Watch Eli Ferrer, Head of Enterprise UX and Product Design at Wabtec (formerly GE Transportation) lend his perspective on UX, graffiti, and keeping your side passions alive :)
Check out the video below!
Alex Smith: Hey Eli, Thanks for joining us today on the series. To get started here can you tell us a little bit about your background in design?
Eli Ferrer: Hey Alex of course. I came from a graffiti background which is very unique, I would say that kind of brought me into UX or in the realm of UX. I went through the traditional marketing perspective with agencies and stuff like that. I just felt like having a voice, you know an artistic voice I felt it lended itself very easily to branding. Currently I'm the interim head of user experience and product for Wabtec, a transportation company. Coming from the Home Depot side, building the app and the dot com experience but I got my bread and butter's building teams. Not just from the perspective of like “hey let's build a really awesome team” but we're really looking into the strategy and the processes that that team uses. Specifically looking into the UX design thinking realm of things. Companies we've been talking about for years, like they still don't acknowledge design in some instances. You know not every company is design driven they're more numbers and metrics driven which is totally fine and there's always an avenue for design thinking when you have that problem.
AS: Is that your graffiti behind you?
EF: Yeah so in my spare time I still do some artwork. You know I can't get to the five foot murals anymore. My passion is graffiti, I'm still a graffiti art hunter. I like finding really cool artwork out there you know all the stuff that you see online. I collect a lot of that stuff but whenever I have some time I do some artwork here in the house just to kind of have and add some color to the space.
AS: So you're kind of in a unique industry compared to some of the designers we talk to. How do you help new entrants to the field understand the importance of UX needs to actually be included in all sorts of industrial industries as well, not just you know buying shoes online?
EF: Great question. I think coming into this experience it was unique in a way because if you think about these shoes that we talk about, you buy these shoes and they get to you. People don't think about how these shoes were shipped from wherever they were made and how they got to you. That's kind of what drove me into this unique experience where it's looking at the experiences that these logistic companies use. It's really like DOS, if everybody remembers the green screen or the black screen and all the commands on the keyboards. It's a really huge gap right now and a space to navigate so how do you make those experiences user-friendly and device-friendly. Because if you're out in the middle of nowhere and you're about to frack something or you're a trucker and you're driving this 18-wheeler and you don't have signal, you have to wait till you get signal and you're probably holding three different devices in your hand while you're driving a truck. It's thinking about how we change those experiences and then also looking at, say, the port of LA where you're a person in a really high tower moving cargo containers out of a ship. How does that affect the experience of truckers coming in? That means traffic on the highway because there's long lines. So again, looking at these experiences where everything's manual. This person has to have at least 20 years of background knowledge to perform these actions right. Talking to the people that use our experiences, where everyone's retiring and then there's not new people wanting to come into the logistics experience, it kind of creates a place where like, man what if it was really easy to use? I can pick it up in like two weeks and start using it and really changing that space.
AS: In this space do you have different you have different considerations like OSHA compliance?
EF: There's a lot of other things you have to be thinking about. Yeah there's unions, there's OSHA, there's government. So say when a container reaches a port, you have to deal with different demurrage so it's legal actions like you know coast guards. How does that line of calculations have to go through experiences like when a container reaches a destination, what is that limitation on that dockage? Timing for the crew as far as there's a space and time when a container reaches a train to a terminal where people can't use devices because you can get your hand cut off because you have a ten thousand pound vehicle coming towards you. There's a bunch of different limitations and legal codes that we have to follow, so it's also understanding that. It's not like it's just a pizza tracker. There's all these different instances of it in this industry. It is pretty important to be on-site and physically view a lot of those limitations: here's how the heavy industrial process works, here's those physical considerations. That changed this year as we used to travel to these destinations. Every destination is unique: it's a sensor in the middle of the track, or how to experience how the crew unloads or loads containers, or getting on the towers and experiencing all the multiple screens. Yeah we've had to do a lot more virtual. Our team already was very distributed meaning that we do have a central office, well two really, Chicago and Atlanta. I think the biggest thing is as we started to grow the team
was like hey our bills for flying are crazy. We have to kind of start to think, we're building digital products. How do we test some of these products remotely with our clients and then also walk our clients through the engagement of the ux experience so we're here to be part of the process to understand. That sometimes means on their side they have to lend that time to us, if it's not just us going to do a workshop or to be part of some action or just shadow, you know it was also getting them on the shared screen to do a dry run of an experience. This year really is changing that format of getting more virtual time.
AS: You mentioned hiring. What do you look for when hiring new designers to the team?
EF: From my perspective in hiring you know I guess it's different, but you know I've seen and studied multiple different tech companies, just companies in general that have like design or research perspective. Ours in particular is kind of unique because we're not gonna find somebody that's been in the industry for years. We're looking for fresh faces from the research side and our product design side as this might be unfamiliar to them. We Don't want biases, we want new experiences looking outside of the box when hiring. It's really just looking at people that have a passion for speaking their mind. They're unique in the sense that they approach the services within UX in different ways, and it doesn't have to always be in large scale teams. On the resume to me is really just kind of like well that's great but you know there could be really powerful strong-minded people that come with good experiences either a young or old from small scale teams worldwide. It's really looking at what are the passions that these people bring and the nuances how they would relate that into this experience. It's really keeping that open mindset where anyone can really come in and if they're really dedicated to the craft, be it research or design, that they could be a true piece of the culture.
AS: What advice do you have for a young designer getting into the field?
EF: Yeah so like I mentioned when I was a young designer I was a graffiti artist. I had a voice, I just didn't know how to do it. I think the biggest thing that I learned was if you use your voice, if you have a side hustle, what I mean by side hustle if you're an illustrator, trying to get in your portfolios, just put in stuff that you want to do. If you haven't had the experience because you're early on in your career, take an application everybody knows and kind of retool it and create another feature people want to see. That makes you unique, you were thinking of outside the box on an everyday app. Use the tools that we have like Linkedin and search out people that are in the industry and try to talk to them.Try to build many connections as you can. Back in the day when I graduated college, I went to Maryland, MICA, and I tried to make as many connections as possible because you don't know down the road what that would lead up to. Use the tools that you have, try to be unique. Any side hustle, it can be a great singer, you're a great knitter, it could be anything. Use that to make you stand out because again, in today's world there's so many people trying to apply, and then on my side it's like what makes this person different than the person standing right next to me. Think about culture. Read up on that company's culture, what they are up to, if it's about community and being community advocates like say a Mailchimp. They're really into the community and how they give back and how that applies to the actual products that they sell. Read up on those things. It's really important especially when you interview, those things can come up. You could be an advocate for your community and they probably don't even know. So again, just using those examples, read up on what the companies are, but always try to be unique in your own way and then that sells you.
AS: Awesome! Well Eli, thanks so much for taking the time today. We really appreciate your insights!
EF: Hey thank you so much Alex for having me. I'm looking forward to some of the feedback of the viewers today and I would love to answer any questions and thank you again.