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30. 9. 2022

7 min read

Lukáš Dubay: Without user testing, we’d be flying blind

Ever since Lukas joined Sudolabs, he's been a part of the project The Expert. As a product designer, he gets to do user research & interviews, conducts usability testing, iterates on new functionalities, and discusses them with the client. In the blog below he deep dives into the project and uncovers the entire process.

Michaela Zubarova

Lukas designing new product features for a startup

Product designer at work

I would like to begin by asking a few personal questions: can you tell me a little bit about your career path over the years, which positions you have held, and what you studied?

I would call my path a dirty zig-zag backcountry road. Thankfully the zig-zag aspect has gotten less edgy over the years. Now I’d say I’m driving a comfortable paved road with occasional mild turns as I've found a very close match to what I’m interested in. I originally studied economics, which was a good experience in that I learned how I definitely don't want to spend the rest of my life. From there, seeing I had economics together with an elementary arts background, I took a jump and studied Creative Advertising in Edinburgh, which was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s where my design journey really began. Over the years I’ve worked as a graphic designer, art director, and UI designer until eventually I learned enough and evolved into a product designer with a holistic approach to designing websites and software products.

Your recent move back to Košice led you to join Sudolabs; what drew you to us?

I believe in a ‘no regrets’ approach to life. For the past 9 years, I’ve lived in Prague but there has always been this sensation, a little guy sitting on my shoulder whispering: ‘Come home you lost soul’. And when the coronavirus arrived and the whole working landscape changed, along with my son being born, I felt it was the right time to prototype what it would be like to work and live in my hometown. Sudolabs happened to have a position open for a product designer at that time. We jumped on a call, things clicked and now it’s been almost 11 months since this life prototyping session began. If you ask why Sudolabs, for me it’s the right combination of good and smart people, company culture, growth mindset, and interesting international projects. I also appreciate the guys are striving to connect the world with our small city and build a community that supports the knowledge-sharing and development of young people from the region.

Can you tell me what project you're currently working on, how you're positioned in the project, and what responsibilities you have?

Ever since I joined I’ve been a part of The Expert team, where we’re currently focused on building a new e-commerce platform for the US-based startup that has been evolving its product proposition: from allowing anyone in the world to consult on their interior design needs with well-known design professionals over online video call sessions, to have a place to get inspired and shop for hand-picked furniture. The most interesting part for me is the learning opportunity - we’re building the whole e-commerce ecosystem with multiple integrations, so there’s always a new challenge hidden behind a release corner. As a product designer I get to do user research & interviews, conduct usability testing, iterate on new functionalities and discuss them with the client, discuss and learn about the many technical solutions with our developers, and deliver the final design specs. It’s never a one-man show and good ideas can always come from anywhere: be it a client, a developer, a product manager, or our cleaning lady that pulls the trigger on the dishwasher in our office at the end of the day.

Lukas Dubay using Figma to design websites, apps and other digital products

Your role included overseeing all user testing on The Expert project, with what kind of assignment did you start designing? What was the extent of the client's involvement, and why is it crucial to follow the entire process?

We’ve had some rough ideas of where we wanted to take the e-commerce platform in the initial release. Let’s be honest, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We tried to take an iterative, MVP approach and create a fundamental set of features required for the e-commerce experience to work. We got inspired by best practices from the e-commerce industry and created the initial design draft. These early prototypes are usually based on a set of assumptions, but there’s usually no other way to approach it and this is why it’s important to test them. We’d consulted with the client weekly, often changing, adding, or subtracting from the designs until we landed on the version we deemed worth testing. Prior to testing, we had to figure out who do we want to talk to, create a testing script and schedule the online testing sessions. All testing sessions were recorded and documented so that we can eventually put the results together and presented them to the client. These testing sessions proved to be hugely valuable as they provided insights we’re still relying on. Some designs had to be completely overhauled, as some of our assumptions proved invalid or simply didn’t work in the context of this particular product. I also personally got a better understanding of the emotional process the customer goes through when shopping for an expensive piece of furniture and that uncertainty mitigation by providing the right information at the right time is an important aspect when creating flows that need to convert. Without these tests, we’d be flying blind.

In terms of design reviews and iterations with the developers, how did the development process go?

With every new project, the team’s effectiveness and communication get better over time. I’m sure it took me a while to understand how our developers and the product itself work. Today I’d say we have a solid working system, where each initial client requirement is first validated by our product trio - a product manager, a tech lead, and a product designer. Possible solutions are presented to the client and consecutively iterated until the final direction is approved. Once approved, we iterate and finalize the design and technical requirements, usually with a tech lead but also often with a developer who’s got an insight into the particular problem area. Each week we hold a refinement session, where the solution is presented to the rest of the developers. At that point, the solution is pretty well defined, but there are still edge cases or ideas that the developers chip in with. Eventually, as one of the developers takes the task and starts working on it, this is the first time they dive really deep and again tend to find hidden gems no one has thought of. In that regard, the design is never really finished.

Where did you draw your inspiration from, and what resources did you look at? Can you tell me where the first hints for this design came from?

The design system has already been set for the product. I simply built on top of it, trying to evolve parts of the visual language and user experience, experimenting with iconography, layouts, components, or interaction patterns. As for the inspiration, it’s always a combination of looking at the competition within the given industry, analyzing their approach to content structure, visual language, choice of typography, interactions, UX, and sales tactics. Whenever I work on a feature I like to read up on all available UX research and best practices before even attempting to dive into the design. There’s a high chance someone has already figured out, iterated, and tested the best way to approach a certain problem. Real innovation takes decades, all we can do is follow what has been proven works and innovate gradually in areas like product strategy, branding, or user experience.

Would you consider Sudolabs as an appropriate place for self-realization and a chance to promote your ideas?

William Wallace would have been jealous of Sudolabs, as I do feel complete freedom. The only constraints I have been given by the nature of the project, teamwork, or client requirements. In that regard, I feel it’s in my hands how I approach the work or how much of a challenge I feel I want to take on to push myself.

Is your job flexible enough to allow you to balance work, family, and free time?

This is the most flexible work I’ve ever had. It’s always challenging to find the right balance in one’s life but so far this aspect has been really positive, especially now that I’m a father. My priorities reshuffled quite a bit in the last couple of years and Sudolabs has created an environment that allows me to schedule work around my life, and not the other way around.

During your spare time, how do you decompress? Is there a guilty pleasure you enjoy?

I like to practice oil painting and illustration. It’s a bit of an old-school niche area but it helps my mind to relax. Sports and nature are also important for my well-being. My guilty pleasure is watching house remodeling TV shows, but don’t tell anyone.)


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