Neil Shankar — Square
Neil Shankar is an Indian-American digital designer based in Berkeley, California. He is online as @tallneil.
I know it’s cliche, but I started designing during my days playing in metal bands. T-shirts, flyers, posters, websites, album covers, those sorts of things. It taught me a lot about how to actually get shit done without money. You can make some cool stuff with a photocopier and some ingenuity. It was instilled in me that good work was about a great idea, and not just a having a budget or a big team. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll like having that money, but without a good idea, it’s just fancy doo doo (technical term).
I spend a lot of time in planning meetings and testing reviews, which comes with being a UX manager. However, I’m still responsible for individual contributions since I work with the growth team, whose primary focus is testing new ideas, sort of like the UX research and development team. In that case, my day generally consists of looking at user behaviors and trends and finding opportunities for improvement through qualitative and quantitative data.
My typical day has changed quite a bit switching from agency-life to being in-house. I wouldn’t change my time at agencies or studios for anything, but I very rarely felt like I was building something and watching it grow. It always seemed to be about making something rad and then sending it on its way. Being in-house has allowed me to move much more deliberately and think of the life-cycle of an idea, not just the deliverable date. For me at least, it means having a lot more time to really gain customer insights and building trust with my stakeholders rather than just working on a brief that I’ve been provided.
I use FlipBoard to be notified of trending topics in UX, design, and technology, and I’m on Medium a ton- particularly on UX Collective. If you haven't given it a peek, I’d recommend it.
I’m an avid downloader of apps and tryer (word-not-word) of new products, I love free trials. I generally try to stay on top of new products, apps, or other emerging techs by giving everything a try.
I also think that there is a lot to learn about user experience from other fields like industrial design, engineering, and social sciences. I often times find myself inspired by things with a kernel of an idea that transcends its field of origin.
I feel like I’m constantly amazed at the ingenuity people have in our field. Maybe the most impactful product I’ve used lately has been Headspace. There are a lot of meditation products out there, but they generally fall short for beginners or their UI feels outdated. Headspace manages to nail onboarding to not just their product, but to meditation in general for beginners.
They also break things into small achievable goals and have “packs” dedicated to why you are meditating. This is a fantastic observation into a user’s real life needs.
More and more, I’m impressed by products like Headspace that are aimed to improve people’s well being, especially when they apply a great user-centric approach to typically IRL exercises.
That’s a tough one, I’ve been a part of some great teams that have done some really neat things. In no particular order: I’ve co-chaired and lead branding for Method + Madness, a design conference (see it on FPO). I’ve worked on a project for an autonomous vehicle named Olli, while working as Interactive Creative Director at Magentry. (See it on my site).
I’ve redesigned a full packaging system for Boon, an international toy company, (see it on DieLine). The most recent is probably all of the new work we’re doing at GoDaddy to re-imagine our brand and our user experience. (Sneak peek on Dribbble).
We all face lots of challenges in our work. For me, it’s balancing user needs with business goals and convincing the stakeholder of the positive correlation between the two. It’s easy to find yourself stuck focusing on sales/marketing KPIs instead of user intent.
I always say that it’s a UXers job to be a user advocate above all else. However, you’re not doing your job if you’re not keeping in mind what your stakeholders are being measured by. It’s probably the hardest thing that we struggle with on a daily basis. That’s why I think a big part of our job as UXers is being great at presentations. We have to be able to convince our stakeholders by showing how a user-centric solution can lead to positive business outcomes. That may mean putting together a fancy Keynote, or (god-help-you) a Powerpoint geared towards people who are responsible for financial outcomes.
Don’t be a jerk and work hard. This is especially true for young designers, but it doesn’t change for established ones. The projects/products you will work on will often times span multiple months or even years. Having a group of thoughtful co-workers makes solving problems together so much easier.
You’ll constantly debate between different approaches, strategies and designs, so the better you’re able to constructively work with people, the easier it’ll be to put petty differences aside and just do the best work.
I’d also add that if you don’t have empathy for those you work closest with, how can you expect to have some for those who you’re creating experiences for?