Employee Spotlight: Kyle
July 26, 2016
I got to college, I saw a really pretty girl in my first writing class, and after that I took all the writing courses I could take.
Patriot Team Spotlight is a chance for us to do a close up on the talented and fascinating individuals who make up our Patriot Software team.
My name is Dirk. I’m the Director of Media Relations at Patriot and I’ll be your interviewer. Today we’re talking to Kyle, one of Patriot’s Lead User Experience Designers. Kyle is a Mount Union Grad that lives here in Canton. He has a passion for UXD and writing, and offers a fascinating take on the future of designing software.
Spotlight on Kyle
Hello Kyle, let’s start off with an easy question and see where it takes us, shall we? Tell me, how long have you been with Patriot Software?
Around 2 years. When I started I was working for Synergy Data Systems before it was all condensed and reorganized into one company, Patriot Software.
And you came here as a humble intern, right?
Yes, I interned for several months here, as a senior in college. Then I was extended a full-time offer and that transitioned into a full-time role.
Cool, cool. I hear that, as an intern here, Patriot doesn’t hold your hand as much as they turn you loose, giving you real work to do from day one.True or false?
Well, part of the idea behind “handholding” is so the child doesn’t get hurt, right? So, we have a lot of protection in the way that we build and deploy software here. The first week I was here, they turned me loose and I was writing code for our applications and when I shipped that code it broke a couple hundred of our automatic tests. It never made it past the first layer of mistake catchers.
Actually, it was great. Because we have such a robust quality assurance setup here, we can let our younger developers and interns run with their roles because they’re not going to break anything. And it’s a great learning experience to have to backtrack through your code and see why you have to fix it.
Was that a new experience for you? To build and break and fact check your code?
Oh, yeah, well, that’s one of the things they don’t really teach you in computer science. Computer science sets you up well for the theory of the work. Computer Science will teach you how to write a sorting algorithm. But in practice, you just call a list sort command and it’s all done for you. Knowing when and how to use that sort command in real-world application is what you get taught here.
And breaking stuff is a good learning tool, I’ll bet. Hands-on application–that’s what you want out of an internship–and you got it.
Absolutely. That’s what we offer here. We teach you how to craft quality software. Also, there are lots of tangential things that go into crafting software; things like sustainability and version control. I could, right now, go and pull every single change that we have done with our code and run it. We didn’t do that in school.
Here we’re building code to be as fault tolerant as possible and a lot goes into that. Clean, concise code is great, but sometimes writing more verbose code–that is easy to understand by everyone who’s working on it with you–is better.
That’s fascinating. The difference between best practice theory and actual best practice for where the rubber meets the road–or code meets the … whatever code meets. I think something like this happens in every work department when new talent is brought in, but hearing about this in such a, well, quantifiable, coded-in, way is a really interesting angle.
It is. Even on the graphic side of it, where you don’t always see the code, there is still a lot of effort that goes into adhering to our internal, coding style guide. Basically, what we try to do is have all our code look as if one person wrote it. We do this by having plug-ins in our text editors that we’ve configured to highlight certain coding standards we’ve agreed on here. It goes back to that handholding thing right? We have the tools that are built and working around you, to show you where to make changes, help you succeed, and curb any bad habits.
So your specialty is User Experience, or Experience Design, or Product Experience Designer, or User Interaction Design…. This field needs to pick a title and stick with it.
Ha! Right. You see User Experience Design, Front End Engineer, Front End Design Researcher, User Interaction Research Designer—the titles are a dime a dozen. At the end of the day, what it comes down to is achieving good design.
You’re talking about a role that was, in the past, half done by the designers, and half done by marketing and business leaders, and is now being done by one department. What we’re finding is that because people are coming to software from all over the world now, you need someone responsible for the conversation that software is going to have with the user.
And there is a lot that goes into that.
Yes, it needs to be clear and concise.
I imagine. I have an admittedly limited understanding of UXD, but I can see how important it is. All the complex business information a firm needs to communicate to a customer needs to be translated into something you can easily understand on a phone, computers, or tablet screen. It does warrant an expert.
Yeah, so this whole system of conventions with web, design, and interaction has just evolved. It’s always moving. In the early days, the web was just text. But as we’ve become more proficient with design and all that comes from design, we’ve gotten to a point where there has been a convergence. All designers are pretty good at this point, and we can make the pixels look and do what we want now. But what are users actually doing on the sites they visit? That’s the key.
If I were to ask you to go to a blog right now and search for an article, where is the first place you’d guide your mouse to find a search box?”
Oh, well, I’d say the upper right hand corner, right?
Exactly. But why is that the place?
Because that’s where everyone puts it?…. I feel like that answer would get me a failing grade in any college class.
In UXD that answer is important. Convention is important and following it makes for good design. Understanding how users use a “something,” and how that use is changing, is important. When you think about it, it’s never one or two design flaws that sink a website or an application, it’s a series of little ones that miss the mark. Sort of death by a thousand cuts.
Users are using your application because it’s giving them some worth that improves their lives or work, so they’re willing to put up with a small learning curve to reap that benefit. But if you push them too far, they’ll find something else. That’s why good design is so important and why we always come back to it. Little things, like placing information where you expect it to be, or highlighting the correct text fields, or making sure that when you tab through a field your cursor goes to the next logical text box and not a random place.
Oh, I hate that one.
It’s bad design.
You went to Mount Union for college, right?
And you got a degree in computer science, right?
Yes, and English Writing.
Woa, you have two degrees?
So you’re a fellow writer. I knew I liked something about you. But why English Writing? That seems like a long way from Computer Science and User Experience Design.
The story I like to tell is, when I got to college, I saw a really pretty girl in my first writing class, and after that I took all the writing courses I could take to keep seeing her.
Tell me you talked to her, or, at least wrote to her?
In fact, I did. She’s my wife now.
Behold the power of writing!
Well, we didn’t technically meet through the writing class, but I do attribute spending more time with her to how I ended up with a degree in writing.
Has the writing degree helped you any in your present role with Patriot?
Well, being able to write for both computers and people has given me an interesting perspective of both parties.
One of the big parallels I draw is the similarity between user experience and editing. In both cases, you’re trying to eliminate the unnecessary, hone in on your core message, and present the most clear and concise version of your idea. There are also a lot of similarities with user experience and argumentative writing, where, if you’re trying to persuade someone, you have to write for the target audience, each of which has a very different mindset.
This sounds like writing for marketing.
As I said, user design incorporates many of those elements. And yet, you always have to find common ground. Instead of writing for many different users, many different ways, you’re designing one way that can appeal to all of the many users that will use your stuff. It’s all about the people in the end.
Sounds like you’ve really been able to benefit from the crossover of these two fields. What do you think will benefit you more in the future?
I think that we’re seeing a world of software design where you’re having some of the best applications in the world having incredibly high level, expert design that people are using day-to-day. It’s gotten to the point that you see users now expecting a high level of quality design, and they are no longer willing to put up with a product that doesn’t offer it. People want simple, easy-to-use, easy-to-pick-up, and easy-to-understand software–to the point they expect it–and the free market will make sure it’s delivered.
In fact, the bar has been set so high that I think the next battleground will be in the text. If you strip away the text in apps and on the Internet, you’re left with very little. Text, regardless of the size or typography and CSS style, is still, at the end of the day, how we’re communicating with the user.
I think that the language will be a big part of the next step of product design. It’s not like it’s not being done—companies are doing it now. Small bits of micro-copy, tiny bits of text like directions, titles, menus, etc. I could see that stuff being slightly tweaked for each user depending on where they’re coming from. Not just language, but dialect, vernacular, slang. All things being equal, the more an interface can appear familiar to a user, whether through language or established conventions, that stuff will make all the difference.
Incredible stuff, Kyle. Thanks for your time.