Why Firat Parlak Says User Research for UX Design is Entirely Overrated

There's doing your job, and then there's being your job. When your passions and life philosophies are wrapped up in your craft, the notion of work-life balance isn't something you subscribe to. For Firat Parlak, user experience design (UX) is a science, an art-form. UX is impacting industries and changing economies, and Firat asserts that the future of business weighs heavily on this evolving field. And so, it’s not something he stops doing at the end of the "work" day.

Firat is Founder and Creative Director at startup UI/UX agency Awesome. He's also a user experience and user interface design instructor in our web design course in NYC. I spoke with Firat to dig a bit into his philosophy on designing great user experiences. Read on for his insights on the psychology behind UX design, and why user research is overrated:[bctt tweet="Why Firat Parlak Says #UserResearch for #UX Design is Entirely Overrated, by @zimmerbugg"]

How did you get into UX design?

Before I got into UX, I'd been designing for a decade. I started my own startup in 2010. At the time, our company was focused on raising funds. We had a demo day at General Assembly. I cornered Dave McClure of 500 Startups, the one of the biggest VC firms in the world. As it turned out, he didn't like my idea, but he liked the UI/UX, and that feedback meant a lot to me. I pivoted my career.I started focusing on UX, and began providing UX services and wireframes for other startups with Savas Ozay and Jean Merkle.

Tell us about your design philosophy.

I'm really into psychology and empathy. I think this is fundamental to UX design. It's not just pushing pixels. There's a whole "thinking" behind it, and that's where my strengths and philosophies lay. I focus on the human part of design.[bctt tweet="#UX design isn't just pushing pixels. There is a psychological aspect. - @awesomeuiux"]

You're controlling the users' emotions and behaviors, so you need to focus on the scientific aspects. New technologies and design trends are always disrupting and evolving, but the human aspect never changes. Almost every company out there is trying to achieve this humanization, and UX is the only bridge for that. It doesn't matter how fast the iPhone 6s gets or how beautiful it looks, if it's not crafted the right way, users will never be passionate about using it. It's the same with all of the wearable devices coming out these days—if designers don't connect to the human aspects of user experience, these won't be successful products. Adding 3D Touch to iPhone 6 was an effort toward making user experience that is frictionless. The technology complements the user's behaviors. This is how I've shaped my UX interests.[bctt tweet="Tech + #design trends are always evolving, but the human aspect never changes. - @awesomeuiux"]

Were you always in touch with these cognitive elements?

When the App Store (iOS) came out, I started noticing how often people were on their phones. And that's when I became interested in it. We all went from using websites to switching to a completely mobile experience. I started thinking, "how do you keep someone's interest for so long on one thing?" We all have terrible attention spans. It's difficult to keep people's attention in a conversation or activity, so what keeps people coming back to these apps? Why were they spending so much time on their phones?

I don't only use Facebook because my friends are on it. There's a psychological component. It's the gamification. The notifications, for example, create a Pavlov's Dog experience. And that's why people consume these products so passionately. That's why they don't look up when they're having a conversation with their boyfriend or girlfriend. We experience neck pain because we're looking down so much.

Ha! So, do you feel responsible for the neck pain and broken relationships?

Yes, absolutely. UX designers are responsible for that. It used to be TV, but that wasn't personalized to you. Now people are spending time on other things. And that's why UX is key—it's the psychological aspect of that.

As a designer, what are your favorite sources of inspiration?

First, I look for the successful products out there, and analyze their user flows. What is the onboarding process, for example? I spend time looking at these and considering them. Why is SnapChat successful? Why was it crafted in this way?  What did they do to make this product so successful? I analyze and extract those user flows, and turn to other designers to have discussions around them.  Then, I try applying these extractions to my own products.

I also look at how people are using an app or a mobile device over their shoulder. How do they open their messages? How to they organize their mobile screens. How people are actually interacting with their devices? This is provides insight into the kind of behavior they're already engaging in.[bctt tweet="Seek inspiration for #UX #design from successful products + user behavior - @awesomeuiux"]

I think that the bootcamps or one-off classes that only emphasize the research aspects of UX are doing it wrong. It's easy to teach research—you can always teach a designer how to research. It's harder to teach someone to be a UX thinker. This is how you create designs that are accessible and multi-cultural and usable in all physical environments. You need to be able to think about how people are using these products in context. I watch how these people use products and observe their gestures, and that's how I find inspiration.

That's my non-computer-based inspiration, but there are also some websites that I think are great resources for inspiration, too. My favorites are Muzli, Hacking UI, Designspiration, Panda, and Niice.[bctt tweet="#UX #bootcamps that just emphasize user research are doing it wrong - @awesomeuiux"]

Can you talk a bit more about the overemphasis of research? That's a controversial statement.

If you focus on the psychological-index of the user rather than the research, you're not paying attention to that emotional reaction, and that's why people become passionate about products. If you connect psychologically to the user, you won't have a need for research. Apple and Steve Jobs did not heavily believe in research.

If I'm an artist, don't put so much metrics in front of me and ask me to make design decisions based on these numbers. I'm going to design based on my emotional intelligence, connecting with users by establishing empathy with their psyches.

How can you be sure you don't have blinders on in deciding what is right for the user?

What you're designing is not the final product. It's just the first draft. But, get it out there. It's the Lean startup or MVP methodology. Why not apply that methodology to the design process? Design, then test and iterate. You minimize your risk of failing by designing, prototyping, and iterating. You can perfect it this way, rather than focusing on so much research. To me, it’s a waste of time. This method comes from traditional agencies, but startups need iterative and lean design processes.

Tell us about Awesome. How are you different from other design agencies?

Awesome has a startup mindset, not a corporate mindset. Many agencies want to overcharge companies on research. We know that startups need to be scrappy, and need to move fast. For this reason, we specialize only in UI and UX production. We have no other core services. We live and breathe UI/UX, 24/7. We've worked with over 85 startups on over 200 products including the co-founders of Seamless and New York Tech Meetup.

Most agencies focus on a wider spectrum of products, but we're a production-focused agency. Research can actually come later. A lot of products fail because they do all this research and then try to build the products and UX based on metrics. Instead, we build first. We work on the MVP and creating multiple prototypes, and then we refine through testing and iteration later on. I think this is a better, hands-on production method, allowing us to get the product out quicker.

Are there some key tenets that designers should keep in mind?

Three things:

1) Practice as much as possible.

The more you do, the more you craft, the more experience you get, the better you'll get. Getting hands-on with the process is the key. Your experience IN user experience is the key. Get hands-on! Open Sketch, and wireframe, and create. And, whatever you do to create, put these into interactive prototypes. What you design might not be the same in prototype form. Design—prototype—iterate—design—prototype—iterate.[bctt tweet="Getting hands-on with the #design process is key - @awesomeuiux"]

2) Surround yourself with your users.

You need to surround yourself with other designers, but you also need to surround yourself with non-designers. These are your users. This ties back to those psychological aspects and the emotional intelligence of design. Improve your emotional intelligence by paying attention to the people you're designing for.

Be purposeful about this— "I'm hanging out with these people and I want to learn these specific things from them." And, just get out there and talk to people. When I taught at Startup Institute, for example, the students gave me great feedback on my ideas.[bctt tweet="Don't just surround yourself with #designers. Surround yourself with #users. - @awesomeuiux"]

3) Show your work.

Get a portfolio. Please. This is the most important thing.

Emphasize your case studies, and make sure it looks beautiful. You need to show that you live and breathe with UI/UX. What you do is so visual, that you can't just talk about what you do. What you do should speak for itself. I hire based on portfolios. I don't hire based on resumes or school or GPA. If your portfolio is no good, I'm not going to call you for an interview, it's as simple as that. [bctt tweet="I hire based on portfolios. What you do should speak for itself. - @awesomeuiux"]

Which is best for a designer at the start of their career—a startup or an agency?

If you're working on the agency side, you'll be exposed to many different products with different requirements. You'll have many different clients, and you'll learn from all of these experiences.

On the other hand, if you constantly build and iterate on one product as a UX designer for one company, you'll have more of a big-picture perspective.

You need to decide which experience you want more. Neither is correct—it depends on the designer. Some designers don't want to deal with clients and, if that's the case for you, an agency is not the place you want to be.

Final words of wisdom for students in our UI UX design course?

Don't be a UX researcher. Don't be a part of the assembly line. Be a UX thinker.

You can change the world. This is going to be the most in-demand position in next 50 years. The sooner you start learning UX design, the better. It may not sound so important right now, but it's going to be.[bctt tweet="#UX will be the most in-demand role in 50 yrs. Start designing now - @awesomeuiux"]

Interested in learning UX design? Download our web design course syllabus to learn more about our full-time immersive program.