Preaching Good UX: Joe Natoli

By: Yadira Y. Caro

User interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) are popular terms in the design and product industry. UI and UX, oftentimes tied together, are commonly seen as secret ingredients you add to a product to “make it pretty.”  Oftentimes, people don’t really quite get them. Joe Natoli has made it his mission to educate people on what UI and UX are really all about, calling himself a UX evangelist.

Through online courses, several articles, his podcast Making UX Work, and various books, Joe wants to make sure people know UI/UX are not a thing you add, but processes to ensure user satisfaction and usability. These do not only apply to products and software; UI and UX principles can be applied to any area of customer service.

I asked Joe about misconceptions of UI and UX, his career and resources to learn more.

You are an expert in UI/UX, but how do you describe what you do?

First, I’ve never been comfortable with the tile of “expert.” I don’t have any magic powers, and I am not the smartest guy in the room. What I do have is close to three decades of experience working with and learning from unique people in unique, challenging situations. Do anything long enough and you learn a whole lot about what works and what doesn’t.

I do, however, believe that one of my strengths is the ability to simplify and clarify what UX and Design really is, and how people and organizations can make those things their allies, integrate that thinking into everything they do. I’m able to make it real, understandable and applicable for them, cut through the ego-driven jargon and artifice that often passes for UX knowledge or expertise.

For clients, I explain that UX isn’t a discrete activity, a specific part or step in the software development process — it’s the entire process. User experiences are the result of everything everybody does, from the people requesting features and functionality to those who decide whether or not those things are possible to those who design and build.

UX is created regardless of whether or not there are UX or UI designers on staff; it’s either intentional or unintentional. And when it’s unintentional, it’s usually bad. So I refer to UX as a value loop, a cycle where both parties have to be satisfied. Good UX delivers value to the people who use a product, and when that happens, value should come back to the organization as well.

What are some misconceptions about UI/UX?

That it’s a step in the process, something that we “do” at specific points in the product design and development process.

People believe that it’s limited to the product itself, which it isn’t. UX is created from every interaction a user or customer has with your organization, which includes things like how customer service answers the phone or responds to social media messages. How easy or hard it is to find self-help information on the corporate website. How long someone has to wait on hold when they call a help line, hearing “your call is very important to us….” every 5 minutes.

People also believe that it’s a “magic bullet” of some kind, that if you designate people and activities as UX or UI, then you can check the box. But more often than not, bad UX is the result of the decisions people make inside an organization, both within and outside the product team. It can be the result of teams or individuals working in silos, not truly collaborating, sharing expertise, or communicating well. Political battles, fear and morale issues that lead to poor decision making. Company cultures where the urgent always trumps the truly important.

Those activities are outside what we think of as “UX” or product use, but they have massive impact in whether or not a user experience is positive or negative.


What has been one of your greatest challenges and how did you tackle it? 

Dealing with imposter syndrome, which I still do, even though I am in a situation where I can pick and choose what work I take on from global-sized organizations. Even though they come to me, and never question my rates. Even though I have 120,000 students worldwide taking my courses.

I say all that not to impress you or anyone else; I say it because I want everyone reading this to understand that no matter how much you achieve, you cannot expect your fear or self-doubt to suddenly disappear. That’s an unreasonable, unrealistic expectation. So instead of waiting to be fearless, you have to make peace with that fear and go forward anyway.

Part of that is this idea that we have to be 100% original, which also isn’t possible. I think what we all do is to take the gifts other people have given us, and adapt, reimagine and reinterpret them in some way that’s uniquely ours. You may be saying or teaching the same things someone else is, but you’re doing that in a way that only you can.

So you have to learn to trust your voice, your approach, to trust in the fact that what you’re doing has merit. Otherwise you’ll never start.

So taking that big step forward — whether it’s speaking up in a team meeting or taking a risk on a new interactive feature or starting your own business — isn’t a matter of being fearless. It’s a matter of feeling more fear than you know what to do with, but going forward anyway.

What is the main takeaway you want people to have from your courses or your book? 

That UX is not something you do with your hands — it’s the result of how you use what’s between your ears.

I believe that far too much of the “advice” people get on design and UX is unrealistic; it sounds great on paper, but it fails miserably when put into practice in the real world. The one where most businesspeople don’t care about best practices and principles. The one where results — were we get the outcome we’re after — is the only thing that matters.

I think most processes and tools and methods people on my side of the fence promote and suggest are too complex, too rigid and require a perfect-world scenario where you always have enough time, budget, people and executive approval.  So everything I do is meant to be an antidote to that: things that work in the messy reality we all work in.

Can you recommend a few resources (books, websites, etc.) which have helped you and could help others in the field, or who want to learn more? 

Sure. Of course, I have to include a few of my own, because the feedback I get daily from designers, UXers and developers tell me they’re useful and helpful:

Think First, my latest book: I wrote this book to simplify and demystify a great deal of what it really means to apply UX to product development, and what you really need to consider when working with clients and teams. The reason I wrote it was because I got angry — so much of what’s out there talks waaaaay over people’s heads and insists on complex processes, tools, and methods to “properly” practice UX. I think that’s bullshit, so I wrote a book explaining why (and what to do instead).

Making UX Work Podcast: I interview everyday UXers (no rock stars) about what they do every day, how they do it and the challenges they face.

Give Good UX Company of Friends: This is my private Facebook Group. With over 6,000 members, you can learn an awful lot from the good, generous folks there (and I answer questions as well, live and in posts):

Website, Blog + FREE eBooks: I do my best to write articles, create videos and provide free e-books to answer the questions I get from people in the field every day.

Online UX TrainingThese are UX training courses on my own platform.

Udemy UX Video Courses: These are UX training courses on Udemy.

Next, I believe every person related to product development, design or UX in any way should absolutely read the following books cover to cover:

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, by Alan Cooper; Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, The Design of Everyday Things, by Dr. Don Norman, The Cluetrain Manifesto (various authors) and Universal Principles of Design (various authors).

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

Breaking Barriers Through Fashion: Nasheli Juliana

By: Yadira Y. Caro

The world of fashion is quite alluring yet seems unattainable. For Nasheli Juliana Ortiz, the road to become a fashion designer has not been easy but has been very successful. She is the Chair of the Fashion Design Department at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, and is now getting ready to present her designs at Paris Fashion Week next month.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, she overcame health-related obstacles which ultimately lead her to this world thanks to her persistence, hard word, and talent. After completing studies in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, she held several positions as a university professor and worked with multiple well-known designers. I asked Nasheli about her childhood challenges, misconceptions of the fashion industry, and how famed designer Oscar de la Renta gave her the first break. She gave great advice which can be applied to anyone in any industry.


Why did you wanted to be a fashion designer?

I had developing problems went when I was growing up: I had meningitis when I was 2 years old so I was in a coma. I’ve always had (learning) problems in school and my mom forced me to be in painting, drawing and dance to help me develop fine motor skills. The only thing that I knew how to do was doing clothes for my Barbies. I spent hours and hours doing clothes for my Barbies with paper towels or whatever I found around the house. When the time to select my high school came my mom said ‘you’re going to the vocational school.’ I didn’t want to go to the vocational school because none of my friends were going. But she enrolled me and I remember the first task was to do short pants and a waistband. It was the first time that I understood something completely. So I think my mom forced me to be a fashion designer. It was because she saw that something in me that I didn’t discover it until that moment.

How do you know that you could make a career out of fashion designing?

I did not knew that, really. We do not have a lot of Latino fashion designers to feel represented. I was very ignorant about the fashion industry. I started as a seamstress and then when I went to the university was when I learned that fashion design is a whole industry. I went to the Dominican Republic and studied at Altos de Chavon. I learned there all the things that you can do inside of the industry. That was the moment I said ‘oh I can still make a living being a fashion designer and not die,’ because in Puerto Rico there is still the idea that if you are in the fashion and art industries you are going to starve. That has not happened and I am happy as a fashion designer (laughs).

What do what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the industry of fashion design?

That is glamorous (laughs). Fashion design is not glamorous at all. Its very mean, classist, sexist, and as a Latina it has been very difficult to achieve anything. I’m not in any way what people think about of a fashion designer: I am a Latina with a very strong accent and I am even fat; fat people are not allowed in fashion. It’s a very mean industry. Even though I love it I am very aware of all these sad parts of the fashion industry.

What are two or three key things a person needs to make it in the industry and be successful?

You need to be disciplined. It is very hard to make it and you need to be very disciplined, be open to feedback and you need to be willing to work with other people. This is a collaboration field.

How do you describe your designing style?

As a fashion designer I work two sides: I work ready to wear, daylight wearing clothes. I like to use a lot of stretch bands; these are very comfortable clothes. On the other side is the most conceptual side. I present social problems in my conceptual work which I present in the runways. My work is very conceptual and political.

What are you communicating through your designs?

I just want people to understand that fashion has a lot of power. Fashion is seen a lot of times as very vain, but we communicate who we are and we make statements through our clothes. Clothes have been in power in the political aspects, how to use uniforms, women liberating themselves from the corset as empowered groups. even the people that are anti-fashion are making a statement and that is fashion. I want to keep that message right. Clothes have a message and that is very powerful.

Part of the collection Breaking Arrow…PR, inspired by tumultuous historical episodes between the US and Puerto Rico.


Can you describe example of a failure that you learned from that turn into something successful?

My career started when I was graduating and during my final presentation one of the critics that came to see my work was Oscar de la Renta. It was a critique in front of all my classmates. I was pregnant with my first kid at the time and Oscar de la Renta said ‘you are going to be a great designer.’ Nobody in my classroom knew that I was pregnant, only my professor. When Oscar de la Renta said that, she (the professor) said in front of everybody, ‘first she needs to be a mom.’ Because it was so mean and Oscar de la Renta heard that he said, ‘well I am going to give her her first internship.’ That is how I landed the first job. People want to get you down but karma is instant (laughs).


What would you recommend to anybody who is thinking about being fashion design or in a related field?

I believe in academia. I believe is very important to have that formal education, that safe space to make mistakes and to have a group of people there are searching for the same goals that you are searching.

I think education is very important. A lot of people think that because they know how to sew that they are fashion designers and its a very big step and very big path to get from one to another. Education is one of the biggest things that we’re missing now in the fashion industry because fashion is a reflection of society. You need to have an anthropology context, a history context, a psychology context to understand what is design, it’s so unique and you can only have that in academia.

Are there are any two or three resources you recommend?

I am reading two books now: The Latin American Fashion Reader and Liberated Threads, Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul. With all the things happening now in the United States, I think its very important that we understand about appropriation and empowerment of black women and Latin American women through fashion.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!