Hang Le: "A great UX design team is the one that works like the Avengers."
With 10+ years of improving lives with impactful UX and product design, Hang Le has mastered a recipe for success in UX design. Turns out it takes some craft quality, impactful communication, and strategic business knowledge to get ahead of the competition.
Starting out as a designer and flash developer, today she’s the Head of Design at HelloSign, Dropbox’s company enabling seamless e-signature and document management experiences.
Besides great respect for the craft, Hang by no means underestimates qualities like curiosity, collaboration, and presentation skills. Her vast experience also includes speaking at industry-wide innovation events such as FinTech Design Summit and TradeCraft.
While creating a UX design course, we thought hard about the bright and up-and-coming designers looking to break into the field. Hang helped us understand more about:
- The UX designer role
- How to approach UX design team management
- Design in B2B software environment
- Following UX design trends
What does a UX designer actually do?
In a nutshell, they create experiences to solve people's problems. And what do we mean by experiences?
I think of it as balancing what people need and what kind of value can the company and a service that you deliver provide. A great UX designer translates that value into experiences that people can use.
What kind of skills does one need to be a great UX designer?
I would say there are innate qualities and skills that people acquire as they go through school or while working at a company.
For example, the acquired skills relate to knowing the tools, drawing techniques, and being able to tell the difference between good and great. The craft is certainly learnable and most of the time that’s what people go to school for.
However, I would say that great designers are the ones who also have curiosity. To be great in any kind of industry or role, you need to be a thinker as well. We need to think about what is important and what makes us better than the competitor. Be it in terms of experiences we create or the company that we work for. That’s where the innate thinker qualities come in and the greatest designers that I have seen are the ones that are very curious.
Can studying people's behavior help you become a better UX designer?
When we don’t have the luxury of having customers and users to talk to, we must rely on plain old psychology and usability principles. These exist on the internet and within a lot of books today.
Behavior science books I really like are the ones that talk about how people are actually very predictable and at the same time irrational. It’s a very interesting balance. I think that a designer can do a lot for him/herself by understanding psychology and realizing that people are actually simple.
For example, most people don’t read text. I mean, when we put text on the screen and when it’s three lines long, nobody reads it. That’s why we need to think about how to design in a way that makes it simple for the user.
What is the most important or the first thing you pay attention to when interviewing for your design teams?
I strongly believe that a great design team is the one that works like The Avengers. As a team, they produce something that is greater than the individual output. That’s what I strongly keep in mind when hiring designers – team composition.
I think about the qualities we already have on the team and which ones do we miss. Then I specifically look for that kind of people.
Therefore, designers should focus on what is it that they bring to the table and how can it complement an existing team.
What specific qualities do you expect a UX designer to have?
In general, we always look at three things:
- Work quality! This also stands for simplicity and work that actually solves a user’s problem.
- Communication and collaboration abilities! And like anything, these can definitely be learned – the more you practice, the better you become at it. Always keep in mind that you will likely work with a team of designers, product managers, engineers. Thus, the ability to communicate your vision to stakeholders is almost more important than the ability to design.
- Curiosity! Are you a thinker, are you curious, do you ask why? Very important!
Most of the time the people that show great qualities in all of these areas are the people that we hire.
How do you give feedback to a designer when you are not satisfied with their work?
Firstly, it’s important to separate personal opinions from the company and the user needs. I don’t think that proper design feedback is ever about what I like and it’s because the user doesn’t care. What they care about is a design that solves the actual problem and that does so in a delightful and simple way.
So there are two angles to think about: a problem and a solution.
Another aspect could also be – how is a particular design new and how is it communicated to the end-user. It should never be about "do I like it or not".
What about giving feedback when you feel something is wrong but you’re not sure how to fix it?
First I would ask why do we think that something is wrong. Is it that it’s not solving the problem or is it that the solution is not right.
Secondly, we should test and research. Testing a design process is highly user-centered and iterative. By doing so we remove the risk of doing something that either doesn’t solve the problem or it solves it in the wrong way.
That’s why the best way to find out if the design is right or wrong is just simply by testing it.
How would you rate “design reputation” in the B2B software environment?
Here it’s important to consider how far we have come with business and consumer software. Sort of mainstream opinion used to be that business software has a lower quality design. It’s because when technology was not as democratized it took so much effort just to build something valuable. In such conditions just having a feature was enough to sell the product.
However, I would say that tech and design democratization really followed each other. But now when the design is feasible – the question becomes how does a company differentiate itself from a competitor.
I think that the correct answer goes beyond the feature set, price, product, placement, and promotion. Because when all the products have the same features, design becomes the differentiator.
Actually, there was a survey that the community was doing. It turns out that design is the biggest ROI that you can do for your business. You spend 10% and get like 85% back, which is amazingly crazy.
Can you explain the main difference between UI and UX design?
I remember an interview with Don Norman, the person who coined the term UX. In 1993, he was working at Apple and had said that design is not only about the product but the whole experience around it.
If you take Apple, the interactions are everywhere: while browsing the product online, at the store while you're being presented with it, buying it in the most painless way possible, and long after the purchase as a part of exclusive customer service. All these moments combined make user experience.
On the other hand, the UI is only one aspect of the experience – the product screen. So, as a designer, you can choose which way you want to go. Either you’re interested in just the user interface or the overall experience (UX). Both routes are totally fine but they are different things.
How do you approach deciding on the complexity of UX designs?
Design is also about making choices. At HelloSign we intentionally focus on small and medium-size businesses. Those only need maybe 20, 30% of the feature set that a company like DocuSign provides. They also don’t have the money to pay for very expensive plans. So at HelloSign we simplify things and provide our customers only with what they need. This way they can go in and out, make very simple signatures, and be able to quickly carry on with everything else.
I also strongly believe that design does not always need to lead to engagement. A lot of the time our users don't want to spend eight hours of their time in our software. They want something that gets the job done easily and makes it better.
Delight in a business context is not engagement, it’s simplicity and straightforwardness.
Do you notice any particular trends in the world of UX design?
I would say that new design paradigms and patterns are born every day. They change what people are used to and transform how they perceive usability.
A great example of this is Snapchat. They have introduced a new pattern of holding the button to record a video. That kind of particular design pattern did not exist before micro video apps like Snapchat were born. However, after all of these apps are now popular, everyone has gotten used it. So I think it’s a very interesting phenomenon.
And how does it translate to the skills of a designer? They need to know the basics of psychology and design principles. They need to be very up-to-date with new tech capabilities and design patterns. And they should understand what’s popular at the moment.
What do you think about following trends?
I have this love-hate relationship with trends in general. Still, it’s important for designers to follow them and understand what’s possible and popular. At the same time, if something is trendy, it doesn’t have to be good for business or applicable to our design.
You need to go back and ask who are the users. If we’re designing an app for teenagers, then trends might be applicable for that kind of software.
If we’re designing for a business or for older people, then we might not need to apply it. Once again, it’s always a good choice to go back to the users and think about what they need. We must be able and willing to help them in a way that is right for them, not for us.
What will your UX design course at ELVTR cover?
When I was making the course, I thought about the great junior designers who I interviewed but who never got the job. Most of the time this happens because they present their work poorly or don't understand all the real-life implications of their designs.
So in this course, I will teach the basics of the craft and how to make great designs.
In addition, I will teach the design process on how we actually design in a business environment in companies like Google, Apple, or Dropbox.
Thirdly, communication skills and some interviewing techniques to help up-and-coming designers break into the UX design world.
It would be great if participants have at least a little of understanding of UX and product design as a whole. It's even better if they have a few projects under their belt and some experience in design tools like Figma or Adobe. This course could then elevate that knowledge and help them transform their work to become a lot better.