Developer Retention

"User Experience Done Right"

Through many years of experience, Alix Han is seasoned in fostering a user-centered culture and partnering with developers in order to create purposeful product that people actually want.


Alix Han 0:00
I wish we were still going to karaoke. But yet,

Lee Ngo 0:02
I know someday soon, someday. There are ways I'll just say there are ways, right?

Alix Han 0:07
There are ways.

Lee Ngo 0:12
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Educative Sessions, a podcast series with people in the developer world about their coding experiences. My name is Lee Ngo, and this is powered by Educative, which makes it easy for authors to provide interactive and adaptive courses for software developers. Today, my guest is Alix Han, who is an UX designer based in the Seattle area. And the question she really keeps asking every single person on her teams: "What problem are you trying to solve?" Alix, welcome to the show.

Alix Han 0:42
Thank you, Lee. How are you?

Lee Ngo 0:44
I'm well, how are you? Hanging in there?

Alix Han 0:47
Hanging in there! I wish we are still going to karaoke, but yep.

Lee Ngo 0:50
I know. Someday soon. Someday soon. There are ways I'll just say there are ways, right?

Alix Han 0:56
There are ways.

Lee Ngo 0:56
So let's jump right in. I want to talk about your history and experience as a UX designer, especially within the tech world that you are in now. How did you first get into this world, and what were your impressions?

Alix Han 1:09
Wow, I first got into this world by stumbling upon it. I made a little website and I really wanted to be a designer, and somehow I got lucky, and MSNBC wanted to work - wanted me to work for them. And so that's kind of how I got into it. And back then we were kind of co-webmasters. We asked how to do some HTML as well. We didn't really know what was called "user experience design," we were doing a lot of just, "Hey, mate, let's try this. Well, it'll make more sense." We put the [indecipherable] there and then talk about user flows. Like, none of these things were for, you know, studying school, we kind of just invented it. Yeah.

Lee Ngo 1:49
Right. So there was, I mean, it's weird, because I think a lot of people who go into UX design, they start out in other forms of design, what were the - what was understood as a "designer" back in that time?

Alix Han 2:00
Wow, back at that - make [expletive] pretty. Oh, sorry, making things pretty. But you know, that sometimes, I mean, even to this day, people think that that's what we do is make things pretty, but the reality is, you know, user experience is actually your brand now, right? Because you - how many times have you used something and said, "Oh my gosh, this thing sucks, or doesn't work," or whatever, right? That's because the user experience design is poor. And it takes a lot of coordination with engineers to make things work the way that you meant to, you know, what you meant for the users to do. So my job is really to figure out a way to design so that we encourage the behaviors that our users, you know, we want our users to do. So you know, make them happy, right? And then if they're happy, the business wins. Right?

Lee Ngo 2:46
Right, absolutely. Makes a lot of sense. And so, as you've jumped into various companies, you mentioned that you are interested in creating a user-centered culture, right? How do you go about doing that? And, what are some of the challenges or even pushback you've experienced by treading to cultivate that culture?

Alix Han 3:08
Yeah, I think, again, first of all, I think most accompany don't really understand what user experience is. And so they, you know, they will advertise, like, "Oh, we want to hire a UX or UI designer." And that's like a big, red flag, like, "Oh, you don't really know what it is." But you know, this takes the entire company to really make it happen, user-centric culture. And it starts with coming down from the top could because you don't have an executive response or sponsorship, and you're kind of on that on your own, you're on a little boat. But the thing is, you know if you start making friends, and I think this is where social currency comes in, very important, make friends with different people from different disciplines, especially engineers because you need to be like this. Because you know, what design affects how they need to build a code from the ground up, and how they build a code affects how we can actually deliver the experience. So I think making friends is one of the most important things. And the other thing is to educate people. So when you say something like, "Hey, this isn't working," you got to educate them on why, or if something works really well, educate them on why. So you know, over time, even though I am not in the room to speak for user experience, I have people who now understands it, and it can speak on my behalf, right? So I don't have to be the only person because, in my opinion, everyone owns user experience. It's not just me.

Lee Ngo 4:25
Right, right, right. So how, how do you make it work? Right? What are some of your own personal techniques to building those relationships with the engineers and with the teams to have them understand what you're trying to go for and, ultimately, create mutual success across the board?

Alix Han 4:42
Yeah, a lot of things that I will do is bring, bring in - help people understand empathy. So I will bring them to user research with me, like, what will go on and interview customers together or interview potential users to really understand the pain points. What do they watch, you know, what do they need? To be successful as other job and serve other customers or their end-users. So that's one of it, you know, helping people understand. Second thing: just make it really fun in the culture, right? So, for example, what I did was one of this company I worked out, we need to do a company photo. And so I suggest that we do "Hadouken." Back then, that was the meme. So I actually took some time to teach an entire company on how to jump up to the explosive thing. And we had the CEO punch the ground, so it looks like we are exploding from the ground. So we went to the Pike Place Market and did it right in the intersection. And then, later on, we found out there were two people that we didn't know who were also jumping in the photo. That's pretty hilarious! Yeah.

Lee Ngo 5:43
See, if I didn't actually live in Seattle for a while, I would think that's a surprising thing. But knowing Seattle, if anybody has an opportunity to participate in a "Hadouken," it's probably there, right? That sounds like a pretty regular, like most people that are looking for those kinds of opportunities, right?

Alix Han 5:58
Yeah, they knew what we were doing.

Lee Ngo 6:00
Exactly. And what was your relationship like with the, you know, your, I guess, colleagues after creating those experiences?

Alix Han 6:09
Well, I think this is kind of one of the examples of experiences I would create, right? It got better, right, we started going to lunches together. And I even went to a couple of rock concerts with my engineering friends, because, you know, we found something that we can, you know, both talk about, or all of us can talk about even went to one with my CTO. We partied with my CEO. So it's just like, it just feels like you know, my goal is to work on something valuable with the people I like, you know, something that people actually want. I just want to have fun. Why what's the point? Right? You got to make the environment fun. Everybody comes to work. It's not a fight. We're all friends. We're having fun. We're drinking coffee together and sometimes happy hour. Yeah!

Lee Ngo 6:53
Sounds like a riot. I mean, I mean, you and I have hung out. So I can validate that, like you're always everything goes to an "11" every time you around, which is a wonderful thing, I'll put it that way. If you don't understand that reference, please just watch more films. I don't know what to tell you. So my last question for you are really for people who are listening or watching this and wondering what they can draw away from our conversation, which is, what do you think, especially people who are developers need to know when it comes to the kind of work you do, what user experience really does bring to the table? And just to make their jobs and your job a little bit easier?

Alix Han 7:34
Huh, wow. So while the developers know that there's a reason for every pixel that we decided on the page, and it has to do with serving our users, and that, please don't be lazy and tell me that you can't happen. Because I know for a fact that these engineers are hella smart, right? If they want to make something happen, and it will happen. And it's collaboration between design and engineering to make the tool or product, we're making function really well so that our users will love it. It's a collaboration. It's not just me dictating what to do, right? Engineers are smart. Give me your feedback. We're always going to ask you, "Yes, you want this" What problem - what problem are you trying to solve with it? Yeah.

Lee Ngo 8:22
I like it when guests do their own hammer down just to nail their point in, and I'm here for it.

Alix Han 8:28
a team fist in the air.

Lee Ngo 8:31
Exactly, exactly. If that's - if that is what you do, then I get it, I get it completely. Alix, we've come to the end of our line of questioning. So I want to give you an opportunity to do a shameless plug of sorts. You can talk about the work that you're doing. You can talk about things you're doing in your community, anything that you think needs more attention. The floor is yours.

Alix Han 8:50
Yeah, I think a - black, #BlackLivesMatter. And I think that we got to be great to each other, be kind to each other, and especially right now, me being an Asian person. You know, let's, let's help one another. See something, you do something. And, you know, we're all people, like, there's no reason for us to fight. So, that is my cause right now. It's very important.

Lee Ngo 9:14
Wonderful. And in its own way, I mean, what is not the most necessary kind of user experience to create the one that's built around, like, collective safety, right? And for all of us to understand each other as a community and to have this? I mean, how is this still an issue? Right? We can't do that great, beautiful things if we've got this kind of horrid stuff in our world. So appreciate that greatly. Alix, thank you so much for being on Educative Sessions. Really appreciate your time. And I want to thank everybody who is either listening or watching this episode as well. Thank you so much. You can check out more of our episodes on YouTube or on all of our major podcasting platforms. And also, if you want to learn a little bit more about Educative, check us out at So, for all of us here at Educative, thank you so much, and happy learning. Bye bye now.

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