Zsofia Czeman: How can we keep digital products relevant – UX/UI Design

Zsofia Czeman: Failing to continuously improve digital products is risking relevance 

Zsofia Czeman is a digital product designer and consultant based in Vienna.

She specializes in digital product design, covering the entire design process from research and concept development to prototyping and visual design. Her mission as a UXer is to keep people in focus – users, stakeholders, colleagues – each with one’s own perspective. It is not always easy but with thorough research and out-of-the-box thinking, UX can drive the innovation the business is looking for.

This interview is a part of the Austria Design Map  – a project that tells stories of the Austrian Design scene. The project is done by Brainster Alumni as a part of the Brainster learning-by-doing curriculum. Through this hands-on approach, students get real-life experience from working on products that come to life. 

Brainster: Hi, Zsofia! You recently started a job in GeoGebra – an app with 100 million users! How does the collection of user insight differ from working for to-be-launched apps?

Zsofia: The fact that GeoGebra has many users shows that the team did an amazing job to create something truly valuable. This also means that the target audience and product-market fit are already fairly determined. Of course, it is still an evolving product and so it is important to conduct research about understanding user problems and needs within this defined space. The main role of research at this point is to make sure that the product evolves to address needs while respecting how many users use our product. 

Education, especially during the ongoing crisis, is changing a great deal in response to digitization. Students, teachers, and schools are adapting and we want to make sure that Geogebra remains a useful tool in their hands. It is always more comfortable to close one’s eyes and keep a successful product going as is, without asking how things can be made better. But this is actually taking a big risk – users might move on to more adaptive alternatives. Of course, with such a volume of users, we have various opportunities to validate ideas and assumptions in qualitative and quantitative ways. If we are willing to ask hard questions about our product, this gives a big advantage over new products.

Brainster: You recently moved to Vienna, how do you like the scene so far? Any Designers/Studios you like, and why? 

Zsofia: I had a very good first impression when I started to look for a new job in Vienna. Even with the pandemic, the UX job market was not down. There is a clear need for UX professionals, which is really great to see. I participated in several online meetups and I found the community very active and open-minded. They hold many events in English, and so it is clearly a great place for ex-pats. 

I was also happy to see that organizations from the public sector are also looking for UX designers. One of the most important missions of UX as a field is to improve digital services in the public sector because it can have such a wide and inclusive impact. The way the state, ministries, schools, universities, and NGOs communicate and help people can make a big difference in our quality of life.

One of the studios doing work in this direction that I find inspiring is wonderwerk. They consult governments, and non-profits and help them improve their services with design thinking and service design methods. Another company that caught my attention in the healthcare sector is mysugr. They’re helping people struggling with diabetes. I have listened to Matthias Gieselmann in a UX meetup talking about their user research. This was an inspirational talk: they are making a great effort to understand their users and build solutions for real problems.

Brainster: Do you have any tips for newcomers in Vienna on how to integrate with the community in the beginning?

Zsofia: The user experience design events organized in Vienna are a good starting point. They have morning sessions, book clubs, and evening meetups with talks. I had some luck that these events moved online during the lockdown: I could participate in them even before moving to Vienna. I suspect that at least some events will remain online for some time in the future. It is also a great place to hear about open positions before they are posted on LinkedIn.

Brainster: Can you show us your 3 favorite projects and tell us why you like them?

Zsofia: One of my favorite projects was with Realeyes. It is a company building a facial-coding AI technology that recognizes emotions on people’s faces through a webcam. Working with them I learned a lot about the potential commercial applications of machine learning and computer vision. From the UX perspective, I could conduct research with people worldwide, testing both our B2B dashboards and consumer-facing apps. I learned for example that people from different cultures have very different attitudes about facial recognition software.

Zsofia Czeman: Failing to continuously improve digital products is risking relevance 

Another exciting project of mine from the commercial space was for Auchan Hungary. They hired me to help them work out the UX of introducing non-food products to their webshop. After an extensive research phase, I built the information architecture of the site that reflected user preferences I observed in interviews and card sorting sessions. I designed and validated multiple prototypes and also finalized the UI that was implemented. It was very satisfying to see this project through from beginning to end. 

Zsofia Czeman: Failing to continuously improve digital products is risking relevance 

Apart from running UX projects I am passionate about teaching and helping the next generation of UXers to start their journey. I was mentoring and teaching at multiple boot camps and schools in Budapest. I’m most proud of my volunteering work in this field at events like Budapest Design Jams and groups including Ladies that UX Budapest. I find that the effort I put into these after-work extras is paid back through the inspiration, friendships, and connections

Zsofia Czeman: Failing to continuously improve digital products is risking relevance 

Brainster: How do you stay on top of the learning curve now that you are a Senior Designer?

Zsofia: It is very important to reflect on what other designers and companies are doing. You have to work at curating a list of people to keep up with. Also to invest time regularly in exploring new things. Similarly, it is useful to have a presence in your local community and to keep track of what is going on at international conferences.

What I learned over the years is that you need to look outside your bubble to other fields and to try to learn from their methods. The boundaries are anyway quite blurry if you think about service design, sociology, or product development. Lastly, it might sound like a cliche but I always learned a lot from my students. Just the fact that you have to bring your thoughts together and tell someone about your processes can bring a lot of structure. It is also a good way to validate your own working methods.

Brainster: You have plenty of teaching experience. What is some key advice you have for beginners in the early days of gaining their skills? 

Zsofia: It is good to read some fundamental books at the beginning. But I wouldn’t wait too long before gaining some practical experience. Even a fictive design project can mean a lot when it comes to building your portfolio. Whenever I was hiring people I could tell the difference immediately between people with real-life experience, and people who read a lot of books and articles. 

What helped me at the beginning of my career was that I participated in a lot of intensive workshops and summer universities. I could learn from very inspiring people and understand the basic principles of a good design process in a tangible way.

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