Robert Bowen November 7th, 2012

We Are All Just Hackers: An Interview with UX-Designer Aaron Irizarry

Several years ago, Aaron Irizarry set out on a journey in the design community, and has since left a lasting impression on the field as a whole. Through his personable nature, to the enthusiasm fueling his passion for the work that he does, Aaron has become a knowledgeable resource himself for designers of all flavors. With his talks on critique in design (with partner in crime, Adam Connor), he has recently established an ongoing dialog on this important aspect of the field. We had the fortune of getting some time with Aaron recently, so he could answer a few questions for the readers of Noupe. Below is the interview that resulted. We hope that through his wonderful and insightful answers you are as inspired as we are.

Interview with Aaron

Thanks again for agreeing and taking the time to answer these questions. So Aaron, if you don't mind, take a moment and introduce yourself. Well… I am a User Experience/Interaction Designer currently working for HP. I also do some designery things with the team over at nGen Works from time to time. I really love digging in and working through whatever it takes to create well-rounded product experiences that benefit the people who use them. I also love talking about the practical side of design, the everyday stuff we face as designers. Who are some of your biggest influences in design? Hmm… Good question the people who have influenced me haven't really influenced the actual artifacts that I design, but more so my approach to design, design thinking, and how to approach the relationships that stem from working in design teams. If I had to make a list it would be something like Russ Unger, Stephen Anderson, Garth Humbert, Aarron Walter, Nick Finck, at least those are the ones that are in the forefront of my mind. They are all very talented designers, but how they carry themselves and approach design (at least in my experiences with them) really impacted me, and left me wanting to improve, to make myself better in design and life in general (work life balance, etc.). You've been working in design and part of the online community for several years now, in your opinion, what have been the best developments and worst developments in the field since you first dove in? For me the best developments are really the tools that help us collaborate and communicate better as designers. Obviously many of us have benefited from Twitter, and apps/sites like Dribbble as it has connected us with so many people we may not have met, and even helped us to further our careers. I really don't have a list beyond that. As far as the worst development I would say it is our cynicism and how we express it through the same channels mentioned above. It really bums me out when a new app or site launches or gets updated and suddenly the experts come out with 140 characters of criticism with little to no context surrounding the teams that launched these products. It is just human nature we all fall prey to it. I am not even sure if that answers the questions correctly.. Lol. Specializing in experience design, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing this area of the field? That is a tough question as each individual will see it from their own perspective. Personally I see it as a relatively young field, and we're constantly fighting among ourselves to define it. I do believe definitions are important , but honestly I just want to build cool products with cool people, and whatever we need to call that in varying situations so be it. The possibility of relying on what has always worked gives me a bit of worry at times. Especially with technology advancing we have so many opportunities to create new rich experiences by trying new methods or at least not limiting ourselves to the same approach we have always used. With so many steps to the design process, what would you consider the most important? Why? I personally think the initial phases of the process, the kick off where communication, shared understanding, and goals are established is crucial. It really sets the tone for the whole product design process. I also believe that understanding critique and its purpose is very important to keeping the design process on track and ensuring that the design/product meets its goals and is successful. With the also-awesome Adam Connor, you have been giving talks about the importance of critique to design. How would you break down the critique process to get the best approach for your project? What are the keys to critique, so to speak? There are quite a few keys to critique, I can't go into detail about all of them here, but I would say one of the big ones is removing yourself from the process. It is not about the designer, it is about the product and making sure that it is meeting the goals that have been set for it. When a designer removes themselves and critiques with the rest of the team it becomes a true team effort focused on building a great product. As I said there are many other important factors and Adam and I talk about them on a site we recently launched Discussing Design. We hope it will be a great resource for design teams as they work through the critique process. What do you think that the design field's biggest strength is? What does the field really have going for it? I believe the community is the biggest strength, there are so many people willing to share their knowledge through writing, at conferences, and through podcasts. So many of the designers we see leading conversations about design are very approachable, we really have a wealth of resources at our fingertips. In that same respect, what do you think that the field's biggest drawback or weakness is? Not sure that I personally see one, maybe at times the community can get a bit like high school which damages the benefits I mentioned above, but other than that I don't have a huge weakness that I really see as a problem. People talk all the time about how 'we learn something new everyday'. What have you learned recently that has impacted your workflow or usual methodologies? I have learned that we are all just hackers. It can be so easy to be intimidated by some of the leaders in our industry, but they are designers just like us facing many of the same challenges we face. There are some immensely talented people out there, and they used their skills and hustled to get where they are. We can do the same. Just go out there and do what you love at the best level you can, to me that is success. Speaking of learning, what is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you got into the design game? 1) Find a mentor. 2) Don't let self-doubt become a hurdle. 3) Take the extra time to learn other skill sets. After watching the field of experience design evolve and grow over the past few years, what do you expect to see in the future evolutions? Hah… kinda stumped me with that one. What I think (and hope) we will see is more and more designers moving towards working on solving problems that help society e.g. problem spaces like health care, finance and banking, our political system, public transportation. I mention these because there are some amazingly talented people already working in these spaces to improve them, I love the idea of using our abilities to solve larger problems. Speaking of the future, what can we expect to see from you in the future? More tattoos, possibly a music project (metal of course) and more ramblings about design and its practical aspects. Adam and I are starting to provide workshops for companies and at conferences to help design teams improve the conversation around design, facilitation, and critique. This is something that is really catching on and we have some amazing opportunities both at conferences and for companies coming up and I am excited to see where it goes. Thanks for allowing me to ramble on...

Bonus Track: Discussing Design and the Art of Critique

Here is a video of the talk on design critique that Adam and Aaron gave at the IA Summit earlier this year. IA Summit 2012 - Discussing Design and the Art of Critique from Mad*Pow on Vimeo.

All For Now...

Though the interview is over you can find more from Aaron around the web at Discussing Design and This is Aaron's Life. Please share your thoughts with us on the answers given and ideas discussed. (dpe)

Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


      1. Haha nope intention… it was an older screenshot where I had a typo… it has since been fixed…oops :)

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