Why UX theory will fail in the real world

Talabat is one of the biggest food delivery services in the Middle East. I see their riders almost every day, and everyone I know has the Talabat app on their phone — which was why I felt incredibly lucky to chat last year with Asmita Kunwar, Talabat’s Director of Product Design!

Asmita has spent her career tackling huge design challenges at companies like Sephora and She’s an extremely capable leader and a brilliant designer.

Four top takeaways from our awesome conversation:

1. Theory will fail in the real world. Get practical!

Asmita didn’t start her career by majoring in UX or doing grad research in Human Computer Interaction. Instead, she rose through the ranks by focusing on what was most important: her users and their problems to be solved.

In her words, once you have the basics, the most important thing is to be practical. What’s the goal? What are the limitations? Who can I ask to learn more about the problem? Who are the stakeholders, and what do the users need right now?

So instead of trying to consume more UX books, podcasts, and Medium articles, ask yourself: What’s the problem I want to solve? What do I need to do to solve it? Once you start from there, you will learn everything you need as you go.

2. The best product designers are problem solvers.

Asmita’s work at Talabat is complex, with many stakeholders, deadlines, and circumstances that change fast – so the designers on her team don’t just need strong technical skills. They also have to be effective problem-solvers: analytical thinkers who can navigate tough situations, accept critical feedback, and collaborate towards the right results.

When you’re working on designs that will impact thousands of users across the globe, you have to focus on the problem. You can’t have an ego. You have to be willing to constantly refresh your knowledge, tear down what you’ve made, and start over if you need to.

So don’t design without a direction: solve a problem, ask for feedback, and cultivate a growth mindset as you go. You’ll learn the most when you push yourself into the real world, with real stakes.

3. Find an org that supports you.

UX Design can’t exist in its own silo. To make great designs, you have to talk to your teammates, stakeholders, leaders, and more, so you have to be in an org that strongly supports (or at least, is open to you evangelizing) the importance of UX design.

This is crucial because failures are inevitable. Experiments will go wrong, time will be wasted, and strategies will change course. Your job isn’t to make no mistakes; it’s to keep learning with every challenge and adjust as you go along.

So find an org where you can thrive, and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go perfectly. As Asmita says, “Life operates at a 5% success rate.” What matters is that you keep improving, and that you use what you’ve learned to try again.

4. Get comfortable with ambiguity.

When Asmita became Head of Product Design at Talabat, the company had never had a design leader before. There was no one to tell her what to do or how to do it.

Nevertheless, she single-handedly established the design organization there, scaling the team from 5 to 27 (and counting) designers working across Product Design, Research, Design Ops and Content.

This skill of starting from scratch is a requirement for UX Designers because nearly all the biggest design problems are ambiguous. You have to be able to cut through the noise, identify the problem, and execute strategically, adjusting and adapting your approach along the way.

That’s the value you directly create as a UX designer (a.k.a. why you were hired!), and something that only experience and trial by fire can help you grow.

In summary:

  1. Theory will fail in the real world. Get practical!
  2. The best product designers are problem solvers.
  3. Find an org that supports you.
  4. Get comfortable with ambiguity.

I learned so much from Asmita, even just in our short call. Her advice shaped the way I approach design, and it’s incredibly inspiring to have someone like her leading UX at Talabat (and speaking at the Expo!)

Thanks, Asmita! (And to product designers like me still learning the ropes, reach out to design leaders you admire, because you never know — they might just reply back.)

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