Behind the Scenes of ‘The Art and Science of UX Design’: A Chat with Anthony Conta

Jul 17, 2023Dianne Eberhardt

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.



Dianne: Hey Everyone, welcome to Pixelated. Perfect. super excited today. We live in New York City together. This is Anthony Conta. So this is Anthony your second time on the podcast. Which is very, very exciting. And one of the big reasons you are back on the podcast is because you are coming out with a book.

Anthony: That's right. Yeah, it comes out very soon. And the title is the Art and Science of UX Design.

Dianne: Yes. And so we're gonna get into all the details because I'm super excited to dive deeper with you. But I just wanted to kind of catch up with the audience. So where we left off from our last podcast when you were, when we were chatting, you talked through your career, so you had a non-traditional path into product design, <laugh>. I lo one of the things that I remember very vividly was like, you kind of started your own gaming company, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. So that was super fascinating. Maybe we could do a quick little Sure. Yeah. Background on that. And you did a bootcamp and basically you rapidly moved your way up. You really found your footing in the product design space. And so we left off where you had just started a new role as senior designer at Amazon Music.

Anthony: That's right. Yeah.

Dianne: And so it's been a few months since then. Yep. So I wanted to kinda dive a little deeper into how that's been. And I know another big thing that's been happening in your life is that you are going to be teaching at Pratt.

Anthony: That's right. Yeah. Teaching Pratt Institute right here in New York City. So a few blocks away actually. Yeah.

Dianne: That's amazing. And you're gonna be teaching like a design course? That's

Anthony: That's right. Yeah. Yes. You know, much like writing the book, like I'll be teaching a course with similar materials like learning product design from zero to one and like how to do, you know, the thing that I do every day.

Dianne: Right. And I think something that's like, I've all, like, one of the reasons I kept in touch with you and I love the podcast that we had is like, you came from like a background of starting junior and you worked your way up and you're a mentor and you're teaching and you're passionate about it. Right. And I think that's amazing. And I think that's very inspirational for all the designers out there and whatever way you choose to do your product, direct design career.

Anthony: Yeah. You know, like the, the thing for me about teaching is like, I, I can really empathize <laugh> Yes. You know, like my students since I literally like, did the things that they have to do now and that I'm teaching. Right. Like this. So like going through things like learning how to make a portfolio, redoing your portfolio or working on it for the first time. And I, there's a lot of empathy there, <laugh>. And, you know, I think I can relate to that.

Dianne: And I think that's a huge reason why, like, being a teacher and teaching something that, you know, so personally is really effective.

Anthony: Yeah. You know, like something in academia that I've been learning, that I didn't know is like a lot of people who end up teaching like, might not necessarily have that like product experience, like working on the product. So like having a, an instructor who has worked on the products, like really is able to contextualize a lot of those experiences for the students. So I know that's something that grabs value in me that I have like the industry experience. Yeah. and yeah, I just think that's super valuable.

Dianne: Yeah. Oh my totally. I was actually just chatting about this with my team, like, kind of similar is how we sell the design project. And so I'm the main salesperson and I wonder why it's been so successful. I'm not a salesperson, like I'm a designer. Right. But because I know what I'm selling. Yeah. And because I'm passionate about it, I can relate to people in a different way than if you were to hire a salesperson.

Anthony: Right. Yeah. Is that like a relational element? Yes. That just gives it much much more substantial, you know, like that Yeah. Really helps.

Dianne: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. So kind of similar <laugh>. Well thank you so much for being Sure. Being here. I'm super excited. Yay. New York Live. So let's dive into it. Before we jump into, well actually book, so something special we have for all the listeners right? Right. Is that we have a discount code that everyone out there that's listening can get this code and be able to save how much, what? Tell us the details.

Anthony: Yeah, so it's a, a 35% off. If you use your name Conta, like you can Count A, you need a discount on Peach Pit, which is the, this publication within Pearson, which is the, the company publishing the book. So you don't have to go to Peach Pitt's website and then use that code and you'll be all sent.

Dianne: So yes. 35% off Peach Pit will give you the code and the link below and you guys can save some money and be able to read the amazing book stories guide that you are putting out in the world. So okay. Well, perfect. So before we talk too much, before we get into the book, which is what I really wanna dive into, I wanna kinda hear how things are going. Sure, yeah. As senior product designer at Amazon Music, you had just started, or you were just starting how's it been going? What's like learning experiences? How long have you been there?

Anthony: Right. Yeah, totally. So we're coming up on about a year. So I started in August of 2023. And things are going well, you know, like I'm learning more about building a product on such a large scale. So like the other places I've worked at, these are big places, you know, thousands of people employed right. At these places. But there's thousands of people just in our org within <laugh>, you know, Amazon, which employs what, like 180,000 people, like, just like a lot, maybe more. I don't know the phone number. I think we're like second largest. I think Walmart's like, technically like the largest employer in the world. Okay. But there's like those numbers shift, right? So, right. But yeah. You know, so try to fit into that and make sure that there's all sorts of alignment and there's all sorts of processes that work and operate at that scale. So I think that's like one of the bigger learnings for me of like, you know, yeah, I can do the design. I've done it in a bunch of other places, but like, can you do the design like with everyone else to make sure it all fits into that and fits into the product experience? Then you have all the customers, like, there's so many different use cases, right. People using it and everything else. So yeah. I mean, it's, it's good.

Dianne: So what is your day-to-day? Is it like a combination of like, meetings and deep design work?

Anthony: Yeah, it really is <laugh>. I think last time I said tapas, right? Like, yes, like just the career tapas, like it's like an individual job, you know, like, so some days like today, like having a meeting, we talk about some designs with the whole team. And then I, you know, I go away and I do some deep thinking about those designs. You know, sometimes it's doing research, so like understanding, you know, what customers want or how they think about your designs after you show them. Sometimes it's like talking with a product about figuring out the strategy of where you wanna go with the features. Sometimes it's like working with developers to build it and, you know, bash bugs, make sure it's built to spec and deliver those specs. It really is all over the place. So there's never like a, like a, today is like a day, like any other day it's like everything's a little different.

Dianne: I mean I think that's one of them, like the beauty of working in product design is I feel like every day is a little different. Yeah. Which is fun.

Anthony: I need that. Like, I can't have the like, you know, clock in, clock out, like just I can't.

Dianne: Yes. For sure. For sure. So I guess like, I guess my question is for the listeners out there that are maybe looking to join a really large organization or maybe they're even in a large organization, any tips or tricks that you've learned this past year that might be helpful?

Anthony: Yeah, I think sharing your thoughts is really important. So you don't necessarily do that like smaller places cause you're moving so fast or like, you know, there's like maybe like 12 people on your team. I'm just making up a number, but like a small set of people right. On your team that knows the ins and outs of everything. But like, because it's so big, I'm working on a side of the product that while it, a lot of people do, like, come to that from a user's perspective, it's like one of the main screens of the product. You know, people don't necessarily know how it works in all the edge cases and use cases. So like documentation really important there, or at least like showing how you got to an answer Yeah. Rather than just saying this is the answer. And then involving people on that journey is really important as well. So that kind of came up today where like, you know one learning for me is like, maybe I need to do that a little bit more than I have been. Yeah, yeah. So that they can be a little bit more involved in the thinking and seeing where that comes from and how I got to a conclusion. So like socializing that is really hard <laugh> at like a large org and you have to like to do a lot of work towards that.

Dianne: Right. Yeah, totally. I like what you said and I think showing your work is super important, getting everyone on board to follow that journey with you. Right. Because then you get buy-in and people, you get opinions and all the things come with it. But I'm sure at the super large organization, everyone's so busy doing so many things. So how can you have people follow along with the journey? How can you give them what they need? I mean, that's always the challenge for us, but yeah, I think that's an interesting thing to think about.

Anthony: Yeah. Like, like I've had to do that before as well, but like, not to this extent. Because it's so much larger, you. It's like a city <laugh>.

Dianne: Like literally.

Anthony: Like, literally like there are cities Right. That is this big or smaller even than the amount of people that Amazon employs. So Yes. Yeah. Crazy, crazy, crazy.

Dianne: No, that's awesome. That's awesome. Ok. Well now we get to book, that's what Sure. Really about. So I would love to kind of hear, I think, well, I have a lot, oh, my brain's over here. I have a lot of questions, but maybe you could tell us a little bit about the premise of the book. Sure. What is the book about? Yeah, let's start there.

Anthony: Absolutely. So for me, this book is like, you know, how do I do design? Like what, what is that thing? Like how do I perform it? Like how do I actually do it? Like a lot of the books that I've read in the past are, they are very heavy on theory. So it's like, oh, this is like what a process is and like this is how you do it generally. And then like, but like it loses a lot of I don't wanna say substance, but like, you just don't necessarily like, like, like you go away from reading it and you're like, oh, how do I do it? You know, like, you just read about this theory and you're really excited to apply it, but then you don't necessarily see an example. Right. You know, so what I wanted to do with this book is you know, maybe instead of art science, like theory and practicality would also maybe be a good name for this book, but I like art science more, which I'll get to in a moment.

Anthony: But really what it is, is like, here's a theory or a framework or a practice, then here's an example of how that a practice is applied. Then the third layer is, okay, now you do it like, like go do it yourself. Like it provides exercises throughout each theory or, or sub chapter. And then I did it so you can look at what I did. So like you get these four layers of like, okay, not just the rule but the application, but you're gonna apply it and have applied learning, which I think as an educator is extremely important because then it sticks a lot better. There are studies that show this, but also known practice. Yeah. If I've noticed this and then also like, oh, but I just wanna see examples. Yeah. So I give those examples as well. Yes. Yeah. But you don't have to like to do what I did and I show it to you after, so you're not influenced by it. So like, really you're not supposed to like, look at that section on the back of the book. That's where it is. Right. So like, just do it and then like after you've done it, maybe even done a couple, then go see like what I did for those and like go see the divergence. Because my answer isn't right. You know, like it's an answer. Right. It's not the answer.

Dianne: Right. Right. Yeah. I mean, I, when, so the background for everyone is Anthony and I had lunch a few weeks ago and I dove a little deeper with him. And like, the fact that it's like a step-by-step guide is so awesome. Like, I, I'm so excited for that because I think that's something that's missing. Like, something that I always say is like, how can you apply these thinking? I think that's like a huge educational thing. And I've never, I've never done a course or done anything where I feel like I had something tangible to take away and that I really felt like I learned it and I could apply it.

Anthony: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Dianne: And so you're taking this concept and you're trying to like to allow people right?

Anthony: I wanna invite you in. I want it to be like a roadmap. You know, the people that do this may not have ever done design before. This might be like the first time they're doing it, or maybe they've done parts of design, but like, don't know other parts. So Right. Having this like, perspective on like, you should do these steps probably in this order. I I say that you don't have to. Right. You know, there's like a little bit of nuance within each of these steps. That's just like how design is, but like here's like a way that you could approach this much more approachable, really. Like you can do it with these, with these steps.

Dianne: And I also think that you, showing your own work in the back of the book, like I feel like us visual people would really like to see an example. Like, it's really powerful and there's so many people like my co-founder who's like a data nerd and obsessed with the business side of things. I'm always like, he's like, this is my idea. Go do it. And I'm like, but I need an example. I don't know. And so I think having something tangible is so powerful.

Anthony: And I think where that really clicked for me was when I was a general assembly going through the bootcamp. I, we had the instructors and like the instructors, explained the concept. I was like, oh, this is really helpful. And then like, we would go do the work, like, wait, what are we doing? Right. I know what I'm doing. So like, our instructors realized this and they actually like showed us examples from, from projects and we were just like, oh, like, that's like a, you can see it concretely rather than have it abstractly. And, and that's super important.

Dianne: Yeah, exactly. It's like, it's not that we need to see it because we wanna copy it. It's like helping us get, it's all, it's like research, it's design. It's like, oh, we need to understand it, see how other people do it, look at inspiration, get to the next stage.

Anthony: In the same way that you would make this for stakeholders and be like, here it is. Exactly. It's like, like that's the thing that we would do here.

Dianne: A thousand percent do it. Yeah. Yes.

Anthony: And the other piece that I said I was gonna get back to is like the art and science element of it. So I think this field, like a lot of fields, you know, a lot of things require left brain life, brain right. Brain type of thinking. So I think like the fact that this is artistic, obviously it's like design, it's very visual. But there's also science too. Like there are steps, there are procedures that you can do theories and, and statistical evidence that you can gather. And like a lot of things that you relate to science that really come to play in this, in this field as well. So like, showing both of those, like bringing that together feels like a part, like an integral part of this book.

Dianne: Yeah. And I, I like that you called that because I think that's design in general, it's like people think of it, some people are like, oh, it's visual. It's only visual. And then people that come into the industry might be like, oh, I'm, it's really data heavy. And it really is a combination of both. So I think you're, you're taking these high level concepts and you're combining it and it makes sense.

Anthony: That, that, that's actually what really scared me about like, going to the bootcamp in the first place was like this concept of like visual, like being so associative with like the design fields. I was like, I can't do a wire frame. You know, like that. Right. That was terrifying to me at the time. But then I attended an info session and got to speaking to some designers and they were like, well actually, like the wire frames are definitely important and they are, but like the, the ability to craft an argument and like, explain your point and back it up with data and research. And these are things that I've done before, like a lot. So I felt really good about those pieces. Yes. and I'm really glad that I had that conversation. Cause then I might not have entered this field if I didn't know that. It's more than just visuals. It is more than just art. Like, there's like more to this than that. Yes.

Dianne: Yeah. Yes. And what's really funny is I have the exact opposite. So I went to school for design. Like I always was like doing something with my hands and I graduated with a graphic design degree. So it was that. And like moving into product design, I was like, I you want me to throw together a website? I got it. You want me to think about data? I have no idea what to do. Right. Like, I'm like, I don't know. But I think it's yeah. Learning both sides of it. Right.

Anthony: I guess we'd make a good team then.

Dianne: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Combining. That's super interesting. I love that. Okay. So I wanna talk about how you came up with this format.

Anthony: Sure. Yeah. So I've been heavily influenced by my teaching you know, with my mentoring with teaching at CUNY now Pratt. So, you know, like I, I'm really heavily influenced by the Nielsen Norman design thinking model. And, a lot of these models are similar. But I really like Nielsen Norman's, the way that they visually represent their, their model and their steps. And I feel like each of the steps that they have really plays into the process that I have. You know, so like well, we'll see if I can, you know, fully get off the top of my head. Define, empathize idea prototype tests, implement, there we go. Yeah. Those, those six steps. And yes, each of those steps are actually chapters in the book, so. Okay. Okay. Yeah. So the first chapter is like, Hey, what's ux?

Anthony: Like, what's ui, what's like practice design? Like what are these things? Cognitive load is probably my favorite chapter or sub chapter in the book. I love that theory. And then you know, two to seven are those six steps that he mentioned. And then eight is like, okay, but like, what am I doing now? Like, okay, well we can go in the industry. Here's some jobs that you can look at. You can make a portfolio, you know, all the exercises you just did actually can be a portfolio for you. If you wanna tie that together, it's up to you. Yes. And then like some, like, how do I work with others? How do I receive feedback? Like, those are some of the other chapters in there at the end.

Dianne: Well, so questions, one thing you didn't really mention that you've just touched on is that you can take this book and you can actually create a portfolio.

Anthony: That's right. Yeah. That's kind of an important part. I'm glad you brought it up <laugh>.

Dianne: And it's awesome because I feel like a lot of people leave school or whatever and they might have something little, but they don't have a full project and it's like whatever you learn, how can you apply it? And you're actually giving them the steps to go in and create.

Anthony: Yeah, that's right. So, I, I, I, I offer up a prompt at the, at the, like beginning of the book, near the beginning and it's like, hey, like you could use this prompt to frame your, your work. Like all these exercises work with this prompt. They also work with another prompt if you use it like a project you wanna work on, or if you like to do all the exercises again, you could just use your own prompt or whatever, but here's a prompt we're gonna work from this, or at least I will. You can follow along with this if you want to, and you'll see how I did it. But that prompt is pretty open-ended and allows you to explore all the techniques.

Dianne: Amazing.

Anthony: Yeah. Yeah. And then that could be a case study if you like, write it and put it into one. Right. for some perspective on how to do that and how to like, choose a platform to host it on if you wanna do like a Squarespace or like a, you know, whatever. Yeah. Really. Or even like a PDF portfolio.

Dianne: I mean, that's amazing. You get to go through these steps and you get something tangible to show for it and get a job. Like Yeah.

Anthony: And it's all opt in by the way. Like you have to, like, you can enjoy these theories and just like, bring 'em to your work or like bring 'em to your practice. Like, maybe you're like, oh yeah, like how do I do a survey? You know, I forget, you know, and like, you wanna do like a, you wanna zoom in on like one piece of the puzzle, so Right. Trying to match multiple learners.

Dianne: Exactly. And I think that's something important too. If your book is not necessarily in a chronological order, like maybe for a full, but if you have something specific you wanna dive deeper into, you can go back to your book, you can go back to this chapter, you can go back and reference it in a way, right?

Anthony: Yeah. Yeah. So like you could be in the middle of a project and like, wanna do the end or like, oh, like, I'm gonna do this project again. Or like, I need to update it. Like, like it's, it's like a, it's like agile now, like, it's like you can move around. Not agile in the software term, but Great. Yeah, totally.

Dianne: No, that's great. That's great. And so something else you mentioned is you just talked about your favorite chapter or sub-chapter.

Anthony: So I love this concept of cognitive load. Like, do, do you know what this is? Or Cogniti. Okay. So there's this concept that there's something called cognitive load, which is like how much information that we can process at any one time. Yeah. So like, there's like first there's like sensory memory, like what do we perceive? What do we hear? Like what do we see? So like right now, you know, like I see you and like running a conversation, I hear words and all sorts of stuff. So much of that makes it into like our, our working memory space of like, we have to like to understand what this is. So like us, we get inputs, which are information, visuals, audio, whatever. And then our brain processes that information and some of the processing recalls from like long-term memory what things are.

Anthony: And some of it recalls from short-term memory and recycles it there and either commits it to long-term or like shoots it outta your brain so you forget it. Yes. Entirely. And then like Right, right. So a lot of my stuff just goes woo. That way. Yeah. <Laugh >. But like, like, so, so this whole process is like, you can only understand so much at one time and this really matters for like, designing experiences. Cuz if I'm bombarding you with a lot of lights and sound and, or even just information you get cognitively overloaded. So an example that I have within that section is like you ever like gone Netflix and like try to like watch something? Yes. And there's like thousands and thousands of pieces of content and, and this is no knock to any of the people in this chapter by the way.

Anthony: Like these, these companies are very, very successful. But for that idea. And this could happen on any streaming service or, you know, listening to music, whatever, like trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. Yes. You know, like this is a thing that cuz you're just bombarded by so much information you would like shut down. Right. And like not, and then just like, okay, yeah, I'll just like order seamless again. You know what I mean? Like Right. So that concept is really interesting because it applies to more than just design for me. Like digital design. Like it applies to life and just like daily decisions that I make, you know? Yeah. So I, I just didn't know there was like a word for it. Think of it as like a glass of water and like you're overflowing it. Right. And versus like if you move some of the stuff out of the water before you can, fill it up again. Yes. It's like that.

Dianne: And think about it like, we're solving for that as designers. Like everyone's bombarded with 10,000 things, right? Yeah. So how can we make everyone's life a little bit easier?

Anthony: Right. So there are UX rules that are like you know, like don't have more than seven choices cuz like people can't really handle that, you know? Yes. Like you should give them like three choices or like five max. You know, like there are certain rules that like laws of electors that apply in those scenarios.

Dianne: Yeah. And so in this chapter you're also giving tips and tricks.

Anthony: Exactly. So like the Netflix example, if, if we, you know, since I pulled that one like Netflix used to have, I think they got rid of it, but they used to have this shuffle button. Yes. Yeah. So it's like, oh, you don't know what to watch. Like, you hit the end of the queue and you're like, all right. Just like random. And then like, that's just like a way to alleviate that problem. And Netflix put that at the bottom to solve this problem. Like they're aware Yeah. Of this cognitive load problem. So like they're trying to like, fix it, you know? Yeah. Which is why we now see updates on the top shovelers that they have like their top carousels. Right. Which is very contextualized to you or like trending content.

Dianne: Right. And I mean, we'll talk about YouTube, like the birth of it. Right, right. Like that is where it came from. And then all, obviously there's all like the drama and everything comes out of like, you get, you're getting sourced this information, are you seeing all the sides? And then people get down the rabbit hole and then all of the ethical implications that come with it.

Anthony: Right. And this is why algo training is so important for you so you can reduce your load, like not seeing as much as you wanna see. And that's what companies, they really get that Right. Right. in order to maintain that stickiness. So, so like these are like very well known problems by these companies.

Dianne: Um so what was this process, I guess? Like why did you want to write a book and how did this process go?

Anthony: I've been doing a lot of writing. So I write a lot on mediums, for example, like a blog site. And you know, I started doing that actually Ga like really nudged me in that direction cuz they thought writing about your case studies is really helpful. It is. Do that <laugh> if you can, yeah. It's a little tip author's note. But you know, so like I, I've been doing that a lot and I was like, okay, I have all these lectures. I have all this like, educational content that I've been preparing that I own. And I was like, okay, well can I do anything with that? So I started writing and I thought that I'd released those articles. But then I started shopping the book around, and went to Pearson. They were really interested in the book. So I worked with them very heavily in order to craft it into the book that we got today. Yeah.

Dianne: And I remember from lunch you were like, it was a lot. There's a lot of editing. It's a lot of effort

Anthony: Oh yeah. Amazing, amazing editorial team. They just like really, really like making sure all the words are perfect and making sure that the, but making sure the author's intent is still there. Like really good peer reviewers who, who really helped, like providing industry perspective, who, you know, software engineer. We had a couple other designers weighing in as a researcher just making sure that the content is appropriate, you know, and actually reflective of the industry. And then just like great, like graphic design for the book itself. And like, you know, just like all around I was, I was, I didn't know what to expect. Yeah. But I was blown away, which was great.

Dianne: Yeah. That's amazing. I mean, I feel like you're like, you were like, I'm gonna write a book and you just started it and you did it. Right. And I think that's a great learning experience for everyone. There's so many things that maybe we don't know or were scared about, but you just gotta jump in and look. You literally wrote a book and you're being published and like, that's so cool. And you didn't know what to expect.

Anthony: Yeah. And I didn't, I never liked, like I never liked growing up saying, oh, I wanna write a book. Like, I just really wanna write a textbook that just wasn't, you know, on my radar. But I, I think over the years, like all the education stuff just like led me towards really wanting to share this knowledge and like, I think people can really benefit from it. So Yeah.

Dianne: A thousand percent. And so another kind of relation I have from you telling me more about the book is your background in gaining.

Anthony: That's right. Yeah.

Dianne: And so it kind of feels almost like a game. Like you have a little bit of steps and a guide.

Anthony: Uh you can opt in, you know, like you don't have to go on these side quests, you know, <laugh>. But I have a hobby, making all the different, you know, exercises. But if you do, you get a big achievement at the end, A portfolio that's a, that's a pretty big Yeah. You know there like yeah, there are <laugh> <laugh>. Yeah. Like I, my, my learning style is kind of just like optin, you know, like, here's the thing, you could listen to this if you want to or you don't. It's up to you to decide whether or not this is valuable. Oh, you wanna listen to this? Great, here's like other stuff you could do. Here's some exercises. You don't have to do all of 'em, you just do any of them. But if you want to, like, I, I think learning as an opt-in, like, you know, make your students like, care about it and then show them the value of it and then they decide whether or not they want to do it. Wait, what's that adage of like, you know, like teaching someone to like love the sea. Like, you, you're not like making a sailor, you're like teaching them like the love of the sea. I love that. And that makes them a sailor. Yes. You know what I mean? Yes. Like I I, I'm definitely butchering the metaphor there. Yes. But it's that intent.

Dianne: Yes. Yeah. And I mean, you're taking your book and you're gonna be teaching it. It's basically this is Yeah.

Anthony: So, so there, there's gonna be a lot of that, like the lessons learned from the book are gonna be woven into the curriculum. Being in person with these students is gonna change some things that make that like a curated experience for them. So it's not just like a one-to-one thing. But the principles in this book are Yes. Are definitely applied to, to the curriculum. And I have been applied to other curriculums as well.

Dianne: Right. Yeah. Great. And that's awesome.

Anthony: Which helped hone the book as it is like by teaching it in other places. I like learning what does and doesn't work. Came up with some really interesting exercises. I think one of my favorite exercises is the affinity map. So an affinity map is like you take a bunch of user interviews for people that dunno, like you take a bunch of user interviews in which you talk to people and like getting insights from them. And then like you write down on post-it notes, like key insights from those conversations. And then you mapped them to like, draw correlations between them. So, what I did was I took a real world data set that I did for a different project and I wrote down all my key observations and I invited the reader to do that. So you can actually go into Fig Jam and, and map it. Like you have a data set that I provided you, like what insights do you see? And then the reader does that and then they understand and they can have that exercise.

Dianne: That's amazing.

Anthony: Yeah. It's been really good with my students.

Dianne: Yeah. I mean, it goes back to what we said about you being the end user and how powerful it's.

Anthony: Yeah. Cause like I know Yeah. Like it, like I'm designing it for me. Right. Or like, yeah. Yeah.

Dianne: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I, a question I have for you is a lot of people that I've talked to, interviewed on the podcast are mentors. Okay. And so I know you are successful, becoming like a teacher at an institute and everything. What advice do you have for mentors that would like to be better at mentoring your teaching? Sure.

Anthony: Yeah, so like, my growth path as a mentor, like it, it really started from a, does the student like me can, like, what about this relates to me, it was very like, internal, you know what I've, I've since like become a little bit more confident in that space and it's like, oh, it's not about me. They're coming to me, but not about me. You know what I mean? So like, that was like, like, it was like almost like a, I don't wanna say it was a trauma response, but like that idea of like, oh my God, I gotta make sure this is like the value that I'm delivering for the student. You know? Right. So like being able to postpone that and like knowing that I'm doing that allows me to like to open it up to be less about me. So I would, you know, in the past do that in my earlier years of doing it.

Anthony: And then it, it then shifted to, okay, like I feel more comfortable about this, but I'm like giving you advice so like, I'm telling you what to do, which is fine. You know, like some people do need that. And then on some projects they are saying, so what should I do here? Yes. but now I've come away from that because it's not about saying do this. It's about helping them figure out what they should do rather than telling them what to do. Like a, like a show note, don't tell like type of policy. So now what I do is it's much more like, okay, what do you bring to the table? What are you curious about? What do you wanna know? I'll point out any gaps that I see if you really don't have anything. Or if you do have something but you want that and I can sense that or like, I really think there's something you should know, but really it's like, how can I help you? You know, like not like this is what you should do. Have you thought of doing this? Like it's, it's different, it's a shift, it's subtle, but it ends up being less prescriptive.

Dianne: Right. It's like the way that you phrase it is really powerful. Yeah. A hundred percent. And it's key. And so, yeah. I feel like all of these learnings and everything that you've gotten out of this path of becoming a mentor has led you to this place of writing this book and putting it in a language where it's like, Hey, you can do these things. Yeah. If you choose Right. This is what I suggest. Or you can go to wherever you want and <laugh>

Anthony: You don't have to do this in these steps. Like there are some techniques that you can do at certain points. Like do you have to do a competitive analysis at the start of a project? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you look at the competitors after you've designed something cuz you don't wanna be influenced by that. Like, these things are like amorphous you, how much like the process. But it is like a process. There's like general things you do. You can't test something without having something. Right, right, right. You should talk to your users before you make things. Like these are like, there's certain like, milestone events. Yeah. and that's how the book is structured.

Dianne: Yeah. And so what, in your book, was maybe the most challenging part about writing it or maybe the section we talked about your favorite, let's see now your least favorite chapter.

Anthony: So like the exercises that I had to do where I had to design a new product like that took some time. So like I did the research and the research led to something and like so on and so forth. But then I had to make wire frames. Which as we talked a little bit about before is one of my likes, ooh, I don't know. The spots where I can be, you know, blank slate scares me. Okay. You know? Yes. So like not having like that directionality of like, features and having to come up with those features and like, like really is like a, a true blue sky moment. Yeah. And I've seen a bunch of students struggle with this like, what projects should I work on? Like I, they know the steps, right? But they don't necessarily know how to like, like, like, give that directionality of like, what am I gonna work on? And then, okay, I know that these are problems. What is that solution? Like? That can be really hard. And that was probably the hardest chapter for me writing designing a solution, the exercises for that.

Dianne: Right. Oh, that's interesting. Yeah.

Anthony: Like some people love that. It's like, oh, I could do anything. And then like, but then I'm like, I could do anything. And like Right.

Dianne: Yeah. It weighs on you.

Anthony: Right, exactly. For me, the possibility weighs on me. Yeah. Whereas having direction helps.

Dianne: Well, and you, you've kind of tested this out and tried this out and you said students struggle with this part too. They do. Yeah. So you're trying to write to solve this problem that you have and that other people have. Right. So how can you write something that you struggle with? Tell people not to struggle when you struggle.

Anthony: Exactly. Right. Yeah. The loop is just right there. <Inaudible>. Yes. Right. <laugh>.

Dianne: Exactly. Exactly. That's great. I wanna talk about collaboration. So you said one thing that the book specifically as you got to work with like did competitors and all of these people, and how was that process and how do you maybe compare it to the design process?

Anthony: Yeah, so I, I think one of the biggest parallels is like different perspectives. You know, like an editor's gonna look at something completely differently than I'm gonna look at. They're gonna think about how it fits on the page and the layout and like the tone of voice. I'm just trying to communicate content, you know? Yeah. So like having that editorial slant of like, you should say it in this way. Oh, you're inconsistent with like, you know, this term versus that term. Like you should bring that together. Like it really adds this level of polish to the book that I think is helpful and, and can also help with design itself. So for example, we have a copy team, you know, working on the product that we work on that the copy team informs like, how to say, you know, in the tone of voice of the customer that's really helpful.

Anthony: That's not something that I fully am aware of or I'm thinking about, or I don't necessarily see it in all the places that it occurs in our products. So having that perspective, these different perspectives help with your blind spots. You know, like having a researcher review my book he provided so much insight into the terminology that I was using and all the trends that were happening and like the various studies that I could reference. So like those, like little spots show me what I'm missing without me knowing that I'm missing it. So I think that really helps in the design process as well. Like I think building products as a team sport, you know, like you absolutely, like you can't have one person build it out. Like that's not possible. Or if that person doesn't like anything else going on or <laugh> Yeah. You know what I mean? Like Totally. Or like the product's, like small scales relative to everything else. So like, like you, you just need that team. You need those perspectives, you need those skill sets and those, those tools and that knowledge.

Dianne: Yeah, totally. And I'm sure it's like also a level of getting rid of your ego and really like building writing the best thing you can because there's probably a lot of things you didn't know and people are coming in with, oh, this is not the right lingo isn't the right word. And you're like, oh gosh, I've been using this term, or as an example.

Anthony: Right. Like, I, like I am not, like I I'm not gonna, I'm not reading the book. Right. Like I'm writing a book. Yeah. Other people are reading it. So the way that they perceive knowledge is something that I need to be aware of. And I might perceive them one way, but like when other people read it, they might see it in a different way. So having that perspective is really valuable.

Dianne: Yeah. No, that's, that's a super interesting insight. I've always been curious about how that process works.

Anthony: It's fun. You know, like you know, I write a thing and then they review it. They're like, look at all these things. I'm like, oh yeah, I should edit that. Right. And then I do, and then yeah, I process <laugh>.

Dianne: Right. Yeah. Right. So one question I have for you is that product design is changing rapidly.

Anthony: Sure is.Oh yeah.

Dianne: Something new, right?

Anthony: What's what's on AI today? Right?

Dianne: So you're publishing a book, it's printed <laugh>, it's not gonna change. Yep. Right now, like how does that feel? What is that?

Anthony: It's a little intimidating. Yeah. Honestly, like <laugh>, so I was looking at some of the references, like the, the screenshots and, and I was like, oh, you are starting to add these features and functionalities to <laugh> your product. You know, like, so there's an example in the book that is like Barnes and Noble versus Amazon. And Amazon has like the buy now, like the one click buy. And at the time that I took a screenshot, I was like, oh, Barnel doesn't have this feature. And then yeah, they added. At the time they did. So like they were behind in that perspective. But yeah, like these UIs change, that's, that's the real challenge of writing any book you go back and look at. Like, don't make me think like those, you know, were references taken at that time. So that's why that book had to get updated and that's why this book may have to get updated in the future and that's okay.

Dianne: Totally. It's just a snapshot in time. Yeah, like that's a good way to look at it cuz like, I think that would be intimidating for me. Like, oh gosh, I do all this research and put this together and then everything's gonna change. But it's not, it's, it is you're teaching, it's like a groundwork that you're setting.

Anthony: Yeah, much like any book is like a snapshot of the culture of its time, you know, or a movie or you know, what do you like the same way?

Dianne: Definitely. Yeah. And it makes me think of the design of everyday things. That's like one of the most famous, most popular. Yeah. And what year was it written? I don't know. And you eighties?

Anthony: I think It was like two thousand.

Dianne: No, I think, I think they have an update, but I think it might be from, was it actually the eighties? Someone's gonna.

Anthony: Fact check.

Dianne: We'll fact check. But like reading the book, you see pictures and it does feel old. They're like talking about the mobile phone for instance. Yeah, right. Exactly. But there's something, but it is, it's still, it's still relevant, like the messaging of what they're saying. Yeah.

Anthony: That's like, that's the book that also got me into design, you know, like design everybody thinks I love. Yes. That is reading that like just the tea kettle on the cover Exactly. Of those of you that haven't seen it, it's like a tea kettle that faces you so you pour it <laugh> and bore it all over you. Yes. So that would hurt <laugh> and it's good. Right. Yeah. So yeah, like that concept of like think and Norman do is like a very familiar concept in the industry, which is as you know, like a push or a pull, like there's a door over there <laugh>. And I was like, is it a push or a pull? It was a slide. <Laugh>, I dunno, <laugh> hadn't, hadn't encountered that one before. So that was really interesting.

Dianne: But it's not your fault. I always think it's our fault.

Anthony: Yeah. But it's not your fault. Fault.

Dianne: Yeah, that's a really good point. Yeah. well perfect. I think that, like, this was super fascinating. I'm really, really excited to read your book.

Anthony: I can't wait till it comes out.

Dianne: Yeah. I, and yeah, we have a discount code everyone, so definitely jump in there. I think that's super exciting. I guess my question for you to kind of wrap it up, it's like what's next for you? Where are you going from here?

Anthony: Sleep probably, I dunno, <laugh>. I think a lot about that. I've been thinking about that recently. Like, the teaching I like and the mentor's great and I think that's the thing I could do as an agnostic of where I am. So right now I'm, you know, really in love with the work, you know, like at, at Amazon I'm very much like working on the features and like doing the, the day-to-day work of building that. I think the future for me, and I don't know if there's 1, 3, 5 years from now is, is is stepping away from that a little bit, you know, like maybe it is you know, at an individual contributor level of like a, a staff or some sort of like principal role that like helps others do the work and like sort of unblocks and do like a little bit more of that strategy Yeah.

Anthony: Then like the, the pixel perfect of it all, you know? Okay. A little bit less about that. Or it could be at some sort of directorial level of, you know, managing several people. I, I'm, I'm not actually sure if I wanna manage or if I wanna still be involved in making the thing. Okay. Because I love making things. Yeah. but I find more and more like the mentorship that I've been doing, like I'm starting to get a little bit more of an appetite for that management side of things. So I'm not sure. Yeah. That's something that I'm sure I'll keep figuring out.

Dianne: Yeah. Yeah. I have a little note about that. For you. We can definitely chat about this more.

Anthony: I'd love to.

Dianne: Leaving, leaving behind the design part of it took me, I literally, it was like, it was like a five year like transition. I was like, I can't let go. I can't let go. Like this is who I am, it's my identity. Like I always wanna be a designer. I like it, it was such a struggle.

Anthony: Especially as a graphic designer, like you were literally doing the design like that. That must be really hard. Yes. So how did you, how'd you cope?

Dianne: I had to cut the cord because I felt like the value I was providing for what I, the value I could be providing for my company was to be more strategic. Yeah. And by me doing customer work, which I actually still do, I always find it important to at least have one customer. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, but, so I still get to cover that slightly, but I feel like the value I was providing was not doing pixel perfect designs. Right. Like it was the strategy and like all of my learnings. And so I think what was interesting is I handed off my designs, but I, actually, what's interesting is I don't miss it because I feel like I'm able to mentor and grow a team mm-hmm. That can do it. And so I'm still providing that like oversight Right. And helping people, which is exactly what you do. Yeah. What is mentoring? So you still get to provide that value without being in the day to day.

Anthony: No, that's great. So like, it sounds like you might have done a 90 10 or like some percentage that you still help do the work and you get to like being involved in what you love and what you've always wanted to do, but like for the most part you like to unblock so that others can do that work. So you force yourself to multiply yourself, but you're still within that space. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I I mean I love that. That sounds great. Like a hybrid. Right. Hybrid work. It's just, you know. Yeah.

Dianne: It's like I can't let go. It's like I still have to be attached to someone and it's something.

Anthony: That gives you the perspective cuz now you can empathize with your team and like you understand how they do the work and like Exactly. You can, you also have to like to develop your skills or also you're gonna be unable to like to talk about Figma Exactly. Talk about AI gen and like prompt generation. Like you just need to know these things in order to communicate effectively as a leader.

Dianne: Exactly. That's a, and I'm hiring more people and design leaders are leading. I'm hiring design leads to take over more of leading designers and then they're like, oh, but you want me to still do design work? And I'm like, well I think there's value in that and we talk about it, but being able to like we talk about you, if you're doing it, you can lead. Right. Totally relate in such a different way.

Anthony: Yeah. So like a, like a 70 30 or an 80 20, like I would say right now I'm at like a 90 10. Right. You know, but 90 is like the IC 10 or like the mentor manager Right. Type of thing. And maybe like a 50 50 Right.

Dianne: Exactly.

Anthony: Would be like the next place I wanna go. You know, like not, I don't think I'd ever wanna be a, I don't say ever. Yeah. But I, a hundred zero would be hard. Yeah.

Dianne: I mean, you're a designer that's like in your blood. So I think finding that balance, but not being afraid to give it up a little and test it. Cause it was surprising how much I was hurting more than helping me. Mm. I was stuck because I wasn't growing.

Anthony: Well, I mean, props to you for recognizing that and then also being able to let it go. You haven't let it go. You haven't let it go. You just put it down differently.

Dianne: Yes. Exactly. But yeah, I think that's an interesting goal. I mean it makes sense for you and where you're going. But I mean, who knows? I, but it's something you could test and play with and Yeah. Slowly give a little bit more confidence. Ears a little bit. Sure. Yes. Perfect. Well awesome. And thank you so much Anthony.

Anthony: Thanks for having me again. I love this, so.

Dianne: I know, I'm so excited for your book. And yeah, stay tuned for the next time we can. Yeah.

Anthony: When I write the next book.

Dianne: We'll follow along on what's next with you.

Anthony: You. Yeah, of course. Yeah. Perfect. Awesome. Thanks. Cool. Thank you.

Dianne Eberhardt

Dianne Eberhardt

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