I believe in starting a conversation with fellow UX professionals and learning from their experiences. Making their perspectives available to the whole community is one step forward in spreading the message about the importance of UX. That’s why I have started a project of #UXFika – lightweight conversations with inspiring UX leaders over a cup of coffee (or two!).
For my international friends, FIKA is a Swedish concept, a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea). With no rush, full immersion and being present in the moment. That’s why I thought “UXFika” is a perfect name for meaningful conversation with UX leaders I look up to.
In that spirit, let me introduce you to my first #UXfika guest – William Törnqvist. He has worked at numerous projects and is currently leading UX team at GANT – an international lifestyle brand in Sweden.
So, let’s meet William!
What inspires you: Hanging out with people with a similar mindset and having discussions with them. It energizes me.
A recent great article you read: How to stop UX Research being a blocker (Link)
Biggest UX myth: UX is pure aesthetics.
How did you get into the world of UX?
If I look back at where it all started – I remember my teenage years, when I was sitting in my room, spending lots of hours drawing, designing pixel-based pieces and just enjoying creativity. Early experimentation has defined the direction I want to go. That’s why I did design classes in high school – and not for the sake of skipping other important classes (like others did), but because I purely loved it.
Initially, I always thought that I will be a Creative Director in an ad agency. During the early days of my career as a designer, I did a bit of everything – designing e-commerce from scratch, being freelance and helping smaller companies to get started with all their digital presence. Eventually, I had to choose – do I want to be very good at something specific like UI? Or do I want to seek another direction?
That’s the question I answered at GANT. I enjoyed having a more strategic perspective, developing leadership skills and that’s when the transformation from a pure designer to a UX Lead has happened. I like to think about the big picture, see the whole spectrum, not a single touchpoint.
You are currently the Head of UX at Gant. How have you shaped the project to have a UX focus?
When I started at GANT – there was actually no design department. I was the first building block for shaping it and I could have a big impact on the direction. It seemed exciting and challenging. The first thing I did was trying to figure out processes and methods to work or – in other words – trying to build the basis. There were many questions along the way: how do we align with the vision of the company? How do we work with a remote developer team? How do we scale the design team?
Being in this position and building a UX culture from scratch means being in front of the people that might not necessarily know or understand the value of it. Therefore you have to remind them about it. Continuously. When UX is not yet a core element in the company, many decisions are taken on a subjective level. Step by step I have learned to be more proactive with preparing user research and usability findings to discussions.
So I see my mission as a UX Lead very clear – I need to educate colleague that UX is everyone’s responsibility. How do I do that? By inviting people to discussions, doing workshops, organizing seasonal recaps and approaching it in a smart way.
Once I have asked my colleagues to bring feature requests on various touch points we have. Everyone loves to have opinions and loves to fill the backlog with stuff, so I asked them to bring three things/ideas/feature requests and present them. And then I showed them what a user story is and asked them to rewrite the request from a user’s perspective. This was an eye opener for many.
What does a UX strategy mean for you? What are the core elements of building & nurturing it?
First of all, you need a brand vision – what is the purpose and positioning of your business. It is a big reason for your existence and a direction for the user experience you want to create.
Secondly, you need to think about the value you add to the user. What’s in it for them? UX Designers need to be careful when thinking they create beautiful interfaces and add value in this way. That might soon leave your users feeling empty and frustrated.
Thirdly, you need to define the roadmap and priorities that will ensure both: business success and value for the user. Make sure you work towards that vision.
I think mapping the whole user journey is the perfect exercise for that – you become aware of the whole journey, you can start optimizing on weak spots and build continuously without forgetting the big picture.
And of course, for all of this to happen you need the organization: people, methodology and the tools. Every company should have processes and development plan for a team and each individual.
What are some of the biggest challenges you experienced throughout your UX career and how did you overcome it?
I think every UX designer goes through many challenges. I personally could highlight the following “mistakes” I learned from along the way:
Trying to overachieve: when I first got into a leadership role – I tried to overachieve and realized it is not the right way to go. For example – forcing people to work in a certain way without explaining WHY first. In reality, very few people understand design-thinking and user-centricity and before changing anything you need to explain a bigger perspective.
Working in a vacuum: you have to invite the stakeholders and people that normally have bias into the design process and include them. This is the only way to communicate why we build things in a certain way.
Not communicating enough: Communication is the key in every project and it is our role as a designer and leader to make things clear. Don’t expect people to understand and get things. Explain it.
I’d love to know a bit about your UX process – what is important for you?
I think there is no template or a magic secret weapon.
It really depends on the context. What we have started doing at GANT recently is making research a strategic priority throughout a whole year and make it a natural part of our day to day work. We have the general research topics that are relevant and feed into our backlog and also more specific research questions that are applied to sprint planning. This helps us to put the user in the center and make sure our findings are shared, prioritized and acted on. I think many times when research phases is rushed – you don’t really know how to actually apply it into the project and it might not be very useful.
Another tip in building processes is not making it static or having it formalized just in a powerpoint. I found it very valuable to visualize the overall process, print it, and use it in discussions around operational work, projects – within the team or with other stakeholders. We always do retrospectives of processes and give feedback on what has worked and what can we do better the next time?
What are the key qualities of a great UX leader?
- Get rid of the ego.
- Remove bias.
- Ask questions.
- And…don’t hire yourself.
UX evangelism in a company – is it important for you? How do you practise it every day?
UX evangelism is very important! It should be part of our role description. Here’s how I try to achieve it every day:
- Sometimes it is about being repetitive. I keep questioning decisions, reminding about the research insights. At the beginning, it is not easy. But eventually, it’s a rewarding feeling when you start noticing shifting mindset and people using your terminology and taking the user into consideration when making decisions in business. It is quite amazing.
- Not forcing people in a certain direction is also a must. Most of the times I do baby steps to make an impact. I send emails communicating user research insights, share relevant articles and personal development stuff to build both: empathy towards others and our users.
What does the future hold for UX design?
I obviously don’t have a crystal ball of the future. But I believe that user experience will become a competitive advantage to the majority of companies – it will be a key selling point in deciding why should someone be interested in your brand.
Also, my strategy is to lead and build towards being flexible and agile to change – technology is changing so fast – and still navigating towards the vision of the company.
My takeaways from a UX Fika with William:
- You cannot build a great design if you do not understand your users first
- Building a UX culture is a process. There are no shortcuts.
- Be busy on the right things: things that are relevant to your users.