Jon Lax: The Origins of Epic UX Design

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h1As an industry we can get enamoured with our own cleverness and technical prowess, but if we are honest with ourselves, no consumer wanted that microsite.

Jon Lax, Teehan+Lax

In an industry that's less than 20 years old, Jon Lax is already a giant. He's been working in digital media since 1994 when he started Shift magazine and helped develop the first ad supported site in Canada. Today he's one of the co-founders of Teehan+Lax, a respected boutique ad agency and user experience design firm in Toronto that guides clients' digital marketing and experience efforts.

Aside from creating great digital experiences for clients like Virgin Mobile, Bell, AIR MILES & Corcoran, Teehan+Lax builds software such as Image Spark, an image bookmarking service that lets uses save images from anywhere on the Web and organize them in moodboards (think Pinterest for designers). Teehan+Lax also created TweetMag, an app that collects Twitter usernames, hashtags and lists to curate a feed of articles and create simple magazines.

We've long admired Jon's work and checked in with him to see what he's excited about when it comes to user experience (UX) design today, the coolest things to come out of his own lab, and the key to a creative office.

What does UX design mean to you? We define user experience as how users perceive their interactions with a company/brand/service/software. These perceptions are formed through a variety of factors including visual design, messaging design, technology, information design and functionality. The better you are able to meet user needs, the better the perceived interaction, the better the UX.

What are some of your favorite examples of epic UX design? Not sure about epic, but I really like the experience of FitBit. Both the user experience and customer experience of the physical product. I've used a variety of fitness monitoring products and FitBit is one of the best designed end-to-end. The onboarding experience is really good and it just worked into my life and fitness regime so effortlessly. For editorial design I really love what The Verge is doing right now.

What are some the key ingredients of great UX design right now? We talk a lot about the multi-screen universe that consumer's exist in today. We move seamlessly between our desktop/laptops to our mobile devices to our televisions (which are in increasingly connected) to the physical world. As we move between these devices we expect the user experience to come along. For example, we've come to expect that when we read an email on our mobile device that it will appear as read on our desktop computer. So a key ingredient is creating holistic digital experiences that take this into account. It is no longer acceptable to just create a Web site and then a mobile app and think that you've done your job. You need to look at the whole medium and plan it accordingly.

What excites you right now in digital advertising and marketing and why? Not much. I've become increasingly disinterested in "digital advertising." I think we're in a really dark period where we're jamming messages at people that they don't want and don't care about. I agree with Made By Many's presentation where they refer to digital landfill. As an industry we can get enamoured with our own cleverness and technical prowess, but if we are honest with ourselves, no consumer wanted that microsite.

I think we need to remember that users in the digital channel are active and that the active consumer is different from a passive TV viewer. Publishers need to work closer with advertisers and agencies to create ad product that is more integrated into the editorial and provides real value to users.

What do you consider required reading for anyone interested in user experience design? Some sites that I really like:

UXMag

SmashingMag

Net

UIE

Most books are obsolete by the time they get printed but two I suggest are Steve Krug's Don't Make me Think and Luke Wroblewski's Mobile First.

You have a dedicated lab within Teehan+Lax devoted to exploring the creative uses of technology. What are the most important things you've learned? That you need to embrace failure. We always want things we do to be successful but the Lab has taught us how to fail. We learn so much through our failures in the lab. They'll work on something that will go nowhere but the vantage point we gain from that process lets us see new possibilities. When I speak to agencies who are starting Labs groups they want these groups to prove tangible value immediately. That's not a lab, that's a business.

More pictures of ongoing Labs projects here.

What are some of the coolest things that have come out of your lab? Well, publicly TVI has been very popular and generated a lot of interest, but there is an experiment the guys are working on right now which uses sound as means to control a user interface that I am pretty excited about.

You and your partners have thought a lot about how to make your workspace more creative. What something any office can do to create a more creative workspace? Whiteboards or some writable surface. You can write on almost any surface in our office. We constantly have discussions and start sketching or making notes wherever the discussion is occurring. But what makes a creative workspace is the people and the work. I see companies buy foam ball pits and "brainstorm rooms." These are useless; creativity is part of culture.

Follow Jon on Twitter @jlax