Q&A

Stéphanie Wal­ter re­veals why it’s okay to ‘cheat’ when devel­op­ing your UX strat­egy

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You’ve been talk­ing about ‘cheat­ing the UX’ re­cently. What ex­actly do you mean by that? You’ve op­ti­mised ev­ery re­quest and piece of code you could, yet your users are still com­plain­ing. Even worse: they don’t com­plain, they leave. This is where we start talk­ing about per­cep­tion.

Our hu­man brain works in a cer­tain way. Know­ing how it works helps us to build sites and prod­ucts that users per­ceive as easy and fast to use. So I’m talk­ing about tech­niques such as mi­cro-in­ter­ac­tions, vis­ual feed­backs, skele­ton screens and op­ti­mistic UIs. At my talks, I show you the best progress-load­ing in­di­ca­tor de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion. I ex­plain how to de­con­struct wait­ing time to build a video stream­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and how to com­mu­ni­cate speed per­cep­tion to the de­vel­op­ers.

Is it true that you find speak­ing stress­ful? If so, why do you do it? I hated to speak in pub­lic when I was a stu­dent. When some­body asked me to give a talk at their con­fer­ence, I re­fused. Twice. They had to ask me three times. I was ter­ri­fied and was won­der­ing: ‘Why would any­body want to lis­ten to me?’ Also, I gave this first talk in English, which is not my na­tive lan­guage, so it was a huge chal­lenge. And I’m still su­per ner­vous when I talk, es­pe­cially in English. It takes me a huge amount of en­ergy to go on stage. Ac­cord­ing to other speak­ers, it gets a lit­tle bit bet­ter but the stress does not re­ally go away even af­ter a few years.

So why do I speak in pub­lic? Some­times be­cause I want to share some­thing I’m pas­sion­ate about (like the things you can do in mo­bile browsers to­day) and get other peo­ple pas­sion­ate about those things as well. Some­times be­cause I want to com­plain about some­thing that doesn’t work and drives me mad (hello mo­bile forms; peo­ple not let­ting me use the é in my name on the web) and raise aware­ness so we can find so­lu­tions to­gether. And in gen­eral, I like to share my process, plus speak­ing at con­fer­ences is a nice way to meet other peo­ple from the in­dus­try.

What is the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing UX right now? Fig­ur­ing out what UX ac­tu­ally is. UX has be­come a buzz­word. A lot of peo­ple will tell you they want a UX de­signer but they won’t let you do your job prop­erly. They just want a mon­key push­ing pix­els in a soft­ware. It’s hard to make peo­ple un­der­stand what this job ac­tu­ally means.

What’s the lat­est tool or tech­nique that’s got you ex­cited in web de­sign? I don’t code for a liv­ing any more but I’ve been fol­low­ing Grid Lay­out since I read Rachel An­drew’s ar­ti­cle in 2013 ( https://24ways.org/2012/css3-grid­lay­out/), and I’m su­per happy to see it’s fi­nally sup­ported. I’m also a big fan of CSS Vari­ables and the way they in­ter­act with JavaScript. This will help a lot for build­ing mi­cro-in­ter­ac­tions, for in­stance. I’m also still su­per ex­cited about mo­bile browser ca­pa­bil­i­ties such as ge­olo­ca­tion, push and me­dia ac­cess. I like that we can do so many things on mo­bile us­ing web tech­nolo­gies now. That’s why I also keep fol­low­ing what’s go­ing on with Pro­gres­sive Web Apps. Fi­nally, the evo­lu­tion of de­sign tools makes me happy. We fi­nally have great UI tools that let us pro­to­type as well quite eas­ily.

You live in Lux­em­bourg: what’s the web de­sign scene like there? There are a lot of designers work­ing for con­sult­ing and tech com­pa­nies like I do. We’re in this strange phase where we try to make clients and stake­hold­ers un­der­stand the value of de­sign. There’s still a lot of work to do to con­vince them. It re­quires pa­tience but you can ex­per­i­ment in a fun play­ground.

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