Urooj is Co-Founder of pinpic Inc. and Product Owner at 123ContactForm. Urooj has served in the global IT sector since 2000 and has made valuable contributions in the areas of gaming, enterprise solutions, digital media platforms, and social media. He has also been a mentor to several start-up entrepreneurs.
In 2012 Urooj turned his passion of traveling into a profession and become an award-winning travel writer and photographer. In addition to his blog, living-being.com, Urooj contributes to The Express Tribune – with the International New York Times, and BBC Travel. We are delighted to share his interview where he talks about his beginnings as a Creative Director, turned UX Design and entrepreneurial Travel Writer. Learn more about his vast experiences on LinkedIn and follow his adventures on Twitter.
Can you share a little about yourself and some history about how you got into UX Design?
The year was 1999 and boy bands were all the rage. Like a typical teenager of my generation, I was spending the summer “hanging out” with my buddies and trying to solve seemingly important life matters. One day, the elder brother of my closest friend came to us with a CD of Macromedia Flash. He offered to get us a job in his production house if we could figure out how to use the software and create an animation compelling enough to convince his manager.
Looking back, if it were not for that day then I am quite sure I would have ended up as an engineer in Detroit’s automotive industry trying to make ends meet due to the “financial crisis”. Instead, I got the job and went on contribute to the design of the first 3D arcade game built in South Asia and also the first online job portal in Pakistan.
“I went on to study Mechanical Engineering (near Detroit) after my stint at the production house, but design had already clouded my rational thinking. It would lead me to unknown, but rewarding ventures and experiences well into the future.”
You have several projects going on related to travel and writing, Including being a Contributing Writer, BBC Travel how did you make that switch from creative & tech to travel?
I was born into a life of travel. My father was an airline executive and we traveled the world since I was 3-months old. I suppose it makes sense that I am a UX professional after having lived a life enriched with stories, people, places, and experiences from around the world.
In 2012, after a decade of being involved in many different initiatives in Canada, I became curious about exploring new experiences around the world. I wrapped up my business, packed a backpack, and laid out a year-long plan to simply travel. That was three-and-a-half years ago. I am still wondering when I’ll be home! I was always in love with the idea of writing about far-off lands and wild adventure, but I never had the time or motivation to get into it before. For this trip, however, I decided to change that by starting my travel blog. To be honest, I didn’t really expect my audience to go beyond friends and family, so when I was awarded 3rd place by the Canadian Weblog Awards in 2013, I was a bit surprised. Later, when BBC put out a global call to find Travel Pioneers, it was one of my readers who nominated me and people from around the world voted. This is how I ended up getting featured on BBC Travel and started writing for them.
I believe strongly in pursuing the things I am passionate about. Even when they might not makes sense to others. The trick is to pay attention to the opportunities that are presented to all of us and then see them through till you have an outcome. I suppose I am just describing the experience designers have on most days.
What were some of the most challenging UX projects you’ve worked on? Can you share the solutions you developed to overcome these challenges?
Imagine a platform that gives the largest enterprise companies in Europe visibility and access over their entire I.T. and telecommunications network using a single portal. For most people, it’s hard enough to imagine such a massive information delivery platform. But that’s the challenge my team was presented with at, London-based, Colt Technology Services. As lead UX on portal development, I had to at least attempt to understand many software and hardware interactions that had to be navigated and visualised by people from as high up as the Chief Security Officer to a Data Center Technician.
Given the scale of the project, I started by designing a process to manage UX design in for particular initiative. Inspired by Agile development, I implemented a process that modularized design and engaged stakeholders in a constant feedback cycle. This significantly improved our learning curve on the UX front and allowed us to develop our user journey using a range of personas. The solution is currently being used by major companies in 22 countries across Europe as well as in Asia.
Can you tell us about the time you spent as a Creative director and how you evolved into the specialty of UX Design?
The role of the Creative Director is to inspire and develop out-of-the-box solutions to achieve stakeholder goals. My team and I worked with customers ranging from local SMB’s to national advertisers like MoneyGram International.
From a technical perspective, Creative Directors are not that different for UX Directors. After all, it’s all about how the customer feels and engages through to the end result. In both situations, I’ve always tried to put the audience or the user at the heart of the solution. Researching, understanding, and communicating with (versus “to”) the target audience is key to building a product, service, or a campaign that inspires people to take action.
“The key difference perhaps is that when I am wearing the UX hat, we’re usually talking about technology, whereas as CD I would often cover a larger variety of projects and products.”
Can you share some of your notable accomplishments with 123ContactForm?
Introducing a feedback driven, User Centric Design (UCD) methodology is probably my most valuable accomplishment at 123ContactForm. Many startups and SMB’s don’t fully realise the value of research. Tracking user behaviour and testing multiple variants of your solution prior to implementing might seem like activities that slow down production. Which is partially true. However, it takes far longer to fix a broken product than to build one thoughtfully from the start.
The product itself has come a long way in terms of look-and-feel. More importantly, we’ve taken out many usability flaws that actual users reported to us. Still, I can’t say that I feel I’ve accomplished a lot, yet! Sure, we’re growing and receiving a lot of positive feedback, but as a UX professional I still see us having a long way to go in creating a truly delightful product.
How did balance your many entrepreneurial endeavors with traveling and writing?
Easy! I fill my days up with things I love to do – be it design, business strategy, travel, or writing. Of course, it’s not rosy all the time. There are days that I feel that I am at work! But most days, I am simply chasing a dream, pursuing a passion, feeling grateful, or exchanging stories. Having goals definitely helps ensure that the stories are relevant to the direction my team or I need to be heading in.
The question that really boggles most people, however, is how I manage to do it all with a 2-year old at home. But maybe that’s a topic for another discussion.
What kept you motivated in the early days of your career, and what keeps you actively engaged in the industry now?
Design has almost always been closely associated with my calling as an entrepreneur. Though it might be my curiosity coupled with the willingness to step out of the mold that kept pushing me forward, personally and professionally. It would have been quite challenging, as a creative person, for me to be forced to bring to life someone else’s vision. Whereas, as a service provider I had the satisfaction of choosing projects that were meaningful and kept me engaged.
Thanks to the obstacles I had to navigate early on in my career, today I have experience and a global network to engage in projects that have far-reaching impact. Aside from 123ContactForm.com and pinpic.com – the latest venture – just earlier this year, I was invited to spend a couple of days in beautiful Mallorca to discuss UX with the product team at EasyJet!
What do you believe the future of UX will look like over the next 5 years? Do you have any plans for new projects in the future?
There are many opportunities coming up for people who work or want to enter the field. UX professionals will enjoy a greater diversity and complexity in the problems they’ll need to solve in the coming year. In my opinion, there are two important drivers that will fuel this demand for people with experience in UX and UCD:
Technology. Interactions are no longer limited to the traditional computer. Today the job of UX is to create delightful experiences across platforms ranging from touch screens, to wearables, VR glasses, and the web.
Global cultural landscape. People’s perception and relationship with technology varies based on their environment and human experience. With diverse people from around the world rapidly gaining access to technology, UX needs to think about delivering personalised experiences in their local context. This is something easier said than done.
I am certainly looking forward curating and delivering experiences that enrich people’s everyday life in their communities. For now, my team at pinpic.com is working on a platform that will change the way people find and book photographers. Moreover, it will create endless opportunities for individuals who want to pursue their passion for photography while making a living out of it.
Finally, can you share any individuals you look up to in your industry and why?
If I had to pick from the popular names for your audience, I’d choose Margaret Stewart at Facebook for her approach to finding UX solutions. In my opinion, she really understands the challenges of delivering a product that is designed for the world of people. I am also inspired by the work of Joe Gebbia and his team over at Airbnb. Despite criticism over their new branding, I feel Joe’s team are making real efforts to tug on the heartstrings of their users. If you pay close attention you can really observe the conversation they have with their users through their interface. Results are the proof!
Aside from that, I am inspired by the work of many UX and design professionals in the industry whom most people have never heard of. One person I can mention, in particular is our Lead Designer, Alin Vacian.