Watch our interview with Andy Vitale - VP, Product Design & Content at Quicken Loans and author of Designing for Safety.
Check out the video below!
Alex Smith: Hi Andy! Thanks for joining the show today. Can you tell us a little bit about your history and background in design?
Andy Vitale: So I started out in design 20 years ago at a time when we were doing UX but it wasn't even called ux. It was really just design, and these specializations didn't exist, so I got involved in digital really early and ended up going through a few different jobs. I started a small agency with some friends and our first client was Blackberry. We launched all these interesting IT tools in Latin America for them. After that agency we kept it for a few years but ultimately it was time to go off on our own. I ended up at Office Depot which at the time was the sixth largest e-commerce company in the world. I got to be involved in mobile at a time when mobile was really becoming a thing, Paypal integrations working with apple on passbook, everything that mobile does now was all kind of built around that same time.
I stayed in e-commerce for a little bit and then found this amazing opportunity for a complex problem in healthcare moved to Minnesota worked for 3M, starting on medical devices and the interfaces but eventually building a team focused on enterprise healthcare for software like complex problems in the healthcare industry like quality of care efficiency of billing like how do we audit different charts like just amazing things and understanding collaboration between medical professionals. I left 3M and went and built a global team for a power sports company Indian Motorcycle snowmobiles like off-road vehicles. It was like fun things but it was a little bit of a break from the complexity. So I went into finance and I went to a bank and became the head of user experience design for a bank that ended up merging to become the sixth largest bank in the US. Standing up new practices through a merger like enterprise design, design advocacy, community management, strategic design and innovation.
All of that really prepared me for the role I have today as the vp of product design and content for Quicken Loans the nation's number one like mortgage lender, being able to build and mature a team and a design organization for how do we anticipate the needs of our clients and how do we innovate and how do we deliver amazing experiences in in such a you know an important area in somebody's life. I’ve been through a few different kinds of industries and I've learned that like I love complexity because I fall in love with problem space I never fall in love with the solution. It's always the problem and that's really driven me and inspired me through my career.
AS: So Andy you're also a professor, can you tell us a little bit about that? What's changed in teaching design? I know the whole educational experience is changing rapidly, especially in design, but what's your approach to teaching and how is that going to change?
AV: Primarily I teach because it's my way of giving back to the design community that has been really good to me throughout the years. When you get to a certain level in your career you want to support the next generation of designers. I teach online right now in a master's program at kent state university, their ux program, and it's fully remote. I just like having that experience to shape minds that aren't fully, I don't want to say fully developed but they're learning this new like capability and seeing where they can take it and making sure they get that foundational knowledge, because I had taught earlier on in my career and it was a different type of program. It was more about understanding the tools and how you can apply them to solve problems, where now I think our industry has shifted into how we think of solving problems and then apply design principles to leverage tools to create outcomes. The tool at one point was one of the primary focuses. I think we shifted from like theory to tools now we're back to theory and understanding the problem space.
So you know there's different types of learning that pop up there is online learning, there's in-person learning, there are boot camps, and all of them have their pros and cons. At the end of the day it's really about inspiring the next generation of designers and then helping them find those roles that they can grow and learn. I think today we're starting to see people we expect to have a few years of experience, like let's take the time to take the people that just graduated and help them grow and help them learn.
AS: What piece of advice would you have for junior designers entering the field today?
AV: Well you know you mentioned junior designers and I feel like there's a more powerful term. To me they are emerging designers. The reason I call them emerging designers is because they come to us with this fresh perspective, this like blue sky thinking of what design can be and how we can leverage design for good. They haven't been jaded or like beaten up by the industry and following process. They are at the beginning point of this like rocket launch for their career and to me the advice is just stay curious. That curiosity that you have is inspiring to the rest of the team. That perspective of seeing things through fresh eyes, yeah it's just so valuable and the passion that they have is so awesome it's contagious.
AS: I love that! In your 20-year career you've seen ux roles emerge disappear. What new roles do you think are needed in this new decade of ux?
AV: It's great that you asked because there are a few key roles that are starting to pop up that I think are important to have on teams. The first one would be we could call it a futurist, we could call it strategic foresight, but it's someone that's really painting that picture of scenarios that could happen five, ten, fifteen years out. The thing is, that's a moving target, we may never hit it but it makes us think about problems in our problem space in different ways. Who would have guessed that we ever had a pandemic but I'm sure like every futurist now is like imagine there's a pandemic how would your business change how would you design changes things like that. That sense of where we could go is really important. I think you're seeing a lot more service designers now. I think that's important for us to understand our ecosystem and the different touch points and understanding the gaps between the touch points because those provide the opportunities of new areas of focus. The other thing related to the book that I’m writing is design ethicists. The people that really think about what could potentially go wrong. Are we doing the right thing? Does our design solve that problem in a way that won't be used against us or in a way we didn't intend to? Those to me are three of the top roles that you're going to be seeing more and more of.
AS: Andy, you have a book coming out. Can you tell us a little bit about that and the motivation behind the book?
AV: The book is called Designing for Safety co-authored with Lisa Welchman who wrote Managing Chaos. Lisa and I met at a conference last year, World Usability Day in Cleveland. We had a mutual friend Kevin Hoffman introduce us. We all went out to dinner and just our topics for the conference and our ideas just kind of like we thought we were a perfect match to write this book so it's called Designing for Safety and it's coming out in Q1 or Q2 next year and it really is about how we embed safety or the thought of safety. We kind of define these as products that are designed to minimize emotional, economic, physical, and psychological harm to any human being and to society. Also, how do we start to like to think about that through the product development process and how we can make sure that what we're designing isn't causing harm to people in any way. In the book when we talk about safety it's talking about lots of different things right, it's not just harm to products it really is like this idea of bias and cultural blindness and the way we use technologies in ways that we didn't intend to. It's about understanding how we're pervasive, how we can listen to people through social methods, or devices in your house. it's just things that we don't necessarily think about when we are first figuring out what our solution could potentially be. It’s trust, it's privacy, it's security, it's ethics, it's so many things that make up whether someone feels safe with a product or not. When we think about the best solutions that we can provide, it's how we bring diverse voices to the table with diverse perspectives because that's what creates things not being safe. Essentially it's when you build something in a bubble with the same people that have the same experiences, as you it doesn't allow you to think like what if or how this impacts this person or how like someone else's experience make them feel about a particular product.
AS: I hear diversity come up a lot. What is the practical way to make sure that we're designing for everyone?
AV: Yeah I mean there's two things right, it's first look around you and see who's not there and make sure that you know they're represented as you're going through the design process. It's also about involving customers of all demographics, anyone who could potentially use your product, you need to have them involved in testing that you need to make sure that it works for them, that it matches their experience, their mental model, it solves the problem that they have.
AS: Andy thanks so much for being on the show today! We really appreciate you coming on.
AV: Yeah I appreciate it! it's been a blast.