Image Credit: Usertest.io
User experience, or UX, is a kind of Sorting Hat for tech companies. A given company’s front-end presentation and ease of use for their online portals tell a lot about what they think of themselves, what they would like to be associated with, and how in-tune they are with their client base. Are the most popular features up-front and easy to use? Does interacting with the site/app communicate a sense of fun, a sense of innovation and accessibility?
For UX phenom Leo Galley, these questions and thousands more like them are absolutely crucial to building, maintaining, and improving a brand. He has a habit of working with forward-thinking companies, including AngelList (a job search website with a focus on startups), Republic (a crowdfunding investment site for startups), and CoinList (a platform for blockchain investments). He’s also a winner of the Gold European Design Award.
Mr Galley was happy to discuss his acclaimed past work as well as his vision for what impeccable design can offer to tech companies, both now and in the years ahead.
Have you noticed a difference in design philosophy between the different places you’ve lived?
Absolutely. London, where I lived for 2 years, tends to have a more ‘classic’ approach. They separate Designer from Back-end engineer from Front-end engineer, etc. In San Francisco, you’ll see more ‘generalists,’ or people with multiple highly-trained skills. Working cross-fields leads to a more dynamic and thoughtful product.
What was your personal reasoning for becoming involved with UX design?
I’ve always been curious about empathy, I’ve learned quickly it’s a skill you can train and work on intellectually.
I like to project myself in the shoes of a 16-year-old, an 80-year-old, someone with limited internet access or maybe someone who has trouble reading. Going through this exercise quickly highlights which parts of your product are simple and straightforward, and which ones are too complex.
Do you enjoy working with startups and relatively young companies, and why?
Working with early-stage startups is the best. I would highly recommend it to anyone starting a career in tech.
The pay might be lower, but you’ll learn a lot working intimately with 5-10 people, and you’ll see your work influence the company long-term. That is worth way more than whatever security you would get working at Google or Facebook for 10 years. Ultimately, I think it’s the best and most straightforward path to becoming a founder.
What are some of your least favorite apps to interact with?
I rarely get annoyed by apps. Usually, any apps that use dark patterns will get on my nerves quickly.
Dark pattern is the use of UX design to intentionally trick the users into doing something that benefits the company. The most common one would be to automatically sign you up for a newsletter on the registration page. Also, IMDb feels often like a missed opportunity. They have the most extensive movie database in the world, yet they keep a design/layout straight from the 90’s. There’s some much they could do in term of discovery, recommendation and data exploring.
What kind of company culture do you find to be the most beneficial when it comes to allowing you to express a specific design sensibility in the company’s front-end?
At AngelList, we have this ‘flat’ structure. There’s no boss and you can work on whatever you think will help the business. The responsibilities can be very scary at first, but the feeling of ownership and the joy you see in people using your work quickly outweighs the fears. In a more traditional team structure, everybody delegates. You constantly wait on someone to approve the design, and on someone else to write the copy or add tasks for the front-end designer. Everybody gets bottlenecked and organization becomes a mess. When you own your projects, you take extra care in everything you do on the product. You make sure the copy makes sense, you think of all scenarios, you ask for feedback, and polish until it’s perfect.
Is there a particular instance of UX design work that you’ve completed that you’re especially proud of?
My first jQuery plugin. I loved the experience of building a plugin from scratch while thinking of all scenarios. What if the user uses the arrows keys? what about ASDW gamer keys? It’s also the first time I got direct feedback. People would create issues on Github, explaining their scenarios and pain points, and I could directly implement fixes.
Do companies that you’ve worked with tend to place a strong emphasis on the importance of design and presentation?
Absolutely, I’ve been very lucky. Both Mitoo and AngelList are UX-first companies. When we send a notification or email to a user we always think ‘Is this relevant? How many emails does that user get from us on a weekly basis? Let’s keep that under 3-5 emails maximum, etc.’ That also shows in our customer support. Everybody at AngelList does customer support. Having close interaction with the users and our product makes for a more thoughtful UX.
When you tell people what you do professionally, do you find that they understand what your work entails, or is it more extensive than one might imagine?
Haha, that’s a good question. Like most jobs in tech, most people in the industry will quickly get it. But explaining it to my grandma or friends at home takes a little more time and finesse. I often make a parallel with industrial design. What kind of thinking goes into designing a coffee machine or a chair? I do the same, just for digital products.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects and campaigns that you’re working on?
I’ve been an advisor at CoinList and Republic. Both platforms are doing really well, and have a similar UX-oriented approach.