Design Leader Insights - Abhijit Thosar on Solving the UX Problems of Tomorrow

February 21, 2023


Alex Smith: Design leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX, a UX design consultancy focused on creating simple and intuitive digital experiences. Hey, Abhijit, thanks so much for joining the show today. 

Abhijit Thosar: Thanks, Alex. Thanks for having me here. Excited to have a chat with you. 

Alex Smith: Yeah, of course. And as we get started, can you tell the audience a little bit of your background and journey in UX design?

Abhijit Thosar: Sure, absolutely. So my journey started as an engineer. And then I quickly realized that, you know, I wanted to go follow my creative passion, and went to design school, got my Master's in industrial design. And that's really the start of my journey into design. Worked as an industrial designer for few years before I switched over to user experience design, or usability engineering, as it was called back then. All through my career, I've worked across different domains, different industries, different countries, different cultures. And now I work at Amazon, I lead their design and research team, specifically working on AWS industry products. And my team is involved in solving some of the wicked industry challenges .I call them problems of tomorrow. So it's an interesting area to work at a company like Amazon, who feels like a 1.5 million employee startup. 

Alex Smith: Thanks for giving us a little bit of insight in this journey. A lot of questions about that. I think, first of all, I think throughout that journey, now it sounds like you lead a team, tell us about that transition into being a leader, and where you're at and kind of how you move from IC to leader. 

Abhijit Thosar: Sure, absolutely. So I've done the switch a couple of times in my career, I have, obviously I started as an IC role as a designer, researcher, and then started managing smaller teams, as the scale and complexity of my projects kind of grew, you know, I became manager of managers. And then at one point, I was also leading a business unit focused on design services. So in a typical agency model kind of ran a P&L, lead sales, lead business development. And at some point, when I was growing rapidly, I realized that, you know, being in that managerial role, I was kind of getting removed, and moving away from the customer problem. And that's when I decided to kind of come back into a senior IC role. And, and really kind of lead some complex product challenges, you know, at some of the companies that I worked at, in an IC role. And I did that for multiple years, and then kind of switched back to this role at Amazon. To lead a team, a small team, but a very focused team, which is working on, like I said, some of the complex industry problems. 

Alex Smith: Tell me how you approach collaboration with counterparts, right, like designing future initiatives or future products? I'm sure that's done in conjunction with, with engineering and product teams, what's kind of essential there with that collaboration? 

Abhijit Thosar: Yeah, so I think, in general, you know, when you are working in a design team, right, you are kind of expected to collaborate both horizontally as well as vertically, within your, you know, functional areas. And I think that's one of the core skills, I would say that, you know, you need to kind of, you know, practice and, and kind of become expert as a designer, because you have to kind of influence in multi-stakeholder environment. Very often, you need to kind of collaborate with the product managers on overall product strategy, vision, roadmap. And then, of course, with your engineering partners. So, as they say, you know, the product is the three legged stool, right? Between design, product and engineering. What I've seen recently is that the rules are and the boundaries between the rules are kind of getting a little bit more blurred. Designers are expected to bring in a product thinking, the product managers are expected to bring in the user centered approach. And then the engineers are kind of also going to be looking at, you know, the overall business strategy and how the technology story evolves along with the business strategy, right? So I think having that kind of a more homogeneous working culture, within the product teams is going to be crucial moving forward. 

Alex Smith: You talked about futures, like designing for, for what's next. And I think probably in 2023, a lot of teams are going to be asked to do that, like, hey, let's innovate. Let's think about what's next year. Where do you go for inspiration to kind of like, figure out what should be on that design roadmap? 

Abhijit Thosar: Great question, Alex, you know, and something that is constantly being debated, you know, at my current team at Amazon, but even in the past, right, because in many ways, as designers, we are creating things, designing things that don't exist. 

Alex Smith: Yeah.

Abhijit Thosar: Very often, we are also trying to find out problems which are not well articulated, right? We often call them as, you know, unstated needs of the users, right? So if you go and ask users, what do you want, you know, it's what they want and what they need are two different things.

Alex Smith: Yeah.

Abhijit Thosar: So I think falling back on the research, and really kind of using your, you know, observation and interview skills, and, of course, now increasingly data to really look for those insights, you know, which are hidden insights very often in the world that we live in, and try to project them into future, right, in terms of, you know, what, what does it really mean? I often kind of leverage the adjacent areas. So for example, if you're working in healthcare, but as a user, your mental models are often not just shaped by the websites that you're using in the healthcare domain, but maybe your mental models are evolving, because of the travel website that you have used, or, you know, a banking app that you have used, right. And we all tend to evolve those mental models.So having that kind of an understanding of, you know, what are some of the core intrinsic customer behaviors, user behaviors? And how do you kind of marry that with some of the technological tools that are available to you to shape experiences, and also going to start shifting the mental models of the users for and kind of get them ready for the future experiences? Right? I think that's going to be the role of a designer to really not just look at some of the best practices, but also start thinking about what are the next practices?

Alex Smith: Let's switch gears here to advice you have for new designers entering the field, emerging designers.

Abhijit Thosar: There are a lot of inspirations that designers can take, you know, over last five, seven years, we have seen how data has become an important partner for design, and leveraging data to kind of really get insights in terms of not just in terms of new ideas, but also getting real time feedback on how your design and how your product is performing are valuable things. I think going forward, you know, the role of designers, I would say there are a set of skills and competencies that the designers will have to kind of really focus on. One is, you know, bringing in that holistic product thinking. So not just kind of bringing in the core skill sets as a designer and your understanding of, you know, all the tools that you use, and the design process itself. But really kind of bringing a more holistic approach towards, you know, the product thinking. Thinking about not just about the users, but also about, you know, the business model around why the product is going to be successful in the market, how the product fits into the overall ecosystem, because you know, we now live in a very hyper connected, hyper dependent kind of world. So for your product to be successful, it's not enough for your product to be well designed. It's important how well your product works with the other products in the ecosystem. Right? So thinking about that from a holistic point of view is going to be critical. The second thing that I would highlight is extreme collaboration, as designers, right, we cannot be working in our one silos, right, I encourage my designers to kind of go out and collaborate with all possible kinds of stakeholders inside the company, and making sure that you know, we are open to ideas and insights coming in from all directions. So having that kind of, you know, collaborative mindset and, and making sure that we are open to ideas, because to me, user experience is not something that is owned only by a small set of people inside a company. Everyone in a company owns user experience or customer experience. Right? So as designers, we could be the custodians of it. But essentially, it's a highly collaborative function. The third thing that I would mention is, you know, honing your negotiation skills and your skills to persuade others. Right? And it kind of leads to ultimately storytelling. As a designer, how do you ensure that you know you're getting the right support. And we know for that having good negotiation skills when you are negotiating with your product manager or your engineering partner, making sure that you are not looking at it as a zero sum game, but to kind of co-create a value for your, ultimately for your user for your customer as one team. 

Alex Smith: 100% agree, that's all great advice. And Abhijit, thanks so much for coming on the show today. 

Abhijit Thosar: Thank you. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.