‘Technology Alone Is Not Enough To Win People Over’

We sat down with Margaret Lee, Director of User Experience Design at Google


As the world of business has undergone digital transformation, so too has the way customers expect to interact with these companies. Brick-and-mortar stores are still popular but, today, some of the world’s biggest companies exist solely online, and digital-first will be the default for any startup looking to make an impact. Even the most casual shopper will often research a product online before making a purchase, making a company’s user experience now a fundamental aspect of its business.

Just like the technology it’s consumed on, it’s important that UX is constantly evolving to keep up with user expectations. If a great UX is what separates average products from brilliant ones, companies need to be ahead of the curve to have a chance of standing out and retaining their users. A company can no longer rely on impressive technology or sleek design alone - users expect more. Personalization, for example, can be the difference between an average user experience and a genuinely engaging one, and the companies that best find ways to utilize their masses of user data generally create the most compelling experiences.

Google has been one of UX design’s most innovative companies for some time now. There are few companies, if any, that have such a compendium of data at their disposal to create new products. It has a voice controlled product in Assistant and Home hub, as well as the promising and potentially highly impactful Google Glass - very different UX design challenges that require entirely different approaches.

For the past 20 years, Margaret Lee has built and led User Experience teams at various companies. She evolved UX for Google Maps from a three-person team in 2007, to a global team of designers, researchers, program and UX managers by the end of 2016. Under her leadership, Google Maps has been recognized with awards from Fast Company Innovation by Design, and Good Design in Japan. Ahead of her presentation at the Digital Design & Web Innovation Summit this September 11 - 12 in San Francisco, we sat down with Margaret to talk all things UX design.

How did you get started in your career?

I studied architecture undergrad, and realized that while I loved the design aspect, I would probably make a lousy architect. As a result, I pursued print design (called graphic design then because online design didn't yet exist), then eventually made my way to the web, working for many of the usual suspects.

Why do you think UX is such a vital part of digital strategy?

Technology is ubiquitous and ever evolving. Technology alone is not enough to win people over. The differentiating factor is less about the underlying technology and more about how people experience what technology enables. Does it make a great first impression? Is it empowering or frustrating? A great UX is key to connecting technology and people in a coherent, usable, and delightful way.

Which areas of UX design excite you the most?

UX has had an incredible evolution in the past 10 years, adapting to the various changes in technology, business opportunities, and user expectations. What defined a UX practitioner then is very different than what defines us now. It's the constant evolution of our discipline and what that encompasses, that excites me.

What impact do you think emerging technologies like voice recognition will have on digital design?

Emerging technologies like voice recognition, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will enable us to create more assistive experiences that aren't confined to a screen. People will be able to interact with digital technology in a way that is less about searching and staring at their devices. Personally, I look forward to the day when we see more people look up from their phones.

What can attendees expect from your presentation at the summit?

When people think of how Google operates, they envision a strong engineering led culture, with everything measured and happening at scale. Practicing UX at scale is a relatively new concept, and one that has been evolving over the past few years at Google.

You can hear more from Margaret, along with many other industry leading UX experts, at the Digital Design & Web Innovation Summit. To see the full schedule, click here.

BONUS CONTENT: Yanqing Cui, Senior UX Researcher at the UK Ministry of Justice discusses how the governmental body conducts its user research. 


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