Design Leader Insights - J B Chaykowsky on Embracing the High Minimum in Design

February 27, 2024


Alex Smith:  Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hey J.B, thanks so much for joining the show. 

J.B Chaykowsky: Yeah, that's great to be here. Thanks for the invite. Appreciate it. I know, 

Alex Smith: I know it's late there in London. I can see how dark it is, so I appreciate it. To get started, can you give us a little bit of context and insight into your journey in design? 

J.B Chaykowsky: Yeah, sure. So a lot of people like stumble into design. I kind of knew I was going to be a designer really early because of exposure. My dad worked at a newspaper and I'd go to work with him and I would see people doing layouts and working with, you know, crazy products that don't exist anymore. And so I had access to Photoshop early on as a teenager in the nineties and I went to school on an art scholarship that was driven highly by the fact that I did work on a computer in the 1990s. And then I graduated and I got a job working in architecture as a wayfinding branding environments designer. And then the iPhone came out, obviously that changed a lot about design and how design is approached. I worked for an agency known as Bottle Rocket, which did a lot of work for big brands like Coca Cola, Showtime Networks, Chick-fil-A. We worked really closely with Apple, which was really fun and interesting. And then I moved into the, you know, Silicon Valley tech area by working for Intuit. I've been at Intuit for nine years. 

Alex Smith: Wow.

J.B Chaykowsky: Four years ago, I had a great opportunity to move my family from the United States. To London, and I've been living in London for around four and a half years now. As a design leader for the UK and globally for the accountant segment for QuickBooks. 

Alex Smith: That's super cool. Well, thanks for the, thanks for the background. And yeah, I think I'd love to hear your take on you know, the thing that's here to stay this year, AI. What are your thoughts there on it's a, on its impact for designers?

J.B Chaykowsky: Yeah, man, I think we're just at the beginning of a very long journey, but we have to be careful as designers. And I'm going to speak about design specifically, not anything beyond design, because  these are new tools and just as much as Photoshop and Illustrator and maybe Figma has democratized the creation of UI or making easy imagery or art on your computer screen. AI will democratize it even further. And designers have to be really careful about how they both adopt and accept these new technologies into their workflow. And also understand their value in this new world where, you know, someone like my mom could go on Dolly type in his, you know, my mom's great, doesn't have this technical aptitude, but that's fine, right? Like, and she could type in something and get something that is good enough. Yeah, that's the issue. Good enough is good enough for a lot of people. And I think that's what we have to be really thoughtful about is where do we add continued value on top of the creation a lot of things will be created very easily for a lot of people and where does our new value come from? And I think it goes back to some of the initial value that we have and we've been fighting against. But embracing that even further, which is like design thinking and solving real problems. 

Alex Smith: Once those tools get even more intuitive for people outside of design, like the basic visual design becomes commoditized even more. So, I don't want to say encroaches, but like where does design go then if they need to get closer to the organization due to AI? 

J.B Chaykowsky: Yeah, I think, I think there are multiple paths. The first thing is to be systems led. So, you know, you can ask an AI to build something and it will. It doesn't mean it's going to be right. We know that. You know but it at least can accelerate maybe the ideation stage. And, even then it still needs a level of systematization when you're creating an app. So like buttons, things like that, it should be able to pull from your stylistically, but that has to, from my opinion, I think that needs to come from a human because there's certain heuristics. I think there will be an opportunity for people to say, well, let's just have the AI design that part, but what are the most important parts? And I, I'm not a doomer when it comes to AI, but I do think there will be less opportunity over the long haul for designers in general, from a traditional design approach. And that's why I advocate for people to start learning as fast as possible now, and to stay on top of the technology now to protect themselves from a future where we might not need as many designers, but the designers are actually more like orchestrating across a larger portfolio of impact to the customer.

Alex Smith: How do you recommend designers build their POV? 

J.B Chaykowsky: I think it's where designers need to have a more focused approach. And what does that mean when I say design point of view? So the design point of view is how does this product look at the world and how does it want to change the world? I think what AI can do is help accelerate knowing where you can look and make an impact on the world through research. I think it can help you prototype faster. I think it can help you develop those prototypes into tests faster. It can give you more options that you might not think of faster. And so AI will help accelerate the journey of the designer, but it will still be having to be directed by the designer, and I think that's really important.

Alex Smith: How do you recommend, I mean, I think you see this on a lot of B2B SaaS where that end user is so niche or so qualified through whatever specialties they have. How do you encourage your design team to, like, take that perspective of something that might be very foreign to them in accounting for example?

J.B Chaykowsky: You know, when you make a consumer product a lot of times. You consume that product, right? You know, if you're, if you're in, this is no kick on Apple, but if you're Apple and you're making the iPhone, I mean, you got billions of people using that that are just normal people. And you're a normal person in a lot of perspectives. So you can have a certain perspective of how something could be or should be or whatnot, again, applying your taste to that experience. For designers on my teams, iIt really comes down to, I can't expect you to be an accountant. 

Alex Smith: Yeah. 

J.B Chaykowsky: The experts are the experts and we have to work closely with them. They are a part of our design and build and testing process, just as much as any internal team is to that process. And that's because they'll know the intricacies and more than we could ever.

Alex Smith: Final question here. What advice do you have for designers that might be entering the field today? 

J.B Chaykowsky: You know, my candid response probably isn't good enough anymore. I think the world's changing and I think design is changing and I'm going to be blunt and maybe more provocative than I have been in the past on a question like this. I think design will slow down for the next couple of years. I think the good enough factor that I talked about earlier where good enough is good enough is right because cause right now we have a tremendous amount of affordances and things like that, that make making a product useful very quickly that we didn't have maybe 10 years ago when mobile was really taking off from a adoption perspective. So my advice. to designers is that do not, right now, do not be frustrated by that situation. You are still responsible for the quality and the delivery. And it will be challenging at times to get the quality level that you want and you have to remember where to modulate that. And one of the concepts that I'm exploring is something called the high minimum. It's where everybody else will sometimes will have a low minimum. Like, oh, that's good enough. Let's ship it. Yeah, how do you keep pushing people's taste level, educating them about what's important to our customers, educating them about what good design is, educating them on what visual, why visual perfection matters, and you get them to the high minimum, it isn’t the max, you know, that you're never going to, like, somebody that doesn't care about the things I value isn't going to value them unless I educate them on them. And so let's keep moving those people up that ladder when it comes from everything from how it looks to how it works. And, and that would be my advice is do not get dissuaded in the next couple years if you feel like you're not making traction towards something. 1 percent every day does matter over time, and it's going to be tough but there will be a different resurgence in a couple years built on AI and the fact that we will have more time, in my opinion, to really solve hard problems.

Alex Smith: Yeah. 

J.B Chaykowsky: Yeah, so that's my advice right now.

Alex Smith: I like that. The high, aim for the high minimum. Makes a lot of sense. J.B, thank you so much for sharing these insights today. 

J.B Chaykowsky: Yeah, no worries. And if you ever need anything, just let me know. I'm here to chat and talk to anybody, so reach out.