated what Adaptive Path had done by I think it was 2007. But then I just went from consultancy to inside internal companies, and then back and forth. Now I'm doing Web work, which is kind of strange. Almost archaic. Yes I know, just a little perverse, yeah.

Lynne Waldera

Okay, thanks Kim. Peter Merholz, co-founder of Adaptive Path, was Senior Director of Design at Jawbone, and Vice President of Design at Groupon, so both experiences of consulting and within companies, UX functions, how'd you get started?

Peter Merholz

Probably began in '92, '93, I was a research assistant, I went to school at UC Berkeley and I was a research assistant for a professor who was interested in computers and education, it was a work study job, it was just a gig. Through that job I was able to teach myself Director, which is something we've heard about, Photoshop and Illustrator. But perhaps more importantly, on the shelf of the professor who I worked for, on his bookshelf was Richard Saul Wurman's Information Anxiety, which I read cover-to-cover, and realized there are people who think about the world in the same way I do, which I didn't know before. Parlay that gig into, we've also heard about CD-ROMs, and I worked at the Voyager Company as a producer, associate producer, doing CD-ROM production. There I was exposed to, one of the authors that Voyager worked with was Donald Norman, who wrote Design for Everyday Things, which was another seminal text in terms of this kind of work, and realized you could make a career doing this kind of stuff. When I left Voyager, that was in New York, and I moved back to San Francisco and I worked for a design firm, Studio Archetype, originally as a web developer, 'cause I didn't have any design training, I studied anthropology. But working at a design firm as a web developer, I eased into, I was their first interaction designer, I got that title after taking a course on User Centered Design and Usability Engineering. So, I guess that was my first formal gig in what we would call user experience was my second year at Studio Archetype doing design work, so that's how I got in.

Lynne Waldera

Nice, thank you. Tal Herman is Director of User Experience at Autodesk currently, and was Interaction Design Director at Bank of America, and Head of User Experience at Snapfish, so how did you get started?

Tal Herman

My origin story is a little involved, this is my third career, depending on how you count it. I thought for many years I was gonna be a carpenter, I was careered as an apprentice for awhile, I dropped out of college for awhile, I was a carpenter's apprentice, and I realized that I didn't want do that for the rest of my life, which is good, 'cause all my friends who are still doing it, their bodies a wreck. So I went to law school, and I was a lawyer for nine years. While I was a lawyer, I had always been a hobbyist photographer and sometime, I'm guessing it's '93 or so, whatever year it was the Power Mac came out, I heard about this thing called Photoshop, and I was thinking, "You know, these chemicals in the dark were killing me," and now I hear I can do photography without chemicals, it was great. So I got a Power Mac 6100, and I think I spent a grand on four megs of extra RAM, and maybe that was Photoshop 1.5 or 2.0 right around then. And so, I started playing with that, and it happened that when I bought that my sister was at that time doing database design for the Holocaust Museum. She was, I think they called it an Online Fellow at UVA, and she said, "There's this thing called the Internet, "you'll really like it, "and go buy this thing called a modem, "and I'll get you set up as an Online Fellow through UVA, "and you can have a gopher account and some other stuff." So I got it, and I started playing with it, and I happened to have a friend who worked for Peachpit, he said, "Hey, we have all these books, "you can get whatever book you want, "just tell me, and you can have it for free," and they had, I think, HTML for Dummies had just come out, which might have been their first online book, and so I read that. So yeah, this seems pretty easy, and I started messing around with that. So meanwhile, I'm a full-time attorney, I was a staff attorney for the non-circuit, so I'm workin' pretty hard doing that, but in my spare time I'm kind of obsessed with this Internet thing, and I start taking side gigs doing websites. I did Zoetrope's first website, 'cause my friend was the editorial supervisor for Gobel and Zoetrope, and they were like, "Hey, we need to do a website." So, I started getting paid a little bit to be a webmaster, a little CGI scripting, a little visual stuff, a little everything. And then, I think around '96 I realized that, I mostly did criminal law, and it's a very kind of emotionally draining thing to do, especially I did appellate work. So, when I went solo and left the court I was doing appointed work for indigent defendants, and you lose all the time, 'cause your clients have already lost; it's very emotionally draining, and it takes a lot of investment of time and thought. And I just wanted to do something a little lower stakes, I didn't love it, and I felt like I wasn't giving my clients the best that I could give them, so I should do something different that I really enjoyed, and the Web was something that I really enjoyed. So, being from a business where you went to school, I looked around for a program to go to, and Georgia Tech had their Information Design and Technology program, that was probably in '96 maybe their second year. My sister happened to know someone who was there and said, "Hey, I heard about this thing." I looked around to see if there were other schools closer, I went to the SF State Downtown Center, some of you may remember that they actually had classes, on Internety type things. - Multimedia studies. - Yeah, yeah exactly. So, I took a few classes there, and then one day I said to my wife, "How'd you feel if we stopped making all the money "that I make right now, and we just existed on your salary, "and I went back to school?" And she was planning to go back to school, so we decided we would swap. So, we moved to Georgia, I went to Georgia Tech and got a Master's in Information Design and Technology, and then I went to work for IBM in their first Web consultancy, which they called the Design Cafe. Then my wife, while I was working, she went to the Medical College of Georgia. I was working at this consultancy, and because I was an adult, unlike so many other people there, I was instantly a lead, (Tal and group laughing) 'cause I actually tried to talk to people and not freak out 'cause there's people. But one of the tunny things about the Design Cafe was it was run by this guy Peter Blakeney who was a terrific guy, and we were our own P and L. One of the things that we did for IBM was change the image of IBM as a company: we were encouraged to wear T-shirts, and dye our hair, and basically look like crap all the time, and they would bring the CEO of this company or that company into tour the center, and there we would all be looking funky, and that was to prove that not all of IBM was down and out, was blue blazers. So, that was my introduction to real work as a designer, and I guess that's kind of really the start. Then I went from there to my own consultancy with some friends, and then the bust happened and that all fell apart 'cause we didn't know anything about business so we were remotely prepared for the down turn. I moved back to California with my wife, finished school, and then I went in-house, and I've been in-house ever since.

Lynne Waldera

Yeah, so let's talk about 2001, what were the schools teaching? What programs, like...

Erin Malone

Graphic design. - It was graphic design, and maybe you picked up DeBabelizer, and some tools to be able to do production, teach yourself HTML.

Kim Lenox

They were teaching the tools, they were teaching Photoshop and Illustrator, but they weren't teaching how to think as a designer. They were just, as if it was a journeyman type of thing, that if you knew how to use a hammer, then you know how to build house, it's not the same.

“…if you know how to use a hammer, then you knew how to build house… it's just not the same…”

Erin Malone

We were seeing a lot of IA cocktail hours, and groups of people teaching each other, and sharing methods and ways of doing things with each other, because we all came from different backgrounds.

Lynne Waldera

Yeah, it's pretty clear that there's not one cookie cutter approach to preparing for it.

Erin Malone

The panels as we know them now, those didn't exist. You had HCI schools, you had computer science, and you had graphic design, and then people writing, or anthropology, or whatever, and kind of coming into this because you like making products that were digital, and more complex than a brochure.

Kim Lenox

I think Peter and I had the same class, I don't know what year, but in '99, you said Usability Engineering and User-Centered Design, that was Richard Andersen's class.

Peter Merholz

Yeah, so I think we all, I graduated in '93, so I mean there was a time between '93 and 2001, so it's hard for me to say exactly what the schools were teaching then, definitely when I was graduating, it was harder to find these types of programs. Erin mention HCI, that was pretty well-established by 2001, human-computer interaction, usually within computer science programs. But I think the way I learned, and the community learned in 2001 was was less school-based and more through, mailing lists were big. I was on a mailing list, that's actually how I met Mike Kuniavsky in 1994, on a web design mailing list, so mailing lists were big, and then meetups basically. So, in New York you had the World Wide Web Artists' Consortium, in San Francisco you had NoEnd. BayCHI had a mailing list, so it was very, it was much more… which one?

Peter Merholz

Web Girls, not being a girl perhaps I wasn't as exposed to it?

Erin Malone

That was a big one.

Peter Merholz

So, I think that education was more crowd-sourced than formalized.

“…I think that education was more crowd-sourced than formalized…”

Tal Herman

So, somebody who actually did go to school in '97, '98, the curriculum at that time was a little bit of semiotics, some rhetoric, definitely tools, right? Class and Director, you had no Director.

Erin Malone

I was getting that at RIT, I mean '93, '94.

Tal Herman

Yeah, so there were tools classes, but nobody really had a particular orientation around, "Oh, this is what it means to be a practitioner." When I went to IBM I was fortunate for my first project, which was Macy's first actual e-commerce site, to work with somebody who had been doing it for a couple of years, we called ourselves information designers there, 'cause information architect at IBM was a database designer term, so we weren't allowed to use that. But I was fortunate to learn from Laurie McDaniel, who was super smart, and really had an understanding of how to think systematically about complex problems. And then, I worked with an anthropologist, a journalist, people with Master's in English, and so we had actually a fairly decent community at IBM, and throughout Atlanta at that time, it was a kinda hot bed of Web stuff in the South. Yeah, a little bit. But we did, we taught each other, I mean we were on the job and we, the business side of the team at the Design Cafe taught us all a lot about how to talk to people, and how to understand, and the strategy teams at IBM to help us ask questions that were the right questions to ask so I'm definitely on the job, but there were classes, there were.

Lynne Waldera

So, what do you all make of how we're preparing UX practitioners today?

Peter Merholz

May I? Sorry, we all, I'm sure I'm safe to say. Well so it's, user experience digital design has become way more professionalized, there's many programs doing this work. I think in some ways that's great, we're preparing more people to embrace this stuff, we need designers working on these problems. But in other ways, I think what we could potentially lose is, or what happens when you professionalize, you become dogmatic, and every school is kind of teaching the same types of classes that every other school is teaching. And so, everybody coming out of these classes knows how to do this type of design, and what felt like the Wild West 15 to 20 years ago, it's now theoretically a solved problem, but I don't think it is. And so, I'm concerned that we're not drawing from as broad a palette of backgrounds as we used to, because we're minting designers. And I'd love to hear, especially those who are managing people who are coming out of schools, are you seeing that, or am I overstating it?

Erin Malone

Well, I think you are, I hire a lot of independent folks for my consulting practice, and I think you are seeing that. I also teach, and I think we're also seeing a bifurcation of the type of training that's happening: you have the four-year universities, and schools like CCA, and SCAD, and a handful of others; and then you have these trade schools like Tradecraft and General Assembly that are cranking people out in 12 weeks and 16 weeks, and telling them they can be designers because they've learned a couple of processes. So, we've got this separation of what people are learning, and then you have this narrowing of the backgrounds of who they're learning from. Although, those of us in the room, this generation, we are the ones who are teaching, so we only have ourselves to blame (drown out by laughter).

“we've got separation of what ppl are learning, narrowing of backgrounds of who they're learning from…”

Lynne Waldera

What's the difference in hiring someone out of a 12-week program versus a four-year, like what do you...

Erin Malone

They don't have the ability to do the deep thinking, and to really get at the nut of what the problem is, depending on where they came from. Because some of them are using it as a shift and a pivot for a career, whereas if we had, coming from graphic design, or coming from anthropology, or coming from journalism, done a 12-week class, or a 16-week class, pivot, and now you're a UX Designer. But I think it's, I think it depends on the person.

Peter Merholz

I'm intrigued by those training programs because they, the students there have theoretically a more diverse range of backgrounds, they weren't in design school starting as an undergrad. And again, I think that diversity is important in the work that we do, but their design skills and practice are so shallow, that you tend to be stepping up for, you have to sign up for more work to mature them as design practitioners, but there might be some other benefits from drawing from those programs, so it depends...

Tal Herman

I was not the world's most experienced person at 22 when I would of gotten out of school. I mean, right, who is? And so, then I'm going straight into a business, I'm going straight into a career, and I don't have the life experience that helps me be empathetic, that helps me understand what it is to be somebody other than a designer. And I think that's one of the benefits that I really felt of being early in the process, 'cause the people I worked with, almost every one of them, had a prior career, and some of 'em were pretty good at it, and a lot of them had really deep knowledge about things that were very other than design. So, there's I think a challenge with the formalization, and I think this plays into exactly what Peter is saying, a place like General Assembly, I've hired folks out of General Assembly. What I'm looking for for them is not, I'm looking for, I wanna know that they can think well, but I hire them as entry-level, right? I'm not hiring these people as seniors, I'm hiring them as entry-level, and they should understand that. But the thing about them is that by and large they have other experience, and that's really useful for designers. Look at a consulting, anybody who's done any consulting, or changed jobs like we all do every two or three years, you really, oh sorry, like many of us here every three years. (group laughing) You're a different problem space, and you need to learn something new in that problem space, and if you've got it, if you've had another experience before that it helps you to know what it is to be in something new, and I think that that's a little bit lost with the people who go straight into school and come out, it's true in many businesses...

Lynne Waldera

I was also touched by the community that you-all formed, and the sense of helping each other, and connecting with each other, and learning from each other, and learning from books, and readings, and meetups. What's going on now, where are at with helping people connect with the profession, and the connection between schools and industry, what's the what's the state of play?

Peter Merholz

I wanna throw that to the woman who works at LinkedIn, it's all about connecting professionals!

Kim Lenox

Well, rather than jumping onto the LinkedIn thing, in 2001 the community wasn't quite, it was email lists and things like that, and LinkedIn came out in 2003. I started seeing community with IxDA in 2004, the Interaction Design Association, and Erin's pattern library for Yahoo, and I started finding people that were like-minded, and then cribbing ideas of how you build process. And then at a certain point, I really wanted to share that knowledge that I had learned as well, even though I had learned it on the job, and I founded the IxDA of San Francisco, with Danielle Malik and Joshua, I'm forgetting Josh's last name, Kaufman, sorry? - Oh yeah, Josh Kaufman. Really it was Danielle that was just like she got her company to fund some food and beer, and people showed up, and then eventually she's like, "Hey, I need some help," so it's definitely Danielle. But IxDA globally went from a few small groups around the world to, I entered as a board member in 2000, what was it, 2011? And there were 80-something chapters globally, and in 13 months we had gained another 80, so there was a 160 worldwide, and so there was this need for building community. Sometimes it was six people having pancakes on Wednesday morning, and other times in San Francisco it's you know, hundreds of people, as many people as we could actually host into a space. But the people were very interested, and coming from all around trying to understand what is user experience, what is interaction design, what's the difference? I'm a big believer in building community, and there's a lot of different tools to do that, but I don't think we're doing a good job still of bringing people together.

“Sometimes it was six people having pancakes on Wednesday morning…”

Erin Malone

I think we did a better job before, but that may be just where I am in my life, I've been really busy. But in 2001, like the end of 2000, 2001, I had with the bust been laid off, but that was like the second IA Summit, there were IA cocktail hours, there was a huge community, the IA community, 'cause I remember that summer we were all like "I have just formerly at XYZ Company, "formerly at XYZ Company." (group laughing) So, we were all commiserating together, but we were sharing information, and AIGA was trying to crack that nut with the digital online, which they never still really ever did. But they were trying, and so there were conferences, and meetups, and that's kind of when Boxes and Arrows happened because we all had time, we had time because we all had been paid off, so we had time to write and to share information about what we'd been doing, or what we'd been learning, or whatever. And that particular journal we got people to volunteer to write, and volunteer to edit. With all the lists and everything, there seemed to be a lot more communication, and now it's so fractured because there's so many ways to communicate, and ways to be social, that I don't know where anybody is.

Kim Lenox

Well, and now there's Designers+Geeks, and CreativeMornings, and IxDA San Francisco, there's so many different groups, and meetups. They're hosting events, but I don't see the same, it felt like there was a tribe when it, I don't know if it was because it felt smaller.

Erin Malone

It was smaller, and that was part of it's allure, and because we were all from other places, and different communities coming together, we found each other, and now it is such a large profession, and more formal.

Peter Merholz

It's larger, it's a little more formal, we're all older. (laughs) We're not in our mid-20s, to early-30s, we're not lookin' for dates. We're not tryin' to, there's an aspect of that sociality that honestly is not just about the work, though it was in part about the work. We figured it out, I actually wonder if it feels like that for a 26 year old in San Francisco going to Designers with Drinks, or Designers + Geeks, but it's not our community anymore. We're not all meeting in the same way as we used to, but they might be, the folks who are more recent out of school, earlier in their careers. In fact, when I have had teams that I've managed they get very excited about these types of events, they're sharing them on internal emails, "Hey, let's all go this thing "that's happening at Company X tonight, "make sure to sign up," and all that kind of stuff.

Tal Herman

I think, too, that being around 2000, 2001, 2002, during that when the bubble burst, it was a huge winnowing of people who were dilettantes. "Oh, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do this "'cause it's easy to get a job, and I'm gonna get paid," and those people all, poof, they went away, 'cause those jobs were gone. And the people who were trying to make it really wanted to be part of what was going on, and I think that that kinda is like a crucible effect, right? You burn off all the folks who would rather actually get their MBAs, (women laughing) and go work for an investment bank, and you keep the people who are really, really interested in what's going on. It was more a calling than a career in some way, and so I think that there was much more desire to be part of a community. And now you know, given that you could practically walk out your door, just say that you're a designer and get hired somewhere, I think that's not true as much anymore.

Peter Merholz

...and I think that speaks to the maturation of digital design, user experience, I suspect if you're focused on some of the stuff Mike was talking about earlier, if you're focused on AR, you're focused on Bots, you're focused on machine learning, those communities of designers are smaller, and they're all learning from each other, and they wanna get together. It's just as everything's grown you're gonna have sub-communities that resemble what used to be, what used to feel like the whole community, 'cause the whole community was only that size.

Lynne Waldera

I wanted to ask about, because it came up upstairs, the difference between generalists and specialists, and specialization, what do you all make of it? Are people identifying as UX designers, are they identifying as visual designers, or information architects? Is the profession splintered?

Erin Malone

All of the above. It depends on who your clients are, well as a consultant. Startups want generalists, they want one person who can do it all. Larger companies have specialists, but they still want people who can kind of have major/minor.

Lynne Waldera

Are we preparing specialists, or generalists?

Peter Merholz

Well, I think we're preparing Web and mobile generalists, but we're not preparing this like, and I'm using Web and mobile purposefully 'cause I still think there can be a depth of understanding that we're not doing as good a job, enough job preparing for when Web and mobile are no longer the focus, and it's another platform, I don't know what we're doing to make sure that they're ready for that. I think that's one of the challenges with professionalization, you get focused on the medium and the platform you're designing for, and less about the broader context. Whereas, coming at it as we did from all these different contexts, we weren't assuming necessarily a platform, and I think that it's more about shaping a mindset than shaping a skillset, and I don't know if we're doing a good enough job in helping shape that mindset.

Kim Lenox

It's definitely something that I, I mentor a few different folks, and that's definitely something that I suggest to them is, they want to get into the field and they're so gung-ho, like you know, "Should I go get my degree?" And I just talk to them about being adaptive, and that you know, that things are going to fall apart, and so you need to be able to have enough wherewithal to adapt, and make changes, and not learn that perfect thing to be that specialist, and then that specialist is no longer needed. And so, I think that that's, I mean, it was my personal experience with CD-ROMs, it's like, "Okay, I'm not goin' that route anymore."

Erin Malone

Do you remember doing it with HyperCard?

Peter Merholz

How are your lingo skills serving you now?

Kim Lenox

Exactly, exactly. And so, I try to coach the young folks that I'm mentoring now about being adaptable. Some of them I really see the take to heart and say, "Okay well, I'm gonna change-up my skillset in a way that," and I also talk to them about being forward-thinking of what's happening now isn't gonna be what's needed in five years; what I was doing five years ago is different than what I'm gonna be doing in five more years, and you need to be able to adapt to that, and pay attention to it. It seems to resonate with them but since it's their, I'm talkin' to people with their first job out of school, they don't have that experience, they haven't had the bottom drop on them, and have to pick up the pieces yet.

Peter Merholz

I'm loathe to use the phrase “design thinking”. BUT...

Kim Lenox

We should have it as a drinking game, drink! drink!

Peter Merholz

Well, and that's one of those things that has changed since 2001 and now, is this recognition that designerly ways of approaching problem-solving can be applied in a broader context. Understanding people, the empathetic understanding, sketching, prototyping, testing, whether it's a Web app, a mobile app, something for the Alexa, Amazon Echo, or whatever it is, there's a tool there that you can use to think through solving problems, and I think that's an interesting change that can free design from being kind of restricted to execution within a particular medium. Design was defined for song, you were a graphic designer, a print designer, an industrial designer, it wasn't about the mindset of design, it was more the product of design; I think that has shifted, and that I think is due to the benefit of design. But designers can still get very caught up in the superficial, and get so focused on the act of creation they forget that there's a broader context that they can be informing through their work.

“…it wasn't about the mindset of design, it was more the product of design; I think that has shifted…”

Tal Herman

Well, one thing I think is true of almost every profession, having been in a few of them, there are people who are going to focus on one thing, it's just the nature of some people is, "I'm going to be a graphic designer. "I'm a visual designer, and that's what I do. "I'm in IA and that's what I do." And, "I'm in IA for the Web, or I'm in IA for this, "or this is what I do, and that's how I identify myself, "and that's how I focus." And that's fine, every business needs people who are going to do tasks, and these are task-oriented folks. And then there are other folks who are looking for more, I think they're looking for a different level of involvement, and those are the people who are really thinking about, and who when you mentor them are really talking about, "Hey, it's not for me about the IA of the system, "it's about the thinking that goes into the thinking "that leads you to an IA," or, "It's about this systematic way that I approach "thinking about creating a visual design schema," or it's not just about doing the design, and God love the production artists, and the doers, 'cause you need 'em, but I think what Peter's talking about is the folks that there is a level of approach that is about more than a particular aspect of it. But you're always gonna have a division, as in law you get people who are basically paper-filers, and then you get other people who are really interested in big questions, and you need both of that.

Lynne Waldera

All right, David, origin story, how did you get started in this?

Dave Hoffer

My name's Dave Hoffer, I am an Experience Design Director at McKinsey. My origin story... I'm gonna go back a little further than some of the other folks. My first computer was a TRS-80, 1978. My dad was very progressive inasmuch as he ran a business in New York City and wanted to get computering, and sort of computerize his business, and very early on. In '81 he opened his own computer store, so I sort of grew up in a computer store, I grew up in an Apple store because in '83, or '84, say '83 I think, when the Lisa came out he went all Apple, so I grew up in an Apple store. I went and got my degree in Industrial Design, although graphic design was my first love, and coming out of school I moved to California, and that was 1994. When I moved, the Web was sorta just starting to happen, and the Web was sort of an interesting mix between industrial and graphic design: there was a time-base component to it, it was interactive, you wouldn't click through from a static page to a static page, so it was graphic but there was movement, it was fascinating to me so I got into that. Learned HTML, but never, ever good at it. And then that was it, it was a number of different jobs where I never had the same title twice until recently, User Interface Engineer, Information Architect, Web Designer, and whatever the different names were. So, that's my background.

Lynne Waldera

Okay, thank you, Pilar?

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

So, I was most recently an Experience Director, User Experience Director at McKinsey with Dave Hoffer. My origin story sort of goes back, I have a Fine Arts degree and I still paint in my spare time. I designed my first website in 1996, at Houghton Mifflin when I was doing textbook design, and visual learning analogies. And then I moved to California, it seems to be a theme here, and I was a graphic designer, and an environmental designer, and I got a phone call saying, "Hey, we wanna talk to you," and they mentioned a bunch of zeroes at the end of the number, and I was like, "Wow that is, "I don't even understand what's happening here," and that was in 1999, and it was for an Internet consultancy. I didn't really know what I was gonna be doing there, and there was this concept of customer experience, and we were sort of like making it up as we went along. I was working with Richard Andersen actually, and kind of just learning and doing everything. I never HTML, I still don't know HTML, I'm never gonna learn, I'm not interested in it, but I love everyone else who knows it, hats off to them. And then things fell apart, and then I went to work for Apple when they were barely sort of making it, and helped right when the iPod was released. Then I left and went to Frog, and I was like, "Do you wanna be a user experience designer, "or do you wanna be a visual designer?" And the decisions had to be made and I was really interested in more sort of like the empathy and the user component, not necessarily the visual, 'cause the visual stuff was taken care of by my painting, and I didn't really want a career, that was way too much stress on my ego around visual stuff. And then I just consulted and found myself really loving the overall sort of engaging with the users, and that full system's like thinking. This notion of service design came about, I love that we're thinking about full end-to-end experience, and that the digital doesn't have to be forefront, and can sort of like be in the background; and we're taught thinking about how we interact with actually people, too, and designing what that experience is. So, and here I am!

Lynne Waldera

Okay, thanks Pilar, Jeff?

Jeffery Veen

I'm Jeff Veen, I'm a partner at True Ventures. So, the origin story, it goes all the way back to when I was a kid, and just totally obsessed with computers, and bulletin boards, and all of that. Though I didn't pursue a technical line of study when I was in school, I became a journalist and I was working at a newspaper in Santa Barbara as a newspaper editor. I remember, this is 1993, 'cause I went to a party and I saw on a coffee table the first issue of WIRED Magazine, and sat at the party and read the entire thing cover-to-cover, and I was like, "There's other people thinking this kind of stuff," 'cause I had been into early Web stuff, and Internet stuff, and all of that. And I said to myself, "I have to go work here." Apparently, I heard later, that I was the first person to apply for WIRED Magazine by emailing the URL to my resume in 1993, which I guess stood out. So, they called me up to San Francisco, and I had an interview and I got the job, and I was deep into HTML. Oh man! - I love people like you. - So into HTML, all 14 tags of HTML 1.0. But I was on the design team, I was basically assistant to, or even apprentice really, to the Creative Director at WIRED, who would design things in QuarkXPress, give them to me, and I would figure out how to make them, and couldn't 'cause it wasn't possible, and we would back and forth, and back and forth, and that's where I learned design. But always very into the technology, I wrote a column for Webmonkey week after week about how browsers worked, and Web standards, and stuff. Then I got invited onto the Web Standards, the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, working on the standards, so I worked on CSS, and HTML, and stuff like that, so I always loved all of that stuff. And then in I guess, yeah I mean, WIRED went through some acquisitions, and it was kinda messy, I worked for Lycos for just a second, it was terrible. Quit that, and then had a burger with Peter Merholz over there, who had this idea for a consulting group, and so we started Adaptive Path. Adaptive Path has had this amazing legacy, a long history, but I only really worked there for about four years as a consultant, because I just desperately hated consulting. I didn't want to work on other people's problems, I guess is what it ended up being, and really wanted to make...

Lynne Waldera

Please discuss!

Dave Hoffer

I can vouch, because I was a client...

Jeffery Veen

Goin' after me to get that job.. that's terrible!

Dave Hoffer

I hired Adaptive Path, they came down, several of Jeff's colleagues and Jeff, specifically one day, I remember this, 'cause it just stands out: we sat down in the morning, very early to get started, and we went through the day, and we were going through wireframes, and we were designing this piece of software that was a Web-based piece of software at the time. Working for McGraw-Hill, which is where I was working at the time, and it went from the very early morning, to the late afternoon just sitting in the same room, just hours after hours, going through this material. At the end of the day, Jeff just shut down, he just stopped. I'm like, "Jeff, how you doin' over there?" He's like, (drown out by laughing). I'm like, "All right, we only have "about four or five more hours to go," it was 8:00 at night, and we were working with a consulting firm at that time, which was Accenture, and they were just rarin' to go, just kept us goin', kept working us...

Jeffery Veen

Keep billing, keep billing… Oh my God, yeah.

Dave Hoffer

So that, yeah, so I vouch for that. That was hard.

Lynne Waldera

So, no consulting career for you.

Jeffery Veen

No, no, so I convinced the rest of the partners at Adaptive Path to let me do a product inside of the consulting company, there had been a precedent for that, that's what 37signals had done, and things like that. So, we worked on this analytics package for blogs, called Measure Map, and as we were about to, we were in beta, we were about to launch we were out talkin' to VCs to raise some money to actually make this go, there was no Amazon in services at the time. We had to spend $25,000.00 just to get a rack of Dell servers that they brought to the office, and we had to go plug 'em into the data center, it was crazy. And after we were talking to VCs, word got out that we were building this stuff, and Google made an offer, early, very quick acquisition, so we decided to take that rather than try to spin the thing out, and all of that. We stopped working on Measure Map and we said we'd build Google Analytics, and so I did that for a few years at Google. And really I think that was, around the time of Measure Map was when I think really stopped being a practitioner, and really just became a CEO, kind of did that, you know, being in charge of the product, rather than being a designer in the product. Which came from my frustration, not just from consulting, but from this like design is a second-class citizen in technology, in that we were always just this little small part, and we were always fighting! Like we knew we could make the products better, but we were always fighting for the seat at the table, which I just thought was bullshit, I want my own table and I want to invite other people to it, and so I said, "I just wanna run things."...

“…I want my own table and I want to invite other people to it…”

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

I had a similar experience just as a practitioner, and I was getting tired of fighting the fight, and coming to the table and walking away with my tail tucked up between my legs, and like back to the drawing board. So, I actually went to product management, because I knew that that was respected in the organization, that product managers got a seat at the table, and they owned the road map, so they owned the vision. I had the vision, and I wanted to own it, and that was the only I could own it was to become a product manager, and then I would like sneak design in. That felt successful, I enjoyed that.

Jeffery Veen

And I think this shift in the last five years, or maybe a little longer, has been that product management has just done their job so poorly for so long, so they own the road map, but where were they making their decisions around prioritization, and the expression of features, and stuff like that?

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

Where did they even come from, actually?

Jeffery Veen

They were generally computer science majors who were not very good at writing code. [group laughing] Or worse, MBAs who have a model!

“…they were Computer Science majors who weren't very good at writing code”

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

They were really subject matter experts, where they knew sort of like the realm, or that was my experience, they had a handle on the subject, and so they kinda knew where it should go, but they had no idea of what that looked like for the user, and how we should actually get there from a development perspective.

Jeffery Veen

Yeah, and no validation of what they were doing was right.

Lynne Waldera

But they spoke the language of business, right? Like they did that. I guess I'm curious how you've seen UX mature in that regard, like if we are at the table, or if indeed, we have a ways to go?

Dave Hoffer

It has matured quite a bit. I mean in 2001, if we're talkin' sort of between 2001 and 2016, there were some designers at companies doing some things. It was us, 'cause we are the designers who were workin' on this stuff, but as you just heard from our origin stories, Jeff has sort of moved up the chain, and became a CEO of his organization, TypeKit. He's in a VC at this point, and is doing things at a higher level. McKinsey has hired a cadre of designers, some of the best designers that I've ever worked with. So, the value that design brings to the table at this point, is vastly different in 2016, than it was in 2001. 2001 there were very few of us, we were few and far between, we were doing tactical, specific, like making your website, versus sitting at the table with the CEO talking about solving whatever the problem was, or whatever the problem is.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

I think about in the early days, I don't know if anyone ever used to get Eye Magazine, it's an old school and British, beautiful magazine. I was looking through a couple of old issues the other day, and I found this one article with John Maeda, who's super young from MIT and like just a young upstart there. I think we all watched John Maeda, and everyone sort of was like enamored with him 'cause he's amazing and doing such fascinating work, and then Kleiner Perkins partner, and we're all like, "Yes!" It was happening all over the place, but I think that was, I think we were all pretty excited about that and felt like, we have a story to tell that you also know about a business person, and you respect, or you may respect. That felt like...

Lynne Waldera

So, do you think the battle has been won? That we achieved the sort of recognition and influence that we could have?

Jeffery Veen

Yes, I do, for sure. I think the shift was in 2009 when the iPhone came out, I think that was validation for all of the work that we had been doing for so long. And the fundamental shift that happened is that billions of people got those, and so what that did was elevated the entire industry to have an actual audience of enough scope and scale to be able to sustain all of the businesses that flamed out in the early 2000s. The other thing it did is that it changed technology from work into life. So, before everybody had the phone in their pocket, all of their interaction with the Web, or technology in general, felt like work. There would be a laptop, and you go sit at it, even if you're shopping on Amazon, or even if you're using some of the social networks at the time, you'd go and you would go have a session, and you would like go and sit down and it felt like, and so bad experiences that you would have, you would only have a few times a day. When we started carrying it in our pocket, people unlock their phones something like 16 times an hour, so that's 16 times every hour for the potential for a painful, bad experience, and so people rejected that. So, the things that caught on and became popular were the things that had pleasing experiences, that just anybody, general audience, consumer, would be able to tolerate, and I think...

Dave Hoffer

So, I agree that the iPhone is, and phones in general have been sort of a tipping point, but I don't think we're there yet, I think the battle is still on. I think that there are companies that I deal with on a regular basis, these large organizations who have not adopted best practices as far as going out and doing good user research, and having a solid user experience design team, and doing all of those things. They want it, they all have iPhones in their pockets, and they recognize that they pull it out the same amount of times that, that 16 times an hour or whatever. So they know it's there, and they see other companies who have achieved a level of design consciousness, but they're not there yet...

Jeffery Veen

But that's the battle. The battle is that they may not be there, but they know they need, and we don't have to convince them anymore.

Dave Hoffer

...and that's what I'm saying, so the battle's not won yet, but it's raging. It's still on, we're a lot further along than we were, and we're almost there, we're getting there.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

Leaders in the business consultancy industry, in business consultancies, those leaders who can speak design speak, those are who those companies are listening to. They're not listening to designers, they're listening to their own people say, "You need this," and then they say, "Yes," and then they engage in a design process, and they don't get it. I think you're right, we are there, but we have so much further to go in the fact that there's still so much education around the value, and they're like, "We want a quick win, "we have three months until we need to ship like, "we'd have this percentage of impact," and there's all this quantified impact, and we're set up to fail in a lot of ways, and so how can we be successful and show the value of design in those quick win type scenarios?

“…how can we be successful and show the value of design in those quick win type scenarios?”

Jeffery Veen

Yeah, and I work everyday in the total other end of the spectrum from you guys at McKinsey, in that I'm working with two, four, eight-person companies, that are a few months old. And there's no doubt, in every one of those companies that I talk to that they need to be competitive on design, that design will be a differentiator for them.

Dave Hoffer

How many of those companies have a designer as one of their founders, or at least an early hire?

Jeffery Veen

That's one of the sort of hypotheses around having design partners now, I think it's up to seven or eight different VCs now, have designers on staff. With that hypothesis that looking for people with product instinct that come from that background of user experience or design, can de-risk their ability to be successful over time.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

And it's more than de-risk, right? And how to build?

Jeffery Veen

Risk is all they care about. They said, don't lose my money. But I'm sorry, go on.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

No, no, no, it's fine. I mean, it's more than de-risk, but it's also thinking about what it could be, like what the business is right now, what the business is in five years, that's a big gap. And those designers...

Jeffery Veen

That's vision and story telling, and we'll bill you to do that.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

And that's what those designers, they de-risk right now, over the next short amount of time, but they're also sort of thinking about what that vision is. We talked earlier about cookie-cutter designers, we need really like good thinkers, systems thinkers, or people who are thinking above and beyond, that's the value that they bring, and that's why it's important to have them in the beginning.

Jeffery Veen

Yeah, yeah, and it's actually, it's remarkable, because over the last few years there's been so much talk in the startups world about product/market fit, we're trying to achieve product/market fit, which is the stuff we have, and they stuff people need, there should be some overlap between those two things. And it just reminds me of like 15 years ago when we were building mental model diagrams, we had the stuff at the top, is what the company has, the stuff at the bottom is the stuff we heard in user interviews, and we were trying to match 'em up, I'm like, "We've been doing this forever." But now I feel like everybody believes it.

Lynne Waldera

If you're right, and we're moving in that direction, and pretty soon designers will be running the companies, what role do design consultancies play in a world where design is embedded much more in the fabric of a leadership team? And will we have design teams, departments, as a discrete function or will it just be a way of thinking that just is a discipline? So, design consultancies and design teams.

Dave Hoffer

Given that everything is designed, I don't see that there's, we're not going away, designers are not going away. It's a question of what will we be designing? And the answer is: there's plenty to be designed in the future. And if it's a virtual reality, great. Well, there's all sorts of everything in a virtual reality that includes all sorts of three-dimensional, and everything else that needs to be designed. And it may be if I'm a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but I'm lookin' around the room, and someone designed this, whatever this things is, it's not even a chaise lounge, I'm not even sure what this is, right? (group laughing) Somebody designed this table, it's actually, it's kinda cool, it's like handmade or whatever, it's really, really cool. Someone designed the scale on the table, everything is designed, so we're not goin' away. Consultancies lately...

Jeffery Veen

They feel a little bit like talent factories that big companies acquire, but that might not go on for so long...

Dave Hoffer

It's a trend, so I think what's gonna happen is, is there's that, they sort of like, they coalesce, and like Terminator they break apart and they are gonna do something else, and then they might coalesce again, but it's a constant sort of in and out.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

I agree that there's a rhythm, right now we have AI, and machine learning, and there's so much technology that's out there right now that we are still sort of like grappling how do we fit that into our user journeys, and our overall user experiences? So, that's gonna be very important, it is right now, and it will continue to be, and agencies will be specializing in those types of things, and are right now. And then, larger companies will come and think, "That's really important, and I need that AI organization "in my big company, and I will take them." And so like you said, it's an ebb and flow, I think that's healthy, actually, I think it validates us.

Lynne Waldera

One of the thought experiments I do in my own profession is I think about, my profession has been around for about 100 years, and I often wonder, I think about has the world improved as a result of that 100 years, have things gotten better? And I'm curious, as you think about your own profession, the contributions you've made, has the user experience gotten better?

Jeffery Veen

I think we get better, and better, and better at it year over year, as an industry. Yeah and I mean, look when I started there was nobody, nobody in the industry that had 15 or 20 years of interactive design, visual design experience, and now there's a bunch of us, and increasingly with leverage inside of organizations to change those organizations in a way that matches our world view. So I think we're getting better, and I think products are getting a lot better as a result, for sure. I also think horsepower in technology is kinda leveling off in a way that it's like, you know, we don't get that excited about our phones being so much faster, the way like, oh my God, when I was starting my career and I got a new computer, everything changed! It was like five, six times faster, and it just doesn't matter.

Dave Hoffer

...and it changed every six months, it was the HAL, this new technology, and everything just changes and you're like okay, that and all this other cool stuff.

Jeffery Veen

Screens don't need to get higher resolution anymore, we can't see the dots so, ya know? So, I think what that leads us to is like, we're not constantly opening up new capabilities, but we're refining now, refining and refining, and things are just getting much, much better.

“…Screens don't need to get higher resolution anymore, we can't see the dots…”

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

I think they're getting better, and I think that, so we first were very binary and thinking in platforms, and now I think that there's so much content out there, so we started to make contextualize. And so, the more I think because the content continues to bloom, the more that we can be thoughtful about contextualization, and we'll continue to do that, we can have these beautiful user experiences that feel really meaningful and personalized.

“…the more content continues to bloom, the more we can be thoughtful about contextualization…”

Lynne Waldera

I think it would come from a general customer experience standpoint that people still have very frustrating experiences with their technology.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

Well, they're dumb. [ all laughing ]

Lynne Waldera

Hypothetic listening is happening, yeah.

“Hypothetic listening is happening…”

Jeffery Veen

Finally, the truth comes out.

Lynne Waldera

But as an industry, I mean, technology products, if you will, people's general, everyday experience is...

Dave Hoffer

It's not just technology products, I don't mean to interrupt you and jump in but, it's not just technology products it's experiences in general, and they can be analog, they can be digital, it doesn't matter. It's hard to address all of the numerous touchpoints that a customer has with an organization, or their service, or their product, in as meaningful and as deep a flexion as is required to provide a holistic, good, delightful user experience. Because that whole experience falls completely short when you have to get onto the phone with customer service, and they don't know what they're talking about, and it is what it is. That person hasn't been trained very well, or they're working with a bad script, or the designers haven't gotten to that corner of the, the sort of the experience end.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

So, it's just not real. That's just not real life, life is not a completely designed and scripted experience. You fail, and you pick yourself up, and you find yourself in a happy place, and then you're not in a happy place. If everything was so perfectly crafted, and there weren't any bad user experiences, I don't even...

“Life is not a completely designed and scripted experience. You fail, and pick yourself up…”

Dave Hoffer

It’s job security.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

Well no, I just mean like there's just, the reality of living and living with screens, and the new screenless technologies, there are just gonna be blips, like that's just part of what moving forward is.

Lynne Waldera

So, you wouldn't think that that's a good metric of success for the profession? Like in general, like imagine a world where there are no bad user experiences.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

No that sounds, that just doesn't sound real, I don't know. I come from service design, and I just don't even, that doesn't sound like humanity. Sorry. (chuckles)

Lynne Waldera

Interesting...

Jeffery Veen

And if the humans are involved, it'll just always be messy...

“…And if the humans are involved, it'll just always be messy…”

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

Yeah, but that's okay, that's like dynamic, things have to rise up and outshine, I mean, that's the iPhone, that was a beautiful experience, and now it gets overshadowed by other things that are rising out of it. I think that's exciting, actually.

Lynne Waldera

So if not that, what would be if you fast forward five years, 10 years, what would be a metric, or a way that you would define success? If user experience continues to grow, achieve more influence, how would you know it's getting better?

Jeffery Veen

That's a good question. Because I think a lot of the improvements that happen are so bitter of an incremental that we don't notice it. But like, go pick up an iPhone that's running iOS 6, and you're like, "Oh my God!" That's four years ago, and you look at it now and it just looks grotesque. So, I think these things like over time just continuous improvement, which is what we're so good at in technology, and the work that we do. I don't think we'll notice.

Lynne Waldera

And how will we know the we provide then? How does UX define its return on the investment?

Jeffery Veen

Well, I think in the words you just said, it's affirmed, at least my new perspective, it's return on investment. How do we know if it's working? That the companies that are founded and led by designers, or being led from a design philosophy, or design thinking point of view, are some of the biggest companies in the world, and it's kind of becoming the case. And I think we're just scratching the surface, too.

Dave Hoffer

Again, there's a lot of work to be done still. It's that there are, there is so much bad design, it is what it is, it's part of being human, as you're saying, Pilar, it's absolutely just, you can't design everything, every last little piece of minutia, so what do you lean back on? And its humanity, and it's goin' off script immediately if you're a customer support person, but there's so much to do, there's so much work that we can do that sort of expands past when in 2001 a company would say, "We just need a website," or, "We just needed this application to do this thing," and today companies are thinking much more expansively than a single touchpoint.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

Like Uber, we didn't know taxis were even broken, and a whole huge international company has been born based on this user experience flaw. And we're like, "Oh yeah, it totally sucks."

Lynne Waldera

Where do you think the next wave of innovation will come from in user experience? And I'm particularly thinking, we have a question from our other panel members about with the recent acquisitions of these design studios, like Hot, and Adaptive Path, and Lunar, who actually did a lot of innovation in the time period that we've been talking about this evening, where's the next, what's the source of the next innovations for user experience, where's it gonna come from?

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

It's so interesting. I think about where we all came from, and you heard of diverse backgrounds, and we all sort of like clawed our way into, and made the user experience, the moniker, user experience, what it is today. And I think that's what gives it such richness, is that we all came from different backgrounds, and it was sort of a new frontier. So, I don't have an answer to your question, but because we have all of that fabric of history and backgrounds, I don't know. I mean, designers are coming out of schools...

Dave Hoffer

Yeah, there's a couple of kids sitting in a garage someplace who are dreaming up the next thing, and that could be technology-based, or design-based, or short of anything else it's...

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

..but the thing is, based on sort of a bubble in 2000, we're like, "We can make money if we just have "a really great idea, and someone buys it." But when we were doing that, that wasn't really happening. We were just making shit 'cause it was fun and interesting, and we were just sort of like noodling around. And so, how do you create like, I mean you think about artists and they didn't know that was a movement.

Jeffery Veen

I'll push back a little bit on the argument that the user experience from 2001 had a diverse background, or had diversity in it, in that we may not all of had computer science degrees, we had various other degrees, but it's not a very diverse group.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

That's okay, I'll take it.

Jeffery Veen

User experience inside of technology, has a better gender balance than most of the rest of the technology. But we are all talking about, "Well, we're different because we had "slightly different liberal arts backgrounds." But I think to answer Lynne's question, where is the next wave of innovation come from? It comes from people that don't look like us, it comes from very, very different places, it comes from the half of the world that's not online yet, that don't have cell phones yet, and don't have an Internet connection yet. That's, I think, where some astonishing stuff is gonna come from. I think we will see the biggest companies in the world in our lifetimes are not formed yet, and that's why I think we're just scratching the surface on all this stuff.

Lynne Waldera

What role will San Francisco, I mean the geography, all of you came here to this city in kind of roughly the same time, and it was a hot bed for this profession to develop. What role does San Francisco, what role do you think we need to play? If that's true, if the world is gonna be generating a lot more of this.

Dave Hoffer

If Jeff's right, I think that it's true, there's all sorts of opportunity coming from all sorts of places. You know, there'll be another, or a different San Francisco elsewhere, and then that will be the place that innovation happens, or whatever. Right now there's a great deal of innovation tourism that happens in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, different organizations come into San Francisco, and come into Silicon Valley to see what's going on here with startups, and understand how that all works. But that's not to say that it wouldn't happen in the middle of Ghana, or in the middle of anywhere else on the planet.

Pilar Strutin-Belinoff

..and it really is, and I think that just because you're first, doesn't mean you're last, it just means that you're still in the game. I'm looking forward to seeing it bloom all over the world, continue to bloom.

Jeffery Veen

It'll take time, though, we had a 40-year headstart and part of what makes Silicon Valley work is the early success, people are successful, they have big exits, and they get very, very wealthy, and then they reinvest and do investing, and things like that, I just haven't seen that in other locations. I live in London now, and there's a good, healthy startup scene, there aren't, frankly, young millionaires that then reinvest and get things going, and that kinda stuff. So, you're left with these big institutional investors who just can't handle that kind of risk. And so, it takes that kinda time to have some breakouts, and then another generation, and then another generation.