Vadim Tslaf is a design leader with nearly 20 years of experience designing and building digital products, from websites to mobile apps, to SaaS applications, and everything in between. He has worked in various industries, for companies ranging from small startups to enterprises. He is currently the Director of Design & UX at Canada Post, where he leads a multidisciplinary team responsible for the user experience of all Canada Post’s digital channels, and is also a UX Design Educator at BrainStation.
We connected with Vadim to share his UX Design wisdom – from what a day in the life looks like at Canada Post to advice on breaking into a career in UX.
What’s the best part for you about a career in UX Design?
For me, the best part of having a career in UX design is a feeling of confidence that I can apply my skills and experience to any challenge, in any industry. Knowing that I design experiences which make people’s lives better, that what makes me feel good about my choice of a career – whether it’s my current job, or every other job I had. It might sound like a cliche, but it’s true.
What does a typical day look like for you and your team at Canada Post?
My typical day is quite different from my team members’ days – I spend quite a lot of time in meetings, and it’s a “necessary evil” in a large enterprise organization such as Canada Post. But I try to manage these meetings in a most efficient way, and believe most of them are needed to ensure my team works on the right priorities. While I, myself don’t get to actually design much these days, I’m definitely very close to every project my team members work on, and provide direction when required. As for a typical day of my team members, it really differs from one person to another – depending on what team they’re on, type of project, role, and many other factors.
You teach UX Design at BrainStation. How would you describe the typical student? Their background, goals etc.?
Frankly, I don’t think there’s a “typical student” in the UX Design course I teach at BrainStation, and that’s something that really excites me. Students come from various educational backgrounds – from undergrads to people with PhDs; different industries and organizations – startups, agencies, financial institutions, government agencies; different work experiences – people who haven’t started their career yet, and people who lead teams and departments. One thing unites them all – they’re all curious about UX Design and how it can be applied to their specific situations. I absolutely love having diverse groups, and apply the same principle for my team at work – team diversity helps to create the best designs.
What’s it like when your students start to grasp UX Design principles?
It’s an amazing feeling to see students start understanding what it takes to design a great experience for users. One of the biggest a-ha moments for students, is after we introduce them to UX research, and they get to learn from real users whether their (students’) project ideas actually make sense, or maybe they need to pivot or tweak their ideas. Another such moment is after we teach user testing, and students learn that “designers are not users”, and iterate on their designs based on the user testing insights.
Since you started teaching at BrainStation in 2015, how have you witnessed UX Design evolve as a discipline? Industry trends, more UX consideration, etc.?
There’s a continuous increase in industry demand for UX designers. I believe design, not just UX Design, is currently in its “Golden age” – more and more companies are jumping on a bandwagon and building in-house design capabilities; traditionally design-driven organizations consistently outperform competition who doesn’t invest in design, and design is finally has a “seat at the table”. All of this obviously increases the demand in design and UX talent. In addition to designers, we also see demand in other UX roles, such as UX researchers and UX writers.
In terms of trends, AR (Augmented Reality), AI (Artificial Intelligence), and VUI (Voice User Interface) pose new challenges for UX designers, because it’s not about designing experience in a traditional, 2D screen-based environment anymore. Designers need to change their thinking how to solve these challenges, and that’s exciting.
What’s your best advice for designers who want to transition into UX Design?
My advice to designers, (usually graphic designers), transitioning to UX Design – let go of your old habits of jumping straight to design; research and know your user first, then gradually increase the fidelity of your designs, and continue to iterate until you get your design right.
What if you’ve never done design before, but want to break into the field?
First, learn the basics – design process, methods, tools. Then practice, practice, and then practice even more. I know many designers, who broke into the design field by teaching themselves (at the time, when there weren’t many fast-track learning options available to someone who wanted to become a UX Designer), honing their skills, and then seizing the right opportunity. Quite a few of them are very successful designers today.
What’s your best advice for striking a balance between ‘delightful’ design details, and a good UX?
I don’t think it’s a matter of balance – good UX implies all the essential user needs are fulfilled before any additional elements are added to ‘delight’ the user. If a Designer adds ‘bells & whistles’, before solving the basics, these ‘delightful elements’ will only agitate the user, and definitely, will not create a great user experience.
What’s your best piece of advice for designers and developers who are just starting out?
Be curious, don’t afraid to ask questions, and never stop learning. To be successful in today’s digital world, means keeping your skills sharp at all times. But also, don’t limit yourself to new things exclusive to your field – learn about other disciplines you interact and work with, and even more important, understand the business behind products you design/develop. And be empathetic – to users, business stakeholders or clients, and your colleagues.
When was a moment when YOU received a piece of advice that changed your career?
There were several moments in my life when I received advice that helped me to make important decisions for my career, so it’s hard to choose just one. But the one that has had a significant impact on my career in the recent years, was a nudge to brush up on my teaching skills, (the last time I’d taught before BrainStation, was about 15 years ago), and get back to teaching. This was one of the most powerful advice I’ve ever received, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the person who gave me that advice.