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Satyam founded UXReactor in 2014 together with his brother, Prasad. Under his leadership, UXReactor has become the fastest growing specialized experience design firm in the USA, with a team of 60+ employees spread over three continents.
Before starting his entrepreneurial journey, Satyam served as Managing Director of Product Design at Citrix in San Francisco, where he played a crucial role in growing the product design team from four members to over 100+ practitioners.
Satyam was instrumental in building PayPal’s Global Design Center in India while leading a design team in Silicon Valley. We explore an in-depth conversation of modern UX, the myths of UI and UX, plus the first principles of design and its impact on usability and business success.
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Find out more about UXReactor here: https://uxreactor.com
Transcription powered by HappyScribe
Hello, everybody. Welcome back. My name is Eric Wright. I’m the host of your DiscoPosse podcast. Thank you for listening and for watching. Of course, if you want to check out the video version of this and other amazing episodes, you can head on over to youtube.com/discopossepodcast. You can see them all as they happen, which is kind of fun. And thank you for all the people that are watching because we’re actually getting really good uptake on that side of the world. All right. This is Satyam Kantamneni. He is a fantastic, fantastic guest. He’s doing really interesting stuff with his team, UXReactor. He’s also the author of the soon to be released Uxdplaybook, which if you follow the links, go to Uxdplaybook.com. This is a must get so well put together. We have a fantastic conversation talking about his approach to user experience and real user experience. So we separate the myths of UI versus UX, the psychology that goes into creating user flow and experience in general. This can be done in software, in business, in physical spaces. It’s all over. So it’s a real pleasure to take the learnings and the research that Satyam is doing and bring it to this audience. You are going to enjoy this. I sure hope you do, because I came away with a real sort of feeling of being blessed after having gotten all these lessons.
And of course, speaking of reasons why we can have this incredible user experience, I’m so proud to say thank you to the fine folks at Veaam Software who are supporting this podcast and helping me to make sure we can bring more great conversations like the one we are about to listed with Satyam. If you want to learn about everything you need for your data protection needs, whether it’s in the cloud, whether it’s on premises, whether it’s physical servers, even those containerized crazy workloads. That’s right. Those containers, they go away and they’re gone. So you’ve got to be careful. You can actually back up because there are persistent container workloads. There are great reasons to back that stuff up. Hey, I could go on for hours about that, but I’m not going to because you’re going to go to vee.am/discoposse. And you’re going to check it out yourself because you need to do that much much more than what I just talked about.
Go check it out. Go to vee.am/discoposse. And thank you to the amazing people at Veeam Software. And if you want to toast somebody to your fantastic Veeam Protection, then drop it over to Diabolicalcoffee.com. Grab a pound of the fantastic beans. They’re devilishly good. And the diabolical asthma swag. All right, let’s get to the podcast.
I’m Satyam. I’m the co-founder and presently the managing partner at UXReactor. And today you’re listening to me at the Disco Posse podcast.
Satyam, thank you and welcome to this discussion. I really enjoy when we get to explore the topic and the practice of user experience. And as we chatted a bit in our pre discussion, preparing for this, it’s such a loaded phrase. There’s over marketing, overuse of the word. And I think this is a great chance for us to talk to you about UX Reactor, the basis behind your approach, the book, which I’ve been thankfully able to access a preview copy prior to publishing, which is fantastic. But for folks that are new to you, Satyam, if you don’t mind, give a quick introduction and a bio, and then we’ll start to talk about the UX Reactor story.
Absolutely, Eric. I think it always is useful to see. I have a very, I would say an eclectic background. I studied electronics engineering way back when I realized very quickly that I didn’t want to be a chip designer and needed more human aspects of work. I was serendipitously introduced to a professional at that point called human factors, how humans interact with complex technologies. And that became my line of work for the last two decades. So that’s kind of the highest level over time. I’ve studied engineering, I’ve studied design, I’ve studied business. So all three aspects of looking at how things come together. And fortunately, seven years back, I got to kind of spend a lot of time by building a firm, UXReactor, and looking at the intersection of all three of them, especially as the world is getting more tech savvy and more tech pervasive and businesses are kind of driving a lot more tech. But with a design mindset, obviously, Steve Jobs did an awesome acceleration to a lot of these things over the last two decades. So, yeah, I’m kind of right at the cusp of seeing this go through. And being in the Silicon Valley also helps me to kind of be very much plugged in with the tech Mecca that’s kind of it’s become at this point.
Yeah. The surroundings are certainly still despite the fact that we’ve seen sort of a depatriation of the real estate and folks moving to other parts, sort of broadening the locations that people can build from. There is still such a storied sense of history there and so much still active. Right. It’s always amazing to me. And I think the best thing, if you don’t mind, I’d love to just begin with, if you were to type it into Google, define user experience.
It’s often the most misunderstood word in the profession. If you really look at it, every system in the world has users for the system and users come in different contexts and every user has an experience. And the best definition I’ve found so far in my profession is any event or occurrence that leaves an impression is an experience. And therefore you need to kind of look at every event and occurrence that your system actually has. But now if you look at systems like hotels, they have studied this for a long while. Our hospitality, they’ve studied experience for a long while. And that’s why you’re paying a lot more for a red carton than a much more, smaller, cheaper option. But then in the tech world, where you’re starting to look at one of the biggest trends that’s going on as tech is becoming more front and center, is obviously dehumanizing to in a lot of ways, but also humanizing to a lot of ways. Right. So dehumanizing systems that you would call customer service. Now, you probably are talking to a conversational system, but again, it still has to work with a human on the other side.
So that’s why experiences are becoming much more important, especially as those events are becoming tech events, as those movements are becoming tech movements and memories are being created with tech. So you really need to kind of define experience on that end. And that is what is called user experience in the context of the tech world. But honestly, user experience, and the first thing I tell anyone is user experience is a mindset. And then how do you bring that mindset to tech is where I believe is the biggest opportunity. And if you really think about what Steve Jobs did, he did that. And that’s why today Apple is still the world’s most valuable company.
Yeah, it’s funny if we take that sort of Apple example, even within Apple, during and beyond the Steve Jobs era, we saw the introduction of Schemorphic, which was a word that no one needed. They realized they needed to know what it meant. And then on the tail end of that, the poo pooing of Schemorphic as so last year. Right. Like, we suddenly was like, oh, the natural wood texture on stuff. They’ve seen evolution. But the ethos behind the experience is always consistent. And I think that’s what’s interesting in looking at your own background as well. It’s the vision, the ethos. It’s the thing that you want to achieve. The way in which you achieve it may alter by technologies, by whether it’s visualized, whether it’s audible, whatever it is, but it’s ultimately it’s the practice that you’re creating.
Actually, let me kind of dig deep on the word practice there and also kind of sometimes add profession to it because a lot of times people don’t look at that as a skill, then more like a profession. And unfortunately, that’s kind of where a lot of business leaders kind of make the mistake. So I’ll kind of let me unpack that a bit there. When you look at the profession of user experience overall or the practice of user experience, there are different levels of how you can create value. The UI level, which is like, how does the screen look to me? How does it feel to me that’s kind of exactly towards like, Schemorphic style, hierarchy, color, fonts, all those things kind of come to be in that craft. However, when you start looking at it as a next level, you start looking at how does the whole product experience look like. So when you think about Apple, they look at an ecosystem experience. Right. So when you go from and anything, again, when you look at this is nowadays, Tesla has done this really well. They look at the whole ecosystem and they’re looking at the whole product as an ecosystem.
And that’s kind of the next level of how you’re thinking about the user’s experience. And then the third level, which is kind of the level which is much more organizational, where everybody and every element, right, from the lowest end organization, the highest organization, the newest organization, the oldest, whichever way you look at it, they all think about the user first. The users experience second, the design third, and then fourth, the technology. And that’s kind of when you start thinking about every facet of what the business is, that’s the last level and the most important frontier of user experience. And again, every time you think about the user and how this will make them feel that moment or that opportunity, that fundamentally is where value is created. I unfortunately see nine out of ten organizations spending their time in the UI side, and therefore, they only see value there and also make a lot of misteps there.
You look up the user experience as a phrase has been coopted by web designers building a single page app. And I have to be careful. So there is a truth that that in itself is a user experience, but that is so niche and so narrow above definition. And the use of the phrase that the same person that will do a fantastic single page app that will draw you through a journey that makes you get to the bottom to use a strong CTA and like you do all of the right things. That is not the same as somebody who like a Tesla, like an Apple, like an IBM, like a Microsoft, like a power company that wants you to do something like you and your clients experience, the user experience goes far beyond you getting to the bottom and clicking the button.
Absolutely. And I think that is obviously the right intent, because eventually that’s how they’re interacting with the system. But it takes a lot of deep understanding of why is the user there? What are they trying to do? What are the motivations? What is the context? The same way as you would design for a kindergartner an education platform is not the same way as you design it for a high schooler. Right. And there’s all those nuances and so much context is there. And that’s where the beauty of user experience is when you can unravel it.
The interesting thing is I like that you mentioned the idea of education built towards a preschooler or elementary school fundamentally different from somebody who’s college age or beyond or perhaps even an octogenarian, right. And it is funny because I noticed things that can seem wondrous to a 30 to 50 year old are instinctual and obvious to a child sometimes. And I always give this example of the simplest thing is you take a coin and you take the coin, and all you do is you make the coin disappear. To everybody else they look at your hand because you can force them to do this. But the first thing that a child does, I’ve got two young kids is they look at the hand that you took the coin. They know right away they know where it is. You can’t push them towards an experience. You can’t guide them because they instinctually have figured it out. But to the user of a system, it’s the same thing. It’s like you have to try and pull them towards something that they didn’t instinctively necessarily believe they needed.
I think there is a little bit of I have a different perspective there. Right. So there’s an ethical element of user experience that you are trying to give people what they need, however, give it to them the way they want it in the context that they are. And the last two parts is where the tricky part is. Right. Because again, in the profession, there’s an element of looking at trying. How do I get you to click on things? How do I get you to not do what I want to do? There’s a lot of dark patterns there. But there’s one aspect of that in the last two years, more or less. Right. So what you have seen is legal has now become a tech system. Right. You have education has become a tech system. You have seen health care becoming a tech system. You’re now talking to telehealth way more openly than three years back. And these are all things that again, giving it to like a kid who’s going to go telehealth kid who’s going to go into education. All of these things are actually now becoming much more where the systems are created without the user in the loop.
And actually, one thing, Eric, I’ll tell you, which is what’s fascinating, as I became a student of this profession, that till the 40% of the products that are shipped out there are shipped without talking to one user. Right. So they’re built out with that construct like let me ship it and they will start using it. And that is just a fascinating thing of how many millions of dollars are spent on building feature sets and building products that actually don’t work for the user. And that’s why you see a product market fit as a failure. I actually think that’s the fastest way of throwing money at something and hoping it will stick and it doesn’t happen.
Now, this brings up a good callback to a famous Steve Jobs saying whether it’s actual or misquoted is the idea that users don’t know what they need until you give it to them. And people hear that. And it’s such an out of context phrase because if you read the stories of product development and product management inside Apple, it was so wrapped into user interviews and continuous research with real users. What was the I forget what it’s called, the creative process, I think, or creative design, I can’t recall. I should look it up. There’s a great book that talks. It was like an early project manager who worked with Jobs and creative selection. I think that was the name of the book. And it’s such a fantastic journey through that. But all people are going to get take out of that is I’m going to create something because the user doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Because along with the Steve Jobs code, another quote that comes from Henry Ford and it also kind of muddies the water, which is like if I just ask users what they want, they’ve just told me about a faster horse. And this was in the context of building the Model T. In both of these contexts I think a lot of people, when they read that or listen to it, they don’t understand the underlying essence. You still have to understand that users and let’s say talk about the Henry Ford context, that users will still have to kind of take care of a horse. There was not a whole family that can sit on the same horse. There is you cannot go faster than a certain speed. There’s a lot of those elements that also are informing how you’re kind of a designing in that context. And those are still user problem the same way as when you look at Steve Jobs, you start looking at he was very in tune with who the users are that he’s building for that he actually what are the pain points for them and what is he trying to kind of build from?
Like, he knew that people were carrying multiple devices, one for music, one for camera, one for personal organization. And then he said, I’m going to bring all of that together. But however, they don’t know how that will look. Like the visioning is a different problem versus the need of the R. And I think a lot of times people confuse the visioning of going and talking to user what they actually need versus what the needs of the R are. And I actually think there are two different facets. And you should really be building a lot more deeper sense of the need of the R. And that only comes when you start observing users and are much more empathetic to the users of your system.
Yeah. And this is, you touched on it before, too. And I talked about even in the way I described it. Right. The idea of leading somebody towards something that you want them to do versus observing them and figuring out how to create a system in which it would naturally draw them to a path.
And you used the word ethical and that we’ll talk a bit at length about that. I don’t want to get there just yet, because that’s a single thread that I really want to spend some time on. But it is interesting that when you observe behavior with the goal of building systems towards the end goal with continuous observation and feeding back to that loop, the ability to have both the patience and the capability to go through that, it’s got to be a unique perspective and a unique person that can do that.
To a large extent, yes. Again, if you care about it enough, you will spend the time studying it, learning about it, immersing yourself in it. Right. I mean, you can talk about building all the software for health care. I’ll give you an interesting anecdote here. This was early in my career. I was designing a system for breast biopsy system for the doctors. And as a young designer sitting in the office, I was like, yeah, this is how the doctor would use it. They would go and I was designing the thing where they actually were hitting the dials in the system so that they can get the right settings for the suction without going too much into the details of how the system works. But as I sat there, I assume that the doctor is hitting those dials and therefore this is how they will look at it. But when you go and observe and you immerse yourself and you see a couple of them, first of all, it’s hyper intimidating, very loud. And more importantly, the doctor is not doing it. The doctor’s focused on the biopsy itself. He’s giving the commands to the assistant who’s actually doing it, just observing how that subtlety works, how the user and the ecosystem work, then you realize, I just designed it for the wrong person.
The doctor would never touch it and it’s an assistant who’s touching it. So the commands have to be much more clear. And if semantics are important, if a doctor says Zoom in and then there’s no Zoom in button there, then the assistant is there’s a lot of those nuances that you really think about. And that just was my first one of my early lessons I learned where you started observing that you really have to immerse yourself. But if I was just sitting on the desk and doing it like most people would, then obviously it’s not going to work well, and then the doctor is not going to use it or they’re going to have more issues or more importantly, it’ll have some repercussions to the patient that we don’t really don’t want.
I guess if you think it’s actually a really good example too, because Ergonomics and physical environment is the sort of the OG of user experience. Right. We’re achieving this through software design and software user interfaces, but it used to be very physical. And I remember even hearing a good example was like in sport performance, somebody Lance Armstrong, love them or hate them, obviously, a well known cyclist, fantastic at time trialing. And so they did is they called them their F1 team. They were like fanatical designers, engineers that were building the best bicycle, and they were doing everything they could to shave every possible second off of a time trial. Because it’s 60 kilometer time trial will be one by 3 seconds. And that’s horrifying to imagine, like, how accurate you need to be and how differentiated do you have to try to be to achieve those 3 seconds? And so what they did, they said in the winds tunnel, the perfect bike design for this was going to be sort of narrowing the pedal width by millimeters. It was almost an insignificant difference. But over the course of a 1 hour time trial, it would take 5 seconds off of the time trial, which is the difference between winning and losing.
And when they put him out on the road with it, he came back and his time was worse. And they said, what happened? And he’s like, my hips are on fire. Because while engineering wise, it was the ideal design. He just physically did not work like it took away from the way that he can physically ride it. When you see the marriage of humans and engineering, you realize that it’s two fantastically different practices that are coming together.
Absolutely. And I think that’s the in the design world, we call it prototyping with the users. We can prototype as much as you want in the lab, but taking it to the users, letting them interact with it, letting them engage with it and then observing it and iterating on it. Absolutely. But again, these are all things that we have already figured out in the non-tech sector. Right. So prototyping has been a big part of architecture. They scale model everything before they actually build it has been a big thing. Industrial design, where they actually prototype and kind of use it. But then in the software world, for as much as we look at it, as I said, 40% of the products are shipped without even talking to one user or showing it to one user. And that’s kind of where I find that as it software is, it still is not behind the curve there.
Yeah. And often, too, even if they feel like they’ve been successful once, like they’ve gotten somebody to download and they see if the numbers are heading the right direction, if they’re going up into the right as far as adoption and retention, because it’s sort of a Schrodinger’s cat problem that would have gone better if we had spent more time with the user. We’re gaining an adoption. Our turn rate is low or reasonable. So how do you define successful but meanwhile both pre products and then post product that’s the other thing is that user experience is continuous. It’s not a thing you do once and say, okay, good, stamp it, mark it complete, it’s now in QA and continuous engineering.
Yeah. And I think you use a good term there. Continuous engineering, actually. I’m very inspired personally over the Kaisen philosophy of continuous improvement. And one thing I always say is if your users have problems, that means you haven’t done your, if any problem in the system. You haven’t done enough design or experience design until your users are in delight mode. And it’s actually interesting because once you get in the delight mode where they’re like someone thought about me or someone thought about my context, that smile that comes in in their face, that’s where you kind of end that phase. Now the irony of this is a year later that’s table stakes. Now you had to score in more delight. And that’s why it’s continuously because now just think about smartphones. Today, anyone who comes out with a smartphone without a touch screen interface, are they even actually viable? Absolutely not. Right. But then when Apple came out with the first touch screen with their construct, a very different anyone comes out with a smartphone without conversational AI – not stable stakes. But that’s where your delight has to continuously be evolving. And as tech becomes more and more powerful, you really have to queue in and what is that pain point? What is that opportunity? And that’s why continuously, every day you’d eat, sleep and drink that as a systems designer or a software systems designer, otherwise you will be left behind.
When did you know that this was a passion and that you had the ability to create a world around it?
I’ve been in this profession for 20 years. I enjoyed this, but I’ve never really knew why. And I think the last ten years is where I’ve started honing in and why. And the why is that when you really think about it, this is one profession that actually you can talk to users, understand the pain points, quickly come back prototype items and then go back to them, talk to them. And when you start realizing the power that has that you actually are as a profession, which is nothing less than when you really think about it as like an innovative. And that’s when you realize that everything can be thought through in that angle, any problem can be solved from this angle. And that’s kind of when I truly started realizing the power as I started growing in rank and like one small change here can make such a telescopic effect. So I would say the last ten years is when I started realizing more and more the power that this can unleash. Obviously a pivotal moment was going to business school and starting to understand more business problems from other peers because I went to an exec program.
But before that, I really enjoyed it, but never really understood why and what are the contours of that interest. But I would say the last ten years has been more so being very aware of it.
Now, this is an interesting point that you braised that I think is very important is the connection of the business outcome to the user experience. Only the measurability, because it is a very sort of touchy-feely type of idea. As we talk about sort of the practice of user experience that people believe it’s like, people will like it more. We use odd superlatives to describe it, but there is measurability in it. So tell me where that differentiates a true user experience designer from maybe somebody who’s involved in user experience, but just more specific and niche is part of the process.
As I mentioned earlier, you can do a lot of user experience on a UI level. Designing a screen, a form factor itself. But all you can design and use experience as an organizational aspect. Now, a good designer is thinking about how do I again, I’ll give you an interesting lesson I learned early on which would probably connect some of these dots. I was working in a company once, and I’m not kidding you. Every team I worked with said we are user centric. And it was a fascinating thing. I’m customer success, I talk to users. I’m user-centric. I am customer support. I talk to users, I’m user-eccentric. I am engineering, I’m building for users, I’m user-centric. I am marketing. So everybody had the frame of mind. You go and ask the user, how is this company for you? And they’re like, man, I talked to support. They will send me one place and they say, go talk to them. Products actually does one thing. And so from a user’s perspective, they were like, I hate what you guys are doing and I don’t like it. So when you look at it, it’s interesting, the intent is right, but the outcome is kind of not coming together there.
So when you start thinking about what a good designer bad experience designer, absolutely good designs are being done on the UI leve., but really bad design is being done on organizational level. So that’s kind of where you’re looking at. And obviously the impact of that, the more higher you go, the more value that you can unlock. But in the most basic sense, I think they’re coming back to something that you kind of started with, where’s the business sense? The UI level is obviously very touchy-feely. Like they feel right, they look right, they’re delighted, all that stuff. But if you really look at all businesses, all business stakeholders, they care about adoption, retention, satisfaction, efficiency, and these are all user efficiency and user engagement. And to get to that level, you really need to understand why the user gets it, doesn’t get it, what’s the context, who the user is. And then you kind of build those experiments and iterate on it. And that’s truly when you start and you can increase adoption, you can increase attention. So many times you make tweaks and e-commerce or transactional experiences, and then you start seeing them back, like just explaining something to someone gets them to sign up faster.
Just getting them to kind of talk to a community and building a community experience gets them to engage better. So these are all things that you need to know, what are the unmet needs? And then because of that engagement, there’s a higher attention, there’s higher adoption, there’s all these nuances that come to it, everything that you do. And that’s also why UX Reactor was founded, because I was just sick and tired personally, where design was becoming very much like a touchy-feely thing. And I said, no, design is a business driver. And I met and that was also the pivotal point for me was finishing our business school and talking to about 100 other business leaders from different contexts. And I could see that they had real business problems that I could solve. And that’s kind of what the genesis. And actually, I think anybody who says that as a practitioner, that designers touchy-feel, that means they don’t really understand the power. And unfortunately, that is still a profession that’s in adolescent. So therefore, there’s still a lot of that going on.
Yeah, I worked in finance and insurance and technology, like in tech support early on in the first part of my career. And it was trying to think it was like 2003, so early 2000s. And even like pre-1999 origin, I worked at Sunlight Financial, anybody who can look at my LinkedIn. So I’m not giving away secrets here. And I remember we were like moving from mainframe terminals to PC. So this is like Windows 31. The first change, adding a mouse to somebody’s life was like, good golly, I’ve never seen one of these things before. What is this? What do you do with it? It was literally that level of change in business process. And then we had this one team that I remember that always stood out to me. And they were the ones that had colored hair and tattoos, and they sat in the middle of the floor of our IT Department for some reason because we had all these printers and they were the design team, and they worked on the only Macintosh computers in the whole company. And they were these sort of odd group of folks in that they were different than the traditional suit wearing insurance folks. We’re still in a very corporate environment. However, the leader of the team was this fellow named Paul. And I learned so many lessons from him, that he could beautifully nurture the creative process that these young, just such interesting people could bring. And they were looking at, like, physical design and like brochures. And then it became email. They became what they did was pervasive to the way the company was portrayed. And then he was sort of like the dad of the group, but who also understood that what are the marketing numbers? What are the ways that we measure it? And that was my first understanding. I’m like, this was design experience versus just print. They weren’t a print shop. They were truly connecting like a textual experience, like tactile experience rather, to a business outcome. And it was like, oh, wow, I knew it was important. And as I saw over years that we moved into software design and software user experience and seeing it done right in some organizations, I was like, you knew that they got it and they understood the impact.
Absolutely. I think I’m a big believer of multidisciplinary thinking. And when you connect the dots, it actually is much more effective. Yeah, absolutely. I think the only thing when you said that that’s one reaction I see is like the creative kind. And yes, absolutely. There are a lot of people that are different and in the creative pursuit and so on and so forth. But it’s actually more of a mindset. And it’s a mindset that I personally advocate that a lot of people can get into, especially now that we all are equally, all the tools and systems and methods are available. It’s much easier to become an engineer if you want to watch YouTube videos and learn in the same way. Much easier to learn design and appreciate design. There’s just so much opportunities to kind of become a student of a lot of different systems. But yeah, I think design is kind of coming in. Most organizations in the Valley, as well as most tech companies, have some investment in design. What kind and where they are and how mature is a different question, but they have some investment. Just to give you one quick story, there is I started my career also in early 2000s, and my title still was User experience at that point with User Experience specialist.
And I had a scrum manager ask me like, oh, so what do you do? And I said, I’m a user experience specialist. I said, okay, what do you code in? I said, I don’t code in anything. And then he’s like, oh, so you just get paid to do boxes and arrows? And I was like, I get paid to do boxes and arrows. But that’s exactly fascinating. But then again, not in any real intention, but just how his understanding was. How can you build your experience without this? But over time, I still kept in touch with that master. And it’s fascinating. I mean, how much the profession has evolved.
If you think of those days. I mean, I remember coming through doing some work in telecom, in schooling, and I went to University, like took some part time courses, and it was all about information technology management. And they were teaching us about legacy telecom technologies that were like decades old. And that was at that time the beginning of what I started to see HCI – like human computer interaction, was beginning to become a subset of computer science. But only a handful of people moved towards it versus today. I would imagine that it’s actually probably core competency and core curriculum, I think, for computer science. So we’ve seen it, be understood the importance and the impact that it can have.
I think absolutely. I think just look at it. Right? I mean, what was that saying? That we have more computing power on our body than the space shuttle that went to moon? And that just is fascinating. I mean, the amount of tech that we have around us, the amount of systems we are interacting with, and if you do not think about the human in the loop and build that around that, then it just is an opportunity lost. And again, with the curve, there will be a lot of people adopted because it solves a problem. And just the same way as I would say before FaceTime and Apple brought FaceTime. And yeah, you could talk to person to person if you knew the IP, and then you kind of plug it in and then you do a thing and maybe kind of figure out the firewalls and all that stuff. But today it’s just like I click on a person’s face and I call them, and then I’m talking to them, and that just is the nature of how technology has evolved. And do they really care about what IP and which country and which location?
And they don’t because the systems take care of it and the human just wants it to work that way. But again, it works with an iPhone. But when I go into my home, it’s kind of a different context. So there’s a lot of those still, as technology is becoming pervasive, I just believe that there will be more opportunities for us to really think about human in the loop across systems.
And I think what we learn is that through those first iterations, just like with Teleconferencing, right. It was like you’d have a Polycom system in one office and a Polycom system in another office. And some poor bugger in the networking team is trying to set up sip trunking and point to point peering and all this really difficult technology to make one meeting happen. And there’s a bunch of people staring at the back of an It guy in one room and staring at the back of an It guy in another room. And then eventually the TV’s light up and it’s all right. Now we can begin and it’s wondrous versus now the natural expectation is I should just be able to walk up and click the button. And then I’m talking to Tokyo. Absolutely. Underneath it all the same, technology exists, right? But we took what was that problematic experience and we’ve gotten through it and we’ve automated and systematized it, which is, I think, where the advantage comes in. And also, like you said, it’s about iteration. It’s about listening, finding the customer problem, and seeing where just in the same way that any design business design, like lean practices, which ultimately came from the work of Toyota and Kaizen.
I read Eli Gold Rat and this idea of the theory of constraints and how this comes as far as flow. Well, experience flow is similar, right? Like find the bottleneck, subjugate the bottleneck, eliminate it, and then look for the next bottleneck and continue to do so until you have flow.
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s more science than art overall. And that’s why I say I’ve seen a lot more correlation with engineering, with creativity, which actually is one thing that because if you look at it, let’s talk about creativity and movie making. Right. If you talk to cinematographer and you kind of understand how they kind of compose the picture, it’s a lot of mathematics, it’s a lot of angles, it’s a lot of equations around light and camera angles and so on and so forth. But no one talks about it that way. You still have to equally be appreciative the same way as dancing, as so much math, steps counts, and all those things that you have to really think about a lot of nuances and designs are very similar. Design is very similar. In fact, I write in the book too about this, which is that a lot of times people pick up when you say design inspiration, it’s always looking for somebody who’s a designer in the craft sense. But I actually think that one of the best designers in the world was often not discussed in the modern context is Da Vinci. And because you think about him, he understands biology as well as he understands engineering as well as art.
And he’s good things to show in each one of them. And perfect. And if you can look back again talking about Steve Jobs or anyone, the construct of being a polymath, construct of looking at how things connect, that’s kind of where the magic is. And then you kind of apply that aspect of the flow and kind of looking at every aspect and every problem and then unlocking it. There’s just so many ways that you can make that magic happen.
And that is Da Vinci is such an incredible example of that. Like as both a creative mind and as an artist, a very literal artist, and what he could create, we could paint and his drawings, but his engineering. And when you look at the stuff that’s not the most popular works that we all know, you realize, like how many thousands of engineering drawings that he has. And this was pre-computer. This is very rudimentary tools that were given to him to do this. And he was creating something fantastic. On the Jobs thing too, it’s funny. There’s this weird thing that people often do is they say, oh, he wasn’t actually an engineer, but he understood the engineering aspect. He understood the technology, he understood the business, he understood the human behavior. And that may have been his strongest focus area. But he wasn’t just a marketing guy that made Apple big because he was really a marketing guy. It’s unfortunate that we kind of try and dumb it down to just like labeling somebody as they do this thus. That’s what they did.
I think it’s a really good thing to unpack. Right. And we say this at the firm of UX Reactor a lot. We say this always start with the user, understand the experience, then design it for them, and then look at the technology. And if you look at how Steve Jobs thought through it, he knew who the user was. He knew what experience he wanted to give them, and that’s kind of the whole thing. When he created the first Apple Store, he perfected it in a warehouse. He looked at every angle, how lights was formed, what the material surface was. He thought about that experience he wanted to give when people walked into the store. Then he thought about the design of all the nuances. And then he goes to engineering and says, I want this. Make it happen. Right. And obviously, engineering is when you have that level of a funnel of thinking, you are always holding engineering accountable for a very different aspect, which is like, I want to give the best experience for the user, and this design is going to look this way. Now, do you need to be the best engineer in the room?
Probably not. Do you need to be the best marketing person? He was a great storyteller. He could bring it down to the world. And I think that is often something that’s not told as much. Now you put it in the marketing hat. Absolutely not. He knew what users care about, and he would tell that well. But the fact is there was a lot of scientific approach. And his process of as you kind of earlier shared this, that aspect is kind of very valid. Now, what’s also interesting is Elon Musk calls himself the chief designer at SpaceX.
And it’s fascinating how he picked that title out. I know many people there’s a lot to read on that line. He’s the best technically the best person in space. I know there are so many other people there’s technically the best engineer on that system. Probably not. But the way he thinks about, again, what’s the vision for the system that he’s building and then percolate down and then get everything done, which is why the designer word, and I call it big d-thinking, big design thinking and not the small craft thinking. And that’s kind of where these people always played.
The Musk example is very interesting, too, because people have trouble trying to fit him into what he does. He’s incredibly technical, he’s incredibly intelligent, so much so that it’s challenging to have discussions with him because he’s thinking at a different level as a great interview experience. I watched and it’s actually tough to watch sometimes these ones Lex Friedman, who’s MIT robotics professor and designer and doing some very interesting stuff. And he’s a great podcast, talk some really amazing people. And Elon on and he talked about how do you think about where it can go wrong? What is it that you do in designing for failure, that if maybe it won’t work, that we aren’t going to get to Mars? Something that was the premise of the question. And it was the most fantastic thing to watch as an interview, because Musk just turned and you could see his eyes were like they’re darting back and forth. He’s formulating it. And the fact that Friedman gave just said, don’t say a word, didn’t cut them off, didn’t try and fill it. It felt like 30 seconds. It was probably ten. But that’s an eternity. When you’re watching an interview, you’re like, is the microphone still on?
You’re literally like, you’re not sure if they’re still on. And he’s like, well, we don’t think about that because there is no option. Failure is not something that we designed for. And he began this, but the fact that he went through and he was looking for the correct answer, not the fastest answer that would sound good on microphone. And it’s a very unique thing. Now he’s a Polarizing figure. Obviously, it’s a challenge to have a conversation about what’s good or bad about Elon Musk’s with a lot of folks. Actually, here’s another one. I bring this up because we did talk about this. You may know this text and this professor. Well, yes, which is why I said I wanted to wait until we got into ethics. I’m a student myself of stuff that BJ Fogg has brought to the world. But before we understood the impact, and now that we do understand the impact and he himself has almost had to kind of put a label warning on his own work because he sort of understands how much he empowered people to take it and do things that were not healthy or potentially not ethical with it.
Let’s talk about ethics of design.
No, it’s interesting. On a side note, actually, my master’s thesis was either studying persuasive technology, which is obviously at that point, or was human robotic interaction. I decided to take human robotic interaction. But I’ve actually been a student of persuasion, how systems like that can be built right if done right, obviously. I mean, because design the way to it just the same way as you kind of showed the coin trick. There’s a lot of illusion to design. There’s a lot of ways that we can get people to do what they want to do and how they want to get them to. If you’re getting them to do it for the right thing, obviously it is what the user intended to and where they got to. I think that’s all ethical when you want them to get to things that you intend to, but not them, probably. And that’s kind of where it gets into the other side. There’s so much that’s gone with the advent of technology. We have just seen a lot of other social aspects of it. Much deeper topic much. But personally, for me, I’ve always tiered here, at least as a firm.
We always said that we want to solve life problems, not lifestyle problems. And there’s still so much more opportunity. But on the highest level. I mean, I’d rather get a student to study better on a doctor to kind of be effective more or financial transactions to happen faster than actually trying to get you to do something or buy something that I don’t that is not right for you or anywhere. There’s a lot of other aspects to that. But the power of design is very much there for us to do anything we want. You’ve seen that over the last four or five years where triggering of polarizing news can get more engagement, getting you to click on a fake queue can get you more clicks. Again, it’s easy to do that because I control the environment that you’re in, and therefore I can manage that. But at the same time, I must say what some of the firms are now doing as a stand to kind of give more power to the consumer and power to them. I actually feel that there is more corporate responsibility that’s coming in. But overall, I just think there is a larger system that people need to realize that technology is getting more powerful and tools that are available are getting much more powerful. And we just need to know that we have to be aware of it.
Yeah. And I’ve applauded the work really, of Tristan Harris and the center for Human Technology and sort of that group that’s wrapped around it. And there are so many people that have really come to the fore who were ultimately all students of Fog and those practices. And I think that’s a good thing. In the same way that if we look at what Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky did in winning a Nobel Prize for economics as behavioral psychologists, that in the same way you talk about design, that it’s matching the business to the human experience and measuring it, that we’re going to use a lot more science to describe the art than the art. And that’s pre Kahneman and Tversky, all we thought was that this was art, that this was anecdotal information. And we were lucky more than right on describing what was happening. And when we took and we put science and data behind it, all of a sudden you can really understand what was going on in that behavior. And I truly like, that user experience is ultimately behavioral understanding, right?
Absolutely. Because I think users have intent, and intent kind of reflects in behavior. Users have trained behavior. So there’s a lot of those elements that you kind of do that. So it’s truly a cusp of that’s why I say you have to be a psychologist, you have to be a student of cultures. As an anthropologist, you need to look at be a technologist, you need to understand. So there’s so many aspects that you bring together to make that magic happen. But, yeah, it’s a powerful system that many companies and I see a lot more companies becoming much more aware of it. It’s just that they don’t get it right because they go in with one quick solution and so on, so forth. But it is a big mindset shift. But once it’s done and people understand that there’s a whole science behind it and a structure behind it, there’s a lot of opportunity.
Yeah. And it’s an interesting mix of, like you said, such a multidisciplinary thing. And even like, marketing campaigns are very much wrapped around creating an experience. And so the words we use, they’re so simple when you get them. But the work to get there. So that really can bring up the question of who was the reason why the first Apple really went to high output? Was it Chia Day because they were the marketing agency behind it? Was it the team that fed them the right data to give them that campaign? There were so many players. But in the end, internally, especially as an organization, when you’re creating a software centric business, user experience design is now fundamental. And this is not something that you can go on to Upwork and Fiverr and find. Absolutely.
I think you can get a lot of people on Fiverr. I think before we start this conversation, anybody with a computer and Internet can be a user experience designer. But to become a really good one in that it takes a lifetime and you still learn. And the technology, as I said, you kind of really broaden up and then also build the depth. And it’s more importantly, I think, something that you called out, which I want to kind of further elaborate on. It’s a very collaborative profession, and it’s not necessary that the most creative person is somebody with a designer title. It’s actually the system of bringing people together, ideating, building it, iterating on it. It is a collective process, and it’s one of those professions where literally two plus two is not edited. It’s multiplicative in a lot of ways. So therefore, it’s actually a fascinating thing. And I’ve seen so many people who go through a design process, they’re like, man, this is so fun. And I’m like, absolutely, it should be fun because you’re getting your creative juices, you’re trying out a lot of things, and you’re doing it with a larger group of people. And then when you build a structure around it. It kind of gets much more engaging.
Let’s talk about the bringing this to the market as a playbook now. So the user experience design is a practical playbook to fuel business growth. Fantastic introduction to what people can do. And it is such a well laid out, full, true experience in the playbook. Everywhere I went, it made sense. So I can imagine the work that went into creating this has had to have been a lot of hours, a lot of iteration, and a lot of design. But first of all, it’s beautifully done, just visually. And the reading of it, it’s like they say about user experience, when user experience is really great, no one notices. When it’s not great, it’s immediately obvious.
So talk about the book and what drew you to put the time towards this? And I’m going to tell people, get the bloody book is fantastic.
To be honest, the book was never an intent on our end. It all started with I really was about eight years back, I was fairly frustrated in my career because I had spent close to that point about a decade trying to build that user centricity in organizations and teams that I’ve worked on and felt that my career was fairly mediocre. I didn’t have much to show. I had a lot of effort, a lot of activity, and I was just concerned at the same time, you look at the apples, the Airbnb, the Zappos, and all the folks that have actually been able to unravel and deliver much more impact to user centric practices. And I said, I really need to go back and look at it. And I said, either I keep to this profession, in which case let’s go back and understand and study why some companies are able to get there and why some companies are not able to get there. And that became my pursuit for a large level and to do that UXReactor as a firm was created and with my brother, who’s also the co founder and also the very good researcher and this line of work.
And through that last seven years that the company existed, we ran a lot of experiments. We worked with a lot of companies. We kind of understood what are the key things that make it work. And then we finally came down to what was in our we call it the BVD system to drive business value by design. There are four key aspects that need to be thought through, which is the right people in the right process, following the right process with the right mindset in the right environment. And that is what makes a good company in this process of being user centric versus a great company. And what we then started realizing is that we would get questions that a lot of our stakeholders would ask, like, how do I build a team? What’s the structure that goes into it, how do I build a carrier for them? How do I build a roadmap around a user that I care about? There’s a lot of these things that started coming up and we’re like, man, we need to probably write something about it because there’s so much more need. Nine out of ten companies don’t follow any of this structure, though they intend to.
And so we said, let’s write it down and put it out in the public domain. And that’s when the book came to be. And it was also one of the pandemic babies in the pandemic. We just saw every company going tech first, digital first, and then struggling. Right. And education is a classic example. Like just throwing tech on it doesn’t help because what ends up on the user’s side is they have half a dozen to a dozen systems to interact with, one for assessment, one for instruction, one for textbooks. And then that student is having to deal with uncomplicating it, and then experience is the best way to kind of navigate through that and you realize that’s not happening. So the book kind of ended up there. And then we said we wanted to create it with an intent to be a playbook where people from a different perspective business leaders, design leaders, practitioners, collaborators, everybody could take away something from it as a play and then use it immediately. So that’s how the whole construct came to be. And then we took a lot of our tribal common knowledge that we had within our own playbook at the organization and then put that out there.
So that’s kind of how the book ended up becoming a book. And so far as we’ve gone through our own process of iterating and testing with different users who we actually want to leverage, that we hope would leverage this book. And so far, we have only heard great things. And that’s all we are traded on it, and we kind of built on it as soon as it publishes. I’m looking forward to kind of getting the reaction and getting out there. I believe it’s sometime early May.
This is the thing that we see often, right? Is that going I think of Gene Kim and the team that worked with them on the Phoenix project and ultimately the DevOps handbook. The industry may still misuse the phrase DevOps. I see people all the time. They’re like DevOps engineer too, right? Like, that’s their title by HR, and it’s not really related to what they’re doing. In the same way that user experience design will get co opted and misused as a phrase, some poor person out there is labeled user experience designer three. You know, like they’re going to get ranked according to some HR band. But the work that went in the research, the patience that’s required to live the experience and then to take that same patience to bring it to the community through a written work. I loved how that played out in what you and everybody at UX Reactor have done. And like I said, this is the proof in even what I’ve seen. When you tell me it’s still in draft form, I figured it was going to come to be in basically word format like this. If this is draft, then I’ve never written a draft this good in my life.
It’s very well done.
Again, good to great concentration, and I think it’s good right now. And I think we are still trying to make it great, but that’s a perpetual I said we will keep evolving it. We will still have ideas. But more importantly, I think it’s a good resource that we have pulled together from our own experience and roughly everybody. It’s a collective effort. And I hope that even if one company gets to drive this success and that’s kind of the way we are looking at it. And that’s the reason why we want to make sure that more and more people are aware it’s just one of those professions in adolescence and we wanted to mature fast and then start delivering value fast in a way that most users actually. And again, think about it, we have so many interfaces we’re interacting with, and it should be much more easier. I think I have a vision in a decade from now, there will be so much technology, but they should be a simpler way of how we approach it. And you don’t have to go to like, again, I see all these tech companies going through certification programs, training programs.
I’m like professional services. I mean, your system, if it has to be explained, that means it’s not been designed well. Your system needs to be certified on for someone to use on. That means that you haven’t spent the time perfecting it. And it’s just one of those things that I say that and then also because the last two decades has been much more web centric, mobile centric all that is what’s going to come and play in the next decade. So it’s actually a fascinating time altogether.
It is. It is a really wondrous time with the opportunity. Obviously counterbalanced with what we talked about was sort of the ethics and the risks that we do present. But I’d say the dominant work that’s happening is so positive and so just doing great things. What we can do to bring these technologies and these platforms and these opportunities to other parts of the world as well that are underrepresented. And this one I want to tap on before we finish up Satyam is cultural representation in user experience design because I fall victim to this all the time. Right. I typically speak to a dominantly North American market, and so you can use a cadence of speech that’s specific. You can use everything. Platform design, referring to stories. I can talk about a New York Bank or a West Coast health company. It’s almost ingrained into me. It’s all sort of a coded bias of speech pattern and experience design. But then when I speak to audiences that are in the UK, I know to refer to Barclays instead of bank of New York, Maryland. And I know to refer to Santander and to think about the NIH instead of Medicare.
Like, I’ve learned those things. When it comes to user experience design, how do you deal with geo experience locality?
It’s that inbuilt curiosity in a lot of ways and that’s kind of what you tap into. It is a global profession. So if I’m trying to build something for, let’s say Sapsahar in Africa, you either have to go and observe and be immersed in it like one like them, or you kind of go and talk to people there or you kind of find someone who’s kind of much more aware of that. Again, it’s a user research is such a critical facet that how do you understand those aspects or you do all of it and triangle. It’s no different from again, good user research is no different from an awesome intelligence analyst in the military or a financial analyst because you’re connecting dots, you’re kind of connecting this is what this person thinks in this context. This is what it is. And then you kind of build your hypothesis and build your experiments around that. And that’s the scientific part of building experiences. But first of all, being aware that a SubSaharan African student studying is different from the inner city student versus somebody has high end in an expensive neighborhood, because even the subtleties of getting internet set up or even the devices that are around you, all those things can become different contexts and situations.
But again, just being aware that the world is different around you and you are curious to see how they are different, well, itself open up so much opportunity and a lot of times people just go in and I assuming that what you think is the right thing. And I’ll end this with actually an interesting story with my professor when I was in grad school and he finished a class and then I went to him and I said, that just seems like common sense. And he said, absolutely it is common sense. But remember what’s common for you is not common for somebody who’s in the other part of the world or your grandmother. And that is what who we are. We are understanding what common sense is. And that’s actually a fascinating thing that stayed with me all through. And that’s why I’m always looking for what’s common sense. And when somebody thinks it’s common sense, that means I’ve given to them what they want in the context that they wanted.
That’s a perfect way to round it up and leave the assumptions at the door because it is a beautiful and sad to me, your approach is really great and I’ve learned a ton from you. I’ve definitely learned like just even when I’ve had a chance to read through the book. It’s going to be great so I’ll make sure to get this out. Hopefully not too long from the time that people are watching this and listening to it they’ll be able to get so I’ll have links and make sure to share it out. If people do want to get connected to you Satyam what’s the best way to do that?
Linkedin is the best way to connect on there’s also we’re going to create a small community for the playbook I believe. Uxdplaybook.com it’s going to launch around the same time on the book launches so again there’ll be different ways to connect. I really want to kind of be as available and approachable as possible as people are in this journey but yeah I think LinkedIn is a good way if they also can reach out through the company uxreactor.com so there’s different ways to get there. I’m pretty sure if someone wants to truly get to me I’m sure they will find a way but the easiest way is to get on LinkedIn and just send me a note.
There you go folks to follow the links down below because I make sure I have them in the show notes and of course on the YouTube channel this has been really great Satyam. It’s been a real pleasure and I look forward to success for you with the book and with UX reactor and hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up again in future and here on the other side once it’s out in the world, how the community building around it because that is an interesting aspect that I’d actually like to explore again in future. So thank you very, very much.
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Eric. I appreciate it and have a great rest of the day.