In Conversation With… Chris Harris

This post was first published on Hyper Island.

Yesterday was the start of the User Experience Lab at Hyper Island Singapore, which looks at how to improve the user experience and effectiveness of digital campaigns and apps.

I decided to interview one of the lecturers who is going to teach at Hyper Island for the week. Based in London, Chris Harris has worked with digital interfaces since the 90’s. Focusing on mobile experiences for the last four years, his work has won numerous awards and accolades, such as the Wonder of The Universe app that was winner of Mobile Digital Impact Award 2012 and BIMA Award also Apple’s Best of App Store 2012.

Chris Harris

How did you get into the User Experience field?

In my final year of university, the Internet came out. I was good at drawing and I had learned 3D animation but I chose to do my final year project on Human Computing Interaction instead. I wanted to make programming easier so I came up with a visual programming lab, where you could drag and drop elements and create pages without any programming experience. This was the first interface I created.

Can you tell us a bit more about your personal process & approach to problem solving?

The easiest problems to solve are the ones you get the most annoyed about. I usually try to think of the things that annoy me and solve problems in an elegant way. I use the jobs-to-be-done theory (JTBD) to identify and qualify what those problems are and to communicate why my idea should be used over other solutions.

Can everyone be a UX designer? What skills do you need?

Clients often think that everyone can be a UX designer. People usually hire architects if they want to design a house, but they don’t think they need to hire anyone to design experiences. Part of the problem is that clients don’t value user experience enough. This is why I choose to be called a App Director: it is like a film director, but for apps. Clients take me more seriously!

One of the most important skills to be an app director is to understand simplicity. Complexity has a way to creep into everything we do: customers want hundreds of features, but picking one and sticking to one is one of the hardest thing to do.

What is an example of a company that does UX well?

Paper by 53 is a personal favorite. It is beautiful & delightful without making things more complex. I like how they are teaching their users to use the features and gestures on their app: the only way to learn it is to use the gesture and it even has an undo function integrated to the gesture: simple and beautiful!

Who has had the biggest influence for you as a UX designer and why?

Myself! Let me explain. I like to use the metaphor of the undiscovered country. You can imagine it like a lot of ships arriving on the shore of this new land, and there’s a town there. And that town was iOS when it was first created. We’ve just landed on the shore, and some people are spending all their time designing in the town they’ve landed at.

I could stay in the town, but I would constantly be influenced by other designers. So instead, I decided to leave the town and find new mountains to climb.

What does the future of UX look like?

There is a lot of data about the past and none about the future. The smartphone industry didn’t exist 6 years ago, and 100 billion apps have been downloaded in 5 years. Anybody who says they know what’s going to happen is lying. This is what is great about this field, it is constantly changing. We’ve got this amazing opportunity to go and claim mountains for ourselves. This will never come again. Be an explorer.

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