AEA15: Career Advice from a Cranky Old Man

I have the good fortune of attending the premiere conference for web designers and developers in the country - An Event Apart (this time in Austin). Some notes below from the keynote presentation from Jeffrey Zeldman. Titled "The Fault, Dear Brutus (or: Career Advice from a Cranky Old Man).

  • Our other jobs (before we became designers) give us perspective. Makes us thankful to be a designer. We are extremely lucky.
  • Work never sells itself. You have to be able to explain your design.
  • Never talk about aesthetics. Talk about the business problems you're solving.
  • Attitude trumps work I'm most companies (great work + bad attitude = fired).
  • In big companies, politics trumps work. Its not fair, its just how it is.
  • First impressions are forever.
  • We have met the enemy and he is us. We are the only thing standing between us and success.
  • You need a good portfolio. Use sites like Dribbble and Behance if necessary to make sure that some of the work you do can be shown.
  • Blog like nobody's reading. Blogging is how he ended up on stage today (inception joke).
  • Don't wait for someone to hand you the dream job/project. Take it. DIY (do it yourself).

Who am I?

I thrive on ruined deadlines and countless, senseless iterating.
I have the power to bring even the most well-planned project to a grinding halt.
I am feared by all designers, developers and project managers.
My name is Consensus.

User Experience Margin

How much is User Experience worth? Would you be willing to pay a bit more for a product if you also knew you'd get a better experience? I've had to answer these questions lately and based on personal experience, my answer is definitely yes. A couple of weeks ago we had some new countertops and tile work installed in our kitchen. We worked with a local, family-owned remodeling company. Throughout the planning and selection phase, we had a great experience with them and were confident we chose the right company to do the job.

And then they started the work.

What was supposed to take one day lasted for a full week plus a couple of follow-up repair visits. There were several "snags" throughout the process - at one point the owner even paid us a visit to smooth things over. Most of these "snags" were made worse by a severe lack of communication.

The project is complete now and we are very pleased with the results. So, it started out really well and ended really well. But that time in between made for one of the worst, most stressful weeks we've had in a long time.

I had a long conversation with the project manager there yesterday about our experience. He apologized, but it was an excuse-ridden apology. His excuse for lack of communication was that he was the only one that did all of the planning, scheduling, calling, etc and that that was one way they were able to keep costs down.

To me, that excuse is bunk. I would have happily paid more - how much more, I'm not sure - for our kitchen remodeling project if I could have guaranteed the same great results plus an excellent customer experience. Offering low prices is not an excuse to neglect customer experience. If that's part of your strategy, you better pray that your prices are super low - low enough to offset bad experience.

Convenience, flexibility, communication, service - those are all important aspects of good user/customer experience. How much more are those things worth?

I believe a positive user/customer experience should be assumed. It should come free as part of your overall package - not as a line-item on an invoice.

I welcome your thoughts.