Greg Schumsky, Amtrak’s Senior UI/UX Designer Talks Magic
“When I was 5 years-old I started doing magic shows for the neighborhood.”
Greg currently oversees Amtrak’s digital presence — such as Amtrak.com and the rider app. In the future, he would like to start a R&D Innovation and Experience Design Lab at Amtrak that could help increase customer retention as well as create a new generation of riders.
“It’s not going to be a typical UX company,” Greg stresses, “it’s a group of like-minded people that come up with the stupidest ideas but are really the most obvious solutions that can change the world.”
What is your approach to design in 3 words?
“Hmm…” Greg pauses, then takes a deep breath, “Simple. Obvious. Magical.”
To Greg, design thinking is about the everyday mentality of how do we design simple and obvious things for our users, to the extent where it’s magical and causes no pain to the user?
“Things that are magical are things that should work without you realizing it’s being done.”
Greg’s voice is filled with excitement as he elaborates on how an hour-long waiting line at Disneyland can magically become a 20 minute adventure, where customers can stand in separate shorter lines, and interact with cast members at the same time.
What is your expertise or “thing” that you love to work on and gets you excited?
“The thing that I love to work on that gets me excited is making people happy — work that makes people’s lives easier and brings joy to them. That’s what I live for.”
And of course, magic.
“When I was a kid, I loved doing magic shows. I started when I was 5 years-old and did them all the way to junior high.
Good UX is a form of entertainment when you think about it.”
Have you ever had to convince any stakeholders or co-workers of the merits of human-centered design? What did it take to convince them?
Greg explains that as a designer you often have to be prepared to do several iterations based on what your supervisors and stakeholders want.
“Sometimes you’ll hear them say — ‘We can’t do what you want to do, so it has to be like this,’ or, ‘yeah, that’s a good idea, we’ll just put it on the ideas board.’ Other times, you’ll be brought onto a team where people who aren’t necessarily designers are doing all the design.”
“At the end of the day, if they don’t want to take your suggestions, you have to decide what to accept and what not to accept. You have to choose your battles.”
Can you describe the kind of designer you would want to work with and have on your team?
“I’ve worked with Disney Imagineering for a week… and I’ll tell ya, that was the coolest, most awesome, incredible experience ever, because everybody on that team felt like family. Everybody had the same goal in mind, and everybody supported each other.
“It’s a certain mindset of curiosity, where you say, ‘What if we did this? what if we tried this? Instead of doing things the way everyone else has, why can’t we do it this way?’”
“I want to work with people that… think that nothing is impossible.”
“At the end of the day, nothing is impossible if you just dream it, nothing is impossible if you just try — just try it. Don’t say no, that it can’t be done. Say, ‘Hm, it’ll be hard, but I think we can do it.’”
How did you first get into UX design? Do you have any tips to give to new grads currently training and looking to build a career in UX?
Greg has a background in film and storytelling, “There’s a huge similarity between film-making and UX design, it’s almost uncanny. Personas, characters, story-boarding…”
He explains how he accidentally fell into UX, “I was interviewing for a job at HP to do flash animations, and the hiring manager goes, ‘you know what we don’t need flash work anymore, but can you do interaction design?’ I’m like thinking…uh what? But my mouth goes, ‘yeah sure no problem!’”
As a self-taught UI/UX designer, Greg describes what it was like as a newbie, “Pretty much everyone on the team had a phD in psychology or cognitive science… except for me.”
Advice to New Grads
“Surround yourself with people smarter than you, and just observe, listen, and learn. If you have an idea better than what they’re doing, humbly tell them. Just watch what they’re doing, and study how they do things. You have to be quick, you have to look at it and pick it up. You have to have the confidence that you can do it.”
“Always ask, ‘what do you think?’ Ask for feedback. Don’t be too prideful or shy to ask for feedback.”
“And lastly, find good positive people to surround yourself with, and laugh and learn.”
Resources for New Grads
- Read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Read The Imagineering Workout by Peggy Van Pelt
- Read The Imagineering Way by The Imagineers, Walt Disney Company
- Follow Luke Wroblewski
What do you like about SDXD events and what would you like to see more of?
“At SDXD’s last event — UXing the Conversation — we were given a problem and practiced how to be empathetic towards them and how we would change things to improve their experience.”
“What I like about SDXD is that we’re always doing some sort of hands-on activity and working with other people. Getting to meet new people is cool.”
“It’d be cool to meet some people from UXPLA group, and invite guest speakers from companies like Intuit to talk about how they came up with certain designs like TurboTax, what problems they hit, and how they came up with the solution to the final product.”
SDXD’s next event — Effective Conversations — will be on June 21st (Wed), where attorney Alice Segal and organizational psychology expert Kaylan Lavillotti will introduce effective conversational frameworks to you.
Say hi to Greg Schumsky at Effective Conversations and connect with him on LinkedIn!