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Archive for the ‘ux’ Category

After being truly inspired by Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, I submitted the following abstract as a lightning talk to both IxDA (not accepted) and UxLx. I am working on turning this into a Johnny Holland article:

Emotional Work

In a manual economy, the meaning of hard work was crystal clear. When your grandfather hauled hay all day long to make sure that the cows got fed, you knew he worked hard. What is hard work in the knowledge economy? When the work is no longer visible on the surface (and looking busy by checking your phone for messages does not count!), what are we actually getting paid to do?

Inspired by the work of Seth Godin, this talk will introduce the idea of emotional work. Emotional work is confronting fatigue and fear to accomplish more than is in a job description. It is making new connections, facilitating communication, standing out, and dealing with difficult situations. This concept is especially salient to designers, since the majority of the work that we do is emotional work. We put much of ourselves into our designs, and then present, explain, cajole, defend, negotiate, and rework our art.

Once we recognize this as our true work, we will quickly realize the implications for our work environment, collaboration, and our larger purpose within an organization.

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The sentiment in the UX community is pretty clear, that usability thing, yeah we got that. For example, Dana Chisnell recently wrote an article for UX Magazine called Beyond Frustration: Three Levels of Happy Design, while Chris Fahey talked about The Human Interface at the IA Summit, and let’s not forget Kathy Sierra’s thoughts on What comes after usability?

So what does come after usability? This is my initial stab at the answer. I thought that perhaps I should approach it from the psychological point of view by using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are designing for people after all. Here is the (draft) diagram that I came up with:

At the base is functionality – the product must be able to perform a function, otherwise everything else is meaningless.

Then, usability – people should be able to learn/understand how to perform the function

Sociality – here is where things get murky, according Maslow, the third level in the hierarchy is love/belonging. Perhaps a product should provide a sense of belonging. This does not necessarily mean embedding facebook into every system, it could just be aligning with a brand (such as Apple), or surfacing interesting aggregate behaviors.

Self-Fulfillment – I am not sure if perhaps self-fulfillment comes before or after sociality, in some ways they are a bit linked to each other, so the categories aren’t so clear cut. Here I am talking about truly helping the end-user kick ass (channeling Kathy Sierra here), by enabling flow, happiness, personal growth, self-awareness, or behavioral change. In some respects, this is what it truly means to create a place where a user can have an experience.

Generativity – At this point the user feels a sense of ownership and has internalized the value of the product. Its important to provide a feedback channel that helps generate new ideas and excitement, and enables the product an the user to continue to evolve together. This is what it truly means to be viral.

I don’t have all of this worked out in my head yet, so I know that I will be revisiting this concept again in the future. Thoughts?

Bicycle tools

In my relatively short time in the field of UX design, I have been exposed to a variety of processes and techniques. I think about process a great deal, and have lately been enamored with agile methodologies, largely due to the team-centric ideals and practices. Having said that, as I become exposed to a greater variety of projects and clients, I realize that no process is a silver bullet, and no single process should guide how we approach our work. If we continually go through the same motions, eventually they become a habit and thinking creatively versus automatically becomes more difficult.

Given that each project, each stakeholder, and each problem is unique – with their own quirks and eccentricities – we should evaluate our approach to each problem on an individual basis. We can look at all of our techniques in the field as tools in our toolbox, and for each project it is our responsibility to choose the appropriate tool and methodology to solve to the problem at hand, rather than continually banging on different problems with the same hammer.

Furthermore, as new challenges arise, if the tools in our toolbox are not doing a sufficient job of helping us solve the problem it is also our duty to modify current techniques and invent new ones to add to our UX toolbox.

Having recently worked at a few companies that are fully agile, meaning both design and development follow agile, versus just development. I have really come to understand the benefits of agile, and you might say, am definitely drinking the agile cool-aid.

One of the things that I like best about agile is the notion of pair programming. I have often watched a pair of developers work together on a bit of code, and was silently jealous because I wished I could have a partner for design! In all of the places that I have worked – even if there is a design department – only one designer gets assigned to a project (unless it is extremely large). So the designers rarely get to work in a team, and are often isolated within their individual projects.

I think perhaps that its time for the design industry to take a cue from agile development and consider pair design.

Let’s take a step back and look at why pair programming works? From Wikipedia, here is a list of benefits for pair programming:

  • Design quality: Shorter programs, better designs, fewer bugs.Program code must be readable to both partners, not just the driver, in order to be checked in. Pairs typically consider more design alternatives than programmers working solo, and arrive at simpler, more-maintainable designs, as well as catch design defects very early.
  • Reduced cost of development: With bugs being a particularly expensive part of software development, especially if they’re caught late in the development process, the large reduction in defect rate due to pair programming can significantly reduce software development costs.
  • Learning and training: Knowledge passes easily between pair programmers: they share knowledge of the specifics of the system, and they pick up programming techniques from each other as they work.New hires quickly pick up the practices of the team through pairing.
  • Overcoming difficult problems: Pairs often find that seemingly “impossible” problems become easy or even quick, or at least possible, to solve when they work together.
  • Improved morale: Programmers report greater joy in their work and greater confidence that their work is correct.
  • Decreased management risk: Since knowledge of the system is shared among programmers, there is less risk to management if one programmer leaves the team.
  • Increased discipline and better time management: Programmers are less likely to skip writing unit tests, spend time web-surfing or on personal email,or other violations of discipline, when they are working with a pair partner. The pair partner “keeps them honest”.
  • Resilient flow. Pairing leads to a different kind of flow than programming alone, but it does lead to flow. Pairing flow happens more quickly: one programmer asks the other, “What were we working on?” Pairing flow is also more resilient to interruptions: one programmer deals with the interruption while the other keeps working.
  • Fewer interruptions: People are more reluctant to interrupt a pair than they are to interrupt someone working alone.
  • Decreased risk of RSI: The risk of repetitive stress injury is significantly reduced, since each programmer is using a keyboard and mouse approximately half the time they were before.

The list above can easily be viewed from a designers perspective:

  • Design quality: Pairs typically consider more design alternatives than designers working solo, and arrive at simpler, more-maintainable designs, as well as catch design defects or usability problems very early.
  • Reduced cost of redesign: With design flaws or usability problems being particularly expensive, especially if they’re caught late in the product development process, the large reduction in flaws can significantly reduce costs. Furthermore, having a pair of designers explain the reasoning behind a design is much more powerful and convincing, and may lead stakeholders to request less redesign.
  • Learning and training: Knowledge passes easily between pair designers: they share knowledge of the specifics of the system and domain, and they pick up design techniques from each other as they work.New hires quickly pick up the practices of the team through pairing.
  • Overcoming difficult problems: Pairs often find that seemingly “impossible” problems become easy or even quick, or at least possible, to solve when they work together.
  • Improved morale: Designers report greater joy in their work and greater confidence that their work is correct.
  • Decreased management risk: Since knowledge of the system is shared among designers, there is less risk to management if one designers leaves the team.
  • Increased discipline and better time management: Designers are less likely to spend time web-surfing, tweeting,or on personal email,or other violations of discipline, when they are working with a pair partner. The pair partner “keeps them honest”.
  • Resilient flow. Pairing leads to a different kind of flow than designing alone, but it does lead to flow. Pairing flow happens more quickly: one programmer asks the other, “What were we working on?” Pairing flow is also more resilient to interruptions: one designer deals with the interruption while the other keeps working.
  • Fewer interruptions: People are more reluctant to interrupt a pair than they are to interrupt someone working alone.
  • Decreased risk of RSI: The risk of repetitive stress injury is significantly reduced, since each designer is using a keyboard and mouse approximately half the time they were before.

Pair design, think about it!

I had a need yesterday for a quick definition of user experience and its subsequent value to business. I polled the twittersphere and scoured the web but didn’t find any resource that provided a “quick guide” to UX. Since I had an urgent need, I decided to write my own guide. The guide is a combination of my own ideas and resources (see reference list) I found on the web.

What is a user experience?
A “user experience” encompasses all aspects of the interactions an individual has with a company, its services, and its products.  An exemplary user experience meets current customer needs and anticipates future needs, exceeds customer expectations, sends a clear and strategic message, and delights the customer with innovative solutions.
For example, when Henry Ford built his first car, he was quoted as saying “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” A company’s job is not to give users what they want, but to solve problems. The problems that companies are trying to solve are usually social, and so understanding people and how they interact with each other and their environment forms the key understanding and driving force of the product design and direction.
At the core, user experience advocates for the end-user and makes sure to bring the customer’s perspective into the decision making process. In order to achieve this user-centered approach, user experience designers engage in several activities:
Observe customers in their natural environment to understand how they are currently interacting with existing systems, as well as get insight into how users view the world (their mental models).
Build empathy and understanding of the customers within the entire product team
Work with stakeholders to create unified product vision and a user experience strategy. Both the vision and the strategy aim to balance the user needs with business goals.
Gather further customer data as needed to make educated design decisions
Utilize sophisticated design methodologies for ideation and innovation of alternative solution to existing options, and constantly ask, “How will this help the customer kick ass?”
Involve customers in the design process
Create a structure and organizational system for information environments
Ensure that the new solutions are useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible, valuable, memorable, and pleasing
Continually listen to customer feedback and adapt to changing customer needs
Keep in mind all the touch points of a user experience and ensure seamless integration between all components
What is the value in user experience?
In order to be competitive in the current global market, companies are embracing consumers and realizing the power of design.  A poorly designed product/service often frustrates customers, which ultimately affects the bottom line. A good customer experience correlates to loyalty. Loyalty corresponds to a customer’s willingness to buy another product from the firm, and a reluctance to switch business away from the firm. As any business knows, it is much more cost effective to keep existing customers than acquire new ones. Furthermore, the strong research aspect in user experience helps business understand why customers are behaving a certain way, and design can help influence behavior. Perhaps customers are dropping off during the checkout flow, not coming back to the site, or not renewing their license. User experience helps to find out why and provides solutions to the problem. For example, changing a single button on a site increased a site’s annual revenues by $300 million: http://www.uie.com/articles/three_hund_million_button
Ultimately, user experience design places a strategic emphasis on the customer, providing value for both the business and the customer. Efficiency is no longer sufficient to be competitive in the current economic climate, a company needs to differentiate through user experience by allowing the customer’s to kick ass, while gaining revenue!
Some cool graphics:
Elements of User Experience Design by Jesse James Garrett: http://www.jjg.net/elements/pdf/elements.pdf
Facets of user experience:

What is a user experience?

A “user experience” encompasses all aspects of the interactions an individual has with a company, its services, and its products.  An exemplary user experience meets current customer needs and anticipates future needs, exceeds customer expectations, sends a clear and strategic message, and delights the customer with innovative solutions.

For example, when Henry Ford built his first car, he was quoted as saying “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” A company’s job is not to give users what they want, but to solve problems. The problems that companies are trying to solve are usually social, and so understanding people and how they interact with each other and their environment forms the key understanding and driving force of the product design and direction.

At the core, user experience advocates for the end-user and makes sure to bring the customer’s perspective into the decision making process. In order to achieve this user-centered approach, user experience designers engage in several activities:

  • Observe customers in their natural environment to understand how they are currently interacting with existing systems, as well as get insight into how users view the world (their mental models).
  • Build empathy and understanding of the customers within the entire product team
  • Work with stakeholders to create unified product vision and a user experience strategy. Both the vision and the strategy aim to balance the user needs with business goals.
  • Gather further customer data as needed to make educated design decisions
  • Utilize sophisticated design methodologies for ideation and innovation of alternative solution to existing options, and constantly ask, “How will this help the customer kick ass?”
  • Involve customers in the design process
  • Create a structure and organizational system for information environments
  • Ensure that the new solutions are useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible, valuable, memorable, and pleasing
  • Continually listen to customer feedback and adapt to changing customer needs
  • Keep in mind all the touch points of a user experience and ensure seamless integration between all components

What is the business value in user experience?

In order to be competitive in the current global market, companies are embracing consumers and realizing the power of design.  A poorly designed product/service often frustrates customers, which ultimately affects the bottom line. A good customer experience correlates to loyalty. Loyalty corresponds to a customer’s willingness to buy another product from the firm, and a reluctance to switch business away from the firm. As any business knows, it is much more cost effective to keep existing customers than acquire new ones. Furthermore, the strong research aspect in user experience helps business understand why customers are behaving a certain way, and design can help influence behavior. Perhaps customers are dropping off during the checkout flow, not coming back to the site, or not renewing their license. User experience helps to find out why and provides solutions to the problem. For example, changing a single button on a site increased a site’s annual revenues by $300 million: http://www.uie.com/articles/three_hund_million_button

Ultimately, user experience design places a strategic emphasis on the customer, providing value for both the business and the customer. Efficiency is no longer sufficient to be competitive in the current economic climate, a company needs to differentiate through user experience by allowing the customer’s to kick ass, while gaining revenue!

Some cool graphics:

Elements of User Experience Design by Jesse James Garrett: http://www.jjg.net/elements/pdf/elements.pdf

Facets of user experience: http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000029.php

References

Nielson Norman Group definition of UX
UIE: The Difference between Usability and User Experience
Adaptive Path: Communicate the ROI for Design and Subject to Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World
Kathy Sierra: Subvert from Within: A User Focused Employee Guide

Forrester Research:
Culture and Process Drive Better Customer Experiences
Experience-Based Differentiation
The Business Impact of Customer Experience

I have been on the lookout for job opportunities since January. Due to the economic constraints at the moment, many job postings want a UX designer with visual design skills who can develop. Although I can do UX design and development, I am not very well versed in graphic/visual design. I was starting to worry that I am missing an important skill.

At SXSW, I spoke with John Kolko and asked him if visual design was a necessity for UX design. He said that since my designs touch the UI, I should understand the fundamentals. He specifically recommended taking class in composition, typography, color theory, and figure drawing.

All of this has been mulling in my head, and then Jared Spool posted this on the IxDA list: http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=40833 Jared mentioned that ROLES don’t matter, SKILLS do, he also said this:

Our research showed there are core skills [that successful teams possess]: interaction design, information architecture, user research, visual design, information design, fast iteration management, copywriting, and editing.

After thinking everything over, including my own concerns, here is how I feel about being a generalist:

First, I completely agree with Jared, the ROLE and role name do not matter, the SKILLS do. People can call me an IA, UX, IxDA, UI, Web designer, whatever, I still bring the same skills to the table.

Out of the skills that Jared listed, here are the ones that I think specifically pertain to UX:

  • user research: because we need to understand the domain and the users of the domain
  • information architecture/information design: because we need to be able to thoughtfully and purposefully structure the content based on user and business goals
  • interaction design: because interaction makes up the large chunk of the experience
  • fast iteration management: because our first ideas are never the best ones, fail quickly and often

The skills that I think are “nice to have” but should NOT be required include:
– visual design
– copy writing and editing
– development (not mentioned in Jared’s list)

The “nice to have” skills that I have listed are in this category because they are professions onto themselves, and I think its unreasonable to believe that a UX designer will be able to master 4 different professions. I believe that if one expects this, then they are going to get a designer who is mediocre at everything. There really is only so much time in the day/life that one can dedicate to new skills, or breadth. Drawing on Jared’s analogy of doctor’s, we would not ask a cardio-thorasic surgeon to deliver a baby, why would we ask a UX designer to craft copy? Yes both a surgeon and an obstetrician are doctors and know the anatomy of a body, much like a UX designer and copywriter know the language, but the mastery of the skill is quite different. If doctor’s have specializations, why can’t UX designers?

This is not to say that people should narrowly specialize, I also agree with Jared on this point, if one is too narrow (only doing usability testing for example), then it could certainly hinder your job prospects because you should be able to apply what you learned from the usability testing to create an improved design, the company does not need to hire another person to do that.

However, visual design, development, and UX design often challenge each other, and it is necessary to have the tension for great designs to emerge. If one person is attempting to do all those jobs at once, they will start compromising on the UX as they begin to think about the code or the grid structure. The compromises start to happen conceptually and the designer becomes constrained.

Now Jared mentioned that the UX designer should have the fundamentals of each of those skills, I am not clear on what Jared means by fundamentals, but I think his definition goes further than my conceptualization – which is knowing enough about the domain to be able to communicate with your colleague. I feel that a UX designer needs to understand the basics of programming, visual design, and copy writing to enable meaningful conversations, debates, compromises and decisions. Understanding how your design is going to be developed has a significant impact on interaction, and one needs to understand those consequences. Similarly, if a visual design hinders usability, the UX designer needs to be able to communicate with the visual designer to come to some kind of agreement that does not break the visual flow. Yet, the UX designer should not necessarily have to create the visual design if the designer falls ill, for example.

Given all that I have said, I know many people have entered the UX field from different domains. I personally came from a computer science/programming background, so don’t mind doing front-end development as well as UX design if things get tight. Others might have come from a visual design background, and so can roll up their sleeves and also do that job. This does not mean that the visual designer needs to be able to code at my level, nor I need to be able to design at theirs. We have our respective skills, and will be able to find work that matches our skill set. This is our version of a cardio-thorasic surgeon vs an obstetrician.

My argument is that a good team should have a well-rounded UX designer (possessing all the required skills, with the nice-to-haves as bonuses), along side separate individuals doing visual design, programming, and copy writing/editing. The UX designer must coordinate with all of these people, but not necessarily be a master at all these skills. I agree with Jared that a good UX team should have ALL of these skills present on the team, I just don’t agree that a single individual should or can posses them.

For myself, I have decided to get better acquainted with the language of visual design, I have asked some friends for resource recommendations, and have put together this amazon wish list.

Also, these lessons were highly recommended: http://psd.tutsplus.com/articles/web/50-totally-free-lessons-in-graphic-design-theory/

I know that I will never become an amazing visual designer, but it does not make me any less of a UX designer (who can code none-the-less!).

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There has recently been a lot of discussion in the UX field about Agile and how we can integrate our work into the process.

Here are some interesting discussions:
Agile & UX on IxDA List
Leah Buley’s post on Burndowns and Flareups in Agile

In my experience working in an Agile environment at THE_GROOP, I feel like Agile can work, but it ultimately depends on your constraints – clients, time, and resources.

What Works:

  • Having a Sprint 0 for UX strategy/research before design and development. This is the time for ideation, sketching, and research. This strategy phase is vital to providing the ground work for the rest of the project.
  • Writing out the tasks that need to be completed per sprint, and including iteration as one of the tasks. This allows the designer to get both a broad view and detailed view of the project. It is incredibly helpful to lay out all the tasks that need to be done in a concrete way. By going through this activity (however painful and tedious), it forces you to see what you *don’t know* upfront and then plan accordingly. This is also a good time to talk to other stakeholders and figure out how much documentation is necessary. If the developers don’t want an annotated wireframe, then don’t build it into the schedule.
  • If you do the Sprint scheduling with other stakeholders like visual designers and developers, it is really easy to coordinate activities, find out where we can all work in parallel, and also surface the dependencies.
  • Burning down at the end of each day feels great (for UX as well!) You also quickly learn how long it actually takes you to do things, so that you can estimate better on the next sprint.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • Clients often want to see progress each day/week. Once they see initial design ideas, they have a difficult time letting go (no matter how rough the sketch). This makes it VERY difficult to iterate, or “throw away” designs.
  • Aside from clients, time constraints often also restrict design iteration. Unlike code, which could potentially be thrown away and written in any number of ways to do the same thing (with most clients non-the- wiser), design is much more “sticky” because it is so visual. Once you start on a path, you are pretty much forced to continue going down that road. It is almost impossible to completely throw out a design that “just didn’t work” and start from scratch. This is especially true since developers and designers are dependent on the UX work to move forward, so once the ball is rolling, its hard to stop.
  • There is practically no time for user research/testing after Sprint 0. You basically have to fit it in guerrilla style (after work or during lunch utilizing fellow co-workers), which doesn’t give you great results or confidence

In general, the visibility of UX work makes it very difficult to generate new ideas, conduct proper testing, and iterate on designs. However, it does force the designer to plan ahead, and get to know themselves a bit better. I do believe agile can work for UX, but perhaps a modified version that takes some of the problems into account.

I am still going to be thinking and developing my ideas about this topic as time goes on, but these are my initial impressions. Will be interesting to see how things change over time!

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Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

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