This week, Business Manager on all things UX, UI and Creative Design, Sarah Ellis-Jones sat down with Design Driven Strategist, Jason Mesut to talk all things UX/UI and how businesses can harness its power and work together with designers to actualise intentional and successful design.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jason Mesut and I help people and organizations navigate their uncertain futures.
I do this as a design-driven strategist and an executive coach. Working with organizations to determine what products and services they should create, evolve or reinvent. And also to help individuals and teams develop capabilities to deliver those products and services.
To be specific, It’s a mix of Product Strategy, Service Design, Concept-Driven Experience Design, Qualitative Research, Foresight, Coaching and Facilitation
You’ve had a rich consulting career in both digital services and product strategy, can you share your journey with us for any junior product and upcoming UX designers?
I studied Industrial Design at Brunel University doing a placement at Yell.com between 98 and 99 making websites for SMEs and helping them develop 'build your own' website services for those SMEs. There, I got deeper into HTML, Flash, Fireworks and designing for multiple screen sizes, browsers and more. I also got exposed to Usability Testing and big rebrands while we worked with Flow, Johnson Banks and Deepend.
For my final year projects, I leant into physical-digital interaction and cognitive ergonomics (HCI) developing bicycle indicators, and a future e-ink-driven reading device with a social network built in. That sort of thinking helped me land a job at PA Consulting. There I learned about consulting and the business of digital transformation.
Later on, I specialized in healthcare design and helped to advance the growing Experience Architecture practice before nurturing a massive design team for UBS. My work spans a range of projects including a MEG brain scanner, a future in-car user interface strategy, future categories for a home appliances manufacturer, developing an on-demand grocery shopping service, and guiding the digital services strategy for a future vehicle and so much more.
Along the way, I have mentored and coached people unofficially and as their line manager. Last year I became a certified executive coach, working with individuals to navigate their futures, and with teams to perform beyond their potential.
On the side, I have always attended many meetups and conferences, even hosting UXPA events for many years at LBi's offices before re-booting IxDA London over 10 years ago. My co-pilot Boon and I have been running monthly events for IxDA for over 11 years until last year. Exploring the intersection of Interaction Design and several different fields. I have also spoken, written and run public workshops around a bunch of topics from future user interfaces to the bridging of physical and digital design, and my recent work helping designers better understand themselves and shape their future direction.
As a specialist in UX, whatever the medium, have there been any notable UX and UI projects you’ve been on that stick out to you in your career so far?
Definitely... First up was probably the Map of Medicine while at LBi. We did some cutting-edge work to develop radical concepts that worked for a range of health professionals in the NHS, doing a whole mix of research in a wide range of intimidating and tough regulatory contexts. Some of the ideas we came up with over 15 years ago are starting to get traction now (think Babylon Health’s GP at Hand) but we also managed to deliver a radically simple UI-driven service into the NHS. Possibly the first ever nationally available software that there was.
When working with UBS at RMA Consulting, the incredibly strong team I helped to assemble developed some truly game-changing user interfaces for the industry, digging deep into challenging the expected norms in that field through research, demonstrating the art of the possible through rich prototypes, and having a lot of heated and uncomfortable arguments. It was pretty torturous for many of the team and for me working with such a hostile environment, but the work and that talent paved the way for a lot of the more complex Financial Services work going on right now.
And then, with the mobility project I mentioned before, we were having to consider the experience of touchpoints on mobile, on the web, in-vehicle, on paper, for maintenance staff, and call-centre staff. It was truly medium independent and a learning curve for the many people involved. We had to do a lot of different sorts of experimentation, prototyping and research to simulate real services and explore ways that could work for the service to deliver on its potential.
Have you seen the industry evolve and morph over the years, and if so, in what ways?
In so many ways...
Increased day rates and salary. Shift to freelance. Then shift to in-house, away from agencies. I've seen the passion erode and a huge influx of hungry new talent wanting to get their break.
There's also been a lot more flux in terms of tools. You only have to look at how disruptive Adobe's purchase of Figma was, to see how many people are still very focused on User Interface production rather than a broader spectrum of design.
What key trends have you spotted and what do businesses need to know about them?
So many different ways to look at this question, especially in my role as a strategist, and someone who works in Foresight and other Futures Practices.
Given this context, I’d focus on the design industry itself, considering the past decade and what seems to be close to peaking over the next few years. If I was to call out three, they would probably be Futures, Systems, and Meaning.
Even before the pandemic, I had observed a shift towards more Futures Design practices, whether Strategic Foresight, Design Fiction or Speculative Design. I have seen so many Futures Cones now, that it feels like it’s the customer journey map of the coming 5 years. Businesses should find ways to engage with the practices but try to make sure it’s appropriate and done through a strategic lens. That might mean trying to ensure a decent feedback loop from what is created, to ensure that the fears and ideas fuelled by provocations can be used as part of a more traditional design process.
In complement to the futures sides of things, there has been increasing attention on systems thinking and systemic design. Unfortunately, designers are still grappling with a fairly inaccessible and complex toolkit to engage less experienced participants in the process. A lot of people in businesses can appreciate that there are systemic challenges, but they will need to work closely with designers to find ways of working that fit the org and the differing levels of understanding within it.
Lastly, like with so many others as a result of the pandemic, there has been a lot of soul-searching among designers and design leaders. A lot more questioning about the meaning behind the work. This is standing in stark contrast to those that may be deep in UI production and Design Systems. Designers are more demanding on healthier work environments but also working in service of bigger social impact and meaning. It’s why so many are pushing harder on climate crisis issues, regenerative design, and more ethical design. But also why more, like me, are entering the field of coaching. Businesses will need to think carefully about how they can genuinely engage designers to work with them if they want the good ones.
What would you say to any upcoming UX, UI and Product designers looking to take on digital design in today’s world of work?
Find some ways to strengthen your resilience. So many people I have known have suffered from burnout, breakdowns or disillusionment with the industry. We have had to find ways to cope and still seek new ones. I'd advise building your playbook of resilience strategies.
I'd also recommend developing a range of softer skills and foundational knowledge of design alongside the more technical tools, processes and design methods.
The most successful people I know seem to have invested more in the former. The latter change quickly and are ever-growing. The former is also ever-valuable and almost infinite in their learning journey. So you might as well start now.
One of the biggest challenges I have observed is that designers, especially digital product and UX designers, struggle to develop their identities. Focusing on what they enjoy and are good at, rather than being pulled along with the latest fads, and convincing rhetoric coming from the thought leaders on stages and social media.