Expert to know: Jeff Nordstedt (Q&A Interview)

October 1, 2023

Jeff Nordstedt is the Director of UX at eDesign Interactive (based in Morristown, New Jersey), listed on 50Pros as a top 50 firm in Branding, Web Design, and User Experience.

In this Q&A, Jeff shares his in-depth perspective, unique background, robust experiences, and insightful tips.

How did you get into your industry?

I transitioned from when I became excited about the idea that digital could be a force in democratizing the distribution of information.

What inspired you to start your agency?

We wanted to have an agency where we felt we could make an absolute commitment to doing the best work possible without the external political pressures to cut corners or attempt an approach that didn't prioritize quality.

How do you manage work-life balance as an agency owner or executive?

Most important is that when you really enjoy your work and the people you work with it never feels like the time when you are working is separate from the time you are living. However, building a culture where we all respect each other's personal and professional time helps us keep each other fresh and healthy. Lastly, having a project management team that understands the need for time and freedom to do great creative work is important. Thoughtful resourcing that respects the creative process is critical.

What is the best piece of advice you've received in your career that pertains to your work, and how has it influenced your decisions?

I had to hear that "the first version won't be perfect" thousands of times before I really started to allow myself the freedom to get out a first version so the real work of iteration and perfecting could start.

What activities or hobbies outside of work do you enjoy that help you recharge and stay creative?

I keep about 2 dozen guitars within arms reach of my desk. I have learned so much about the creative process as well as marketing and audience behavior from being a musician and a performer. I also frequently think about page layout in terms of musical rhythm.

What do you like most about your industry?

I like that improving user experiences on the web, whether it is for a wildly popular brand or an inscrutable niche topic, improves people's lives by providing them easy answers to questions and curiosities that people have.

What do you dislike most about your industry?

Digital jargon drives me up a wall. I used to have a sign in my office that said "we don't move needles, we move people." Many in the industry speak in language that is so deeply steeped in jargon and dehumanizing euphemisms that it can be easy to lose track of the fact that there are humans with needs on the other side of transactions.

Jargon can also intimidate clients and leave them feeling afraid to be a partner in a project because they don't think they understand all of the language being thrown around. I prefer to demystify the language for clients so that they treat us like partners rather than mysterious gurus.

If you could make 3-5 changes in your industry, what would they be?

I'd like to outlaw spec creative. It is like eating candy that gives you a quick sugar rush when what you need is nutrition.

I'd like agencies to all agree to retainer based work rather than flat fee. I believe that retainer based work leads to client and agency maximizing the value of effort together. But I understand that it will be hard for clients to pass up the perception of "cost certainty" if that option is offered.

I am happy to see changes that are happening with regards to privacy. Even though sometimes it makes our work a little harder, I think it is best for society as a whole and ultimately the best interest of society is in the best interest of business.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

Owned websites are fundamentally different from paid advertising. Ads are designed to interrupt people for a fraction of a second and put an idea in their mind. On a website, the user is in control. They initiated their visit because they were interested in something and if you use your site to shout at them about what you want them to hear they will leave you as quickly as they arrived.

What is your approach to continuous improvement and learning within your agency?

We regularly hold meetings after a project to review what went well and what didn't so that we are always learning from experience and iterating on process. We keep learning that more information sharing across disciplines (strategy, design, development, etc.) early in the process always improves results.

Trying to eliminate the word "handoff" in our process when talking about exchanges between designers and developers for instance. We all take responsibility for the finished product. "Handoff" connotes the end of one's responsibilities. No one here feels like their responsibility to the quality of the product is done until the site is live (if even then, as measurement and iteration can kick in after launch).

What is the biggest issue that your firm, or firms like yours, face?

Our clients need to trust us and collaborate like partners and avoid treating us like vendors who simply fulfill orders.

How do you stay updated on the latest technologies and tools relevant to your industry?

I may be the last one on the planet who still uses an RSS feed reader, but I find it an invaluable way to stay on top of what is happening. Particularly as chaos and noise overtake Twitter, I am increasingly glad that I maintained an RSS habit that predates Twitter.

What changes have you seen occur since you got into this business?

The most welcome shift has been that the ownership of websites within organizations has shifted from IT to marketing and communications. This is progress.

What changes do you foresee occurring in the future?

AI will dramatically change the landscape as the AI search engine will answer questions for you without delivering you to a site where you can find answers. This will greatly increase the need to deliver satisfying content experiences that go beyond something that AI can scrape and repackage.

Who do you see having a competitive edge in the future?

Any group who remains committed to users and content will always be well-positioned to stay in front of technology.

If a company was looking to hire your firm, or a firm like yours, what questions should they ask themselves as a team before approaching you?

Do we want a partner or do we just want a vendor who takes orders?

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