Kevin Schumacher talks about design in the travel industry, being “half a developer”, UX for desktop vs. Web vs. mobile, and not being sued by a German company. Hosted by Ben Judy.
Welcome to the DFW UX podcast – the podcast for user experience professionals in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, all of North Texas, and beyond. This is episode number two. I’m your host, Ben Judy, and in this episode I’ll have a conversation with our guest Kevin Schumacher. Kevin, welcome!
Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.
Now, I’ve been looking at your website which – let’s just get this out the way – you are “schubox” pretty much everywhere online. S-c-h-u-b-o-x.
That’s correct. Much to the duress of a German company that builds some sort of technology that I’m not – I think it’s all in German, so I don’t know what they’re selling, really.
Hopefully they don’t come after you with, what, some kind of trademark infringement.
No, I had mine first. Let it be known, I’ve had mine for the good portion of a decade.
Well, I love what you have on the home page of your site at shoebox.com where you say, “great UX design lives in Texas,” and you say, “the Dallas Metroplex boasts more UX professionals than barbecue joints.”
Yeah, I think that's that pretty close to true. Recently, the New York Times put out a little widget that you can and tinker with on their page that allowed you to see the incoming and outgoing traffic of people moving in and out of cities. And DFW had – as far as the tech industry – a shocking amount of people moving into it from all over. So you find UX professionals from California and New York and probably a lot of people from Detroit, I would imagine, sadly. Which, if you look, Detroit has people moving out of it.
But, DFW and Austin area have a lot of UX professionals. They’re coming in from all sorts of places. It's a pretty exciting time to live in DFW, particularly in the economic climate that we have. It's pretty exciting to be in an area of growth.
Yeah, and I'm sure a lot of that does have to do with cost-of-living and other economic factors. Is there anything else you think that draws people particularly to DFW?
It’s pretty trendy. DFW has a lot of trend aspects to it. You’ve got a lot of, probably, I would say “famous” – at least this industry that we work in – you’ve got all sorts of people who are well-known. You got Travis Isaacs, Stephen Anderson, I would even put Jeremy Johnson in that category. He’s done all sorts of national types of conferences and so forth. And of course Brian Sullivan is well known also, and we both know him. He has done a good job of evangelizing UX across the United States, and he’s pretty high-profile as well.
Yeah, and all of those folks I need to get here, in the studio for this podcast, definitely.
So yeah, I just wanted to start there, because that’s pretty much right in line with the purpose of this new podcast: to shine a spotlight on the Metroplex and the great talent that's here, particularly with user experience design.
And let’s get this out there, too. Coming up here pretty soon on the calendar you are going to be running a workshop at the Big Design Conference.
Yes, that’s very exciting. That began actually just in conversation with Brian Sullivan. Because I’m actually going to the University of Texas at Dallas for my master degree in emerging media and communication. Some of my classmates and I put together a class project that was having to do with a quick decision making and creative critical thinking. Brian thought that make great workshop.
So Brian and I have cobbled together what I think is going to end up being a very engaging and interesting class that will allow – if you're creative, a lot of the problems that we have is getting bogged down into kind of an infinite loop of, what do I do in this difficult situation? Ultimately as designers, your problem solving skills outweigh year creative skills. So this class is meant to marry the two successfully, so that you can get to solve problems quickly.
It’s a little bit like when you go to the toothpaste aisle. And you say, “Gosh, do I want Crest or Colgate or do I want this plethora of other types of…” And you end up being there for like a half-hour before you know you're standing in the toothpaste aisle trying to figure out what the heck toothpaste you’re going to buy!
And that carries into our daily jobs as designers. Sometimes we sit and week we tinker with an idea. We’ve got Pandora on. And pretty soon it’s an hour and a half later and we’re still working on this problem. So how can you get to solve problems quickly? How can I get to the best creative solution the fastest? And that's the whole workshop right there in a nutshell.
Well it sounds great, and that’s a three-hour workshop, right?
Yes. Almost my description, three hours long.
Well it really does sound fantastic. And that is on Thursday, July 15, 2011. It begins at 9 AM. How can people sign up for that?
I think the Big D events website has it.
So that sounds great. What else are you working on right now, Kevin?
I work for the travel technology industry. So, I work at Sabre, and Sabre is engaged in doing a very high-profile realignment of a variety of products. I would say all of their products across the travel technologies sector are being aligned under the Sabre Red moniker and brand and pattern of usage, so to speak.
Our UX team essentially controls all of that in conjunction with the marcom group, the marketing communications group. So we work closely with marketing communications to make sure that their brand is being disseminated into the products and the products all work and function as far as standards, as far as look and feel and branding, and so that you can open up a Sabre piece of technology and be able to use it the same way you would any other type of product from Sabre, without any kind of training.
Of course, that’s our job. The world of training needs to go away. You should be able to open up our products and be able to use them right away.
So you’re working on very specific software applications…
Yes. The big one is Sabre Red Workspace. There's a variety of products that are very high-profile including the GDS GUI product, which has been called Graphical View, but I'm sure that they're going to go through a name change over the next couple of years because it will eventually – the goal of course is to build such a compelling interface that you won’t need the typical green screen any longer. It'll be fast enough and sufficient and have so many features, as far as feature sets go, that the agents will be compelled to use the GUI pretty much entirely. And it is in user testing. We’re getting very good remarks and very good scores from the agents.
And the agents in general are – in particular, the feature set is what were succeeding the most in. We've done a very good job of pinpointing areas that the agents have not had and cannot get in a green screen, providing that any GUI, and doing it in a technology that is fast enough compete with a keystroke scenario.
Wow. But you also have some background and experience in other kinds of design. Web design…
Yes. I worked for TravelClick previous to Sabre, and we did Web design primarily for the hotel sector. So I worked in the hotel travel sector for about three years and had a very good experience there. I won a few awards. I was on the team that built the SAG website, which I realize is not a hotel, but it was one of those one-off enigma scenarios.
What I want to get at – and this is something I’ve become really interested in myself just in the last few years – the differences between designing for different kinds of users. Particularly, building a website. Something that's very marketing oriented; or not necessarily marketing oriented, but you're trying to attract a broad audience of people to come and visit this site on the Web. And then there’s other kinds of design, like designing software applications that maybe just run on a desktop client.
There's a lot of different UX that the goes into those different scenarios. And of course now we’ve got the whole mobile world coming about, and there's all kinds of different UX that goes into designing a mobile experience.
What have you learned? And what are you struggling with, maybe trying to figure out, or what have you figured out that's different about designing for those different scenarios?
All right. So there’s good and bad with all of that. And you have done a good job of giving a more concise idea, a 30,000 foot view of the problems that could arise.
So let's deal with the bad first. The bad is you do carry luggage in when you're doing commercial sites. And there are certain design scenarios that you know are going to solve certain problems in certain ways whenever you are doing commercial sites. And for the hotel industry there are specific things that you do, and you repeat them. And because you repeat them, you kind of expect certain results as a result of the repeating. Ha ha.
It can get, actually, in that respect it can get kind of scientific, and that lends some validity to your designs. Because through the use of these areas that you're building – such as where you place your booking mask on your site – will have a huge impact on your traffic to book the rooms at a hotel.
So you have a certain way that you do that, and you get the maximum results based on the data you get from where you are placing it. So if you place it in one place and you're not getting good results, you place it somewhere else and then you get better results. And you can extrapolate that data and then say that, “Okay, from now on we’re going to do this process.
And you can see find that out with A/B testing or other methods, I assume?
Yes. Absolutely. So I would say that, coming from TravelClick, they have down to a science. And all their processes, as far as building commercial hotel websites – and large ones, too. It’s the reason we were able to work on projects such as Trump Hotels in Atlantic City, the elegant hotels out in the Bahamas, and so forth. Because of that scientific process and approach, that they have it down to a science.
And the bad from that, bringing that in, is that you are accustomed to that kind of method. So you have a tendency to start thinking in that way whenever you’re doing a desktop application. And I’m going to say that interestingly enough, this is actually the same coin, but the bad side of the coin.
The good side of the coin is that sometimes that solves problems on a desktop application. In fact, I just got out of a meeting, interestingly enough, that was exactly covering taking a commercial solution and applying it to a desktop application, and it works very well – has solved the problem. Any other way I would not have thought of it, if I hadn’t had the commercial experience.
So there is good and bad. That’s one small example. You can extrapolate that into a larger – many other cases. I think that as a usability professional you have to start taking a snapshot in your head as to which one of those is the work. And I think experience and begin in the industry, and particularly in the travel industry, the longer you're in it, the more it’s just like anything else. You gather the experience and you start figuring out which ones are going to work. And you kind of know ahead of time which ones are going to work and which ones aren’t going to.
What resources or thought leaders would you point someone to who maybe comes from, let's say, I come from a desktop software kind of design background. Maybe I'm an old-school developer or I've been in kind of the corporate environment for years and years in my career, but I keep hearing about mobile. There's this new mobile thing that's going on. And I know everyone's got a smartphone; maybe I’ve got a smart phone. But I don’t know how to design for it.
What's going on out there that you would point someone to and say, “Hey, go listen to what this person is saying, go read this book, go to follow this blog.” Is there is anything you would point to, to help someone to break out of other forms of design and start thinking about mobile?
That’s interesting. Mobile is an area that I have the least experience in, but have dabbled in. I went ahead and built a mobile site for my own website because I wanted to have some more experience in it.
As far as mobile goes, Google has been my best friend. It has allowed me to go to look at all the frameworks that are available. Wink and of course JQuery mobile and, you know, a plethora of others that are out-of-the-box ready to go, that you can just start handling them as you wish. And you can marry them together, too, which is great.
Gosh. I would call myself half of a developer. And I think anyone knows me would probably agree with that. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a full-on developer. I’ll go back to TravelClick as an example. When I worked there I literally spent 50% of my time developing and 50% designing. They wanted me to organize my time that way because I was capable of doing it.
But, that being said, they did have this scientific methodology that they went by where you had almost a templated way that you worked. I wouldn’t say that we used templates because we didn’t. We worked in a templated fashion because we had ways that we knew were going to get results so we had use him in every case.
And I brought a little bit of that ideology I guess into the way I developed things. So if there is a framework available to me, I utilize the framework to its fullest potential. And I might marry two – as in the case for my own little mobile site which is a tiny little mobile site – I married Wink and Jquery together. And they’re working in unison with each other. I didn't attempt to re-build anything. I did some minor tweaking, basically taking a few of the objects and customizing them. But basically after that it was just a skinning process.
Do you think that both skill sets – at least some level of skill set in design and in code – are necessary for a UX designer? Or do you know any designers who really have no development background whatsoever?
Gosh. This is the $60,000 question!
Yeah, it sure is. And I fully expect you to answer it completely!
This is the raging argument that’s going on with everyone right now. Okay so being 50-50 I kind of, I’m going to protect my territory and say that I think it's a good idea. It’s done nothing but make me more valuable to developers.
I make a point to compare this whole scenario to being on a beach and being out in the middle of the ocean. Your developers are the guys that, they’re way out in the deep end. They’re in the hundred foot deep water and they’re swimming around fine, doing just fine way out deep in that development area and that development land.
And some of the designers who don't care about development, they're happy on the beach playing volleyball and hanging out with their designer buddies. And they may have a beautiful beach and they may be happy there and that’s great for them. But they're never going to be able to talk to that guy way out 100 feet in the water that's 2 miles out. The only way that they’re going to have a chance at communicating a little bit with that guy is to swim out in the water.
I have found that swimming out a little bit in the water and at least yelling to that guy out in the deep end has fared well in my career. I think that other professionals probably can utilize that advice to whatever extent that they –
So you’re sort of amphibious?
Gosh. We don’t want to put that vision in our heads, too much.
We could also extend the metaphor to include the sharks, right? So are there sharks in the water?
That’s true. The metaphor does extend very well, doesn’t it?
I think maybe there’s a presentation in that or something. Yeah. So what else do you want to talk about? Are there any trends that you see? I mean, there always trends in any profession and certainly in UX we see trends come and go. What were the trends that you're keeping your eye on? What things are interesting to you that are developing right now in the UX field?
I tell you, the HTML 5 phenomenon is very exciting to me. As a person who is – I try to be as much as possible technology agnostic. I don't want to make any big decisions that, I think, you need to take take on one technology over the other. That’s also been a raging debate, is what technology is the best, you know, to use for this or for that?
I think HTML 5 has done, and the W3C in their dissemination of their standards regarding it, have done a good job of evangelizing what you should do to adopt it and how they issue out new – I don’t want to say mandates, but you understand what I’m saying.
Sure. Standards, or something like standards.
I think it is very exciting. I think that what you can do with it is exciting. I think in large part it has solved the issue of having rich experiences without getting rid of content. Because with Flash you, at many times, were able have the rich experience, but at the cost of not being able to present the content. I think that HTML 5 is probably the answer to a lot of that.
There are still some sketchy areas like the .h264 debate and which browser is going to support various aspects of what HTML 5 gives us, but I think that will mend itself over time. Apple, of course, is a big player in this in their support of the HTML 5 world.
Sure, and their nonsupport of other things.
It remains to be seen. Which is why I try to stay agnostic about it. I think that, as far as design trends go – now, that’s a technology trend right there, which marries itself well with the next issue of design trends. I can tell you, there’s one area that I’m not too keen on that I would like to see maybe some more tweaking of, is this kind of trend of doing this kind of Neapolitan striping of websites. I don’t really understand that. You’ve got these layers. So you’v got the navigation layer at the top, and you’ve got your content layer in the middle, and then you’ve got some kind of footer layer. And they’re presented as like layers, like strata in the geographic Earth or something.
I wonder some of that maybe comes out of the CMS’s that are behind some of those sites. Out-of-the-box there’s a template, a visual template, where you have that kind of structure of horizontal layers stacked on top of each other. Do you think that has to do with it? Or is it really just a design aesthetic that someone started and someone copied?
It probably comes from that, but sometimes I think – okay, so this is another debate, right? What's really pragmatic? Is it really necessary to show content so black-and-white in that regard? Or should we be more clever with our content?
I think that the strata, geologic kind of presentation that you have is a very stark presentation of the content. You know, it's very pragmatic. As designer, I'm a little offended by the blatant, let's just blatantly show you the content in this fashion. I like to be more creative. I think that if the content is creative and the content is compelling, you ought to treat is so. If it's creative and compelling let's give the content some creative and compelling design behind it.
So your site shouldn’t look like a wireframe?
Yes. Or, they shouldn’t all look the same. I mean, it's great to have that trend. Let's utilize the trend and, I don’t know, I think I’m going to go back to the content being creative and compelling. If it's – and particularly if you have a unique product –you don't want your product website to be the same as any product website, in it’s presentation.
Okay. Well, we’ve got maybe just a couple minutes left. Any other burning issues you want to chat about?
[K] That was a burning issue, wasn’t it? Maybe that was one I’ve been trying to share with everybody.
What can people expect out of Kevin Schumacher? Other than than the workshop at the Big Design Conferences coming up, Big D 2011. Anything else you’ve got going on in the works? Or are you just kind of, you know, punching the time clock?
The stuff I do at Sabre keeps me thinking 24 hours a day. I’m never off. I'm always thinking about how I can solve one problem or the other. That's pretty much all that’s on my mind because we have – it’s, again, pretty high-profile. It's very exciting. It's a very large career type of a showpiece, so to speak. So it deserves pretty much all my attention.
So you'll see you'll be seeing Kevin Schumacher involved with those particular projects in specific, the Sabre Red Workspace projects over the next year or so. And then, of course, you’ll see me if you go to U.T. Say hi to me if you see me walking around and I’ll buy you a coffee!
Great. Okay. Thanks again, Kevin Schumacher for being here on the DFW UX podcast. It’s been a great conversation. Again, people can find you on the Web just at schubox. That's your Twitter, that's you’re your dot-com website.
That’s the whole world, yes.
So there you have it.
Thank you very much!
Well that’s going to do it for this episode of the DFW UX podcast. Thanks for joining me. During the program Kevin and I talked about a number of online resources, and various web sites, things you can look up online. You can find links to all of the stuff we discussed in the show notes. Just go to dfwux.com and find episode number two.
You can also follow us on Twitter @dfwux. If you want to be a part of the show, if you’re a UX practitioner and you have something to contribute to the podcast, just contact me. The best way is to send me an email. Send it to email@example.com or send a private message on Twitter @dfwux.
The music you hear on this podcast was written and recorded by Father Cornmelia, a very talented group of local artists. Just Google the name Father Cornmelia and you’ll find their Facebook page and you can listen to more their music on Reverb Nation. Thanks, Father Cornmelia.
Until next week, I’m Ben Judy. Go make the world a better place.