Lessons by Eric Reiss of FatDUX – Part 1
Wait, who’s Eric Reiss?(http://www NULL.flickr NULL.com/photos/stabilo-boss/4664073520/)Eric (https://twitter NULL.com/#!/elreiss) is a well-known author (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Practical-Information-Architecture-Structuring-Successful/dp/0201725908/ref=lp_B0034QAQ0G_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334629736&sr=1-1), a former two-term president of the Information Architecture Institute (http://www NULL.iainstitute NULL.org/), Chair of the EuroIA Summit (http://www NULL.euroia NULL.org/), sits on the advisory boards of the Copenhagen Business School, Kent State University, and the Romanian Information Architecture Association, and was a Professor of Usability and Design at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. To pay the bills, Eric is CEO of the FatDUX Group (http://www NULL.fatdux NULL.com/), a user-experience company headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, with offices, affiliates, and representatives throughout Europe and North America.
Lessons by Eric ReissThere are bunches of things I wish I’d known when I started out. Like the success of Apple; I would have showed up at Steve Jobs’s garage in 1977 and offered to solder chips for free Coca-Cola and some stock options.
I’ve often wondered what I would have done differently in my career. But let me be honest, I think I was lucky in every conceivable way. And if I changed anything, I’m afraid the fabric of who I am might unravel entirely.
My writing is what later got me into advertising. When multimedia came along in 1989, I found myself in a unique position. I knew how computers worked. I understood user experience from my time onstage and backstage. And I had the communication skills needed to tell a compelling story. Suddenly, it all came together for me about the time Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web in 1990.
Of all my strange talents, I think my verbal and written communication skills have been the most valuable. You can have a zillion great ideas, but if you can’t get these across to other people, you’re going to have a problem. But there’s also a danger because there are more great communicators in the world than great thinkers. I’ve witnessed a lot of half-baked schemes that never should have seen the light of day, brilliantly sold by a charismatic communicator. And I’ve certainly been guilty of this too.
If you can’t recognize and kill a bad idea – especially when it’s your own – how will you ever recognize a truly valuable idea?
(http://www NULL.flickr NULL.com/photos/gilgongo/1426822991/)I’ve had several mentors and numerous sources of inspiration during my career. But one in particular stands out. When I first came to Denmark in 1976, I was invited to assist a famous stage director, Sam Besekow at the Danish Royal Theatre. Sam himself had been an assistant to the legendary Max Reinhardt, head of Deutsches Theater in Berlin back in 1930. It was a fabulous opportunity to become part of an extraordinary creative lineage. One day during rehearsal, everything seemed just a bit “off.” It was our first time on the main stage, with full sets. Up until then, we’d been in dreary rehearsal halls, miming doors and watching chalk marks on the floor. Well, despite the magnificent sets, the run-through of the first act was lack-lustre. Some of this could be excused by the change of venue. But by the second act, Sam was clearly peeved. “I want real wine in those glasses!” he ordered. Of course, drinking actual alcohol was against some unwritten Royal Theatre rule. But Sam had the clout to get things his way. Real wine appeared at rehearsals the next day – in a surprisingly decent quality. Sam gave me an important lesson in direction over coffee that afternoon, “The actor is the centre of art on the stage. Give an actor a glass of coloured water, and he will look like an actor acting the part of someone drinking wine. But give him real wine, and he will look like someone drinking wine – he doesn’t have to act and can therefore concentrate on his art. Our job is to help actors concentrate on the important things.” Basically, this is Sam reducing mental clutter to enhance Chi. Feng shui meets Max Reinhardt. As user-experience professionals, our job is to choreograph the customer journey so that it is as smooth as possible. It’s exactly the same thing – we want our customers to concentrate on the stuff that is truly important.
U.S. President Harry S. Truman once remarked, “It’s amazing what we can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” – I think these are good words to live by.
I suspect most of my clients merely view me as the fellow who can move market share for them. But what makes me proudest is when I see that something I initiated has made the world a better place. For example, I once had a client that wanted me to help them introduce high-density polyethylene shopping bags in the U.K. HDPE is that really thin, slightly waxy plastic. At the time, the U.K. was all hot and bothered to introduce recycled plastic bags, but since you can’t let post-consumer recycled plastic come into direct contact with food, these recycled bags were a sandwich of recycled plastic coated with a thin layer of virgin vinyl on either side. I successfully argued that HDPE bags, even though there was no recycled material in them, actually saved enough virgin vinyl during the course of a single year to create a column of plastic as big as Nelson’s in Trafalgar Square, to a height in excess of 1.3 miles! My client got the contract they wanted, so they were happy. But I was most proud of having changed the way in which both British retailers and politicians viewed their current recycling policies and was able to introduce source reduction as a key green initiative.
I’ve generally had pretty good clients and bosses. That’s not to say that things haven’t gone wrong on occasion, but I’ve had a pretty good run, never been downsized, and rarely fired. In fact, I’m more likely to fire a client than have them fire me. There are really only three things that matter for me when working on something: I want to learn something, have fun, and make money. In most cases, two out of three will do it, but I’m not a charity. If I don’t make money, I’m out of business.
Looking back, the times I’ve gotten into trouble are those where I’ve taken a hard stand on something that runs counter to the business case – clients need to make money, too. In every project there are two very different sets of goals that need to be attained – those of the user and those of the project owner. For example, I don’t go to Amazon to make Jeff Bezos rich; I go there to buy a book. Our job as UX designers is to make sure both needs are met.
If you only focus on the customer and forget the client’s needs, you’re going to get into a fight with someone. That said, if you don’t meet the needs of the user/customer/whatever, you are never going to achieve your business goals.
(http://www NULL.flickr NULL.com/photos/51765672 null@null N00/5608386057/)Living and working in Europe has taught me two things. First, you have to truly respect cultural and national differences. I see a lot of U.S. companies fail because they see Europe as being far more homogeneous than it really is. The European Union is not the “United States of Europe” nor will it ever be. Second – and this may appear contradictory – when it comes to communications of a business-to-business nature, a dentist in Rome will often have more in common with a dentist in Stockholm than with his next-door neighbor. This is what makes effective cross-border B2B marketing possible.Curiously, many European companies entering the U.S. market, make the same mistake – they view the United States as being far more homogeneous than it really is. I think this may be one of the reasons my company’s expansion in the U.S. is going so well; we view individual geographic areas in much the same way we view individual countries and regions in Europe. A “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work on either side of the Atlantic.