PDINZ Interview - Jaz Wilkinson

An existing Member (DINZ) who has gained up to five years experience as a practising designer and attained a high level of professional competency in their design sector may apply to DINZ for Professional accreditation. A Professional Peer Review is carried out by a selected panel to acknowledge this Professional Membership (PDINZ).

The PDINZ Interviews are a follow up with recent successful Professional Peer Review candidates.

Jaz Wilkinson PDINZ
UX Strategist and Product Designer, UXNZ

Q: Why PDINZ now?
Jaz: I'm interested in non-digital product design, especially furniture and spatial, DINZ is a window to broader design disciplines outside the digital bubble I sometimes find myself in. Women and UX designers are under-represented in the PDINZ category, so when given the opportunity I thought it important to represent!

Q: What do you hope to contribute as PDINZ?
Jaz: I’d like to raise the awareness of how much design thinking and design research happens in good digital design, foster cross-pollination of ideas between disciplines, and help younger and marginalised designers get where they want to go. Making the value of strategic design in business more visible is key to everyone’s success.

A big problem we see is a lack of training opportunities in UX, and entry level jobs. Everyone is desperate for experienced designers, and there are so many new designers trying to get that first break, but there aren't good pathways to get the skills and experience employers want. There's a real disconnect there. We've talked about pairing new designers on not-for-profit projects, but there would still need to be some funding.

A bachelor's degree in UX would be a fantastic start – so much more useful to the world – and for getting a job! – than some paths of study. The field of UX is certainly broad enough to fill a three-year degree with students majoring in different disciplines, over and above interaction/visual design.

Q: In your PDINZ interview you spoke about your hospitality experience as a youth and how that, in a way, helped shape many of the ways you think about what you do now, can you expand?

Jaz: That work is experience design, service design, ethnographic research all wrapped up in a night's work. You learn a lot about how to read people, understand the kind of experience people are after and try to facilitate it. You're constantly iterating on the service you're providing to make it more efficient, more sparkly, more memorable... paying close attention to the details and juggling many user needs at once.

Q: Is there anyone you feel has been particularly important in shaping your thinking about UX?
Jaz: Falling into the emerging UX community in Brighton (UK) in the 2000s was pivotal for me. I was working in cafes and pubs talking about radically different methods for web design with some very smart people.

Hands-on experience with different user groups and seeing the impact of design decisions is what has shaped my thinking as a designer. You see new things every day, through a fresh set of eyes. You see what works and what doesn't. Some patterns of behaviour are quite universal, some very specific to a cohort. It all contributes to that 'instinct' you develop about what's going to work, even if you can't quite rationalise exactly why. The concept of  “thin slicing” in the book Blink is fascinating – the subconscious knowledge you hold without knowing it.

Q: “Are we building the right thing?” seems to be a phrase you often ask. Why do you think that is important?
Jaz: I see a lot of start-ups or companies embarking on propositions that have come from within the business, being too quick to get into development, burning all their cash and not getting traction. Internal subject matter experts can know their customers really well, but every business I've worked with has learnt something new, changed its approach and had a much more successful outcome after investing in UX. Some still have the perception that up-front research and design slows things down, but they are usually not looking at the broader timeline of how long it takes them to get to product-market fit, or the time and cost of fixing applications that don't hit the mark. I really don't subscribe to the idea of the Minimum Viable Product – it's not appropriate for all audiences. Identifying the Minimal Valuable Product is what leads to success in my experience.

Q: You touched very briefly on the subject of designing with empathy. It seems to me that is at the core of UX, to put yourself in the place of the user and make their journey more satisfactory. Do you think there are techniques to foster empathy? Can it be taught?
Jaz: I have certainly learnt a lot in my time. I've learnt that putting yourself in the place of the user is not at all a substitute for talking to and observing real representative users. Hearing people's stories, seeing their frustrations and how badly they are being let down by the systems and services they have to work with really fires me up. When you're designing with real people's voices in your mind, it's much easier to put them first. 

I also think having a broad and diverse range of life experiences is vital to being a good designer. I've travelled a lot, done a lot of different jobs, lived with all sorts of people, had all sorts of positive and negative experiences... it all fosters empathy and perspective, as a human and as a designer.

Q: This design idea of “form follows emotion” seems to be quite relevant in the UX world, but there is also a fine balance between eliciting emotion and not being manipulative… how do you think that balance can be achieved in digital products, how do you achieve it yourself?
Jaz: Being ethical in design is very important to me. I'm very considered about the work I take on, and I'm not known for keeping quiet about design solutions that I think are unethical or could cause harm. Design is not only about problem solving, but problem finding... it sounds kind of pessimistic but it's necessary to always be asking ‘how could this go wrong?, what does the worst case scenario look like?’

I often hear people say ‘that’s not our problem to solve’ when thinking about privacy or security issues, but it actually is, we shouldn’t design things that allow the user to fail.

I always say, “there is no such thing as user error – only poor system design”.

DINZ Interviews

When the opportunity arises, DINZ interviews leading designers from here and overseas. These interviews seek to dig beneath the surface to address the common and uncommon challenges, problems and opportunities the design community faces.