Heavy Chef's CEO Fred Roed spoke to Jacques Oberholzer, co-founder and head of User Experience at Now Boarding Digital. He is currently based in Zurich, Switzerland, where he is involved in digital projects for the European market. When he's not trying to perfect digital experiences, he's trying to convince his friends of the benefits of cryptocurrencies. Fred asked him about the key to great product design, remote working and how big corporates have come around to understanding the power of great User-Experience (UX).
Jacques, thanks for interrupting your packed schedule and talking to us. Briefly, what is your background? - how did you become passionate about UX?
After graduating as a graphic designer, where I had already started experimenting in Adobe flash and interactive design, I began my career in a traditional agency environment - but always with one eye firmly on digital solutions. The arrival of smartphones and data analytics quickly placed user journeys at the forefront of my work, and a passion for creating both meaningful and goal driven experiences was born. Gaining work experience in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, helped open my mind to how great user experience and design was defining the world's biggest digital products.
You previously worked for Gyft, a startup created by a famous Heavy Chef alumni. As an African, working in Switzerland, creating global products with a global team - what advice do you have for aspiring young entrepreneurs working in Africa who want to reach a global audience?
My biggest concern with startups and product development is how many of them are "on-the-side" projects. You have to be willing to dive in the deep end, and commit all your time and resources to your project. You also need to look beyond your technology and user experience, and make sure you have budget for marketing and audience acquisition. It's amazing how many average apps are successful from great marketing. It's not easy, but Africans have already proven we have what it takes to deliver world class products - and the global market is there for us to conquer.
You're obviously passionate about design. Businesses in the past have been famous for briefing important products to their engineering team, not the design team. Do you think that the corporate world has come around to the idea of UX being a critical facet of product development - or do you think there's still a lot of education to be done?
It seems UX has become a tech term that can be thrown around with the same recognition as SEO, ROI or API - so that's progress! While the jury is out on how hard it will be to build applications in the future, given AI should be able to do at least a portion of the coding - it suggests that designers have an important role to play in the early stages of product development. I believe that a combination of thinkers need to workshop product development, as opposed to referring to it as engineering or design. My stance is simple - I'm the guy in the room who represents the user.
Your team is scattered around the world. Do you share the Jason Fried / DHH zeal for remote working?
I think there are pros to having a team in one location, especially as we love workshopping challenges - but more than believing that remote working is a better way to work, I believe it opens us up to the global market. It also allows for the obvious benefits of a better work-life balance by giving our crew more flexibility. Cloud software has made remote collaboration a lot easier, so we're headed in the right direction.
Do you agree with the mantra "if you're not embarrassed by your product launch, you've launched too late" - ? It appears the onus nowadays is on 'fail fast, fail forward' - are we missing something, or do you feel that entrepreneurs should be focusing on speed to market uber alles?
Designers tend to be perfectionists, so we went through a huge learning curve in adding concepts like "lean" and "MVP" to our manifesto. I like to think there needs to be a good balance, as it's not always how fast you execute your idea, but rather how well it is executed, even if it's an MVP. We should never forget that an inferior experience can also leave a lasting impression. We would encourage tech entrepreneurs to surround themselves with a team that can help them critically evaluate their ideas before ploughing resources into development to improve their chances of success, and then to make sure they have an iteration and optimisation runway. That being said, I firmly believe in failing forward, and rather releasing something we can earn and learn from, than releasing nothing at all.
Thanks Jacques. We remain huge fans of Now Boarding - and we look forward to a strong partnership with your team in the months to come.