Twitter design main man Josh Brewer fields your questions on sources of inspiration, the pros and cons of A/B testing, and whether it’s worth worrying about your greatness
An edited version of this article first appeared in issue 223 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
@ben_bate: Did you start out as a different type of designer or have you always worked in UX?
Josh Brewer: The funny thing is, I don’t think of myself as being one type of designer or another. I started out designing and building things. I love making things that people use. An awareness of user experience was always part of what I was doing and what made things interesting. However, there came a point in my career where I began to work on larger products that, in order to be successful, needed more holistic and system-oriented thinking. I definitely added more UX tools to my tool-belt. Research, testing, customer service – all of this was part of the process of creating a product that people loved to use. So, I’d just say that I started out as a designer – a simple, clear and perfectly descriptive title I still hold onto today.
@whiteboxwebby: Do you have one particular golden rule of UX that you follow for everything and would advise others to do likewise?
JB: If there is one, it’s this: simplify. It’s the hardest thing to do as a designer. There are a million forces working against you, trying to add complexity. From customer requests to new features being added to the product, one of the greatest challenges facing any designer is how to deal sensibly with complexity. Remove, remove, remove. And when you think it’s simple enough, remove some more. As I like to say, designing for simplicity is a process of calculated refinement.
@jamesjgill: What do you think of A/B testing, and how does this impact on your creativity?
JB: I think that A/B testing can be useful. It provides a scientific approach to testing the effect that a design solution has on a specific goal. It enables you to identify elements of a design that aren’t doing the things you intended them to do, and therefore you can change or remove them.
I also think that A/B testing can be dangerous. It’s incredibly easy to interpret data in a way that suits your needs and justifies your conclusions. Companies that are data-driven, rather than data- informed, tend to focus on the local maximum (constant tiny iteration on a small set of things) instead of focusing on the big picture and the long- range goals of their product.
As for the impact on creativity, that’s not too much. Solve problems and create delightful moments for the user, and any testing (done correctly) should only serve to help you succeed at both of those goals.
@kieranrushby: Has there ever been a point in your career at which you thought you wouldn’t end up being classed as great at what you do?
JB: Absolutely. Thoughts of self-doubt are normal and part of being human. I consider myself blessed to be able to do what I do every day. The longer I do this, the more I find I’m less concerned with others’ assessment of my greatness, and much more with whether or not I’m doing great work. Work that I believe in. Work that has my passion poured into it. Work that, at the end of the day, I believe is my best. And if it’s not, then I go back and keep working until it is. And then I watch this: netm.ag/brewer-223.
@rorystandley: Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?
JB: In no particular order: play with my children. Go for walks out in nature or sometimes just around the block. Play the guitar. Draw. Read all kinds of stuff – classics, frivolous fiction, design history, non-fiction. Pray. Watch my wife decorate and create artful things out of seemingly nothing. Take photos. Take long showers (seriously, I have most of my ‘a-ha’ moments in the shower. In fact, Cameron Moll has a theory about this: netm.ag/moll-223).
@nathansmith: I love your blog project 52weeksofUX.com. But when are weeks 50, 51, and 52 coming?
JB: Soon. I promise. Some day Josh Porter and I will have to sit down and recount the adventure that each of us has been on over the last year – and its impact on our writing schedule. That said, we both have a couple of drafts that should be published soon. On the other hand, perhaps we should keep them to use as bonus material for the 52 Weeks of UX book and you’ll only be able to get them there. (Kidding. Sorta.)