Dimitris Kontaris, currently working at HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management as a Senior UX Consultant, Dimitris has worked with companies such as Thomson Reuters, Accenture and Sony Computer Entertaining Europe. Dimitris took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about himself and his experiences in UX.
1. Why did you get into UX?
My mother once said: “come fix the oven, you fix things”. That sentence changed my life. Maybe because a variation of which I would hear multiple times over the years, or maybe because by “fixing” the oven she meant “set” the correct time on the oven clock so it stops blinking at 00:00.
Fiddling with things and understanding how they work, has always been an everyday activity for me. “Fixing” the oven, adjusting the fridge temperature, successfully defrosting things in the microwave for my parents just by pressing the right button, at the right duration, in right sequence, made me realize that some interfaces are made in a way that only a fiddler can make sense. Probably the fiddler that made them in the first place.
That realization, that I can change people’s everyday lives as a decision maker of what is presented to them and how they interact with it, got me into UX consultant.
2. What tips can you give to people starting in UX?
If you can, at first, be part of a company that has a well-established UX process, and part of a team that has experienced UX consultant in it.
Be passionate about technology and keep yourself up to date. Try new things. Try bungee jumping. Admire how the rope and the whole system is thought through. It’s taking into account all types of end users, and subsequently designed in a way that’s thrilling enough to feel dangerous, yet safe enough to tell the story afterwards. Experience new interfaces, struggle with the ones that don’t work, be delighted with the ones that do, and understand why they made you feel like that in any case. See the world in UX terms, not unlike like Neo did in code terms in the Matrix. Be UX Consultant.
Try to make the world a better place. As the great philosopher Uncle Ben told Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility”. You hold the keys, be careful what design you allow out of the door and into the wild.
Always keep in mind that UX design is a job, and even though there is a high degree of creativity involved, it’s not art. UX professionals design interfaces and systems to become unnoticed and out of the way for people using them, so they get their job done without thinking. Like in the movies, where the most successful special effects are the one you don’t notice.
3. What current UX trends interest you? How do you stay current with them?
I see a lot of potential in Internet of Things (IoT) and Natural User Interfaces like voice based ones. They’re currently all in their infancy, so I’m equally exited and cautious to see what their adulthood will look like, taking into account the inevitable security concerns, so we don’t go from “the we-ather to-da-y is … seven-teeeen de-grees” to “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”.
There are stories like the one when a TV show accidentally activated Amazon’s Echo and placed orders for doll houses to the viewers’ accounts (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/08/amazon-echo-rogue-payment-warning-tv-show-causes-alexa-order/) that are fun to tell at parties, but also demonstrate how long the road is ahead.
I follow them by being a user of the above myself, experimenting with them, and being kept up to date with their progress. I’d trust the lamp to automatically turn off the light while the thermostat adjusts the heating when it’s bed time. Maybe also the coffeemaker that knows I’m up, identifies my zombie posture, and makes my coffee maybe a little too strong for the common bladder. However, I wouldn’t trust them to be in charge of my door’s locks when I’m away, for example. At least not yet.
4. What does it take to become a great UX designer?
A great UX consultant and designer knows they are merely the voice of the needs and requirements of the end users, not their own. Therefore a great UX consultant and designer knows better than to design based on their own desires or interpretations and assumptions of how a system works.
A great UX designer is aware that criticism comes from all directions, in all shapes, and at full speed. A user won’t understand an interface, a developer will recommend a faster to implement alternative, a project manager will have their own design ideas and preconceptions pre-designed for you to save time and make your job easier. A great UX designer knows how to work with everyone, understands where they’re coming from, explains what the responsibilities of the UX person in the team are, and helps them to better their criticism next time. After all, it’s not the person that’s criticized, it’s an idea in anticipation for a better, more informed one.
A great UX designer never designs without requirements, for he knows design without requirements is guesswork. Therefore a great UX designer always backs up the design decisions with research. Otherwise, their design concepts are fragile, easily demolished, possibly wrong, and their credibility will take a hit.
Lastly, a great UX designer understands that they never stop learning. No matter how experienced they are, each project has an aspect to it that introduces a unique challenge for their hard and soft skills.