User experience design (UX) can be defined as “enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.”
Although the idea of creating tools that make life easier and have a natural-feeling behavioral flow could be dated all the way back to the 1940s when machines started to become more prevalent in everyday life, the field really took off in the 1990s with the rise of computer and internet use. Fast forward to 2015 and now user experience design is one of the main focuses of a vast majority of software companies.
At 6sense, user experience design follows proven design methodologies and is very detail-oriented. We are fortunate enough to have Daniel Schwartz, a user experience designer with over 15 years of experience, leading these efforts. Recently, Daniel walked me through what it’s like to be a UX designer at 6sense as well as his fascinating backstory.
From graphic design to computer science to UX design
Daniel attended Washington University in St. Louis for his undergraduate studies. Initially, he was accepted into the School of Arts to study graphic design. Daniel had always been enamored with both computers and art (he paints murals in his free time!) and wanted to find an intersection of the two. Not long after he began this track, Daniel had a realization: he was using various graphics software programs tools to create, but he was actually more interested in how these tools were actually created, who else uses them and how, and the processes behind deciding what user interface components are used and their layout.
Daniel was unsure how much he would get to deep dive into such interests in his current major, so he decided to switch to computer science with the goals of better understanding the process and “materials” used to build software applications. His decision was soon confirmed when he began to recognize how rewarding it can be to code and see actual results of what you’ve created on a screen right in front of you.
“I fell in love then because it was just thrilling to write code to generate graphical user interfaces and elements right there on screen. I thought that was just phenomenal.”
The more Daniel learned about the creation of the UI for software, the more he felt that this was the part of software development where he fit in the best and was passionate about. The defining moment Daniel recalls is when he was studying abroad in Australia during his junior year of college, where he took his first formal user interface design class.
On Daniel’s final project, an Australian Football betting application, the professor told him that he lost points because the data was not coming out totally correct but still scored high because the UI was one of the best of the class. That’s when he realized that this could be his contribution to technology and software development: focusing on the design aspects of software development and how the user interface affects users and their ability to do their work.
Meaningful UX design in the enterprise
After gaining a few years of experience as a UX designer and artist at various tech companies, Daniel landed a gig in Oracle’s applications user experience department, then a small team of about 20 people. There he worked for over 11 years on numerous products and product lines, ranging from CRM, financials, to supply chain management. During his time at Oracle, Daniel was able to see the impact of UX grow as well as the impact it can have on a company both at a large scale and on a smaller product and team level. Further down the road, Daniel would serve as a reviewer of company-wide UX standards, develop original UX design patterns and component designs used across all of Oracle’s applications, with several of those filed as US patents for his extraordinary and novel UX design work.
It was during his tenure at Oracle that Daniel had another career-defining realization:
“The big thing I learned – something that’s exciting about creating enterprise software– is that if you can make someone else’s job easier, more pleasant, and inject little moments of delight that they might not expect, especially from enterprise software, then that person is able to get his or her job done faster, more easily, and with less frustration. This means they can leave work with a smile on their face as they were more effective at their job and get to spend better and more time with their families. There’s something very rewarding about that and it is often over looked in enterprise software design.”
Ultimately, as a UX designer, Daniel aims to create those moments of delight within his designs, make an elegant and visually appealing user interface, and most importantly, deliver a user experience that enables users to complete tasks more efficiently and empower users in their jobs.
“It’s a challenging problem to solve,” Daniel continues, “At the same time, though, this is definitely a golden age of designing for the enterprise. Now, consumer and enterprise user experiences are more intertwined than ever before because everyone is using computing devices at home such as phones, tablets, laptops, and smart TVs. People also have high expectations of the design of computing hardware and software because of companies like Apple, Airbnb, and Square and their strong design-focused products. People now expect that level of refinement, elegance, and simplicity in their workplace computing experiences as well. The bar is set really high for us and it’s a really exciting time to deliver.”
Getting inside users’ heads: more than just pretty visuals
At 6sense, Daniel plays an integral part in product development. He points out the interesting challenge that comes along with building products for sales and marketing professionals: these types of users are open to software that compliments the work that they’re already doing, but don’t tolerate software that disturbs their workflow and having to adopt new processes.
Daniel often cites Alan Cooper, a software designer and programmer, who developed the Goal-Directed Design methodology and pioneered the use of personas in high tech. Cooper’s methodologies have been a big influence on the way Daniel approaches UX design, and has carried these over to 6sense.
“One of the biggest lessons you learn in designing enterprise software is how critical it is to understand the end users. Because you aren’t any of these users, you have to be very empathetic and spend the time to understand who you’re designing for, what their pain points are, and what elements will create the best experience for them.”
How is this done at 6sense, you ask? Daniel first works closely with the team to get an in-depth understanding of our end users and will use this information to subsequently contribute to creating profiles for the different user types. To create these profiles, he asks a series of questions, including the following:
- What are his/her primary responsibilities and job role goals?
- What are his/her daily job tasks?
- What other software applications is he/she already using?
- What computing devices is he/she using?
To ensure the user profiles are on target and accurate, he will conduct what he calls a “Day in the Life” study, which consists of spending the day with a few end users of the product in their natural work environments- from the start of their day, till the end. This gives the UX team and all key product stakeholders an in-depth first-hand understanding of what a typical workday is like for their users, what their frustrations are, and also to help identify opportunities where 6sense can innovate and optimize their software to empower users within their workflow.
“UX design isn’t just about the visual presentation, it’s mostly about problem solving, and that’s what’s so fun about it. You have to put a nice face on the solution, but the most important part is solving the problems.”
Keep learning and keep it lean
Another important aspect of Daniel’s position at 6sense is to be consistently on top of the latest and greatest in regards to design trends, technologies, and methodologies. He loves learning new things and reads design blogs daily. He even created an internal UX channel to promote design within 6sense and for info sharing purposes.
Staying on top of other software platforms that are often used in conjunction with 6sense is high on his priority list, Daniel points out. Having an understanding of the other products being used by users of 6sense is crucial to ensuring that the user experience is more fluid.
Daniel points out the benefits of reading industry publications and learning new methodologies and tools that can be used to tackle some of the problems he faces on a daily basis. This also helps to ensure that all of our operations are as lean as possible by orchestrating the discovery of new software that can make processes less complicated.
At 6sense, the UX design process is extremely lean. Daniel and the product team are focused on designing and shipping the best product possible, rather than spending a majority of time documenting.
Test, fail, iterate, and succeed
According to Daniel, the most important factor for design success is being okay with failing often and being able to iterate on those failures quickly. It’s not uncommon for the first few tries at a new design to come out feeling a little off. Finding the humility to share these instances with key stakeholders (such as product managers and developers) and to iterate on them is crucial. Naturally, finding an environment that allows, or even better, encourages this, is an important part of becoming a successful UX designer.
“You can only create great products through a lot of iteration, and it’s not common for the first design you do to be perfect and hit all the right notes. The fun – and important – part is in the ideation and iteration. Sometimes you even come full circle and back to original ideas as they really were the best to start with! By trying concepts out, you get to see what really works.”
A very critical part to user-centered software design is putting your designs in front of users and doing proper user testing. Daniel explains how humbling this can be, because you actually see where the shortcomings lie even though you thought the design would flow properly and would meet all the user requirements.
“At the end of the day, consumer or enterprise, you’re designing this product for specific users, and even if you happen to be one of them, you’ve got to remove yourself from the equation and be focused on the other people using it. It’s about the product you’re trying to design, its purpose and the objectives of the users. A designers taste should come through in how the product and user goals can be best executed. When you achieve this, you will be successful.”
Daniel has very apparently mastered these skills, which is reflected in the quality of work he has done on the 6sense platform. Here, UX design is an integral part of both the product and engineering teams. If you’re interested in learning more about Daniel’s UX position or even working alongside him on our engineering or data science teams, click here to find out how.
6sense is hiring! If you’re a data scientist or software engineer who wants to be a part of a smart, passionate team in a fast-paced, positive work environment, apply today.