Cathy Blanquesa: Helping bring a human-centered focus to user experience

We sat down with Cathy Blanquesa, a UX/UI Specialist. She’s been working in the industry for over 10 years and was keen to share her experiences about User Experience.

What is UX?

For me UX means the study of your users and clients. The more you know them, the more you can give them solutions. Regardless of what process you’re using, the main goal would be to give the user and the business what they need. The user should be able to use your product easily and the business should be able to gather conversions.

It’s hard. That’s the hard part of UX, you have to really think about how people work on the business side. Business are focused on ROI.

How do you handle discussions like that around ROI?

We give about half the focus to the user and half the focus to the business. Without the user, there would be no business.

How do you prove ROI?

We do a lot of usability testing. For forms, for conversions, we have to check what the business needs and how does the user navigate easily. We have certain targets to meet.

So in your company there’s some kind of focus on UX?

In previous jobs, we used to focus on deadlines so we had limited options for getting the user’s perspective. There were also billable hours per project to consider which limited us too. Sometimes, we’d hear: ‘Don’t consider any UX, we need it by this date.’ so we couldn’t consider UX.

Each company is unique though and it’s much more user-centred with where I am now. It’s not project-based and there aren’t billable hours to consider so we get time to focus on doing UX properly.

How do we make UX part of our team’s DNA?

You should start with a stakeholder who understands UX. The problem is that even if you explain it to upper management, it’s still going to be hard for them to understand the benefits of it.

People in higher positions often only see UX as being UI. It’s hard for them to understand the difference. UX is a process not just visual design.

I’m lucky though because I have Gerry Dy who understands very well.

In other companies I’ve worked at, our internal projects usually had UX and some client projects did too but most of them didn’t. We’d often do “UX” in one day only so we basically only had enough time to do wireframes.

An internal seminar or an outside seminar can help improve the team’s knowledge in UX. 2 years ago it was hard but now it’s becoming easier to talk about and for people to know and find out what UX is.

Ultimately though, to convince stakeholders to invest in UX, you have to show the value of it.

What if the UX is good (content flow is nice, positioning of elements is good etc) but the aesthetics is bad? Is that still a good UX design?

It’s a good UX but it’s a bad [visual] design. Why is it good UX? Because it brings money, it brings conversions. Aesthetically, it depends on the person using it. The important thing is “Does it convert?”. If the website is used as intended, even though it’s not good looking, it’s a good UX for me.

Craigslist is really ugly but it works. And that’s the important thing: it works!

Can UX design be global sourced? E.g. can someone from the US do UX with a company in the Philippines with the end user being in the US?

I think it’s a yes….but you have to empathize with the people using it, only then you can do the UX effectively. It’s surprising that even though I’m a Filipino creating UX experiences in the Philippines, I still have a lot to learn about Filipinos about how they interact with the products.

When the users are hard to access (e.g. from US), one way of doing it is to do remote testing. For a project, we might do 50% remote testing with US users and 50% face to face testing with local users.

How to train my team in the most cost effective way?

One thing that has worked for me in the past is to institutionalize the learning so every morning, we’re required to send articles on a different topic each day. E.g. Monday is about UX, Tuesday is about Design, Wednesday is about Content etc. When you send it to the group, other people have to read it and every Friday we’d check in with each other to see what we learned that week.

So we have a fixed time for learning where we learn about e.g. new interactions that we can use.

UX is evolving all the time so we have to keep up. There might be a good process now but in 6 months, there could be something better.

How did you learn UX?

Self study. My first job was “Ergonomics” which is what they used to call UX. I would do interviews around the company to understand how customers used the system. In my second job, we used to create websites but we focused mostly on UI.

Throughout the course of my career, UX has grown from just UX to Service Design to Customer Experience but basically it’s about usability.

How can I find good UX practitioners for hiring?

The UX Philippines group on Facebook! Look for groups where the UX people are. Ask them yourself if you have the same vision of UX, how would you implement it. You also need to make sure that their attitude will be a good fit for the team.

It’s a different process in every company though and you have to grow your knowledge to be able to be effective.

You have to hire a UX practitioner who’s open to criticism. You’re designing for users, not for yourself, so you really have to take note of feedback etc. It’s part of our job to take criticism. I keep telling my team that you should take everything as a chance to learn and remember that they’re not criticizing you as a designer, they’re criticizing the design itself so you can improve on it. Don’t take it personally. Especially with us Filipinos – not all of us accept criticism well.

An important part of UX is that you should fail. Failing is good on the first few iterations of a design as long as you’re learning and improving it. You have to fail and improve. If you’re iterating but not learning, then you have a problem.

What’s your UX process?

Since we’re revamping right now, we did some usability testing of our existing digital properties and had discussions with the business about what they wanted.

rOnce that’s done, we have enough information to make prototypes for processes. We’re using Adobe XD for our designs which I like. I’ve also used Axure in the past.

When we’re doing UX, we use iterative design and do internal usability testing on our first iteration then show to the business to get their inputs then do a usability test on users to learn what we can from them before giving it to the developers.

What’s one thing you’d like to have in UX?

I think it would be good to have a community-sourced repository of tools or solutions. Tools keep coming so it would be good to have one single repository for reusing design solutions.

What tip would you give someone just getting started in UX?

Read! You have to read. You have to be open-minded. You cannot be sensitive. You must learn how to listen.

Phil Smithson