Jon Bowman is a UX Designer living and working in Silicon Valley. He has been designing interfaces since 1999. He’s the founder of Cap Gun Media. He is Co-Founder of Oxygen for Autism. These days, you can find him at TiVo, working on building a better TV viewing experience. When he’s not working you may find him on his back porch relaxing on his hammock reading a book.
Nicholas Tenhue: Today I am joined by Jon Bowman, who served in the U.S. Navy as a medic for almost 10 years, is the founder of Cap Gun Media, he is an experienced designer at TiVo, and co-founder of Oxygen for Autism. So Jon, why don’t you start by introducing yourself.
Jon Bowman: Sure, thank you for having me. My name is Jonathan Bowman, and I am a UX designer today living in Silicon Valley, before that I was doing enterprise work building some really cool dashboards, and before that, I spent some time producing cartoons and flash. So that kind of led me to where I am today.
Nicholas Tenhue: Good ol’ flash, eh I remember when that was all the rage on the web.
Jon Bowman: Yes, press here to watch my flash intro.
Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, I still have headaches about trying to build stuff in flash.
Jon Bowman: Ya, they switched the script on us a little, they got really technical with ActionScript and I think everyone kind of fell off the wagon there after that.
Nicholas Tenhue: Right, another body joins the technology graveyard, huh. So, why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about Oxygen for Autism.
Jon Bowman: Oh, ya sure. So, I think most designers sort of have this itch, and me personally, I know every year I need to do some sort of passion project, and I think that is my passion project, and hopefully it will be my passion project for many years to come. Really, what it is, it’s just a way to startto tell a story, very similar to how you tell stories in UX, but we want to tell a story surrounding autism and hopefully we want to find a solution to, if not making life easier for people that are suffering with this. Definitely making things a little bit less of a burden, so to speak. So, I am working closely with a partner of mine, whois actually a friend of mine that I have known for very long, who has 2 children who have autism, and we are working together to try to bring some awareness to treating autism with oxygen therapy. So it is kind of like diving, except you are not under water, you’re in a chamber, and you breathe oxygen. There have been studies that have proven that it is actually effective, and what we want to do is, make a video documentary bringing some very well-known doctors, and people with credentials that can back up this theory and if it goes well, we want to publish that documentary.
Nicholas Tenhue: Fascinating stuff Jon. I’m just wondering how you find the time to do these projects as well as be the founder of your own company, and be a full-time UX designer?
Jon Bowman: Yes, it gets a little bit difficult, but I think that’s just part of project management, and if you are getting to be a good UXer over time you get good at that, and then you can start adding some more things. They are like mini sprints.
Nicholas Tenhue: I like your agile methodology and analogy there. So if you were to advise our listeners on how to manage their time better, what would that advice be?
Jon Bowman: So, earlier on I did mention that I was doing some flash work, and the flash work I was doing was primarily focused on project management for cartoons, so I have a little bit of an advantage, but I will say if you are considering, you know, keeping up with passion projects, and being really active, and becoming a founder or doing anything like that, you have to have some sort of order, and for me, I stick with a strict schedule, and I do have some UX tools at my house, so it looks kind of weird if you come over, cause you might think you are still at work. I have a lot of white boards, chalk boards, and I have a lot of gator boards, so I just use those, and sort of map out my day, map out the week, and the month,and I kind of do a little JIRA on my own life. So it works well.
Nicholas Tenhue: I see, you UX at the office, and you UX at home.
Jon Bowman: Ya, exactly.
Nicholas Tenhue: Great. So, let’s take a quick step back now. We mentioned at the start of the show that you were a medic in the U.S. Navy for a number of years. How do you think that’s influenced your professional life as a UXer?
Jon Bowman: So, in the U.S. that is not a requirement to serve in the military, I know a lot of other countries have that as a requirement. I wouldn’t say that is something that I think should happen in the U.S., but I definitely can see that sort of training, and background does give you an edge. You become a well-rounded person, you understand timeline schedules and things like that. You really start to formulate a different way of thinking that actually totally helps in the UX world. If you look at some of the stuff that I, when I was in the Navy, I was actually doing diving, and I worked with the seals, and if you look at some of the different ways that we worked, a lot of the manuals that you read actually have flowcharts, and diagrams, especially when you are doing things like diving. It wasn’t a very difficult transition for me to go from a world where I really understand, you know pathways, and thought processes, and flowcharts and then coming into UX, it’s like oh okay, this makes a lot of sense. It was a great segway into a new addition into my life.
Nicholas Tenhue: So, you kind of transition from one career where you were looking at flowcharts and diagrams to a different career where you are doing the same thing, huh?
Jon Bowman: Exactly.
Nicholas Tenhue: So, all of this talk about Jon’s super interesting background, and how he got into UX is kind of the subject of this show. In the sense that, we want to talk about user journey mapping ourselves. So Jon, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what that is?
Jon Bowman: Right, this has been a subject that I have seen come up a lot, just through meet ups, talking with more folks, writing some old media articles, and hearing from younger uxers. It is just so compelling to realize that I am not the only one that has a non-traditional path to become a uxer. It is also compelling that I sort of see a trend there, and the trend is that we like to solve problems, and so I think that when you look at a lot of the different paths of different people who end up in this field. You realize that the whole time, they were going down on their own user journey it was very much driving towards this, the pinnacle the end all, be all which is UX. If you look at my path, and my resume, and what I have done in the past. I just explained, I was looking at the different framework, and stuff in the NAVY. That’s just nuts. We have always been doing what we’ve been doing, we just didn’t have a word for it, for the community. I think that is one of the most refreshing things for people who end up in this world. You realize, wow this is what I have always wanted to do. When you finally get here, it doesn’t end. It just gets more complex, more technical, and you keep adding on, and you keep realizing, wow UX is an amazing world, because it doesn’t just stop at the UI, it doesn’t stop at the framework world, or pattern library, it can get really really huge. So, I think that is the coolest thing about this, it’s that now that you’re here if you are someone who has always progressed and pushed on to the next level, good luck getting to the top, cause that is going to take a long time to master.
Nicholas Tenhue: Indeed, the user experience rabbit hole is very deep.
Jon Bowman: Yes.
Nicholas Tenhue: So, I think that journey mapping our own lives is obviously a very popular tool to look at where we are, and where we are going. What other tools are there in the toolkit that we can use?
Jon Bowman: I think that is just one part of a tool in your toolkit, and if you look at your own life path and put it on a user journey map, you will be able to realize that, okay there is more to this, there is a persona to me as well, and maybe I should do those too. There is an ecosystem to my life, right, and it goes back to like me, I was kind of joking, but it’s true, if you come to my house, you will see a lot of whiteboards. You don’t have to live this, and breathe this to that extent, but it definitely helps you see the future of where we are going. If you are in UX, you are probably in the tech world, and if you have been in it in the last 4 years, you will probably notice a lot of changes. So, I think that if you apply those UX tools, like site maps, ecosystems, user journeys, all these different things we learn, even empathy maps and personas to your career path. You will begin to see trends. You will begin to be able to develop data easily. You will begin to start to understand, okay now it’s time for a change, now it’s time to try to progress towards a, you know, maybe this certification, maybe think about branching out to this level, or that level, do a podcast or write a book. So there is things that you can start to see and predict a little bit, if you start to sort of put your life, and career in a sort of UX world, and look through those UX glasses.
Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, I think that is a really great point, and I think we see people coming from UX and going from UX applying these methods, so for example in marketing there is a lot of customer journeys, and there’s a lot of UX strategy being applied to business decisions, also a lot of UXers are becoming product managers, and applying UX methods, even though I think a lot of product managers were doing that before, but it was given the name, UX, you know.
Jon Bowman: Yes. So there are cycles in your design, and you iterate and go through cycles, and other cycles in this career path, and a lot of us have been here from the early stages, have been doing things like flash that are no longer in demand, making websites, and now websites look totally different, and then it turned into mobile, so this whole evolution is exciting, but you have to understand the environment, and the tools, and the landscape to be able to grow with it, and I think that should be every UXer’s goal, is to stick with it, grow with it, help the community grow, help define the community, help define how we think, and how we work with each other, and how we help each other, and that will really give us a lot more momentum, because I really would hate to see, you know, one day us say “Oh remember when we use to be UXuxers and now we’re this”, I would love for this to continue, and to always be here for a very long time to come.
Nicholas Tenhue: Great words to live by. I mean, even if it’s not called UX in the future, I think we will still be doing the same thing, which is designing product and services for human beings to use. So we heard about some of the positives of user journey mapping ourselves, why don’t we talk about some of the roadblocks that we might run into.
Jon Bowman: Right, so you are going to see a lot of challenges. I think another theme that I hear often when talking to friends and people in the community is “Hey Jon, I have impostor syndrome”, and they are ashamed of it, and they look at me, and they wonder if that’s okay. I think that is part of the growth process, just like some days you may look at a design in a UI, and say “Why are we here?”, or “Maybe I should scrap the design and try all over again.”, or “What can I do to salvage this?”, there is also going to be a point within yourself, that you are going to question yourself. I use to be a NAVY guy, should I still be doing that, and why did I transition here, all of these different crazy life questions that sort of come to a head, and at least once a year you should question, why you here, and if you are passionate about what you are doing, all these things should be anxieties that are totally natural, and totally okay, but you have to learn to cope with it, and deal with it, and realize that you are just hitting another point in your process where things are getting more difficult because you are actually challenging yourself. So impostor syndrome is not a bad thing, it just means that you are actually pushing the limits, and pushing the boundaries, and often, if I have ever gotten it, which I probably do once a year, it’s because I have tried something different, like this year I am going to try to work with Framer heavily, and that is a lot more java scripted than what I am used to working with, but it does give you a sort of a gut check. So, when you are mapping this out, and thinking about yourself, and your career, just realize that you are going to hit these points that are kind of roads, and not necessarily positive, and they make you wonder, and reconsider, “Why am I doing this?”, but it’s totally natural, it’s part of the process, and it is totally okay.
Nicholas Tenhue: Right, I don’t think any great career has been founded without a chair of challenges, and I think if we are not challenging ourselves, we are not doing something right.
Jon Bowman: Exactly. I have had a lot of friends that were worried, and would often say “Is it okay to feel like this, does it mean that I am not a good designer?”. I think that is the biggest problem, is that we still have a lot to go even though we’ve established some sort of core competence for being a UX person. We still have a long way to go to really put us out there, and make it be more than just a return investment pitch, and make this be a big community that is really driving technology and pushing the limits. So it is going to take a while, but we need to keep working on that.
Nicholas Tenhue: Indeed. So, if we were to look at the user journey map of our lives, when does one become a UXer?
Jon Bowman: That is such a great question. I think that is part of the user journey, and hopefully that happens at the end, when you’re now ready to go onto other stages, and more difficult challenges, but I think you can call yourself one when you have reached the point, when you’re effective in a meeting, when you can effectively communicate. When you can walk in somewhere, solve a few problems by drawing something quickly on a whiteboard, getting the group to come to a consensus, being able to get by, and pushing back even though it’s really difficult, whether it be a VP, or a senior exec, you have to be able to get all these skills together for you to really feel like you are a UXer. It’s things like that that I hear about, and come across a lot, like “Hey Jon, I didn’t really defend this design, and now we are going down this different path, and I feel like I am not designing this, but the VP is designing it” or you’re failing, and you need to work hard to combat those things, and you know you are a UXer when you can push back on the push back, and people have your trust, and when you say that something has to be designed a specific way, you can back it up with some science, and data, and you can progress, and move forward. If you feel like you’re in meetings and still don’t have the respect earned by your, wherever you’re working, I think that means you need to keep pushing harder, and a good UXer can walk into a meeting, regain focus, talk about some problems, solve the problems after you have identified them, and go back and communicate what you have just talked about. None of that that I have just described has anything to do with hopping and sketch, hopping in Photoshop, or making a prototype, all that has to do with communication. Once you have felt that you have mastered being able to communicate to the team effectively, I think that you are a UXer, and you can definitely earn that title.
Nicholas Tenhue: You know, I couldn’t agree more. You might be able to know all of the theories, and the latest design patterns, and trends, but if you are not able to effectively communicate those decisions, and make a change in the organization, it’s kind of pointless. So I think, a lot of these soft scales are really underplayed in terms of their importance in business.
Jon Bowman: Absolutely. You know in an organization you have to constantly communicate the vision and, I think it is sort of something we’re defining to as we go. I think the constant communication, the constant feedback, the constant being able to take in feedback, and deliver a good product at the end. It is not easy, but it is something that you have to push yourself to do, even just sending off a quick email, okay we talked about this, we whiteboarded this, where is the picture of the whiteboard, but you know you can get into a bad habit of feeling like that is a lot of work, I don’t what to do it, am I just wanting to deal with some UI, and that’s wrong. It’s your job to keep everyone in tune, keep a good rhythm together, and make the design happen because everyone else has that thought, I’m just here to engineer this, I’m just here to product manage this, I’m just here to oversee this. The only ones that are really invested are you. The UXers are really really driving delivering these products, and putting it into peoples hands, and enhancing peoples lives. It is all in your court, so you really need to take ownership of that and make the best of it.
Nicholas Tenhue: I think that everything you have said today is kind of a little gem of wisdom. I have definitely learned a lot during the time of this show. Just before we wrap up, I would like to ask you a few more questions, and one of them is, what is the definition of UX?
Jon Bowman: Another great question, super hard to answer. I think if you were going to define it, it would take a long time. Overall, I think if you could quantify UX, a good definition would be that feeling that you can only get out of theater with popcorn in your hand, when you watch a movie, and the speakers are booming really loud, you can only get it there. I think that is your job as a UXer is to try to emulate an experience and put that wherever it may be. It could be on a computer screen, on a small device, on a wearable, but that’s your job, and that is what UX is. UX is a feeling and an experience.
Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, I really like that. UX is a feeling and an experience. It is amazing that we have so many bad experiences designed still today. You know, why can’t everything be designed like a movie theater, or a ski slope, or a theme park?
Jon Bowman: Oh, ya, if you are a UXer at Disney.
Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, that sounds like a lot of fun. I mean, as a UX community, it seems like we are still trying to figure out what User Experience actually is.
Jon Bowman: Right we are, and hopefully we get it figured out pretty soon.
Nicholas Tenhue: Hopefully we do. So back to user journey mapping ourselves, where do we go to get all of the date to figure out what should be on our map?
Jon Bowman: Find a mentor. I hop on Twitter, and I talk to a lot of people on Twitter in the UX community. I found some mentors, and I ask them “Hey, what’s the next step in my career?” “What should I be focusing on?”, and “How do I progress forward?”. I mean, this isn’t about making more money, it’s about pushing yourself to the next limit, so now your core competence have peaked, and have gone to the next thing. You shouldn’t stay stagnant, you shouldn’t be okay with just making some UI screens, and things like that. You should be constantly challenging and pushing yourself, and I think a good source for that is Twitter, podcasts like this, any design podcast, anything like that that you can latch onto will help you start to map yourself out a little bit better.
Nicholas Tenhue: Alright folks, you heard it, get out on Twitter, start talking to people in UX, and learn about where your journey map should go next. That about does it for this week’s episode. Thank you very much, Jon, for joining us and sharing all of your knowledge and insights.
Jon Bowman: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Nicholas Tenhue: I am certainly going to be user journey mapping my own life after this episode. If you would like to send in your own journey map, and share it with the UX blog, please send it to [email protected]. That’s all for this week folks. Thanks for listening.
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