Bob Goodman on UX: The art of exploration

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I met Bob Goodman at Arnold Worldwide, where he served as the SVP, Director of User Experience. I had the pleasure of working with Bob on a few projects which allowed me to witness his stellar facilitation skills and User Experience (UX) approach first-hand.

When working with Bob, I always wished I carried a recorder so I could capture his speech and thinking processes, which allowed him to tackle difficult situations completely at ease. I also admire his leadership and management philosophy. Bob always had others’ best interest in mind without insisting on his own ideas and methodologies, and he is never too quick to jump to conclusions.

In this 40-minute interview, you will find out:

  • What is UX (User Experience)?
  • What has contributed to the rapid growth of UX and why UX has been recognized as a critical discipline across multiple industries (advertising, software, etc.)?
  • How can one fresh out of school start or consider UX as a career path?
  • What are the common challenges associated with UX? How does Bob advise you to tackle them strategically and emotionally?
  • How has UX been integrated in advertising agencies and the types of activities and opportunities associated with the domain?

In October 2014, Bob became an Experience Design / Creative Director at Mullen after working as a UX practitioner for over 15 years.

Bob enjoys thinking about users, consumers and how they might interact with a service or a platform. UX focuses on the idea of a brand narrative and how it engages users with the goal of being useful and helpful.

What exactly is UX? Bob defines UX as “an approach to design, technology and people that tries to make things useful, usable and engaging”. UX is a practice that goes back to late 60’s and 70’s known as part of “human computer interaction (HCI)” before becoming a more mainstream profession known today as UX.

UX can be a confusing term – it’s not graphic design, or computer programming. By definition and design, UX is a hybrid discipline. As agencies expand their missions, UX goes beyond traditional storytelling, or television campaigns.

UX is about letting users contribute in a two-way conversation.

Today, users are their own media channels.:

“I” (the brand) have to earn “your” (the user’s) networks: it’s up to you and I have to earn your decision to advocate something for me.

On to the career questions: how can someone fresh out of school get into UX considering both the demand and confusion about this discipline?

Bob thinks of Information Architecture (IA) as the core of UX: how are parts of the experience categorized, visualized, at what level of depth? How do you direct users to navigate the space? How does all the components come together cohesively? There are some of the “UX deliverables” I look for in a portfolio – in our terms they are often referred to as schematics, flow diagrams, etc.

The attributes and qualities desirable in a UX professional go far beyond the hard skills and a list of deliverables. Bob elaborates on his vision as UX/Creative leader and why he hires people from all walks of life that make a good UX team.

“Often times, UX hires are thrown into semi-defined or completely undefined problems and asked quickly solve them, such as a straw-man deliverable that helps frame the conversation. A good UX person needs to be excited about this domain and be constantly learning, courageously“.

Bob’s leadership and management skills are another area I wanted to explore. I witnessed his presence in front of a team of UX designers I worked closely with and I feel inspired to become a manager like him one day. Bob never insists on himself and he cares about his team deeply. Furthermore, Bob does not overly protect or isolate his team. Instead, he welcomes, educates and encourages people from other domains to think about things from a UX perspective. 

Empathy and patience are the qualities I remembered the most about Bob. He not only offers them to his team, internal employees, users but also clients. I witnessed Bob conducting UX 101 to clients who had no experience in UX and struggled to understand how it works. As a result, the client felt gratified and was able to instantly relate to Bob. The rest of the conversation and project flowed like magic.

But why would Bob care this much that eventually led to the success of communication with the client? Bob says that:

“Everyone is a user – internal employees, vendors, clients, customers. There’s a meta-level of UX: making it a good experience for everyone involved. This is not an easy thing to do with different point of views, languages in the room but you have to try, fail and learn.”

What are some of the common challenges associated with UX? Bob replied with “Big UX vs. Design Thinking” –  an unframed opportunity comes into a framed opportunity, or vice versa. The solution is almost never obvious and the process can change frequently (one size does not fit all!) You have to remain open-minded.

“Divergent thinking” is part of the UX process, practice and it can make people nervous.   Some people think of this approach as “messy, cluttered, bottomless, time pressure” with with proper facilitation from a UX person who’s flexible and pragmatic, this type of conflict and uncertainly can be resolved.

Compared to Big UX and Design Thinking, there can also be “Smaller UX” involved where UX is pulled in as expert once a solution has already been framed. UX is introduced to fill in the gap or to polish the output.

A recent project Bob worked on at Mullen is called WunderBar: an initiative that enables agency experts to connect with startups by providing a maker space and help from in-house experts.

Before we closed the interview, I asked Bob about his upbringing and personal stories that shaped him into who he is today. For the first time, I found out that Bob is a musician, a piano player who loves improvisation and jazz.  Bob is a strong believe in “exploring through making as well as making through exploring”. Creative writing is another area of interest for Bob,   who had experience in public speaking and newspaper reporting.

To learn about what Bob has been up to, visit his website or follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave your comment below and share the podcast with your family and friends. Your support will keep me on track and bring many other unsung heroes to this podcast.

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Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):

  • What is Bob up to these days? [3:00]
  • What is UX  in the context of an advertising agency? [5:00]
  • What triggered UX to becomes its own practice? [8:00]
  • How can someone fresh out of school get into UX? [12:00]
  • Bob helps articulate his vision as UX/Creative leader and why he hires people from all walks of life? [16:00]
  • A share vision and collective ownership of a team [21:00]
  • Empathy toward users and clients [24:00]
  • What are the common challenges associated with UX? [28:00]
  • How does Bob prefer to “kickoff” his projects? [32:30]
  • Bob’s upbringing and what shaped him into who he is today? [37:00]
  • WorkBar at Mullen – a maker space that connects the agency with the startup world? [41:30]

UX People (Bob’s recommendation):

UX Resources (Bob’s recommendation):