How the Other Half Live: UX Design in Brazil and New Zealand

If you stopped what you’re doing right now and dug a hole down through the center of the earth, chances are you would come up next to a UX professional on the other side of the globe grappling with the same user research or design tasks as you.

This article takes you to two countries that may be a long way from you — Brazil and New Zealand— and reveals insights from eight of their UX professionals. We undertook this study to find out how their practice is influenced by their global collaborations. Our findings continue the conversation started by Whitney Quesenbery and Daniel Szuc in their illuminating book Global UX: Design and Research in a Connected World.

“UX is contagious”: How UX as a Discipline is Perceived in Brazil and New Zealand

In both countries, UX design as a discipline is gaining momentum outside of the historically innovative web design and tech industries.

Guilherme Skinner, a user interface designer based in Sao Paolo, Brazil, believes “the ‘make-it-friendly’ movement was indirectly forced by the enormous growth of startups. New companies—even the huge conglomerates—have had no choice but to adapt, otherwise they would see their business being bypassed by small businesses with big and, at this time, better solutions.” Ultimately, he’s observing that UX design practices “are contagious and starting to change a whole bunch of products.”

UX designers are sought after and valued.

Raphael Miashiro, UX designer at Agencia Casa in Brazil, says that his role “acts as a bridge between the development team, art directors, project managers, and external clients.” Agreeing, Filipe Levi, a user researcher and interaction designer in Recife, Brazil, feels that “Besides the traditional roles of graphic and product design, every week you can see companies looking for interaction designers, information architects, and UX designers.”

While understanding of the practice is growing, there are still ambiguities attached to the term.

photo of Alexandre Duarte

Managers and clients often assume that UI designers are responsible for UX tasks. Alexandre Duarte, an interaction designer in Rio de Janiero in Brazil, says this is “because they see the product as a final result and don’t know or perceive the design process behind…the solution.” Citing similar experience, Andi Parker, a UX architect based in New Zealand, says there’s “a definite misunderstanding of the role of user experience…there is no room for iterations, user testing, and making mistakes. Everything has to be a homerun because the budgets are so tight.”

It might be ”a matter of market maturity,” Duarte believes. “Many companies are starting to recognize the web as a business tool and not only a digital business card.”

photo of Alex Gamble

Alex Gamble sometimes sees companies “paying a lot of money to people who design without talking to their users, then they come to us to figure out what’s wrong.” Gamble is an experience designer at Optimal Experience (a design consultancy firm) in New Zealand.

Agencies like Optimal Experience have typically been hired to run UX research projects in the early or mid stages of web design, but Richard Douglass, a senior experience designer at the agency thinks this is changing, stating that there is a “growing understanding to the point where UX isn’t just for agencies to sell, but companies/clients now have their own UX staff and teams.” He acknowledges, however, that ”UX design is still a bit of a buzz word at the moment amongst many IT teams, and [there’s still] some confusion around how it fits in.”

UX communities in both countries are strong and growing.

In New Zealand, UX meetups are happening in the main centers every week, and conferences are becoming more common. In Brazil, Filipe Levi confirms that they “have local chapters of IxDA and UXPA in cities like Recife, Curitiba, Manaus, Brasília, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza, and Belo Horizonte, among many others.”

Connecting and Collaborating: A Global Affair

Quesenbery and Szuc describe what global collaboration looks like in our connected world and their insights are illustrated by the people we interviewed.

While working for IBM, Richard Douglass says he, “collaborated with UX colleagues in China around contextualizing enterprise software…and with colleagues in other countries within IBM’s software group,” which included Ireland and Australia. At Optimal Experience he took part in performing a UX benchmarking study for a large airline client, conducting usability analysis and testing in three countries—NZ, Australia, and the U.S.

Gamble also mentions their involvement with UX Alliance (a global network of user experience companies) and cites a time when they were able to use the Alliance for research.They ran a project on how to improve the parking experience in New Zealand and wanted to find out about what worked well in other countries. Gamble says they “got results from all over the world, in particular Holland and the U.S. It was quite interesting to see how they face common problems to what we do, in particular vandalism. People just love taking their anger out on parking meters!”

photo of Daniel Mendes

Working with professionals from overseas inspires passion and creativity. Daniel Mendes, a UX professional and teacher in Brazil, loves it because of “the exchange of points of views and vision as well as the passion for the perfect interface.” He’s collaborated on designing mobile experiences for Portugal and South Africa, and more recently provided UX consulting services to European start-ups.

Those I spoke with who had no experience collaborating internationally spoke highly of online resources for getting a global perspective.

Guilherme Skinner hasn’t had the opportunity to collaborate across borders, and says that although LinkedIn is a great bridge ”the most relevant involvement I have with UX professionals around the world is by visiting sites such as Stack Exchange. I also get up to date by reading blogs and websites like Smashing Magazine, Splashnology, and fantastic experiments at Codepen.”

photo of Filipe Levi

Every day says Filipe Levi, he ”reads news, takes part in discussion groups and courses, and follows the main companies and authors in the UX field, both regionally and globally.” He hasn’t collaborated with people overseas but has prototyped design solutions to global companies and considers that working across countries would bring welcome challenges. “I believe the big challenges would be to analyze research data and try to design a solution to fit very different cultures at the same time—not to mention trying to emulate remotely our big walls of post-its during brainstorm session!”

A room with people working at tables and collecting notes on the wall.

Brainstorming session.

Some UX professionals have regular opportunities for working on global projects and have the resources to jet around the world for conferences and contracts. Others have yet to speak in person with their comrades in other countries but spend time every day reading and contributing to blogs and discussion forums.

Whichever way people connect they are a part of the culture of collaboration that makes this industry so innovative and exciting.

Toolboxes and Techniques: What People Use in Their Practice

Each UX professional pulls together their own grab bag of tools, tips, and theories from which their research and design practice stems.

A book fiend, Alex at Optimal Experience references design principles a lot, mentioning Universal Principles of Design to start. “Rocket Surgery Made Easy is another great reference that helps you stick to the basics.” He also recommends, “anything about interviewing by Steve Portigal…anything relating to change and making ideas stick by Chip and Dan Heath.”

In contrast, Daniel Mendes’ motivation for seeking knowledge sprung from his realization that ”Brazilian people are very different in culture, behavior, background, educational level, and their perception of the world. That’s why I created my own method adapted for these patterns that combines Jakob Nielson’s theories and practices, more socially and culturally different than using Big Data, to dive into users’ reality.” He also draws on knowledge management and taxonomy as it is applied to corporate portals and content management.

On the tools side, the first thing Guilherme uses when he starts a project is “something really technological: paper and pen. Ideas flow much better.” He concedes that it’s hard to pick a single theory, stating that “UX as a whole is an almost endless universe of theories, concepts, and paradigms. Pushed to pick one he says, “Color Theory is something I really care about. When able to measure the impact it is impressive the impact color picking has in the results. Ah, and to be able to measure the overall success, A/B testing is key.”

In his toolbox Alexandre regularly uses ”Nielson’s heuristic evaluation, Google analytics data to research quantitative data, questionnaires for qualitative data, UCD approach with the creation of personas, and use scenarios and usability tests to validate the assumptions.”

Taking a more conceptual approach, Filipe Levi argues that “the first theories a good UX professional should master are social research elements (to design and perform effective user research) and design principles such as usability heuristics (to design delightful interactions).” He makes good use of video and voice recorders, qualitative data analysis, and, echoing Guilherme, admits “the tools I can’t live without are my eyes, ears, pen, and paper.”

Other industries such as academia or medicine have developed and disseminated their knowledge within age-old institutions, and it’s been up to the professors and publishers to spread the wisdom.

In contrast, the UX industry has built and shared its scholarship collectively. The collective wisdom of UX professionals, from leaders to apprentices and everyone in between is shared freely online, and everyone has made themselves accessible to everyone else.

There will never be a UX professional who could absorb and implement the myriad theories, practices, techniques, and visions that populate the industry. Similarly, no one person or part of the industry has a monopoly on what the ‘best’ UX practice entails. That’s why the conversation is so interesting, and so vital.

Happiness is the Perfect Interface: Why We Love What We Do

We’d like to close with perhaps the best insight: there is a common thread linking people who work in UX. They are all aiming to be a positive influence on people’s every day life experiences.

Andi Parker loves “the wider picture, the broad strokes, the overall vision. What I love about UX is that it’s so full of potential, not only for a product or design concept or a user’s experience, but for making a real impact in people’s lives.”

”UX professionals can play an essential role in joint efforts to improve people’s lives in countries like mine,” Filipe Levi says. What he therefore loves most about his job ”is the possibility of improving the human condition, using two so very human gifts: empathy and design.” Ultimately he’d like his design work to “have a bigger impact on the world by serving more people and tackling basic human issues like global health and development.”

This sense that they’re making a difference comes out in their hopes for UX to solve not just web or product problems, but broader and deeper problems in human life.

In turn, these positive goals, fuel professional passion. As Alex Gamble says, “when you create a good experience you make someone’s day better. When you make someone’s day better they usually smile.” He also remembers the joy he felt on completing one of his first projects at a large New Zealand company with 3.4 million members. “Just the feeling I got from knowing that I’ve contributed to making a small part of those 3.4 millions lives better was priceless.”

“Born in the 70s as a son of a technology aficionado father,” Daniel Mendes is passionate about UX because he “could see that the main advances were to do with the experience—how easy products became for people. It wasn’t only about machines but mainly about humanity. I think this is the heart of the technology we can create— the possibility that my grandmother and my young child can use the same product and both enjoy it.”

It is clear that UX provides practitioners an opportunity to engage in work that positively influences society as well as keeps them on-their-toes and stimulated.

The variety and uniqueness of the work is a plus. Richard Douglass loves “working on interesting projects with great people. One day is rarely the same as another. I always learn unexpected things every time I interact with a client or a research participant.”

Raphael Miashiro reflects that as his career has progressed “at first I liked the results of my projects. But now the word how is becoming more exciting.”

Last Words

It is clear that the joy of practicing UX is as universal as the tools and methods used. Whether you’re in Latin America, New Zealand, or a world away, this is a field that is growing globally and making a positive impact. There are significant benefits to collaborating globally, including sharing ideas with those who have faced similar challenges, as well as gaining exposure to diverse perspectives. We hope that the range of voices shared inspires you to form global connections.

Mayfield, A., Reeves, K. (2014). How the Other Half Live: UX Design in Brazil and New Zealand. User Experience Magazine, 14(4).
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