2 Minutes: Arthur Smit

We talk UX design with Caplin’s Arthur Smit.

Q: You definitely add a dash of unique style to the Caplin team! Let me ask the question everyone is dying to ask…..where do you get your shoes?

A: No… I’m not falling into that one again! Last time a friend of mine asked me, I told him where i’d got them, he went out and bought some as well. Every time we went out we ended up looking like twins. Now we actually phone each other to ask what shoes we are wearing, it’s ridiculous.

Q: In five sentences, tell us what a typical day in the life of a UX designer at Caplin is like….starting with your preferred breakfast in the Caplin kitchen.

A: Peanut butter (yum) on granary or seeded, fresh orange juice. Check email and meetings for the day. Overview of what was achieved yesterday set out a plan of action for today, re-assessing priorities. Sketch out ideas on paper and discuss with team, helping us decide where our time will be best utilised. Take sketches through to wireframes or design concepts.
Show these designs and wireframes in meetings as a visual support for communicating ideas. Have vision. Take feedback and incorporate where appropriate. Catch train.

Q: There are a lot definitions out there used to describe UX design. What’s yours?

A: For me UX is an attention to detail, not just from an aesthetic perspective, but from an emotional one. It is often thought that software or anything done through a computer is all about function, a binary appreciation for whether it works or not. It is not only that it should of course ‘work’ but it should work pleasingly, engage  and be aware of users’ expectations, this gives confidence in the fact that we have thought through all these processes carefully and with love. This builds trust in our clients, and as we all know that is the foundation of a successful relationship.

Q: Have you always been a UX designer? What made you get in to UX design?

A: I had started out in the e-learning industry as a UI Designer , but found that I had many ideas on how we could develop new interactions or optimise our working methods. This meant that I naturally gravitated towards a greater awareness of the users’ experience of an  e-course, as well as wanting to minimise our pain points in creating these courses.

Q: Tell us about the focus of Caplin’s UX Design Service.

A: Caplin is in a great position at the moment, our clients are seeing the benefits of what a good User Experience can do for their workflows. Software/ Web Apps have reached a point where complexity, flexibility, and usability are colliding violently, we can use UX to focus this into a manageable stream. Practically, this means that we help untangle a system that has gone out of control and out of touch with what it’s users originally needed it for. Lipstick on pigs, no more.

Q: UX designers take inspiration from obvious technology like websites and mobile phones. But what about less obvious things like cars, kitchens and clothing?

A: Nature, in a word. I’m inspired by the living models and modalities I see around me in everyday experience. The natural world around us has great design and has already solved a number of issues surrounding complexity and structure. It is an endless source of information and beauty, nice balance.

Q: The cat was lost in negative space……explain.

A: That thread is truly hilarious… I really get his point though. A commonly misunderstood aspect of design is that everything is subjective. I do not think it is that simple. Eyeballs have physical limitations and constraints (ie. Field of view, contrast, resolution)  not to mention how the brain interprets these to create what we call optical illusions. Therefore, it is important to consider how the eye reads a composition or image, I often discuss how the eye travels through a design. Where it’s entry point is and tracing out its path to see where I need breathing room. Though this often just sounds like ‘arty farty’ to most, it is based in science and how the brain is hardwired to respond to certain type of visual stimuli.  Easy example: You have black sheet of paper with a white circle off centre  on the page. The eye is immediately drawn to the white circle, because the brain is responding to it as if you were in darkness and are looking for a light. An understanding of this means that you can force peoples’ eyes to go where you want them to (this what magician classically use for misdirection). Space is important, it is not empty, it is pure potential onto which you can project meaning. In the above thread the negative space was being used to represent the isolated emotional state of the cat.

Q: Favourite book on UX design?

A: I must say I’m terrible with this, books are expensive and mostly out of date by the time that they are published. I understand that certain ergonomic principles remain the same no matter the situation, however I prefer to take in information as current as possible. I regularly look at presentations from industry experts as well as reading blogs which I follow and online communities for feedback. I really enjoy the dynamic response which is in that medium. Books tend to encourage a stagnant frame of mind in me, as the words feel like stone imposing, immovable, and unresponsive.

Q: There seems to be  some conflicting views surrounding UX design and its place within a software development environment. What’s your take on it?

A: I would advocate that the more UX can involve itself in every step of the process the better. This does not confine itself only to the software in question, but also an approach to client relationships, company image, and other modes of communication such as presentations, tone of language, and vision. The one thing that it is definitely not, is a more elaborate UI sensibility. A good UX team will mean that developers no longer need ponder on what is the best UI solution for a given problem as they will know which is the most meaningful interaction as it is driven by the persona of the end user.

Q: From a UX POV, what are some of your favourite websites/applications?

A: My favourites are simply websites/applications that enable me to work more efficiently, I’m quite a fan of DropBox as it immensely practical allows me to not have to carry around USB things in my pocket (which eventually get misplaced or lost anyway). I’m also a member of the DeviantArt community which has some powerful functions and is a great source of feedback in terms of what is successful or not by viewing analytics. The overall winner for me at the moment though is WordPress. The way in which it has been changing how we use the web is inspiring, they also have great documentation and support.

Q: Arthur, tell us what the future holds for UX design.

A: More enjoyable experiences, in life. I want to unleash everyone’s creative potential so that we can stop wasting our time and mostly our energy (as I’m not really sure that time is real anyway…..yet).

Q: Last computer you bought?

A: How can any self respecting UXer have anything else than a Mac?

Q: Next Thursday is the infamous Caplin summer party on our rooftop. This year we’re doing a “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” theme….can you give us any hints about the inspiration behind your hat?

A: Non … (^___-)

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