Design Leader Insights - Ryan Leffel on UX in the Travel Industry

July 19, 2023


Alex Smith: Design leader Insights is brought to you by FICO, UX, UX research strategy and design consultancy. Hey, Ryan, thanks so much for joining the show today. Thank you. Great to be here. Yeah, for sure. And as we get started, can you give the audience a little bit of insight into your journey in UX design?

Ryan Leffel: Sure. So I'm currently Head of Design at Priceline, where I oversee our product design, marketing, design teams and our user research team. So we are responsible for anything you see on desktop, mobile app or our iOS, Android apps, as well as email and social, and any any of those sorts of things. It's been a rather interesting journey for me. I started off and this is in the late 90s. Long story short here, I ended up at NYU. I went to the interactive telecommunications program, which was which was master's program where you could really set your own space, right, figure out where you want to go. In the interactive telecom world. I focused on design, research, design, and research and in programming, so I took classes so I could understand programming and development better, even though I knew that wasn't what I was going to do. I took every class possible while I was there on both UX and UI design. I also took classes in research, right? So I just really wanted to understand the world better. I got a little bit of a break coming out of it. My thesis advisor was the guy named Bob Greenberg, who is the founder of RDA, which is an interactive agency. I've spent a little over five years at RDA moved, moved to Yahoo, just to, you know, see what the design world was like outside of agency, I had an opportunity to get involved with starting a business. In the fitness space, kind of outside of the design world, I figured why not give this a shot, start a business, I'll probably take a year. You have severance from Yahoo, why not? Right, then get back into design, learn a big lesson about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and start a business. But that ended up being about five years. And I'd say about three and a half years or so into it, I started getting back in trying to get back into design doing freelance work, ultimately, towards the tail end of it landed a full time job, I was able to sell the business worked at a company called Cora, which is a digital agency focusing on on E commerce, a lot of Magento and Shopify type of stuff. I was overseeing design and strategy there and moved on to a company called Pearson which is in the ad tech space. Got there and realized it wasn't really the right fit for me in terms of where I wanted to be or what I wanted to be doing. So rather short stint there, the opportunity of Priceline came around less than a half year into that job. And I just kind of made the decision that I want to you know, like I knew I wanted to be an E commerce and MBDC. And I couldn't pass it up. So now on the Priceline,

Alex Smith: It sounds like you manage a lot of people there. And I think everyone knows, it's kind of uncertain times, how do you keep a team motivated? I mean, not even during times like this, but just in general, like how do you, how do you kind of, how do you motivate the team?

Ryan Leffel: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a few pieces of that one, we all have a job to do. We were all hired to do a specific thing. And we're all good at what we do. And you know, and one way or another, so let's focus on doing our jobs, the best we can. Let's focus on learning and moving forward. And I think, you know, one of the things that I've learned over time is we get a lot more concerned and worried about things that we think we're going to happen, that we don't know are actually going to happen. So we're kind of letting the fear of generally something that's more in the negative type of space, get in our way of moving forward in a productive way. And I always like to try to think about let's not worry about something that hasn't happened yet. Right? We don't have to stay focused on what we know we need to do, right? And that's the best way we could have an influence over a positive outcome. Right, because you can't always control what's going to happen. But I do firmly believe that you can always have an influence on what's going to happen. And I really believe that if we do the right things, and we focus on what we know is meaningful with time in one way or another, it's going to help influence what that final outcome is going to be.

Alex Smith: What about the travel industry? What about the users? How does that come into play? Do you use that as like, hey, like, This is who we're working for, like to drive motivation, or is that not really part of the consideration?

Ryan Leffel: No, it absolutely is. I mean, you know, from I mean, people love to travel, people continue to travel and it's proven to be a real resilient industry. And that is meaningful, and I think we all just really understand that. You know, it's the type of thing that we are working on that really I think helps people live a better life, right? Or help people get more meaning out of what they want to do. And that is, you know, I mean, that is a really valuable, meaningful thing when you work on something that you believe in. And you know, just doing something good and helping people, I think that really makes your job easier.

Alex Smith: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Let's switch gears to talking about starting a business and what that journey was like, and hopping back into design.

Ryan Leffel: Yeah, so I had an opportunity. And this is like a whole other long story, we're just going to cut through a bunch of different chapters of this one, but I had an opportunity to help get involved with starting a health club. And it was building you know, like, building a gym, starting it from the ground up, no membership, no marketing, designing the space, you know, coming up with, with marketing programs, and how do you get people in the door, and I had never done that type of thing before, I've always been very enthusiastic, and, you know, like, loved fitness. And, but I've never actually been in that space myself, it took a long time and took way longer to get there than I thought it would and made way more hours during the day than I thought it was going to take, you know, got to the point, it was like it was around three, three and a half years in were, I think there was the right people working there that I was actually able to step away, I'm gonna start doing design work, you know that it's a tough space to be in and making, you know, the making the money that you need, in order to support a family was a challenge. So I had to get back into design at that point. And it was really, really difficult. And, you know, when I had a good background, I had a great portfolio, despite it being a few years old. But when I decided I wanted to get back into it, no one really, first phase was like, nobody wanted to talk to me, then when people do talk to you, they don't really take you that seriously. Because it's like, well, you know, like you're working in a gym, right? You're in a completely different fields. Yeah. I didn't really know how I didn't really know how to answer that. And I thought that I was just going to be like, well, look at all this work I've done in the past, look at these roles I've had in the past at big names, right. And I thought that that would get me somewhere it didn't get me. It didn't really get me anywhere. I got kind of lucky. Because I had got an interview at another agency to do freelance work, that person there for a designer, understanding business, how business works, and what the business actually needs and how they need to communicate with their customers. That's hugely important.

Alex Smith: But then related to that learnings, what advice do you have for new designers that might be hopping in the field today?

Ryan Leffel: Yeah, I think, you know, one thing that I think is important is to be a generalist. I think a lot of designers need to rush. You know, you start doing design work, you land your first job. And all of a sudden, you want to start focusing on like very specific or niche things and design, which is great, right. And ultimately, it's a good place to head but I would advise anyone just to spend a few years in the field, just learning about design, learning about businesses, learning about who your customers are, and how you need to think about what your customers need, and how you can bring that to them through design. I think that's the most important thing. When you're young, and you're starting off in your career, you have a really long runway. Yeah, to move, right, it's a lot different than when you're later in your career, you've been doing this for 10 years, 15 years, whatever it might be, then you have to think about things a little bit differently. When you're young, it's a really good time to learn, learn about different aspects of design, whether it's accessibility, whether it's, you know, more like content strategy, you know, research, design systems, animations, prototyping, and whatever those very, those various things might be like, kind of spend a little bit of time on each of them write figure out where you're really interested in where you want to focus and start spending time on each of those specific things, then you're at a point where you can then really think about like, this is really where I want to focus within design. Because where we've kind of gone is I think it's it's, I think a lot of people do kind of find a focus and they and that's, you know, where they go, I start to see it a lot more especially working on on the brand side, whether it's you know, whether it's design systems accessibility, your other avenues of design, right, it's, I really like doing this, I want to focus on doing that specific thing and it's great. More so than just generally doing a little bit of everything, which is also fine, right to be a little bit but I kind of find that when you're young start off be generalist. Learn as much as you can read, you know, talk to others. There's a lot of great resources out there now to connect, you know, with other with other peers, through social and, you know, other avenues such as that, learn as much as you can then figure out what you're most interested in and go after those things

Alex Smith: Yeah Ryan love it thanks so much for joining the show today

Ryan Leffel: Yeah thank you it's great to be here