"Changing people’s behavior is something technology cannot solve on its own"
Michal Levin, VP of product at Hero speaks to Michael Matias about the rising importance of user experience and how to combine pschology with technology
While the capabilities of technology are certainly important to customers, Michal Levin, VP of product at Hero, knows that having a user-centered approach increases the adoption of new products. Knowing your users’ needs extremely well is key to good UX design and making sure your product will fit into customers’ routines. Innovators may be inspired by solving a need they’ve experienced, but she reminds them that their experience may not be broadly applicable. That’s where a team member focused on user experience can be invaluable. In an interview with 20MinuteLeaders creator Michael Matias, Levin says potential clients’ responses may not reveal what they really need, so specific research skills are important to getting good data. She is excited to see more work done in UX design in the coming years to help users change their behavior, particularly as it relates to healthcare.
Tell me a little bit about your journey. How do you even get started dealing with user experience?
After I finished my army service in Israel, I became a QA manager. I was testing product functionality, and I began to take an interest in different components of the workflow. Within that company, we started having conversations on the idea of usability and UI. That was about 18 years ago, and UI wasn’t an industry in Israel. I decided to pursue a psychology and communication degree in addition to a business management degree. I realized that I could combine my knowledge in cognitive psychology with technology to become a UX designer.
I combed through the internet for all the UX companies in Israel, and I applied to all of them. I landed in TZUR, where I became a UX designer, and that was my entry point. I worked there for almost four years. I gained a ton of experience working with dozens of clients.
I later joined Modu as a UX lead, and nine months in, I was approached by Google. The hiring process with Google took seven months and 14 interviews because that was the first UX hire in Google Israel. I eventually got hired, and I worked there for six years. I later moved to Verily, and now I work at Hero as VP of product.
How do you create a solid user experience for users?
The most important thing in user experience design is to understand is The Why. Why are we doing the things we’re doing? You need to understand what you're doing and what you're building by understanding what people need, what their pain points are, what their mental models are, their behaviors, the common barriers, their weaknesses. To create a good UX design, you need to start from knowing your users’ needs and goals, and go from there. You take a user-centered approach where you understand how you can solve a user’s problem as opposed to a tech-driven approach that focuses on the technology and its capabilities. A good example of the importance of a user-driven approach is in the healthcare industry.
Why is your experience with healthcare an interesting example?
When you try to innovate within healthcare, what you realize is that oftentimes when you try to build tools for physicians, what would get you to change and move the needle is how well you can integrate into their existing workflows. If you create a new fancy and amazing tool which doesn’t integrate into their existing workflow, then that becomes a huge barrier for adoption. Innovation and adaptation come when you find ways to integrate into their EHR and workflow. Even if the EHR UX is not great, this is where they're at, and you need to find ways of integrating yourself there and bring value to them.
Why isn't the engineer or project manager in the room enough to understand this? Why is there a specific role called user experience?
First, to create a good UX design you need to continuously collaborate with the engineering team and product teams to solve user problems. I think it's important across the organization, whether you're a product manager, engineer, or a regulatory person, to have a shared understanding of what we’re building, why we're building, who are our users. The reason you need a dedicated person for this role is when you have a person who’s invested full-time in UX, then that job gets done well and thoroughly. To build the best product, organizations need to dedicate resources to key areas and UX is one of those.
How can the CEO, the engineer, or the product manager pinpoint the parts where a user experience professional may be of use?
It starts with research and understanding what we're trying to solve. Every entrepreneur, every CEO, every product manager, usually starts their initiative by observing a problem or an unsolved need. If you went through this personally, you already have some insights around what your experience has been like. If you're trying to know how to build a scaled product out of that, you need to go deeper to see how much of your experience is applicable more broadly. There's a lot of research that needs to go into understanding more deeply where the problems are coming from and what people's expectations are. In an on-going way, as you develop the product, whether it's based on your intuitions or your ideas, you want to validate that, and you need people that can thoughtfully do that.
Oftentimes, people think that they can go to people and say, “Would you like this feature?” But that doesn't generate any viable results because whenever you ask anybody if they want this or that, they will usually say yes. You do need to have particular skills to do the research well so that you gain the right insight that you can rely on.
How do you see UX design evolving in the coming years?
An area that I'm super excited about is this whole idea of behavior change. I think that's another angle that represents how important UX is. We see it again not only in healthcare but everywhere. You can build all the most amazing devices, but there is a big gap between having an amazing device and getting people to use it. This is why we see obesity is more prevalent than ever because changing the behavior of people is so hard, and this is something that technology cannot solve on its own. You have to have much more empathy and compassion and insight into human psychology, really understanding the emotional barriers that go into people having difficulty changing their behavior. That's another area where I see healthcare UX is critical. To change people's behavior and scale remains an unresolved problem.
Give me a few key insights for the young entrepreneur on how to approach solving user experience issues.
It starts with The Why. When I interview UX people, I start by looking at their critical thinking and problem-solving skills before the visual aesthetic and the ability to design a screen well. You want to have people that keep asking why: Why are we doing that? Why are we doing it this way? Can we simplify it? It starts from The Why mindset and going three whys in. The more you ask, the more you start to look at things differently. Also, there is the first principle approach, really understanding why we need certain things and how we can do it better. I think (that) is where innovation starts from.
Personal experience many times also provides good intuition as to where we need to go. We do need to remind ourselves that you are not the user in most cases. So we need to be humble. We need to make sure that we're not making too strong assumptions based on our own experience. Take the time to truly try and understand the audience that we are targeting and making sure that we have empathy. We incorporate that into how we approach the product, and we validate and we learn because those things are changing all the time.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
People-focused. I think it all starts with the people: hiring the right people, building the right relationships, focusing on what people need, how you can grow them, and how we work with them as peers. Growth-minded. I am a big believer in the approach of atomic habits, get 1% better every day. I do seek those avenues of growth constantly. Daring-greatly. This idea of being in the arena, fighting, putting in the blood and sweat and failing and overcoming obstacles until you ideally succeed, but not just critiquing and focusing on what's not working.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Amanda Katz