UX Mastery Podcast #3: Interview with David Travis

UX Mastery Podcast #3: Interview with David Travis

Dr David Travis
Dr David Travis has 25 years experience in the UX arena.
Summary:

In this episode, Matt talks to David Travis from User Focus about his popular online UX training course, why the field of user experience is in such demand, and the pros and cons of training that is delivered in an online format.

In this episode, Matt talks to David Travis, founder of UK-based UX agency User Focus, and creator of the popular udemy course, User Experience: The Ultimate Guide To Usability.

During the interview, David and Matt discuss why the field of user experience is in such demand, the pros and cons of training that is delivered in an online format, how newcomers to the field can gain the experience they need to break into the user experience industry, and the most important quality of a good user experience designer.

NOTE: Use code UXMASTERY-SEP to receive a whopping 75% off between now and the end of the month—exclusive to UX Mastery readers.

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Transcript

Matt: Lovely to chat to you, David Travis. Welcome to the show.

David: It’s great to be here, Matt.

Matt: So David … you came on our radar when we here at UX Mastery were thinking about creating some sort of online course. And all of a sudden this thing popped up on udemy, which we bought and reviewed and thought was fantastic. Tell us about the experience of creating that course and how it’s worked out for you.

David: Yeah, it’s interesting really. Some people look at it and think, ooh—he’s had an overnight success with this particular course on udemy. But it’s one of those overnight successes that’s taken about 10 or 15 years in the making.

That particular course that’s on udemy is one that I’ve given as an in-house course, and as a public course in the UK, for about 10 years or so. And obviously over that 10 years it’s been changed and modified and updated. It’s a bit like—you know when you get an old car, an old Ford Cortina would be a good example of an old car in Britain.

Matt: I had one of them!

David: And what happens is, after a few years, bits fall off, and you start replacing it, and then at the end of 10 years you’ve got a Ford Cortina which looks in fairly good condition, but actually there’s nothing on that car that was there when you bought it originally, because everything’s been replaced. And the training course was a bit like that—it was continually updated, and everything in there was quite new.

And what was happening was people would contact me and say they wanted to attend the course, but they were coming from far afield. In fact, we tended to have a lot of people that came from Europe to attend anyway. They’d fly into London from France, or Holland, or whatever. But there were people in the US that wanted to attend, and there were people further afield that wanted to attend—even Australia, believe it or not. And it was clear that we didn’t have an online version of it. So I looked into various platforms for producing an online version, and came across udemy.

One of the things that concerned me initially is that, on the training course we give, and I’m sure on courses that you teach Matt, you have lots of exercises and activities that teach people how to do this stuff, because UX is inherently a very practical discipline, and I was a bit anxious that I wouldn’t be able to do that. But I came up with the idea of getting people to play along with a design activity they were working on. So the way the course runs is, I talk about a particular stage in user-centered design, and basically the course stops, and the onus is on the student to go off and apply it to a project that they’re working on.

That was my idea originally, and I thought maybe I’d get 20 or 30 people signing up. But I checked this morning, and there are 1,365 subscribers. So it clearly resonates with people, and I think the reason for that is that UX has become more important now than ever before. It’s always been of interest to people. But I think nowadays … there are two reasons.

One is people realise that it’s a great way to make your product successful. It’s like the one area you can focus on which doesn’t cost an awful lot of money. It’s not like developing a new kind of technology which can be exorbitantly expensive. In fact, focus on the user experience comparatively is quite cheap.

The other reason as well is: stuff is so complicated these days! I remember, many many years ago I was working with Bill Buxton, a Canadian expert in Human-Computer Interaction, and he had this graph had two axes. One axis was “Time”— that was the x-axis. And the y-axis was “Difficulty of Technology”.

Now I know this is a podcast, and it’s not a good place to describe graphs. But bear with me because it’s a very simple graph.

So you’ve got these two axes: Time along the bottom, and the vertical axis is Difficult of Technology. And he kind of drew this upward line on it, starting basically at the origin and moving up at about 45 degrees.

And he pointed out that, you know: initially, we had things like “the wheel.” That was technology. It needs a little bit of learning, the wheel—you need to know where to put your axle, and so on. But basically, most people get it. Like most people get a pencil. You know how to hold a pencil. People don’t tend to hold a pencil upside down, and try to draw with the eraser.

But as we get a bit more complicated … things like VCRs, things like mobile phones. And I remember when Bill Buxton showed this graph, I thought: “Ha, not a problem for me. I don’t have any difficulty with mobile phones, or VCRs. I can appreciate there might be a few people in this world who are a bit clueless and might struggle—but not me!” But basically he was saying there was a threshold of frustration that we would reach, where beyond that it becomes too complex. There’s like a complexity barrier.

And as I said at the time, I thought, well, I’m a long way from that. I love technology, I know how to use it, not a problem at all.

This week I got a new Mac. And I had to transfer stuff from one Mac to another. All of my files are in the cloud. I’ve got an iPhone that I need to sync with it. And I suddenly realised that I was at this barrier. It’s not that any particularly question I was being asked was difficult for me to answer, but the sheer number of decisions I was needing to make, suddenly made me realise that I am at that point now, where even technology which is mass market technology, like a Mac … there are so many things going on, and so many points at which you can make a disastrous error—like delete all your files on Dropbox, because you’ve taken them off another machine by mistake—that we’re really at that point now.

So UX has become, I think, so critical for businesses, that that’s why it’s resonated.

Matt: That’s an astounding number, so congratulations. I do recall a conversation happening on UX Magazine, that you chimed in: an article by Jon Kolko about manipulation and design—and udemy specifically, some of the practices that go on in order to pump up subscriber numbers on courses … I’m not surprised at all though. I gave your course 10 out of 10 when I reviewed it, and I was reluctant to go out on a limb and say “this is online education at its best.” But I think you’ve done an amazing job at collating all of that information, and I think it shows that clearly this was an iterative process for you, funnily enough, to develop this core material. But my big question for you, and it’s partly selfish, is how you go translating an in-person workshop to something that’s online. I’ve taught some workshops, and a big part of that is being able to circle the classroom and gauge how people are tracking and interact with them, and have a bit of a conversation and guide them, which is something you can’t do in the online space. How did you tackle coming up with exercises and activities to address that issue?

David: So that was my first ever online course, Matt. And I don’t wish to suggest that I got it exactly right. What I was doing was dipping my toe in the water, to  basically see whether or not there was a demand for it; whether or not the style of training would transfer. And even when you do a real life course, there’s an element of lecture. It doesn’t matter how interactive your courses are, and I like to think the courses I teach are interactive. But there’s always a bit where you stop, and you have a plenary session, where you say to people, “OK, let me teach you something now. Let me teach you how to do an expert review or a usability test. And after that, I’ll give the opportunity to practice it.” But there needs to be a point where you’re effectively lecturing. And as much as I hate to be a lecturer, because I want to be a workshop facilitator, inevitably there is still this element of time where you’re teaching people.

So that element transfers perfectly to the udemy system, because you video yourself giving the lectures, showing the same kind of slides, and for me the only difficult thing there was not getting feedback from people. Because when I train, I train in small groups, and I look at people’s faces, and I can see if people are getting it or not. And with a udemy course, you don’t know—it’s just you and the microphone, really. You’re never really sure if people are understanding it.

When I first put the course together, one way I thought I could achieve that was I could included quizzes within the system. And they’re only for fun—it’s not like people are going to be assessed on their answers to the quiz afterwards. But by including those quizzes, that was one way for me to do two things. One: getting people to test out their own knowledge—have they really understood the stuff that I’ve said. But secondly, I can go in and have a look at the aggregate scores, so I can see particular questions where people are struggling on. For example if there’s one particular question which people are consistently getting wrong, then that means I’ve not really covered that part of the course well, and so I’ve gone back in and made some changes to the course accordingly.

Matt: Fancy that—user feedback!

David: Exactly, yeah! And another way of achieving that as well Matt is, one thing I ran recently was an online webinar. So I announced to all the students on the course that I’d be running a webinar, I got them to submit questions in advance, and then me and a colleague sat there. The questions came in, and I was asked questions, and I could provide feedback. So there’s another area where traditionally you’d think, “Well how do I manage that with online training?” Well one way you can get that interaction going is to run online webinars. And another is to put together the forums within the udemy course. People can ask questions at any time, and I tend to visit the udemy site two or three times a day, and I tend to answer them within 24 hours. And when people see that the trainer is on the course, and he’s answering questions, they ask more questions, and that increases the engagement the students are having.

So for me, it’s very much dipping my toe in the water, and there are ways of improving it. I’ve got a new course out, and I think I’ve addressed some of those ways, I think I can make it even better. But it’s kind of a new field for me, the field of online training. And I’m trying to learn new techniques for making it better and better, really.

Matt: Your new course has been out for a few days—do you want to tell our listeners a little bit about it?

David: So at the end of the course I have a questionnaire that I give to people—to ask them what it was like for them, and any ways of improving it. And also if there’s anything else they want to learn. And one message that came across loud and clear is that people were after more in-depth training in specific areas. So that course on udemy that I’ve got at the moment is a very good overview of the field of user experience. But inevitably it doesn’t go into incredible depth in specific areas, because some people aren’t interested in that depth in every area.

So people have asked for some in-depth training, and one of the areas that I already had a another course in, that I’ve been delivering for a few years, is on usability expert reviews. So that covers things like: Niesen’s heuristic evaluation; it also covers other sets of guidelines, such as ISO (the International Standards Organisation)’s set of guidelines you can use to evaluate user interfaces. Ben Schneidermann had his own set. So it covers, on the one hand, these heuristics that people use to evaluate user interfaces, and it also covers another technique for doing user interface evaluation called a cognitive walkthrough. Which sounds jargon, and in fact it is, but it’s a very prescribed method for how you can test out the way new users will encounter your product or service, and how they’ll behave with it.

So that new course covers that in a bit more depth. And there’s also a third course that I’m actually in the process of developing, on usability testing. So expert reviews: what makes those unique is that users aren’t involved in the evaluation—it’s an expert who uses guidelines to do the evaluation. Usability testing, on the other hand: you get real users involved, and ask them to carry out particular tasks. So that will be the second in-depth course that I’m currently working on. And the reason for mentioning that is: one thing I’m doing in that course is to include interviews with people who have moderated tests in the past, or who have data-logged in usability test; with people who recruit participants for usability test, to give people a feel for what that’s like.

And that’s another one of those things that, when you start doing these courses, you start thinking: Hey, hold on! This is a video course. With a video course you can interview other people and include those interviews. It makes people aware of the fact that there’s a bigger community of people out there. It’s not just me, as the expert, standing up and saying “this is how it is.” It’s a case of bringing people together—people like yourself, for example, with a wide breadth of expertise, that can understand what the consensus is in the field.

So it’s a really challenging platform, I think, to deliver training courses on. But it’s really fascinating at the same time.

Matt: So let me play devil’s advocate a little bit. We get lots of enquiries at UX Mastery about getting a job as a UX designer, breaking into the field, how to get started … and there are a lot of questions about tertiary courses—what university course should I enrol in, should I study interaction design at university? You’ve got all this fantastic educational material coming out that’s pretty affordable, relatively speaking. You can take it in your own time, in the comfort of your own home—what would you say to someone who was weighing up the idea of self-study online vs going and getting some form of formal qualification, which a lot of employers do place some value on?

David: I’d say neither of those are good enough. In the field we work in, nothing beats practice. So you need to actually do this stuff. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an online course you’re taking, or a university course you’re taking. If that’s all you do, you will not be a user experience designer at the end of it. You may have a course that you’ve completed—you may have a certificate. But that’s not enough.

All of the people I know that work in this field that are good at this, they got good at it because they do it all day. They practice it, they sketch out user interfaces, they prototype user interfaces, they test user interfaces with users, and they understand the practical side of it. And I think UX is quite unique in that respect, because it’s not like many other things that you can do at university, where you can basically leave with your degree, and, OK, you need to get used to the world of work and so on, but you’ve got all of the intellectual ammunition you need to do a job.

I think UX is different, because it’s not just about having intellectual chops. It’s also about having the practical chops. The field that we work in is so complicated—it’s so complex. Each design problem is unique, and complicated, and you can’t just apply a series of steps that you’ve learned on a training course, and know that you’ll end up with a guaranteed right result. It doesn’t work that way. Every project is different, and you need to know that on some projects you might need to do, for example, more user research, much more user research than on another. And there might other projects you work on where you can be a bit lighter with the user research, but you need to spend more time prototyping and designing, and perhaps usability testing. You only get the feel for that when you start doing these jobs for real.

I’m not dodging the question, because I feel that there are areas where a university course will obviously go into a lot more depth—a one-year course, a one-year MSc in user-centered design, will go into a lot more depth than I do in my seven-and-a-half hour training course online. But neither of those are sufficient. They’ll both give you a good grounding, but neither of them are going to be enough for you to be a UX Designer.

So if you want career advice, you’ve got to go on training. Training’s a good first step, but nothing beats practice.

Matt: And what advice would you give someone who was looking to get some experience under their belt? I had a chat with a young woman in Canada earlier today who was quite exasperated about the fact that she had donated some time to a friend’s startup, and to another small business, in order to try and get some runs on the board. And then had this interview with a digital agency for a UX internship, and basically everyone in the room had a different view of what UX meant, and they were really looking for a UI designer, and she had all this research and prototypes that she presented, and it was a poor fit, and ended badly. The poor thing.

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What do you tell people when they say, “How do I get some experience?”

David: To be honest, I hate the concept of internship, because I feel it’s a bit like indentured slavery. But it’s certainly one way to get practice, to find a user experience company, and then say, “Can I work with you as an intern?”

Another technique that is surprisingly easy to do, but you need to be quite self-motivated to do it, is to start applying these techniques on your own. Because User Experience is a great field in that we’re exposed to it every day.

So my own particular favourites, and you would have noticed this on the training course, Matt, is car park machines. Whenever I park my car, the car park machine I use is always different, and in different places—there seems to be no standard for car park machines. And they’re universally difficult to use. One exercise you could set yourself is to design a car park machine that would meet the business requirements that car park owners have, but at the same time it would meet the user requirements that people have that are using that.

Because if you do that, you’re going to have to do things like: well, I’ll need to do some user research, I may have to build a prototype, I may need to run a usability test, in order to test it out. This is useful, not just because it’s giving you practice in those techniques, which we’ve talked about as being important, but because it’s a useful way of building up a portfolio. So that then you can put a portfolio together, so when you apply for a job, you can say, “These are examples of jobs that I’ve done.” And they don’t need to know that it wasn’t for a real client. If they ask you explicitly, you’ll have to say “Well, OK, I did it for myself.” But generally people are just interested in the experience that you’ve had. And what you’re able to do is to start building up a portfolio of assignments that you’ve set yourself, because you’re not able to produce those assignments because you may not have a job at the moment.

So working as an intern may be one, and then there’s this other one where you set yourself your own assignments.

Matt: What kind of stuff would you recommend someone who’s trying to break into that field include in that portfolio? Because if you’re a visual designer, it’s very straightforward that you put your icon designs or your user interface mockups, or nice big A3 colourful wow-factor … a lot of the stuff we do is a bit less tangible—what do you think is the best way to present that to someone who is looking to employ you?

David: I wonder if I’m a particularly good person to ask that question of, really, Matt. Because when I started out in the field, there was no such thing as a UX portfolio. In the jobs I’ve applied for in the past—I’ve been with User Focus now for about 14 years, but before that, the jobs I applied for, I never really needed to show a portfolio. However, people do come to User Focus, and present portfolios. And the ones I see that really impress me are ones where people have shown their working.

For example, let’s say you’re not a visual designer, so you don’t draw or sketch out interfaces—or you’re embarrassed by your sketching ability, because your focus might be around user requirements. What you might be good at it is going out, doing design research, speaking with users, describing who those users are, producing task descriptions of what they carry out, maybe task analyses.

But all of those things have got artefacts. So for example, if you go out and do design research, and speak with users, one thing you’ll do is build personas—or at least some kind of pen portrait of who your users are. So you could include the personas within your portfolio. But not just the personas, not just the final artefact, but also the working you did. For example, you might include a sheet that said: I went out and observed 15 different users, from 5 different sites, these are some outlined demographic information about them. I then came back and did some analysis to identify where the main groups were, to identify their different goals, and so on. From this analysis these groups came out, and here’s an example of one persona.

Because then it shows the working and the thought processes you went through. And for me that’s more important than the final artefact. People don’t come up with a fantastic design from nothing. They come up with a fantastic design because they’ve understood their users, they’ve iterated the design, they’ve built prototypes and so on, and a good portfolio is evidence of that. So show your working, would be my advice.

Matt: I often tell people also that it should be a launchpad for the conversation about a project that you can speak with authority on, rather than just being, like you said the deliverables.

David: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Matt: Earlier in our chat you mentioned that user experience for companies is a relatively cheap investment. I’m keen to get your thoughts a bit more on that, because it’s not always the case that it’s easy to sell research at the start of a project. It’s quite often very difficult to convince management that you should spend time going and interviewing users, doing all of the due diligence that we’d love to have a big budget for at the start of a project.

What kinds of techniques and experience do you have around selling research as a valuable proposition?

David: There’s a basic technique in sales that’s to do with qualifying prospects. And the way I qualify clients who contact us, is to first of all find out whether or not they just want someone to design a new website for them, or if they want an agency that will help them understand their users better. And if it’s that first one, if they just want someone who can design a Flash website with nice icons, and so on, then I’m not interested. We won’t work with them. That’s not the kind of work that we do. So the only work that we’ll do is work that requires a substantial amount of user research up front.

So that means we probably turn away a lot of the enquiries we get. But it means the ones we’re left with are still substantial enough to run a business around. Now there are so many organisations that realise that user experience is important, and they’re not so clueless … OK, well, some are that clueless that they think it’s about the colours you use on the home page, or the icons you use on your mobile phone app. But they represent a relatively small percentage. And then there’s the other group of people who realise you do need to do this research. And the question then becomes, not a case of if you should do it, but how much of it you should do.

Which is a good question, because it may well be, as we’ve said earlier, it may not need an awful amount of up-front research. What it may require is a case of you prototyping some stuff, and then testing it out. Maybe you’re coming up with some very new kind of system—for example, it may be Twitter. I’m not sure how much user research they did … I know they did some, but I don’t know what they did, when they developed Twitter. But it was such a new product. People had never done anything like it before. The closest might have been updating your status on Facebook, but other than that I’m not sure—maybe text messaging as well. But even then, it’s different, isn’t it? Because it’s more of a broadcast, rather than a one-to-one.

With a project like that, there may not be a lot of benefit in doing a lot of user research into how people write short messages describing their status, because it doesn’t happen. What we could do instead, is design prototypes and test them out with people, and see whether or not this is something that will fit into their working day, whether or not it’s something they’re going to be using, what kind of adaptations do they make to it? Such as the notion of retweeting, for example, when they see somebody else’s message. And it might be that you want to put more of a focus there.

So really it’s not a case of if, when I speak with clients, it’s a case of finding out “well where’s the best place to invest the research dollars.”

Matt: We’re fortunate that the climate is such at the moment that we can pick and choose clients that are interested in investing in doing a decent amount of research. Perhaps newcomers to the field may not have that luxury. But there’s always going to be a case for selling user experience, and user research, and that’s where your communication skills come in … and that’s the kind of stuff that comes with experience as well—you can’t really teach the ability to qualify clients in an academic course, unfortunately.

David: Absolutely, yeah.

Matt: Tell us a little bit about User Focus. You said you’d been there 14 years?

David: It was set up in 1999, but I didn’t actually start work there full-time until about 2001. What happened was, at the time I was working for another consultancy in London, doing the same kind of work, although then it was called “Human Factors and Ergonomics”. And the company I was working for—this was back in 1999, and I could see this “user experience” thing happening at the time. The internet had been going for a while … I think the dot com bust was about 1999 … And to me, when I looked at UX, it was a bit like Adam’s first words to Eve. “Stand back—I don’t know how big this thing’s going to get!”

Matt: Ha ha ha!

David: So there was this definitely feeling that this thing was going to grow. So I spoke to the company that I was working with at the time, and said “Why don’t we set up another company, to specialise only in user experience?” And they said: “OK, write a business plan, and we’ll see whether or not it’s worth investing in.” So I spent some time writing a business plan, but they didn’t think it was worth subscribing to—maybe just because it was my own idea. Maybe I wrote a very poor business plan. Anyway, I was convinced that it was going to work, so I thought, OK, I’ll put my money where my mouth is, so I set up User Focus based on that business plan, and haven’t looked back since, really.

We’re still a small company, there are only six of us. We’re deliberately small—I’ve noticed when I’ve worked for other organisations, when they get to more than about a dozen people, they start becoming a bit more faceless and a bit more bureaucratic, and I wanted an organisation which was basically a loose affiliation of people working independently, and I think that’s what we’ve achieved with User Focus.

So we’re small, and—what’s the word? Boutique. We’re a boutique agency—a metaphor for tiny. It means we all do interesting work, we like the stuff that we do, we’re not too bureaucratic, and as we know it’s a great field to work in at the moment.

Matt: Yeah, if you’re small enough to not need an HR department, that’s a good thing in my book.

David: Absolutely, yeah

Matt: Are we likely to see you pop down to Australia any time for UX Australia or any other kind of speaking engagement? I know you like to get around…

David: Do you know what, I’d love to. The closest I’ve got is, I went to Singapore recently for some client work, maybe that was my opportunity. But I would love to go to Australia. It’s on my to-do list, it’s one of those places that I’m determined to spend some time in. And I get along very well with Australians, as you know we get a lot of Australians over in the UK. I think we share a common sense of humour, which is always a good thing. So I’m definitely up for it. I guess what I’d like to do is combine it with some kind of work, so I can then put it against the cost of the flight out there. But hopefully that will happen.

Matt: The UX Australia conference does pay its presenters—you might want to keep an eye on that one. It’s actually a terrific conference, the guys that put it together do a fantastic job, and the content, the speakers for the conference, is always very community driven. There’s a process where everybody submits stuff, and Luke and I were fortunate enough this year to have our proposal get up, so we’ll be getting up on stage in about three weeks’ time to talk about a project that we’ve been working on. So we’re looking forward to that.

David: Would that be in September next year, Matt?

Matt: Yeah, August, I think, usually.

David: August, OK.

Matt: And they rotate the city that it’s held in, so I think it goes Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane. So it’s in Melbourne this year, fortunately. That’s where I’m based. But yeah, it’s a fantastic conference. It’s sold out, so it’s going to be a hoot.

David: Maybe I’ll look into that next year then.

Matt: Please do! I won’t take any more of your time, but I do want to say thank you for all that you do. I’m sure that there are, well there are literally thousands of people out there who are, no doubt, grateful for the time and effort that you’ve put into creating that course. So, well done for getting it out there and empowering the next generation of user experience designers.

David: Matt it’s a job I enjoy.

Actually, there’s one question that I want you to ask me, that I thought you might ask me and you haven’t!

Matt: Aha! Is it not on my list?

David: The question I thought you might ask is, “What’s the most important quality of a user experience designer?” Can I answer that?

Matt: David—what’s the most important quality of a user experience designer?

David: This is one of the ones I’ve thought through a bit, really. Because I think it’s a tough question. Because I think it really depends on what you do in your job as a UX person. So, are you doing UX research, or information architecture, or interaction design, or visual design, or technical writing, or prototyping.

Now, I know that many people are UX teams of one. But even they tend to specialise, so it’s very difficult to think of a quality of all of those, at least a skill-based quality. So I think you need to go up a level, and instead of thinking about skills, which is one of the things you get from training courses, I think you need to start thinking about values, and behaviours beyond that. And when I do that, I think the important value is to be able to really see the world through the eyes of another person. I think that’s what distinguishes good user experience designers from bad ones.

I mean, there’s this word “grok”—it’s a word coined by the author Robert Hindine in a sci-fi novel he wrote called Stranger In A Strange Land. And in the novel, grok is a Martian word that doesn’t have an Earthling equivalent, but kind of conceptually at least, what it means is to really understand something, but to understand it so thoroughly that you become a part of it.

So for example, to say that you know your users, is simply to say that you know a few facts about them. But to say that you grok your users, is to claim that you’ve deeply entered into their world view of things. And to me, that’s the important quality of a good user experience designer. And it’s tough, because it means acknowledging that it doesn’t matter what you like. What matters is what’s right for your users. And for many people that are schooled in traditional design, that’s tough. Because they want to create stuff that they like to use, and not necessarily stuff that’s right for their users. So I think the most important quality of a good user experience designer is more of thinking in terms of their values, which is this notion of, I guess, empathy at some level as well. And not really in terms of their skills. Which is a drag, given that I sell training courses that teach you skills rather than values, but there you go.

Matt: Do you think that empathy is something that can be taught?

David: It’s interesting, you know, because there are people that have psychological conditions, where they’re not able to empathise with people. People with—oh, the word is escaping me, but it’s a particular condition that some people have, and it means that they tend to come across as fairly cold people, and they don’t really consider other people’s feelings.

Matt: Some people with Autistic Spectral Disorder—Asperger’s.

David: Exactly, a form of autism. Asperger’s is exactly the condition I was thinking of. And there are training courses for people with Asperger’s. And they’ll train them to look at things like people’s facial expressions. And although they don’t understand at a gut level what that facial expression means, they can understand at an intellectual level by being trained in it.

Now, I’m not saying that someone with Asperger’s would necessarily make a good user experience designer, and that perhaps you need to have some level of empathy. But if you can train people with Asperger’s in how to empathise with people, I think you can train people that don’t necessarily have a particular level of empathy, to understand how to take their user’s perspective.

In fact, on these face-to-face training courses that I run, I’ve got some courses which help people understand what it’s like to take the user’s perspective.  And sometimes that’s all it needs—a forehead-slapping moment. “Oh, of course! Now I get it!” It’s that kind of thing that helps people understand that they just need to take somebody else’s point of view.

So I do think that you can teach people, at least, the principles behind empathy. And once you’ve got those, you’re on your journey to being a good user experience designer.

Matt: Very good. I think that’s a lovely note to finish on. David if people would like to track you down online, where should they go?

David: On Twitter, they’ll find me @userfocus. And they can also visit the User Focus website, which is userfocus.co.uk.

Matt: David, thank you again for your time, for chatting. And I look forward to doing this again one time soon. Perhaps we’ll get you out to Australia one day?

David: Yeah I look forward to that. Good speaking to you Matt.

Matt: Thanks David!

David: Cheers, bye bye.

Matthew Magain
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Matthew Magain
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3 comments
  • Hey guys)

    Just wanted to thank UX Mastery for the promo code for David’s course, that 75% off really helped me to get it much faster than I was planning )) I’ll share my feedback after completion ;)

    p.s. this interview is very informative as well, especially I was surprised to find out how tiny the Userfocus team is, I mean six people and yet how professional they are!))

    p.p.s. Can’t help myself not to say huge THANK YOU to Matt and Luke, you guys just have no idea what a favor you’re doing to all of us! Wishing you all the best! :) xx

  • Hi!

    I took this course based on Matthew’s recommendation, and I really enjoyed it :) It’s a good one, and I’ve been recommending it to people who are interested in UX as I think it provides a good foundation to launch off of.

    Thank you both!