Interview with Jérémie Lévi, user experience designer: UX beyond design
When you’re hungry for knowledge, one of the big advantages of working for an agency is that you’re surrounded by an impressive number of experts, each more inspiring than the next. I’ll be chatting with them on a regular basis, reporting back on their latest observations and discoveries, and getting a unique perspective on the future of digital.
This month, I met with senior UX/UI designer Jérémie Lévi. Trained as a web designer, Jérémie has been working in the world of digital creation since 2009. He has worked on the advertiser side as well as the agency side, for companies such as Ricardo, Globalia and FLY Conseils. Jérémie joined our customer experience team in 2018.
It’s a pleasure to get to interview you, Jérémie! Let’s start from the beginning – or rather, with something you might do at the end of the day… How would you explain what you do for a living to someone you met at a 5 à 7?
I make websites! (Laughs.) I usually explain that I started in graphic design, then moved into web design, which finally evolved into UX design. I often hear, “Oh! So you do drawings!” Nope. You might say my job has parallels to an architect who draws up plans for a house. It’s really design more than production.
What led you to do what you do today? How would you explain your career path in four sentences?
How about four steps, instead of four sentences?
When I was younger, my dad brought a computer home one day. A great gift! The first thing I did was a drawing in Paint, that I printed and gave to my mom. (Laughs.)
The second step was the discovery that I could be a graphic designer – I had never heard of it as a profession when I was still in high school. At that time, the profession was very artistic, very focused on beauty and aesthetics.
The third step marked the beginning of a specialization in web, a dive straight into digital. At this stage, I was doing web design that was nice to look at, but wasn’t necessarily practical for users.
Then finally, three years ago I became interested in UX design, because it’s a job that focuses on creating balance between pretty and good. And that’s how I got here!
What’s your greatest strength as a UX designer?
In the soft skills category, I would say that making information more accessible is one of my strong points.
Do you have any examples?
Yes, even just explaining what user experience means. My clients and colleagues, and even some UX designers, don’t always have a good overall understanding of what it is. This ability to transmit knowledge and put it into practice is an important way for me to create value for clients. And let me tell you, good client communication isn’t a common trait among designers! (Laughs.)
In concrete terms, what does it look like when you provide client support?
Design thinking workshops, something we recently starting doing for clients, are particularly effective.
What form do those take, exactly?
We start by identifying a problem. It could be very specific, or more high level. For example, how to optimize a sign-up page. Our collaborative workshops are designed not to rely on technology; we use nothing but a white board, markers and post-its. That way we really make room for empathy and creativity rather than execution, and design plays a more strategic role. This is when we really dive into UX. We talk about user needs we’ve learned about through insights gleaned from various measurement tools. We identify which page elements could be optimized.
Spending two hours in a room together, we’re able to solve problems that would usually take two to three weeks with everyone working separately. It’s true co-creation, and clients love that!
What experience was the greatest springboard for your career?
It wasn’t really an experience but an encounter that pushed me towards the expertise I have now. And I am fortunate enough to have that person as my team lead at Adviso today.
You’re talking about Sébastien Tremblay!
Sébastien is someone who greatly influenced the way I see design, he showed me how it can have a more strategic side. He’s the one who pointed me in the direction of UX design, and made me think about my practices – for the better of course! (Laughs.) He opened my eyes to everything inbound marketing-related, and really to web marketing in the broader sense. You have to understand, asking a graphic designer to user Google Analytics for design was unfathomable just a few years ago. And now, it’s practically become mandatory for good UX design!
Would you say that this philosophy that design should be both pretty and good is common among marketing professionals?
Well, UX design is still fairly new. If we’re talking about A/B testing, user testing and user research, it’s easy for more novice professionals to go astray. Those instincts, which, in my opinion are essential for the creation of a good site, are not yet entrenched throughout the industry, unfortunately.
And yet, the term UX has been around for quite a few years, hasn’t it?
A very long time, yes! Recently, we’ve been seeing the term UX tacked on to just about everything. For example, UX writer, UX developer; it’s everywhere. In the end though, something UX is something that is practical for users. And it’s this practical dimension that’s relatively recent. For example, UX writing means writing for users, which means giving them the right information at the right time, like managing error messages, for example.
Here’s a question that’s both very simple and very complex. What is customer experience (CX)? Is it similar to customer service?
It’s both very close to and very far from the concept of customer service. What our team is trying to do, is advise our clients so that they can do the maximum for their own customers. And I am referring here to everything that includes contact with customers or potential customers, from what they will experience while browsing the website, to conducting a frustration-free online order return, for example. That’s the role of a person working in CX, or customer experience: offer an irreproachable experience to customers and prospects at all points of sale, whether physical or digital.
What’s the greatest challenge in that regard, in your opinion?
Think about Sears, all those giant stores that closed because the web is becoming more and more entrenched in people’s purchase habits. That’s why customer experience has been such a hot topic for the past few years.
A little anecdote. When I bought my first iMac in an Apple Store, there were literally ten salespeople standing at the exit applauding me. Customer experience means making the customer feel important, making them feel supported throughout the purchase process, and even afterwards.
Coming back to store closures. A shop that offers an exemplary customer experience will always generate traffic to the store. The same holds true for the web, for sites and applications. We aren’t just selling products, we’re selling experiences. People might not remember the computer, but they will remember the applause.
How would you explain return on investment for CX budgets? What conversations will marketing managers have to have to convince upper management?
Are you selling your product or service to yourself, or to your customers? If you’re selling to your customers, adapt to your customers. Customer experience isn’t an expense, it’s an investment that needs to be built into sales and marketing budgets. That means marketing efforts will need to be made to attract people, but sales also has an important role to play, because in the end that’s what makes one website more competitive than another. A good customer experience is what sets us aside from the competition. I encourage you to read this Hubspot article on the topic of return on CX investment.
What are the different roles in CX, other than UX?
CX is attached to every point of contact a brand has with its current and potential customers. So you need a relationship marketing strategy, a way to create relationships with these customers, whether it’s through email or a loyalty program. Then there’s also the whole aspect of website optimization to increase results, and of course support for website redesigns, from a strategic perspective.
So lots of specializations, lots of tools, lots of platforms, lots of philosophies and even more functionalities. How do you sort it all out?
Working in user experience is an experience in and of itself. Heuristically, there are best practices, but in doing a bit of user research, by conducting tests, we learn more about our profession every day. Some users will give us insights we would never have come up with even if we were ten people around the table. Mastering a specialization doesn’t necessarily require you to know every user need.
How do you choose which tools you’ll work with?
It depends on the need. There are different UX tracking tools, heatmaps, user feedback tools. At Adviso, we try to stay technologically agnostic. So we are able to collect qualitative data using tools like Hotjar, CrazyEggs, LuckyOrange and Zoho PageSense. For quantitative data we mostly use Google Analytics.
When did you learn to work with Google Analytics?
Recently. (Laughs.) Data from GA is important because it allows us to complete our behavioural analysis when we are doing user research.
How would you explain the difference between qualitative and quantitative data in UX?
Qualitative means that it can’t, or almost can’t, be measured with numbers. One example of a qualitative behaviour might be a user clicking on various parts of a page. The movement of a mouse is not quantifiable. We don’t say it moved from point X to point Y, we watch it as a video recording. In contrast, quantitative data indicates the percentage of mobile visits versus desktop, bounce rates, etc.. We mix all this together to get a good idea of what direction to take our design.
Jérémie, if I wanted to learn more, what would you suggest?
Read! In French, I would say the second edition of Carine Lallemand’s book, that came out at the end of 2018, is a real bible of UX best practices, and so is her blog. In English, there’s Medium, especially the UX Planet and UX Collective pages that bring together a phenomenal quantity of content grouped together under several topics related to user experience. You’ll also find tools, reflections on current events and case studies. And of course, the Nielsen Norman Group blog is a classic. On the CX side I would recommend the Hubspot blog, which gets into user experience as well as the whole sales and marketing side.
Is there a newsletter that you’d consider life-changing?
Sidebar.io is a very good newsletter on web design in the broader sense, and contains lots of content on UX specifically. They had an article that announced the end of responsive design… And went on to explain that you should never have to specify that design is responsive, these days it should be a no-brainer that all design is responsive! (Laughs.)
Speaking of trends, what would you say are the trends to watch over the next few years? What should companies be paying particular attention to?
I would say there are one and a half things. In terms of strategy or website design, companies should, number one, put their money on personalization. And for the half, they should start thinking about artificial intelligence.
What does artificial intelligence mean for UX?
Artificial intelligence is a great way to collect user feedback, for example. Intelligence needs to be taught. It’s still an algorithm that needs to be developed, needs to be nurtured.
For example, do you like this photo? Yes or no. Did you buy the red product or the blue one? If you chose blue, there’s a good chance you prefer blue in general. It’s using this type of information that your AI will learn to personalize your user experience. Do you know what I mean?
One hundred per cent!
The reason I say it’s only a half, is because artificial intelligence is still relatively poorly understood. It gets a lot of lip service these days, but in terms of its use in the development of websites, in our ways of working, we are really, really not there yet.
In short, we’re all talking about it, but no one is doing it. Kind of like sex in high school! (Laughs.)
We’re in the thick of it. We’re trying to understand how to offer a better experience. First off, there’s personalization. That’s something we can already do, there are lots of well-known tools that provide solutions along those lines, like Hubspot with intelligent content that changes depending on the persona and the customer journey.
Which means the more information we have on our personas, the better the content we can offer. So this ties back to the concept of the single customer view, if I’m connecting the dots properly. In addition, CX expertise seems to be complementary to lots of other digital disciplines. We’ve talked about content marketing, media campaigns, analytics and many others. Do you collaborate with other teams often?
There’s starting to be no choice! All the disciplines need to be able to collaborate, especially with CX! (Laughs.)
Lastly, would you consider CX to be a philosophy more than a discipline?
Yes, it’s still a utopia! (Laughs.) It’s achievable, but customer experience needs to be exerting a far greater influence on digital in general.
Thanks so much, Jérémie, for sharing your expertise with our readers!