Tag Archives: ux

Confab Fringe Meetup – March 2013

On Tuesday, 19th March, The London Content Strategy Meetup held a special Confab Fringe event at Google Campus that featured three great talks about content strategy from the Government Digital Service and Confab speakers ahead of the first ever Confab London Content Strategy conference taking place this week.

Here are some of the notes that I made during the evening:

Neil Williams: On Her Majesty’s Digital Service
Neil is a Product Manager at Inside Government where they are merging the websites of all government departments and many other public bodies into one section of www.gov.uk.

  • Currently content is spread across many sites and as such is incomplete.
  • 14 of 24 Ministerial departments have been moved over to www.gov.uk/government in four months which has included the migration of 45,000 documents.
  • GOV.UK is a product that people want and research shows they would use it again.
  • Start with needs – Who are the users? What do they need? Document user needs on a spread sheet (user stories). These needs inform every decision.
  • Bring people with you – Everyone is involved.
  • Constrain formats – No such thing as a ‘general page’ all content must meet user needs. There is no space for waffle on GOV.UK!
  • Editors, dev and designers together – Sit together, learn together, build together.
  • Quality – Validation, performance metrics and spot checks are used to ensure quality content at this scale.
  • Change management – Need to consider all of the stakeholders involved and make sure they are listened too and included in the journey.

Gigi Griffis: Content Strategy with a World-Changing Twist
Gigi is a Content Strategist and web writer.

  • Think macro – Improve working relationships and identify people within organisations who are not working together but should be.
  • Think micro – How can Content Strategy help your portfolio or an Airbnb listing? A/B titles and descriptions.
  • Be creative (and sneaky) – Incorporate Content Strategy wherever you can to demonstrate value and help you sell it in. Project briefing forms are a way to identify user needs.
  • Content strategy not only teaches people how to create and manage content but also how to think about content, marketing strategies and customers in the long term.

Leisa Reichelt: Prototyping User Experience
Leisa spoke about Strategic User Experience and explained that with a better understanding of business strategy we can align our work to business goals and consequently deliver better customer experiences.

  • A two way approach – Top down (designing better environments for doing better UX) and Bottom up (delivering strategy through execution to drive change).
  • Work in a multidisciplinary team. Sketch to HTML, stay out of Photoshop.
  • Document only what’s necessary.
  • Don’t work alone – Common sense emerges quicker when you pair with somebody else.
  • Test multiple prototypes – Don’t commit to being right at the start.
  • Use real content and test the content.
  • “Show, don’t tell” – Showing stakeholders prototypes gives them a better sense of what you are making and allows you to make decisions based on evidence.

Three great talks and some very practical takeaways. I’ll finish with one of my favourites quotes of the night from Leisa Reichelt:

“Prototyping beats abstraction”

RunKeeper – Be goal oriented

P72


Climb a mountain and reach for the cake!

This is a great design for an empty state on the RunKeeper iPhone app before you have set yourself any goals.

Having neglected my RunKeeper app for a while (and running in general) I am back using it again and I’m rather enjoying the latest version of the app which is full of lovely little touches like this.

Empty states - parts of apps that have no content or data – are all too often neglected or left showing some unfriendly technical error messaging and I love it when the time and care is taken to address these views. Often you come across empty states in parts of an app or website that require your input or an action so they might contain an instruction or hint but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring.

Not only did I smile when I saw this but I also felt compelled to show it to somebody sitting next to me and then I did actually set myself a goal to run a distance of five miles by Sunday. Hmmm, I’m beginning to regret that now!

Take a look at some more examples on the Empty States tumblr.

dConstruct 2012 – Playing With The Future

Dconstruct-2012

“The future hasn’t happened yet and never will” – James Burke

I went to UX Brighton today which reminded me to post one of my favourite quotes from James Burke’s dConstruct 2012 talk ‘Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll’.

Anyway, back to the future (I couldn’t resist!). No matter what we predict, the reality won’t be exactly the same when we get there. How can it be? The future is shaped by the past and inevitably there are unexpected twists and turns along the way that change the future before it happens.

The future won’t be what it used to be.

Or something like that… it’s getting quite late and it’s been a long week!

The image used in this post is from Seb Lee-Delisle’s session: Pixels, People and Play. Seb never fails to impress and this year was no exception as we were treated to PixelPyros and we had a whole lot of fun with glow-sticks!

UK UPA – Designing For Engagement Workshop

Designing-for-engagement

This is shockingly late but I’m finally posting my notes from the UK UPA Designing For Engagement workshop that was held a very long ago (Monday 23rd April to be exact) with Susan Weinschenk AKA ‘The Brain Lady’.

During the evening Susan shared with us some insights from psychology research and we looked at some of the ways in which this research could help us design more engaging and persuasive websites and online interfaces.

I attended the Cognitive Psychology UX Bootcamp with Joe Leech earlier in the year (more about that another time) and this workshop followed on nicely from that.

Here’s a short summary of the points discussed:

  1. The Fusiform Facial area (FFA) makes us pay attention to human faces – We are programmed to recognise faces from as little as six hours old! The most attention grabbing facial images are those of people looking straight at you. Avoid juxtaposing two different faces because our brains don’t like it. Straight on, symmetrical, eye contact.
  2. People can remember/deal with only 3-4 items at any one time – Forget Miller’s Law of 7±2. People can only hold 3-4 items in their working memory at any one time. They may go back and select another batch of items to review but they can only really focus on 3-4 at once. Susan then went on to talk about choice. People like having choice but if you give people too many choices, they’re more likely too not choose anything at all. As American psychologist Barry Schwartz explains in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, although we have more choice now than ever before we are not benefitting psychologically as everyday decisions have been made increasingly complex which could be having a detrimental effect on our emotional wellbeing.
  3. People have mental models – User research allows us to understand people’s mental models of how things work (or should work). Designers can then use this insight and design in a way that supports these.
  4. When uncertain, people look at the behaviour of others to decide what to do – Testimonials, recommendations, how many times a video clip has been played and Amazon’s ‘What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?’ are all examples of social validation and herd behaviour. In turn they can influence behaviour.
  5. SEX… Now that I’ve got your attention, carry on reading! Food, sex and danger grab attention – Fear of loss results in anticipation of gain. Scarcity can drive value upwards as people are more motivated to make a purchase or act quickly if they believe that they might miss out.
  6. Video is the engaging media – Video on websites is particularly compelling and movement captures attention. Research shows that we are hard-wired to imitate and emphasise and video can be an effective medium to encourage this.
  7. People are motivated to connect – Dunbar’s number (proposed by Professor Robin Dunbar in 1992) is a theoretical limit of stable social relationships that one person can maintain at any one time. There is no exact number cited but it is esitmated to be approximately 150.
  8. Beauty is in the eye of the unconscious – Our brains crave unpredictability but Susan explained that if things get a bit too crazy the “old brain” kicks in and says “enough, give me some order here!”. Apparently we like unbalanced column widths and uneven numbers (personally I like a bit of order!).
  9. The brain processes information best in story format – Personal stories, quotes and anecdotes invoke empathy and trigger emotional reactions that help people process data and make decisions. Real people telling real stories.
  10. People expect technology to follow human-to-human interaction rules – Susan joked that having a 60 second loading bar on a website is like ignoring somebody for a minute! Write as if you are talking, use real and meaningful sentences and think about your micro-interactions including error messages and labels. Be friendly (but not creepy!).

Following Susan’s talk we split into small teams and set about reviewing and redesigning some example website pages in need of some TLC based on everything that we had discussed. The image used for this post is the sketch that our group did of a redesign of a university application page.

You can watch a video of the presentation any time you like.

UK UPA – Profiling the Perfect UX Practitioner

Perfect-ux-practitioner

On Thursday, 19 July I attended the UK UPA event ‘Profiling the Perfect UX Practitioner‘. Sitting on the panel were Aline Baeck, Andy Budd, Stavros Garzonis and Jason Mesut. The evening began with each speaker sharing their views on what makes a perfect UX practitioner and ended with a Q&A session that sparked further discussion about portfolios, mentorship and design education.

So, what is a perfect UX practitioner? Well, in short, there isn’t one. We UX folk come from many different backgrounds and have different qualities and different experiences. Job roles and responsibilities vary between companies and the environment and culture that we work in affects what we do and how we do it. This makes it hard to define the skillset that every UX practitioner should have. But that’s OK.

During the evening there was a lot of talk about soft skills outweighing the hard skills and this pleased me. The ability to empathise, build relationships and communicate with colleagues, clients and users is a must. Being able to think conceptually and having listening and reasoning skills is also extremely valuable. And there were plenty more skills mentioned. I was pleased to hear so much value placed on these soft skills as I myself do not have any formal qualifications in UX (I have a degree in Graphic Design) but I do believe that I have something worthwhile to contribute and I am the first person to admit that I have a lot to learn.

Rather than finding that one ‘perfect UX practitioner’ it makes a lot of sense to build up a team so that a variety of skills are available to help tackle design problems from all sides. This also provides opportunities for mentorship and for people to learn from each other and to develop.

So, to conclude (for now), we are all making stuff that people use and being able to do that well comes from experience. Do we need formal qualifications in order to ‘do UX’? No, not really. Would formal qualifications make it easier to identify a good practitioner from a bad one? No, not necessarily.

Above all, have a passion for what you do and show it. Build up your experience and your confidence will follow. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches and use whichever tools are suitable for the task in hand. Instinct is important and mistakes are inevitable. Learn from them and move forward.

LightningUX March 2012

Lightning_ux

A little bit of everything…

Last Tuesday, 6th March, I headed over to City University to attend the first LightningUX event of the year. There was five speakers in total and each person spoke about a topic of their choice.

Sophie Freiermuth began by talking about the many job titles that we hear in our industry ranging from UX Designer to Dev-igner(?!) and how this ambiguity can cause confusion for people who want to employ us.

Francis Norton then spoke about using business strategy as a driver for UCD and suggested that we use metrics to communicate how the services we offer can add real value in terms of the things that businesses care about and can relate to such as risk reduction and return on investment.

Next up Mike Atherton talked about domain modelling. I really enjoyed Mike’s presentation at UX Brighton last year so I was looking forward to hearing more. According to Mike, domain modelling is where IA meets Content Strategy. Rather than classifying content by document type, domain modelling breaks down a subject into it’s component parts and allows for abstract connections to be made. Content is aggregated and the subsequent cross-linking adds value both for users and SEO. Data is enriched by creating journeys across domains e.g. music can be broken apart into subjects like artist, genre and releases which leads to related topics like tours, venues, set lists and promoters. Through natural, social or editorial curation we can add context that makes information structures meaningful and easy to navigate. My favourite quote from Mike’s presentation (and the evening) was “Curation brings human love to a cold, robot heart.”

Tim Caynes shared his personal experiences about the UX challenges in designing a mobile wallet and the limitations regarding the framework and infrastructure that is already in place. There are also other matters to consider such as understanding the complex and varied contexts of use and how we can overcome the lack of confidence that users have when they don’t yet fully understand how a service actually works.

Lastly, Daniel Soltis talked about designing unfamiliar interfaces and how designers can improve usability and understanding by using clear explanations and familiar patterns, allowing for accidental inputs and providing feedback. Challenges for users include understanding the cause and effect of their actions, physical dexterity (can I actually use this thing?) and determining how much time and effort they are willing to invest in order to overcome the learning curves associated with using novel interfaces. People must be willing and able to learn a new system and this in itself is a challenge for designers.

Thanks to Lee McIvor for organising and to Propel London for sponsoring. Looking forward to next time!

For more information about future events check out the LightningUX website.

All of the presentations have kindly been made available on SlideShare.

What’s Next… in Experience Design

Alexander

Fuelled by a fabulous Brick Lane beigel (cream cheese and bacon – amazing!) myself and Holly Kennedy attended What’s Next… in Experience Design, organised and hosted by LBi last Wednesday, 29 February 2012.

The event was focused on looking ahead and trying to identify future trends in user experience design based around five themes: Businesstrategy, Creativitech, Gamentertainment, Mobilemergent and Politicsociety.

Mobilemergent
The first Mobilemergent talk was ‘Mobile needs in emerging and submerging economies’ by Priya Prakash, Head of Mobile Phone User Experience at Nokia. Priya said that services and tools designed for a global market should be useable regardless of gender, income and location as although people in people use different tools in different locations their needs are universal.

Priya debunked some of the myths about designing for people in emerging economies:

  • Its not about the culture or the device. It’s about the context.
  • Its not about the data. It’s the need for entertainment and meeting new people across the globe.
  • It’s not about being a smartphone alone. It’s what it enables you to do faster and easier with longer battery life.
  • It’s not about spending money for always being on. It’s the value you get when you can connect as needed.

Next up I attended ‘Mobile Health: Will your design help or harm?’ by Sam James, Consultant Psychologist at Harku. Sam said that although self tracker health apps can bring real and meaningful change into the lives of consumers in these situations poor UX can not only be frustrating but potentially harmful.

We need to be aware of who we are designing for and the situation they could be in. Other guidelines included design for feelings of control and reducing fear, design for coping, allow for automated and manual data collection and design for simple ideas of cause and effect – the app may simply allow people to identify a positive trend in exercise and mood.

Businesstrategy
In his talk ‘Disruptive digital business models. Darwinism goes digital’ Alexander Grünsteidl, Director User Experience at Method, talked about the demise of products that we own and the explosion of services that we use. This trend has shifted our perceptions of value and ownership and access is everywhere at anytime, consequently what has more value – access or ownership?

With the evolution of the web we have seen the extinction of businesses that failed to evolve and meet the changing needs of the current market (this reminded me of Peter Drucker’s ‘Theory of the Business’ in which he states that business assumptions must be frequently reviewed and tested due to the dynamic nature of markets, consumers and technology and that business models, however sound they once were, can become obselete).

Along the way niche opportunities can be uncovered such as The Million Dollar Homepage (a website that sold 1 million pixels of internet advertising space for $1 each) and the One Red Paperclip (whereby one red paperclip was traded up 14 times for a house over a year). There are also game changers like Square (a service that allows you to accept credit card payments with a mobile phone and card reader) and Khan Academy (a service offering free educational videos to anyone anywhere).

Food for thought
My main takeaway is that our role as UX designers is becoming much more strategic and to understand design we must understand business.

We should not be afraid to ask awkward questions to get right to the heart of design challenges. Successful UX designers are curious and have an innate desire to solve problems. The pace of change is relentless and we must adapt and evolve along with new trends and technology.

We need to break down silos and and speak the languages of people around us: the language of design, the language of technology and the language of business.

This is an exciting time to be doing what we’re doing and Marcus Mustafa summed it up nicely when he said: ‘We should have fun, be engaging and encourage emotions’.

Image: Alexander Grünsteidl talks about disruptive digital business models under the watchful eyes of one of the LBi UX Badgers!

London IA February 2012

Deliverables

At London IA last week the topic of the evening was Lean UX. Jeff Gothelf kicked things off with a presentation about getting out of the deliverables business and afterwards there was a panel discussion with Jeff Gothelf, James O’Brien, Johanna Kollmann, Leisa Reichelt and Mark Plant during which the audience asked questions about Lean UX.

Jeff Gothelf: Lean UX – Getting Out of the Deliverables Business

In brief, the goal of Lean UX is to bring the experience being designed to light much sooner without getting too focused on the deliverables. Designers and developers collaborate from the start to build a shared understanding. The iterative approach means that quality continually improves as you validate your design hypotheses and refine based on feedback.

Jeff shared his five practical tips for implementing Lean UX:

  1. Solve the problem together – One of the key aspects of Lean UX is that the team builds a shared understanding of the project early on. Everyone involved is engaged in the process which in turn creates buy in and momentum.
  2. Sketch – Putting pen to paper (or whatever you have to hand) helps develop a shared understanding and is a good way to iterate designs. People feel more able to make alterations to a sketch as they are seen as less precious than polished wireframes and are therefore much more malleable and open.
  3. Prototype – Get the experience out into the open as soon as possible and test your prototypes with real users.
  4. Pair up and get cross functionality within your team – Co-working means that developers can start building prototypes from sketches straightaway and they can give immediate feedback on what is and is not achievable without having to wait for a detailed spec which leaves the designers to get on with designing. Pairing sets designers free and empowers developers.
  5. Create a style guide early on that evolves as the project does – Put it on a wiki or on the wall for all to see so that it can’t be ignored and forgotten. Back it up with code snippets and assets to build up a library.

During the panel discussion Joanna said that when collaborating time should still be allocated for personal reflection. I certainly agree with this. Co-working can be hard and it is important to have some time alone to think and to formulate ideas.

I often feel under pressure to deliver the right solution, the first time. But there are always options and I’m not always sure which is best. A project evolves so much during design and having to decide everything upfront before moving into build can hinder the design process as it doesn’t allow room for manoeuvre. The time and effort it takes to produce beautifully annotated wireframes and sitemaps for hefty spec documents could be better spent on iterating prototypes of the actual product. In light of this we should be asking ‘What do we need to define now in order to get a prototype built and tested with real users’?

As Jeff rightly said, no matter how smart you are, every design solution you put out there is a hypothesis. He also said that as designers we are in the problem solving business but we don’t solve problems with design documentation, we solve them with elegant, efficient and sophisticated software. The true value of design is in the experience that we create.

You can check out Jeff’s presentation for yourself on Slideshare. I highly recommend it!