Coding Designers and Design Collaboration with Developers – 2020 Design Trends with Joe Cahill

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Welcome to 2020 Design Trends by UXPin. Today I’m joined by Joe Cahill. Joe, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Joe: I have been doing design and user experience for 20 years. I started out as a print designer. I’ve had the pleasure to work with some great clients over the years. Most recently with American Express, Saks Fifth Avenue, MasterCard, and I’m probably one of the most annoyingly happy people about doing design this whole time. I’ve never not loved what I’ve done and you’re going to hear me talk a lot about it. 

UXPin: That’s perfect because we’re going to talk about your point of view on design trends for 2020. Since you have 20 years of experience, what would you say about generation alpha coming into the picture? These are the kids that don’t even remember not having an iPhone or a smartphone with a touch screen. Do you think it’s going to change the way people design stuff? 

Joe: As generation alpha gets older and grows into this industry, their perspective is going to be so unique compared to how we’ve been doing it now. We had those flash websites that were super bulky and heavy, and they would take so long to load that we created loading screens for them. Now we’re looking at mobile devices and getting annoyed after a three-second load. Looking for information instantaneously is going to be a key thing with how [generation alpha] interacts with devices and everything that’s going to go on around them. We don’t even know yet, and that’s the funniest part. I have a lot of friends who have kids that are on their iPhones or iPads all the time.

Joe: [The kids] tell me what they want inside of [their devices], and I say, “We’re not there yet.” I like the energy, but that’s the thing – the world is going to be their oyster because this technology is going to be something they’re used to. Some of us who have been doing this for a long time are still trying to figure out what we can do. Where does the hardware and the software meet? And they’re going to be apt to knowing what the software is. A lot of them are learning coding now – it took me until I was 20 to learn coding and I was like, “What am I supposed to do with this? Let’s build HTML sites and do MySpace updates.” That just dated me. But they’re going to learn coding as part of their regular curriculum. 

UXPin: Like people in preschool learn coding now.

Joe: Yes, they have that little toy, the Code-A-Pillar, that rides around and little kids can direct its action. It’s amazing. English might not even be a language anymore. Kids will know code before they start talking, which I think is going to be amazing.

UXPin: Do you think they will talk in ones and zeros?

Joe: No, they’ll get super, super logical. They would be like, “If this, then that. Can you give me that FFFFFF shirt over there, please?”

UXPin: So since we started talking about colors, what do you think about Pantone’s classic blue for 2020 or, in general, having a color of the year?

Joe: The funniest thing about Pantone and knowing I’m somebody who has that Pantone book – fun fact, I’m actually colorblind. So when I was doing print design, I memorized the Pantone book. Any designer that’s worked with me knows I would just yell out colors and people would be asking, “What?” and I’d say, “You know, that red,” and they’d go, “Okay.” But for them to pick out that blue, they were going to have to pick a regular color at one point. But they did also just have a year where they added a hundred and something new colors to their color portfolio, and none of those could be color of the year? I don’t know. It’s blue.

UXPin: There’s a story behind it, where they said that this specific shade of blue is very soothing and we’re living in crazy times and everything is so hectic, so their statement is that maybe we should all just calm down.

Joe: Every year our color should be blue then. Anybody who’s been doing design long enough knows it’s never not hectic. One of my favorite things when you interview with a company is them saying, “Are you used to a fast-paced environment?” What’s the alternative? Are there jobs out there that are not fast paced? My version of fast paced is everybody else asking why I’m working so quickly. But guess what? All my layers are named, my files are tight. So no matter how fast we work, we still make sure that anybody could pick it up with no problem.

UXPin: We started talking a little bit about technology and how it’s going to change and influence the design world – what do you think about AI coming to the scene? Like AI technology not only helping designers, but also designing itself.

Joe: It’s an interesting thing. So Adobe has Sensei—they built it into Photoshop—that uses machine learning to figure out how to better retouch photos and take out backgrounds, which is a great additional tool for us to use. When we’re doing stuff, we can make it even quicker. We could load it with information about how users interact with the site. We can load it with information about how we expect people to react to it. But there’s always going to have to be a human element – our influence has to be there. No matter how much AI helps us out, there’s going to have to be a person on the other end using their intuition.

Joe: We have to test hypotheses. If we just have AI running and making insights, and running and making experiences, everybody might have a unique experience, but how unique will it really be? Granted, the machines will probably be smarter than us and just take over. This MacBook might just attack me at any point right now. But it’s still the idea and we need somebody behind it. Car manufacturing is now all automated, but there are still people in the factories working. There’s no way that we can only have machines doing our jobs. Except for checkout, because those things kind of rock, and that Amazon Go store. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you just scan a barcode, you walk in, you walk out. It’s like stealing. It’s amazing.

UXPin: Is it though?

Joe: Yes, it really is. There’s a clerk here and there, but nobody’s bothering you, grab a water, grab a sandwich, walk out. Look it up. It’s amazing.

UXPin: That’s so cool, but on the other hand we have this huge need for human contact or human touch when it comes to branding, or even in fashion. I don’t know if you noticed that, but we now could have a huge billboard with a huge photo that is not Photoshopped, and that’s crazy.

Joe: Who would do that to the poor photo re-touchers who are just sitting there waiting for something to come across their desk? Granted, our cameras are fly as hell now, but there’s always going to be a need for somebody to breathe life into something. You don’t have to go crazy. You don’t have to take out all the wrinkles on my face, but at least make me look like I’m not sick.

Joe: Going back to how the iPhone, the Galaxy, the Pixel’s technology of taking photos has grown exponentially in the last ten, fifteen years. If we look back to those Palm Trios and stuff that we used to take photos with – I still got really bad pictures from my Razr. It’s all machine learning. It’s all software that drives the quality. And even for real photographers, you’ll look at it and you’ll see a great image, but it still needs a little bit more to bring out the richness. You take a picture of a sunset, it’s never actually what you see. It’s always a little washed out or the colors aren’t balanced correctly. You might not get those vivid colors that you want to get, and that’s why you give it to a photographer to do some Photoshop and make sure it looks as picturesque as you want it to be.

UXPin: I swear to you that I’ve recently seen fashion photos where girls had stretch marks and freckles and everything, which ten years ago wouldn’t happen.

Joe: Oh no, definitely not. That stuff would definitely not fly ten years ago, maybe even five years ago. But I’m guaranteeing that there’s still a little retouching. They might take out other things. It’s good for people to feel like we’re looking at regular people, too.

That’s where all human experience comes from. It’s to want something that you’re going to relate to. Even from a software end with apps that really bump up the personalization for me – when I say, “Oh man, I need laundry detergent” and then I see an ad for Tide on my Instagram, it’s fine because I’m going to remember to order that, and then put it in my Amazon cart, and then Amazon would remind me that I also need dryer sheets. It still helps you out, like personal assistants in a way. So when you’re saying these people look like real people, it’s great because we can relate to it.

UXPin: That’s true. So that’s a business decision, right? Because I strongly believe that this is a reaction to the fast pace that we live in, and technology is developing so fast that we need to balance stuff. We need a human touch in our life as well. So that’s why I think businesses would choose to go that way.

Joe: That’s the nature of business. Sometimes they’ll make moves that we might question, and then we sit back and realize that it makes sense. We can go way back to when Apple decided to make the move from macOS 9.2. 4 to OS 10, which was a Unix-based system. It was the big move to a whole new UI, a whole new experience. What we’re used to seeing now in a Mac was brand new at one point and developers were worried because it wasn’t in the codebase that they were working in. It wasn’t built the same way it used to be. Developers wondered what they were going to do.  At the time, they used QuarkXPress, a desktop publishing tool.

UXPin: Yes.

Joe: And they said, “Listen Apple, I know this is what you’re going to do, but we’re not going to support it, so good luck.” They disappeared, now we have InDesign. Adobe sat back and said “Listen, our people use this software, they’re not going to support it. So we have to carry on with the times.” It’s a tough thing to change a code base for any developer who’s had to migrate from old code to a react code. It’s not easy. It’s a big haul.

UXPin: Well, people are talking more and more about designers learning to code and that maybe there’s going to be a merge between design and development. For example, as you explained, we have those components that translate the design directly into HTML.

Joe: There’s always going to be a divide. There are always going to be people who are coders and people who are designers, but I feel like the understanding of what these people do will get better. When we started out designing websites, I learned how to code. I learned HTML, Java scripting, Flash, and jQuery, because I felt it helped me understand how I was going to build a design. I think it’s still true now for designers and especially the designers that I’ve worked with. I tell them you don’t have to be a react developer, but understand how the component works and the parts around it. Go grab a drink with your developer and pick their brain about things.

They’re going to pick your brain about user experience, because despite our best efforts, people still think UX designers are visual designers. They don’t understand that there’s psychology that comes with it. When we talk in a room, it’s not because we want to, it’s because we have to. Because somebody has to think about this. It’s cool because if you do want to do both, it’ll be a great opportunity. But it’s tough to learn coding. You have to be in it to win it. But having the understanding of both ends is definitely the best part. My thing is always design development – you’re partners in this. If we’re using the analogy of a sports team, you guys have to work together for us to win. 

You can’t just have the quarterback take the ball back and then look for a running back who’s over on the other side and say, “Oh, we’re supposed to run this play together and you’re not even here.” You have to be there next to each other in the trenches and have that vocabulary. Back in the day when we did print design, you would meet with your printer and you would talk to them and find out how the press works. How would you want your files? Does this run a little more blue on the blacks? Do I have to throw that in my spot colors? Just having that relationship changes the game across what we did 20 years ago and still do what we’re doing now.

I love having developers iterate with us because they have great ideas, because they’re just like us. We’re all students of UX. That’s my favorite thing to say. All of us have phones, all of us browse the web, unless you’re Amish and you don’t do technology. But we’ve all downloaded an app and said it sucks and then deleted it or played a game and said the controls are wonky. So we have an opinion about it and it might not be the same, like a technical opinion from an actual UX designer, but it would still be, “Hey,  I was on this and I saw this and it didn’t work. But this worked really well and I enjoyed it. Can we use this?” And then it’s yes, let’s do it. Let’s figure it out. Let’s bring it to usability testing and then have a user tell us if they love it or hate it, you know?

UXPin: Yes, and when you talk about how UX designers are the people who have to think about stuff, and I’m pretty sure that accessibility and inclusive design is going to be a really strong trend in 2020. I hope it’s not going to be a trend that comes and goes, but a necessity in the future because we have to be inclusive in our designs. 

Joe: Yes. I think it’s actually going to become way more a part of that initial process of design. The more we get used to having accessibility as part of our vernacular, the easier it’ll be for us to just build experiences effortlessly. Like the idea of color contrast – that was never a thing until somebody started talking about it, and now you run everything through a plugin that checks your accessibility and makes sure your color contrast is good. Now we’re going audible in using screen readers, by using sound. I just read a great article about using haptic feedback on phones for accessibility. It’s so important. 

It’s got to be a part of it and the more I’m meeting designers, they’re all telling me about the importance of accessibility. I just met a bunch of people last night and their job was accessibility for UX at a big corporate environment, and it’s when companies get sued that they decide that they need accessibility. That’s the trigger sometimes. People don’t know that this is really important until something happens. We have to be an advocate and speak up when it’s not going to pass accessibility checks. How’s this going to work with a screen reader? Again, educating the development end so that they’re coding in a way that’s accessible, but is also part of our design process. We can’t build stuff just for the sake of building and we have to realize how everything works. A great book is Mismatch, it’s all about inclusive design. 

UXPin: Cool. Thanks for the homework. I would love to talk to you more about your views on UX design and 2020, and what’s it going to bring us. But for now, thank you very much, Joe.

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