Interview with Shyamala Prayaga: “People think UX professionals are unicorns and thats the most common mistake”

Shyamala_Prayaga, former Amazon UX Evangelist

former Amazon UX Evangelist

Shyamala is a former Amazon UX Evangelist with more than 14 years of experience in this business.

Shyamala, we heard that you will be in Berlin for the first time in November. What are you looking forward to the most regarding your trip to Germany and especially to Berlin?

Yes this would be my first trip to Berlin and I am pretty excited about it! I heard Berlin is a beautiful place with quite a lot museums and tourist attraction so I am really looking forward to cover as much as I can esp the Museum Island. More than tourist attraction, I am looking forward to the conference itself. There are quite a few interesting speakers lined up this year which would make it fun.

In education you are a civil engineer. That is at first sight quite different from UX Design. How did it come about that you changed your career to UX designing and are there however any parallels to civil engineering, that are helpful to your job?

Since my childhood I have always been a very creative and constructive kind of person. Making things from the scratch always fascinated me and this was one of the reasons I chose civil engineering to learn and be part of a construction from the scratch. After my academics, I worked as an architect for sometime with a construction company before I transitioned to UX. I was equally passionate about computers and was always curious about arts and science behind the softwares. This zeal to know more about softwares made me a UX designer. Transition was not easy but I am happy I made it through the odds.

I see a lot of overlap between Civil engineering and UX. As a civil engineer you would try to understand your stakeholders requirements and end users, their expectations and needs. Same is the case with UX. We try to understand our end users and how they will use a product. In both cases we are designing and thinking about for user empathy, ease of use and accessibility. Another interesting overlap is design in general. In construction we are restricted by land size for structure design, detailing, and layout. In UX the restriction is the platform, OS etc.

Civil engineering definitely taught me „how restrictions and limitations can drive innovations“

From your point of view – what is the most common mistake that people make concerning user experience?

People think UX professionals are unicorns and thats the most common mistake. Most people still don’t understand the difference between user experience and user interface. For them both are the same. They feel user experience is just the icing on the cake. I hear companies saying we need a UI/UX designer who can design the user interface, develop the production ready code for implementation and collect metrics through user research etc. Its like asking 1 person to perform 3 people’s job.

But the reality is user experience is a very specialized skill set to have, its like an art.

Which other websites or apps are good examples for perfect UX designs?

My all time favorite app is Lark. Its a chat bot for fitness which is perfect blend of artificial intelligence and machine learning combined with user empathy, simple interactions and modern design.

Tim Ash, CEO at SiteTuners said in an interview from 2013 that in his eyes Amazon is a negative example on how to implement a responsive layout. He explained that it would be impossible to make one layout for the mobile and desktop version that fits both perfectly and he recommended to make two different websites for mobile and desktop. What do you think about this statement?

I somehow agree to Tim’s statement. People use mobile in different context and web in different and while designing we should understand how one design can fit both contexts. Sometime it may not. Example when I am using mobile app to buy things online I want easy and quick discoverability, whereas when I am using web I would do more leisure browsing and shopping. Having one responsive design would not solve the purpose because there may be some tradeoff’s we will have to do in mobile world to fit the web version. Having two design in situations like that is more logical because that way I can add more features into the mobile version adopting the native capabilities which may not be possible otherwise.

What do you think makes Amazon so successful and which significance does the UX Design have to this success?

Amazon is successful for multiple reasons including huge product inventory, customer support, machine learning algorithms suggesting users products they may like, recommendation engines suggesting other user’s buying behavior etc. Everything plugged together in the website is what makes it successful.

UX design has played significant role in the success of Amazon through processes like user research which helped in understanding from real users what they want, what they like and their mental model tied with online shopping. Interaction design helped to make the website more usable and product’s more discoverable.

Amazon is a very data driven company and User Experience is where all the data collection and data based design decisions happens.

Do you still buy things offline or are you “addicted” to Amazon and other online shops?

Depends on what I am looking for. Eg when buying apparels and shoes I still prefer offline brick and mortar stores because I get to try and feel them before buying. Even though online stores provide easy return policy, it feels little cumbersome to me. I prefer online shopping only for products where trials and fittings are not needed like kitchen accessories, home decors etc.

What are the most important things on your office desk?

In addition to my macbook and a high resolution desktop, the most essential things on my desk are lot of colorful sticky notes which I use for my Todo list, colorful markers and lot of white chart papers which I use to create quick sketches of my app design, color pencils, paper stencils for quick paper prototyping and showing my early design ideas to stakeholders on the go.

Please tell us about your typical day in the office.

I currently work for Voicebox. My typical day is completely fun filled and full of enthusiasm. The beginning of the day is filled with either jam sessions, brainstorming sessions or design reviews with stakeholders. Most of the day it is either solving complex problems and designing cool interactions while listening to music, or doing some user research planning and testing. Remaining time its coordinating and collaborating with the developers and QA on the go to understand technicalities. All this filled with few coffee and lunch breaks, Friday bagel parties, bi-weekly office hours party etc.

What will UX Design look like in five years?

UX has evolved a lot from where I started many years back. From people struggling to design a rich internet application to designing mobile applications with limited technology. Now the dynamics have changed to voice interface design, artificial intelligence and bots as personal assistance, augmented reality etc. Driver less cars are on its way. UX is everywhere.

UX has evolved so much that there are dedicated online training companies only focusing on UX training and UX career development.

Five years from now I can see UX design becoming the core of every domain. On the market trend side people will have their own personal assistant robot doing everything for them to home automation becoming more matured. The concept of smart homes will change. UX will play a vital role in all this.

On the other side, the number of UX designers will triple, more sophisticated UX tools will evolve, UX processes would be more matured. People will shift away from lean UX concept to something more structures and logical.

Thank you for the interview, Shyamala.