Michael Sueoka: Avoid paralysis by analysis

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Jun 2, 2016
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With offices in 7 cities, The Mobile Majority works with Paramount Studios, Hershey’s, Procter & Gamble, and more brands to build, launch, deliver, and measure mobile advertising campaigns.

We talked to Michael Sueoka, Head of User Experience at The Mobile Majority, about communication, how he got into UX, and his advice for new designers.

How is The Mobile Majority team set up?

We have a head of product, head of user experience, and 2 engineering teams grouped by location. Our engineers are either in Sao Paulo, Brazil or Santa Monica, California, and our head of product and myself are in Santa Monica.

Each team has both frontend and backend engineers so that they’re capable of building any feature necessary. The head of product and I are in charge of prioritizing, documenting, and managing a master backlog that both engineering teams pull from to fill their sprints.

How does your team communicate with each other? And how do you communicate with people on different teams? 

Our team has a daily standup, and we have a grooming and sprint planning meeting every other week. These are mostly to keep us updated on the progress of things and understand what we’ll be working on next.

We also use Slack—it lets us quickly give each other feedback or communicate with offices in other cities.

“Designers have to make decisions on the spot that take others days or weeks to make.”

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JIRA is where we prioritize, groom, and document all our features so that engineers can grab tickets as needed. We do our best to make sure each ticket is well documented with descriptions, mockups, and links to InVision prototypes if necessary.

Our collaboration sessions usually happen over a whiteboard sketch to hammer out the details on a project.

Where do you see mobile design headed?

The growth for mobile is insane. A big part of our global population still doesn’t have access to the internet, so when they do get access to it, it’ll be via some sort of cheap mobile device and not on a costly laptop or desktop. That said, smart and wearable gadgets will continue to become more and more integrated with our phones. As for the design itself, each application or gadget will become more simplified to help the user get straight to the point.

Also, designs will take into consideration more personalization within devices and applications based on the user’s interaction. So, say you set a temperature at home—then that could translate to your car.

Good mobile design is all about speed and simplicity.Twitter Logo Get the user to complete their goal as fast and as simply as possible. Focus on the main goal the user has and make sure every screen of the app takes your user one step closer to that goal. Simple design, visible navigation, and simple hierarchy gets the user directly to the point.

How do you build trust?

By basing our designs and documentation on user needs. Figure out why a user wants something to determine what they really need.Twitter Logo

The product team will usually figure out what needs to be built, come up with some concepts, get user feedback on our concepts, incorporate that feedback, then cross-reference those updated designs with engineers to make sure everything can actually be built.

“Build trust by basing your designs and documentation on user needs.”

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We also help our engineers understand our user needs through example scenarios in each feature request. This way, we aren’t just telling them to build something, but we explain how someone might use it in certain scenarios.

How do you hand off designs to developers?

We create tickets in JIRA. In each one, we include the following items:

  1. User acceptance criteria: Details of the features that need to be built in order for us to consider the feature complete
  2. Mockups: These can range from low-fidelity wires to high-fidelity clickable prototypes in InVision
  3. Example scenarios: A few examples of how someone will use the feature described so that engineers can get a better understanding of the user 

But designs are always changing, so I’ll need to update mockups for a feature an engineer is working on. I’ll then send the engineer updated mockups, which could be anything from a simple sketch to a high-fidelity wireframe, and also attach that to the ticket they’re working on.

How do you hire new people? And when you do hire new people, what does the onboarding/training process look like?

Candidates have a phone interview with one of our HR team members, followed by an in-person interview with the head of product and/or myself. We want to see if the candidate will be a good fit—we’ll also do an on-site exercise to see how they work. Basically, we’ll act as if we’re working on a feature we need to build and see the process the candidate goes through. 

The candidate then completes a small project at home and comes back to present their work to us along with some engineers, who will ask some questions about the feature. This allows us to see their work, watch how they interact with engineers, and observe how they interpret the feedback and questions they get from the team. This process is similar to how we present actual features to our engineers.

This might be followed up with another call and a final in-person interview.

For onboarding, we want our designers to take the user into consideration with everything they create.Twitter Logo So, new hires work with and watch our internal ad operations team to understand how mobile advertising campaigns are received, set up, and completed. At first, it might seem like they were hired to be an ad operations team member, but we just want to make sure they understand the industry and feel the pains a user goes through.

How did you get to where you are now?

I actually wrote a blog post about it. I had my own internet marketing company and also ran a design agency. I realized that the internet marketing company would focus too much on analytics, while the design agency would create something that looked amazing but didn’t necessarily work well.

Then I saw the term “user experience” and realized this was a combination of both the internet marketing company and the design agency—and this was what I was trying to do all along. I studied UX through some in-person courses, got an apprenticeship with Jaime Levy, and started working as a freelance UX designer. Many startups, agencies, and big companies later, I ended up here at The Mobile Majority.

“Designers have to be open, honest, and willing to collaborate.”

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What’s the most powerful part of your design process?

We’re open, honest, and available to collaborate—that’s so important for great design. 

I try to get feedback not just from users, but also from our engineers, sales team, account managers, and so on. Often, an engineer or someone in sales can provide great ideas nobody’s thought of.Twitter Logo Plus, it’s always good to get a new eye on any designs. If a new set of eyes can understand something, then a seasoned pro should be able to as well.

How do you use InVision as part of your design process?

As often as possible I try to put a clickable prototype in front of a user to get feedback. Sometimes it’s for validating concepts and sometimes it’s to show users random explorations we want to consider. It saves us a ton of time.

Ideally, we include a link to an InVision prototype in every single ticket we create for a feature. We’ll walk the engineers through the prototype when we prioritize and groom the backlog, and they can then refer to it as they’re developing the feature.

“Avoid paralysis by analysis.”

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Do you have any advice for new designers?

Avoid paralysis by analysis.Twitter Logo Take everything with a grain of salt. Designers have to make decisions on the spot that take others days or weeks to make. Make the decision, go with it, learn from it, and improve on it.

There is no silver bullet. When I was a teacher’s assistant at UCLA, we put everyone on the same UX task to prove a point to the students. At the end of that task they all came up with a different solution. Some worked better than others, but the point is that there’s never a single best answer.

Move forward with what you believe in.Twitter Logo And don’t be afraid to try multiple options.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard