Head of UX - AKQA Milan
Empathy and charisma. These are the two main assets of an UX Designer to Valentina Badini.
The Head of UX of AKQA Milan and the new International Workshop UX Crash Lab’s facilitator highlights the importance of this job and affirms that in every digital project the User Experience is THE factor, in this interview.
My goal is to improve people’s lives in unexpected an impactful ways: I’m ultimately here for the people, not conversion rates.
Tell us about your academic and professional background. What made you choose this area?
I did a bit of everything during this first 30 years of my life, including cooking at other people’s homes as an amateur chef. Being eclectic is a big part of who I am, and I guess that’s why I started out studying humanities in high school (ancient greek, latin and all that jazz) and eventually found myself gravitating towards web design.
At first it was all about making money on the side while doing something cool and unexplored (at that time), but as it became a profession, I needed purpose and meaning. The ultimate purpose for me is improving people’s lives, and I tried to do just that, using the skills I worked on so hard: improving human interactions while keeping an eye on the business side as well.
How is your work day routine? Every day is a different day?
Yes and no. To be honest it never is, but I do my best in order to have some “me time” everyday; I’m not talking about going to spas or anything! For me it is about having some time alone in the morning to set the agenda for the day. Bullet journaling is a great tool to do just that!
Once I’m done with that, I feel a lot more in control and free to roam the agency! Usually I can be found in brainstorming sessions, workshops, sprint rooms and things alike.
What are the main challenges you find in your job?
I’d say two: stay current and manage time.
The first is something everybody in the digital field struggles with, and it has to do with finding a balance between learning and doing.
The second is something everybody struggles with, period. I’m passionate about self improvement and time management is a skill I’m painstakingly honing.
Nowadays, do you think that the User Experience is a determining factor in every digital project?
It is THE factor. As UX Designers, our job will be complete once we’re no longer needed and everybody working on a project acts as a UX Designer him/herself. Plus, when you have no goal or KPI for the project you’re working on, what’s the only thing that can truly tell you if your service is performing? Users’ experience.
In your perspective how is the international labour market in this area?
Vast but not saturated. Almost everybody had to turn to the digital field during the last 5 years; still, finding rockstars is hard. Why is that, given the incredible amount of designers out there? In my opinion, it has to do with the fact that we’re still a long way from understanding that soft skills are the magic ingredient. Once you find someone with the right mix of skills, it’s instant fireworks and everyone can see that. If you want to stand out, just remember that technical skills can be coached, soft skills are hard to change.
In your opinion, what will be the main UX trends in the next few years?
Definitely personalization and automation. Every company gathered incredible amounts of user data over time, and that’s where it’s headed: no wonder everyone is fussing over GDPR right now.
Also, I think accessibility will have another shot (very few actually dig into it so far): digital experiences are going to be the most widespread interaction method, thus they’ll need to be used and enjoyed by literally everyone.
Can you highlight some examples of a good user experience implementation?
I could go on for days listing nice apps and websites: the quality level definitely rose to new heights!
The projects I was most interested in this years had to do with chatbots and voice control: there’s a long road ahead, but they’re here to stay.
One project I loved though, is Airbnb Open Homes. Airbnb usually makes it to the top players when it comes to UX; this time the reason transcends the mere digital experience.
What is the best way to be always updated in the digital world?
Browse, analyse, critique, discuss. Then do something, even on the side, and see if you can do better.
Do you have any professional goals to fulfil?
I train myself constantly to become better everyday in connecting the dots, improving my lateral thinking abilities, looking for issues no one else noticed. That is my goal, to improve people’s lives in unexpected an impactful ways: I’m ultimately here for the people, not conversion rates.
In your opinion, what is the greatest asset of a UX Designer? And what should he do to differentiate himself?
Empathy. Developing a good level of compassion does the job: you suddenly become a lot better in understanding users, business needs and so forth.
Charisma. Designers have to lead, otherwise other needs will prevail over the ones users have.
What is the main goal of the UX Crash Lab Workshop that you will lead in EDIT. Lisbon? Why should design students and professionals sign up?
Together we’ll complete a challenging task from start to finish. We’ll replicate what happens in real life, inspiring ideas, tough constraints and all, while learning nifty techniques. Keeping an eye on the big picture is key and learning to stay alert and focused at all time, invaluable.