Last month on our UX community Slack channel, we hosted a live AMA with Juan Rafael Lopez, Senior Product Director at UserZoom (previously at Validately). These are the highlights from his one hour chat.

Juan is Senior Director of Product at Userzoom, bringing 14 years of experience in engineering, UX design and product management, in both Lean UX and Agile environments. In his prior role at Validately, Juan was the first Product Manager/Designer and helped grow the company’s recurring revenue 20x.

In his spare time, Juan teaches at Columbia University and enjoys staying active (by playing sports and running with—and away from—his kids). He is the author of his own tweets at @lopezjuanr, and was part of the team that won the Grand Prize at Comedy Hack Day.

Here Juan answers questions on his journey throughout the worlds of engineering, product and UX, and offers career advice and practical guidance based on his own experience. You may even find out what his very favourite product is right now.

(Please note, some edits have been made for spelling and clarity)

What are some common mistakes you see newbie UXers make? [Ophir]

I would start by remembering that UX is about the user, not the designer. Many people come to UX from the world of design, where the consumer is not always thought of in the same light.

Another incredibly important thing to remember: have an opinion and rational to back it up. ALWAYS.
Do NOT only offer up three solutions. You should have a preferred solution with rationale.

What advice would you give a UX designer that wants to add UX research to their skillset? [Olle]

Like most things you just have to start doing it. Please read short books to help you get started like https://abookapart.com/products/just-enough-research

Be inquisitive about your surroundings. Next time you go out to a coffee shop, sit and wonder about what people are doing and why. Think about, if you could have five minutes of their time, what you would ask them?

If you work at a company with user researchers or product managers, start shadowing their research calls, or customer interviews. Take notes for others, while also thinking about the experience and how you might ask similar questions to your customers.

What made you change from Engineering to UX? [Eli]

I often felt as a Systems Engineer, I was doing very good work that many other people around me could do as well. So it wasn’t truly satisfying. As I explored what I could with my career, I landed at a program at Columbia, called Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. There was something about the physical world of industrial engineering and the optimization of operations research that truly intrigued me.

I actually took a course on Human Factors where I learned all about ergonomics and interaction design. And that felt like something I cared passionately about as well as something I thought I could possibly do better than others.

Where do you find the right personas for testing the product? [Nenad]

First, no matter what. ALWAYS starts with your own customers/users. They have told you, via their purchase or their usage, that what you have built is important to them.

Now when trying to test with specific users who do not know about your product, you have to learn how to write really good screeners and surveys. This is an extremely important thing that we preach at Validately. Fortunately I just read a nice short article on our UZ blog: https://www.userzoom.com/blog/11-tips-for-effectively-screening-test-participants/

Finally, if you need to literally know where to find them, START with your marketing department. That is  a big part of their job. If not, then try to use the networks that you have access to. Many networks have communities you can tap into. Facebook/Twitter and Reddit are great examples.

Which operational model have you seen work better and why? Democratized researchers where research is done by UX designers or a specialized model where most research is managed by dedicated researchers? [Fabian]

I honestly have not been enough organizations to say first hand. However, I go by this philosophy: https://articles.uie.com/user_exposure_hours/

I do not believe the specialized model will do as well as the democratized model. Jared likes to say everyone is a designer. Please don’t @ me, but I like to think everyone is a researcher.

I’m curious how you incorporate digital accessibility into you design process? [Ben]

To be fair, it has taken a back seat for too long, even in my own practice. This is not ok. I have been part of in-person research with people who were legally blind or hard of hearing. It is mind-blowing what they are able to do with the limited technology (JAWS for example) given to them. But having said that, it has become clear enough to me, that we will start to think about design with accessibility in mind from the start. And I can announce that one of our next projects will be to ensure some of our most critical experiences will be more accessible than they are today. As with everything there are spectrums but we will work to improve it.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in UX without a design background? How to break into a UX role and learn the right things? [Magda]

Design is truly only a small part of UX. I shouldn’t say small, but its is only one of many parts. The most ‘designy’ class I ever took was maybe an intro to Photoshop class, and by the way, I was HORRIBLE at it.

It depends on what you are interested in. Many people come to UX from psychology, so thus would focus on users and mental models. Many people come from engineering, and want to find simpler solutions to help their users.

It really depends where you are currently. But also, find your project, something you think, wow this UX could be way better. Take time on a weekend to brainstorm, how could this be better? Talk to your friends, family, coworkers about the project. Get feedback. Try something else. All you really need is a few hours, some paper and a pencil to sketch some boxes and arrows and you will be on your way.

What’s your favourite product? How would you improve it? [Clare]

I love so many things, especially in the Google/Android realm. But maybe I’ll say the Google Nest Hub. I purchased one for my mother in law, so she could see pictures of her grandchildren all the time. In the matter of two weeks, I had to purchase two more for other family members who saw it and loved it. I expected ABSOLUTELY zero usage. Instead I found out they play music on it all the time. These are 60-80 year olds who have never used a computer and do not speak English. I can’t believe the impact it made.

I have a very narrow view of how product compares to UX and I’m curious, what is your view? [Charles]

I’ve used this image to help me talk about the differences in the past…

https://www.uxbooth.com/promotion/the-dynamic-duo-product-management-and-ux/

And remember, a UX designer who understand the business side very well, can do better for their user AND the company at the same time.

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