UXR Fireside Chat: Nadim Bel Lallahom

Loïs Gauthier
April 26, 2023

This interview is part of an on-going serie we are conducting with UX researchers. The goal is to shed light upon this role: its diversity, practices and the people moving it forward.

Nadim is a UX researcher, part of a product collective called Yeita. He advocates for diversity in the tech sector through various actions and projects, including Diversidays of which he is the president. He has worked for several companies, agencies and two french ministries.

I chatted with Nadim on April 4th about his path to UX, ethical considerations in design and the role of UXR in society.

From communication to design to UX

There were two things missing for me in communication: a sense of purpose and rigorous methods.

After studying at SciencesPo Paris, Nadim started his career in communication but felt frustrated by the lack of depth in the user research and the focus on selling rather than on solving a problem.

UX felt like a good balance between research and problem solving.

He took advantage of his background in social sciences to start exploring the field of UX. He was attracted to the connection between a scientific approach and creativity than happens in good design and UX. After working for BETC in Paris he joined a local startup “Kawo” in Shanghai, China, conducting extensive user experience research in the fields of social media, sports and tourism.

Design is conception rooted in social sciences.

Research and design in the same hands

After coming back to France, he started working for an agency where he was able to develop a very generalistic approach to user experience which he still values today.

He enjoys working in settings where the research and design are done by the same person in order not the break the cycle of user insights and decrease the loss of information.

He questions the hyper specialization of the UX field (UXD/UXR/ops) because he fears this will create silos just like there can exists between departments.

When the only goal is to get features out, UX becomes a productivist tool. I think the value of UX and the role of the designer is to question what we really need.

This is an interesting point of view because it differs from the common opinion that the rise of new UX roles will help advance the practice by giving it more tools and stakeholders.

UX let’s you be creative in the problem-solving, using facilitation techniques and collective intelligence. Research really is the core of UX. There is no user centered design without research on users.

Design is a weapon

Nadim highlights the power held by designers through the influence they have on digital products used by millions of people.

He compares it to the responsibility doctors have and the Hippocratic oath they take not to harm. Do designers have a similar responsibility? He thinks so and quotes Mike Monteiro’s book “Ruined by Design: How designers destroyed the world, and what we can do to fix it” to promote this opinion.

He believes designers should take the oath to use design to create a better society and not trap people’s attention or trick them into buying something they don’t need.

When you come from a family who is not familiar with design, I could never have told them I wanted to study design. They would have told me “You are a good student, you are not going to be an artist. Social determinism can be so strong.

He also spotlights the lack of diversity in the design industry, offering several explanations and impacts. In his experience, design is still viewed more as an artistic practice instead of the conception and problem-solving work it truly is, especially in France. This is especially true in social settings where there is no role model working in the fields of design and communication: these career paths are not valued enough which creates predetermined social molds that will deter people from exploring such opportunities.

There is a lack of diversity in design schools. […] Designers cannot solve society’s problems if they are from the same background.

This then explains the lack of diversity in design schools in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background. This is especially worrying because design can solve society’s problems if designers represent the entirety of the population. Otherwise, at least unconsciously, they will focus on specific demographics’ problems.

I believe design is a weapon and it has been misused too often.

Usability and inclusivity are at the core of the UX practice which makes it especially important to promote diversity in this field so that the products created by designers are useful to as many people as possible. Explore how the association Nadim presides acts in favor of diversity in the french tech sector.

Working for the French administration

Nadim’s quest for purpose led him to work fo 2 french ministries: ecology and foreign affairs. He was eager to bring the value of user experience to public services that usually lack clarity.

This opportunity was made available to him through an innovation initiative aimed at bringing digital talents to the french administration.

This program was created on the basis that to get better, administrations need to be more attractive for digital talents. They lack strategic roles for designers, the hierarchy is very strong, there are a lot of constraints.

He chose to work for a project on the simplification of the ecological transition financing options for SMEs.

The program also included trainings, coaching and peer-to-peer activities and workshops with other members of the program.

My first challenge was to get a computer, the second was to get Figma. […] It took me 4 months to get Figma.

A big challenge was to get clearance to get Figma on his computer. It was very complicated for 2 reasons: the administration usually doesn’t allow credit card transactions and Figma is not a French tool.

Among his challenges, he had to convince stakeholders that design could have a role in the improvement of state policies. Making a state “user” centric.

He worked on the creation of a search engine to simplify and unify how SMEs look for information about ecological transition financing options. To work on this project, he created a community of users who then became beta testers of the solution.

I was lucky to work with a developer who conducted the UXR with me. The empathy he created that way was very useful to the project.

Although he is proud of the work accomplished, he was affected by the constant struggle faced in an environment resistant to innovation and change.

I ended up the project pretty drained out. I decided to take a step back from the administration.

After this intense experience, he was looking for a more comfortable and innovative setting where he could dedicate more time to his charity work.

I didn’t want to be a freelancer, I wanted to be part of a team. […] I found this great model which is an enhanced version of freelancing.

This is how he joined Yeita, a product collective: designers, researchers and PM working together in an innovative setting. These collectives are a new kind of consultancy firm were service providers are hired by the collective and work for external partners but with a different governance.

The collective also creates a great dynamic: exchanging views on our field, […] questioning the role of companies in our troubled society. We need these new models  which take social conditions into account.

To learn more about Nadim.

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