50. Timoni West, Freelance Product Designer

Freelance Product Designer Timoni West has 10 years experience designing user experiences to help brands turn visitors into consumers.

How does your job fit into the marketing process? In terms of user-experience (UX), with very early startups it’s been my experience that they have little to no marketing budget and most of them rely on their friends supporting them or through public relations. In any case, the homepage is technically the biggest marketing tool brands have that they can get for free.

So for the most part, it’s the UX designer’s job to make sure that when visitors comes to your website they immediately know exactly what the product is about and can sign up for it as quickly as possible.

If visitors land on your homepage and are confused about what the product is or why they should use it then the UX designer has failed. And honestly, there are TONS of startups that fail to tell you what they do. When that happens, it’s generally because the company itself doesn’t know how to articulate their product vision.

What are one or two projects you’ve worked on?

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Many designers offer free and paid website templates for Tumblr and WordPress. How can you tell the difference between good and bad templates? Have a consistency across your brand’s website and social media sites as well as making it clear that the website is part of an overall corporate identity. Then it comes down to how well the template is executed: Does it look good? Does it make your company look professional? A lot of templates look artificial, and there are a lot of ‘brand identity gurus’ out there that give you the feeling that they’re offering products that they don’t seem to really believe in, and so they embellish and overstate things. Making it clear to your visitor that you have a solid product that you’re proud of is a key goal that you want to demonstrate throughout the look and feel of your website and social networks.

Would you advise investing in UX or advertising? That depends on a couple of factors:

How good is your product already? If you have a very simple product and you’ve already nailed what your product does, and when people open up your app or visit your website they know exactly what it does and why they need it, then by all means don’t spend any more money on UX and invest in getting the word out about your product.

But if when people go to your site people don’t know what it does or why they should use it, or if you’re having problems with growth because people aren’t being retained (or converted via signing up or purchasing) that means that there is a problem with your product or your product’s presentation.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Benjamin Descazal, Data Consultant for KBMG discusses in-depth how to assess your website to maximize consumer engagement.]

What about manipulative UX design? Manipulative websites come up a lot in UX design. While I appreciate that some applications and websites are trying to go viral and facilitate exposure, some go too far by making their product annoying to use, so users are constantly trying to use the product while not posting everything they do onto Facebook. Some brands really go a step too far.

That being said, there are some cases where ‘forgivable’ patterns can definitely be helpful for startups: Web site features that consumers generally dislike however are willing to tolerate, or that consumers accidentally do but have the opportunity to go back and undo if they want – Most people will probably just let it go – up to a certain point.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Brad Frost gives a good presentation on Bullshit for Creative Mornings.]

Most importantly, never do anything that could cause your user to feel like you’ve tricked them.

Are speaking engagements a part of your advertising or is Github a one off thing? Github was a one-off opportunity; however I have another speaking engagement coming up so I might start speaking more regularly.

Will developers ever create a perfect UX system? I think we’ll start to see more brands that are circumventing current UX systems to create their own, more simple ones. If you think about it, Google Reader did that, and any sort of RSS reader does that now. Flipboard does that. Pinterest does that. They’re basically trying to create a new UI (user interface) to consume things that normally are found at many different places across the internet.

What are misconceptions that clients commonly have about the UX industry? Fortunately, I get good clients. On a broader scale, if you have a project where you’re working with both product managers and UX designers, people forget that designers are probably the best source for project planning and feature sets.

Of course this depends on the size and structure of the company, but sometimes designers have to work with defacto product designers who do everything but actually design the product, so they kind of tell you everything that you need to do, like asking you to wireframe up their ideas.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A website wireframe, also known as a page schematic or screen blueprint, “is a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a website. The wireframe depicts the page layout or arrangement of the website’s content, including interface elements and navigational systems, and how they work together.”]

Brands usually contact UX designers when they have a specific need. So I’ll begin by talking about what they need for their product so it’s kind of hard to mess that up. They tell me what they want, and I tell them if I can do it.

If users make a mistake it will most likely be within the first five minutes of downloading your app (or product) while they’re deciding whether or not to trust and use you, and so you’ll instantly have negative feedback going on there.

Your thoughts on hiring a UX agency versus a full-time in-house UX designer?  Many startups and entrepreneurs prefer to hire on people full time because they’ll obviously be dedicated to the brand vision and want to work with people who are as passionate about the brand and who are invested in it in the long run as they are. If you’re hiring an agency or a freelancer it’s sort of assumed that they won’t care as much about the long-term growth of the startup.

The nice thing about UX is that it’s so straightforward that no one will ever be trying to just fake it for their own personal gain. You might not know what the best answer is, or what the best use-case is, but you can’t just do bad UX that’s very confusing and get away with it because everyone will know that it is confusing, and that it needs to be fixed.

I want to hire a UX designer, how can I tell the good from the bad? I can tell you what I always look for when I’m going to hire people.

1) I always look at their homepage. They need to have a homepage. They can’t just have an ‘about me’ page or a cargo collective page. They need to have something that they have hopefully coded themselves, or have at least personalized if they haven’t coded it themselves and maybe got someone else to do it for them. That’s number one.

2) The second thing is actually showing off their work.  The person may know a lot of UX designer sites or may be able to drop a lot of names but not actually show off anything, I want to know what companies they have worked for as well as companies they want to work for. I understand that people get busy, but the number one red flag when if you’re looking to hire someone for web or mobile is someone who doesn’t have their own personal portfolio online. That is step number one in showing that you actually care about the internet.

With branding, how should I choose a logo? To be honest, I don’t think logos matter as much as agencies say they do. I’ve seen some of the most powerful companies in the world have some of the most tiny crappy logos. I think what it comes down to is sheer repetition. You can have the most beautifully designed wonderful logo in the world, and you’re company will never be known – it’s not some magical turnkey that some companies sell it as.

That being said, don’t have a cheesy logo unless you have a children’s company. Don’t try to make it warm and fuzzy and encapsulate six different ideas – it’s just one market. If nothing else, go with Gotham all caps.

When you’re a company just starting out, don’t worry too much about the logo – don’t spend any significant amount of time or money on it because you can always change it later. Brands are constantly updating their logos and they’re doing fine.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Marine Soyez, Art Director for Pixelis offers great information about updating your brand logo. Also here are some fundamental things to keep in mind when buying a logo by Stocklogos.com]

How does SEO meet UX? This depends on the type of tool the UX designer is using. Most of my projects for clients involve building on an existing content management system (CMS) of some kind, and they almost always have SEO already built in.

What are the top 5 CMSs you’ve worked with? Wordpress is obviously very popular. Online sites I’ve used are Shopify and Squarespace. Drupal. Ghost. Medium… I think that WordPress is better and more robust, but it’s really hard to beat Tumblr’s social tools.

Might Tumblr suffer now that Yahoo! purchased it? Will Tumblr fade under Yahoo!?  No. I think Tumblr will fade anyway. I think they were getting to the point where they are either making big money or they are bought out by someone.  And they got bought out. It doesn’t matter who you get bought out by, when you get bought out, your talents and your top people have mega money, so they don’t have to work anymore or they move on to other projects. I don’t think Yahoo! will replace the Tumblr people with good or better people, I think they will either maintain like the way they did with Flickr and then it will just turn into parity and the rest of the internet will move on when Tumblr no longer has the features to compete anymore.

Globally, I think the way companies set up rewards systems means that they are sort of doomed to lose their talented people after a certain number of years. They won’t keep innovating forever, people will move to other companies, and your product will slowly lose value.

What are a few of your favorite advertising campaigns?

What books would you recommend for learning more about UX design?

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
– Any book written by Edward Tufte
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

Every single decision you make affects how a user will view and use your product/website.

What about UX design and hackers? Anything can be exploited by a hacker. I think most people who design websites nowadays are aware of basic security protocol, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If a hacker wants to hack your site, it’s going to happen. But I think the likelihood isn’t high that they will want to hack your little startup.

That being said, there’s a lot of extensive information online about security best practices, and if you hire a designer you should make it clear that that is a priority for you and make sure that you know what they have done to your site and what sort of security measures they have taken.

If you want to ensure your website is hack resistant, have a friend hack your site and let you know. Also browse the questions and answers on http://stackoverflow.com

How do you research for a project? This depends on how well I know the client and the client’s product space. I’ll start by doing a search and seeing what people have said/are saying about the client, their competitors, and the industry.

When it comes to actually doing up the wires (wireframes – def’n ?) I’ll start by creating a prioritized list of the primary tasks we want the visitor to do on the page.

I want to do your job, any advice?

– If you don’t have a portfolio, make one out of projects you did for friends, in school, freelance, etc. If you don’t have any projects, create a bunch of projects for yourself so that you can show your skill. Dustin Curtis redesigned the American Airlines page and it went viral. Another guy redesigned airline tickets. One guy did a really great fake Starbucks app. Just show off your skill and how you solve problems.

– Once you have an online portfolio, consider starting your career off at an agency because that will introduce you to a lot of super talented people and you’ll also get to work on a variety of projects.
– Go to a lot of meetups and meet as many people as you can. Once you get comfortable, speak at a couple of meetups. Get yourself out there and start meeting people. Every single good job I’ve had and every single client I’ve had I found through other people.
– Start following people on Twitter that you really admire and start engaging with them.

– Give back to the community by giving back to open sources projects.

I have a small budget to promote myself, any advice? If you are a very early stage, not particularly well connected, and need to get yourself out there – throw a party and invite everyone you can. Every website that exists now started off with a small community of super active users. This gets people aware with the product, and hopefully they’ll like using it. The more early adopters talk about you, the more people who take that early adopter’s advice and use it themselves. If you take out an ad on a subway, you might get a few people to check you out, but it will be in a vacuum.

How do you use images and avoid copyright? I believe everyone should be paid for their work. That being said, sometimes you honestly don’t have the budget for it. The absolute best resource I use is Flicker’s Creative Commons License Search.

BONUS: Timoni’s latest speaking engagement on cognitive biases