A Little Intro to Austin Knight
Austin Knight is one of HubSpot’s most accomplished UX designers, speakers, mentors and writers. Currently, he oversees UX for all of HubSpot’s web assets, including HubSpot.com and the HubSpot Blog. He’s a part of why HubSpot is a design-centric company. Austin has introduced Lean UX to HubSpot’s web UX teams and frequently speaks at various conferences across the world. You can also find Austin on his podcast, UX and Growth, where he and two colleagues discuss User Experience and Growth tactics. Austin is also a User Experience and Interaction Design mentor to various startups and students at Columbia University, General Assembly and Design Lab.
Not only is Austin an accomplished UX professional who takes time to mentor those just entering the field, he is an eloquent speaker, friendly face, and has a sort of quiet (but still hilarious!) sense of humor.
There’s quite a bit of talk about “design-centric” companies nowadays. (Think Airbnb, Spotify, etc.) You’ve already spent a few years as a UX designer at HubSpot and have a lot of experience at some other companies. Do you think HubSpot is a design centric company?
Yes I do. In a lot of ways, HubSpot is built on UX fundamentals. One can very easily draw similarities between the Inbound movement and core UX design principles.
For instance, UX fundamentals tell designers that as they focus the design of their products on giving the user a better experience, more users will naturally come to them and want to use their product. Similarly, the inbound methodology tells us that as we create useful content and offers that our audiences want to see, more users will come to us to consume said content. Each of these methodologies seek to attract and retain users via good design or good content.
It’s been easy to conduct UX at this company because these UX fundamentals are really baked into the way we think. Plus, we’ve been lucky enough to hire some really incredible designers that understand areas that stretch outside of their core competencies. For example, many of our Visual Designers and Developers will help solve UX problems. This makes it easy for us to be constantly ahead of the curve when it comes to our web properties.
What advice would you give to companies who want to build upon their culture - to make it more design driven?
I think the first thing companies need to do is to understand the value of design. Although design is often accepted in modern companies, it is commonly contingent on the designer being able to provide data that proves that design works. If you look at some of the most successful and influential modern day companies, they’re all design driven. That’s not an accident. Some companies might compete on things like their product features or pricing, but the most advanced companies compete on design. Thankfully, there is a slew of young (and amazing) design-centric startups that are making their way into the market.
As a designer, how do you make that case for design driven culture?
If you’re a designer and you’re fighting for design, you need to understand how to speak the language of your stakeholders. Focus on the style of communication that they will be most responsive to. In the majority of cases, this means that you’ll need to speak in quantitative terms. This can be intimidating to designers, but from my perspective, it’s important for to be able to justify your design decisions and advocate for your choices on your own. Ultimately, UX brings us as close as we can possibly be to taking the subjectivity out of design. UX designers should seek to create the most objective designs possible; those that best fit the need at hand. We use data, parsing it out after we gather it, to support our decisions. In my opinion, this method removes the ego from design.
Honestly though, you shouldn’t have to demonstrate the overarching and general importance of design to your entire company. If anyone should be doing it, it should be the company founders or anyone who is at the C-level. If those people aren’t doing it, the responsibility to fight for design isn’t the designer’s by default. They are responsible for standing up for their own work, not for design as a whole.
There can be tensions between design and other departments (sales, marketing etc) over design work. How do you approach that?
Designers should take an objective and balanced approach to disputes of this nature, bearing in mind that it is their responsibility to solve for both the user and the business. Because UX Designers are commonly the only individuals that are tasked with introducing direction from the user’s point of view (and thus advocating for the user), it can be easy to focus exclusively on the user and neglect the business in the process. This mistake is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the role that UX is intended to serve. Design, Marketing, and Sales all work for the same team and Designers should see it that way. They should seek the solutions that best solve for the business and the user. More often than not, the best designs will be the result of conflicting feedback that leads to a more intelligent and thoughtful solution.
Thanks so much for your thoughts, Austin! Do you have any suggestions for resources for our readers to learn more about UX?
Some great UX books are Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, and Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf. UX Magazine and Smashing Magazine provide some high quality online content and I also share insights into the industry through my personal blog and the UX and Growth Podcast.
Feel free to contact Austin here:
Austin’s Website: http://austinknight.com/
Austin’s Podcast: http://www.uxandgrowth.com/
Austin’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/ustinknight
Austin’s Medium: https://medium.com/@ustinknight