A common complaint about bringing UX designers onto a project team is that they waste time creating design artifacts. This is purportedly antithetical to modern development methodologies that value code over process.
However, this is not my experience at all. I’m not arguing that creating design artifacts is all that design is about. I default to fairly light documentation myself—and not one in 100 project teams or clients wants as little design documentation as I would typically provide by default.
One of my more common jobs is to improve or replace the design for an existing product for a client. All too often, these projects have no historical documentation of any value, which frequently causes projects to take months or even years longer to build.
Good documentation allows consistency in design and execution and serves as institutional knowledge for organizations. It enables us to remember what we’ve built and why, to check reported bugs and new feature requests against the documentation, and to more quickly react to necessary changes or updates. Read More
Many modern experiences that are supposed to satisfy our intrinsic needs often have the opposite effect. As the Time article “You Asked: Is Social Media Making Me Miserable?” described, users of the social-media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram experience depression and anxiety after perusing their feeds. And why not? Their feeds deliver a glut of images and videos that depict friends taking lavish vacations or doing other enviable things. The flashy highlight reels that bombard users provoke unfair comparisons—and, as human beings, we often internalize our shortcomings more readily than our blessings. This dulls our focus on things that should make us feel grateful.
But social-media platforms attempt to bolster the well-documented human need for acceptance often has the opposite effect. And this is just one of the needs that define what it means to be human. Our hyper-paced modern culture blunts and distorts other important human needs as well.
In this article, I’ll discuss four important human needs that product companies tend overlook and how UX professionals can help to nurture them rather than contribute to their suppression:
UX researchers must frequently deliver bad news to the creators of products and user interfaces. After we’ve conducted expert reviews, competitive analyses, usability testing, or user research, the end result is often telling our clients, stakeholders, designers, and other project team members about all the problems we’ve found in their product. Even though this is what they asked us to do—and what they expect—listening to a long list of their baby’s faults can be demoralizing.
Yes, we do try to balance our negative criticism by also highlighting some positive aspects, but most research findings tend to be negative. After all, the goal of research activities is not to confirm how great the user experience already is. The goal is to find problems and areas for improvement. Yet, despite the fact that we deliver bad news all the time, it often feels awkward and uncomfortable. Usually, the people in the room have created the problems your research has identified. While most people take it pretty well, some won’t like what they’re hearing and will blame the messenger.
People tend to become very attached to the fruits of their labors, so hearing criticism of their work really can feel very much like having someone say their baby is ugly. Read More
While we might not think of stakeholder management as a key UX skill, it is integral to our work. So much so that it occasionally surprises me that we don’t all approach stakeholder management with the same rigor that we do user-centered design. This becomes clearer when we consider the frequent headaches that are associated with poor stakeholder management—from having product-team members perceive User Experience as an impediment to delivering products to losing our UX budget and headcount.
In the course of my work as a UX designer, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and experimenting with how to provide the most transparency to my stakeholders, while also keeping the scope of my design work realistic and manageable. I’ve been able to consolidate my learnings from experience down to six major points that I’d like to share, in the interest of professional growth.
Before diving in, I need to say that, even though the putative subject of this article is the management of stakeholders, the intent of the techniques that I present here is neither to corral nor obstruct. When using these stakeholder-management techniques, think of your job as a servant stakeholder whose job is to create transparency, head off conflict, and maintain your own sanity as a UX-design professional. Let’s get started. Read More
Selected sections from Chapter 5 of Cathy Pearl’s new book Designing Voice User Interfaces: Principles of Conversational Experiences. 2017 O’Reilly Media, Inc.Excerpts from Chapter 5: Advanced Voice User Interface Design
[This] Chapter [covers advanced] voice user interface (VUI) design [topics]. Here, we take a look at what will make [your VUIs] engaging, easy to use, and successful.
Siri and the Amazon Echo are both examples of popular VUIs. The Echo has recently received a lot of praise about its interface. Given that the two systems can do many similar things, why is the Echo often a better user experience? One reason is that the Echo was designed with voice in mind from the beginning—that’s its sole purpose. Siri, by comparison, is just one more way to interact with your iPhone. Read More
As recently as 25 years ago, the physical reality in which we lived was an analog world that was becoming increasingly global. While globalization is still very much a factor today, our world is now decidedly connected and is becoming increasingly virtual. However, thanks to a combination of enabling technology and the possible impacts of global warming, some aspects of globalization are shifting back to being local. This connectedness—both virtual and local—is contributing to the emerging world of smartware.
As we detailed in “The Smartware Transformation,” smartware is a convergence of emerging technologies and science. Artificial intelligence (AI) is fueling its rise. The technologies that are enabling smartware include the Internet of Things (IoT), mixed-reality environments, and additive fabrication, or 3D printing, as are incredible advances in sciences such as genomics and neuroscience. Some or all of these advances are core to the emergence of incredible new products that are just over the horizon—products such as self-driving vehicles and neighborhood parts manufacturing. In “Smartware, AI, and Magical Products,” we took a look at the current darling of technology and entertainment media: artificial intelligence. We’ll continue that analysis in this installment, as we look at some other core smartware technologies, before covering the key sciences underlying smartware in our next column. Read More
In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss whether it is a good idea to offer fixed-price or fixed-duration UX design services. In exploring the pros and cons of such services, our expert panel suggests that designers consider how well they know their client and how familiar they are with the details of a project. Our expert panel also discusses whether designers should charge according to the value they provide or simply for their time. The panel discusses the risks of fixed-price services and cautions designers against commoditizing their services in the marketplace.
Our expert panel also considers offering some combination of hourly, fixed-price, and monthly retainer services and where each of these approaches is most appropriate. The panel explains some common pitfalls of offering fixed-price services and provides alternatives to offering fixed-price or fixed-duration services. Finally, the panel advises UX designers to create a Statement of Work that clearly defines the scope of a project and the terms of their agreement with a client. Read More
UX research has become something of a passion for me over the past year—and the area in which I have personally seen my most noticeable career growth to date. While I enjoy creating and executing research plans for my clients, the most enjoyable part of my role as a user researcher is speaking with users, truly understanding their needs, and digging into the key issues they face—not just with my clients’ products and services, but in their day-to-day role.
I was first introduced to the world of UX research and design in 2015. The company I was working for was in the middle of a major digital transformation, was implementing agile—specifically, Scrum—across the business, and was undertaking a massive cultural shift for the organization as a whole. We had just begun employing UX designers on product teams. The aim was to catch up with and, hopefully, overtake the competition and diversify our current product offerings by putting users at the center of the design and development of our new products. Read More
What does the future hold for advertising embedded in digital experiences? Making advertising part of your digital product’s or property’s business model has always been a challenging balancing act. Creators of digital experiences need to make money. Selling ad space within a product or Web site helps you to earn money—and, generally speaking, the more traffic you get, the more you can leverage advertising as a business model. (Although high-quality traffic can be more important than just the amount of traffic, depending on the advertising model you choose.)
Of course, on the flip side, users rarely want to see advertising—for several key reasons:
User Experience is about solving problems in real people’s lives and helping people to attain their goals. UX professionals deal with users’ painpoints, investigate how to eliminate them, and design solutions for them.
Users, customers, agencies, and companies should be aware of the many important benefits of a user-centered approach to design. These benefits actually materialize only once people have used a product or service. They can extend broadly to other people and communities. The tools that people choose to use can impact many others. Thus, it is very important that experience outcomes engender positive feedback. Often, company slogans say, “We want to change the world,” but the products they create don’t reflect that idealism. The work UX professionals do and the value we contribute can help our companies to attain that goal. Read More
If you have been to your local mall recently, you have probably noticed that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) products and services are now hitting the market in much greater numbers than last year. These digital experiences mix with or even completely replace physical reality, letting users get out from behind their devices’ screens.
From sports to retail, entertainment, and medicine, there are clear signs that we are approaching a tipping point with immersive technology. These signs are similar to those we experienced before other major platforms—such as the Web and smartphones—exploded on the scene. Businesses are investing strategically in what will be the biggest platform introduction since mobile. For example, Mark Zuckerberg offered a strong business rationale for Facebook’s decision to pay $2 billion for Oculus Rift: “Strategically, we want to start building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile. … Immersive virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s everyday [lives].” Read More
As respect for design as a competitive advantage grows, companies are tackling the challenge of integrating design practices into enterprises and digital businesses. DesignOps is an emerging strategy for addressing this challenge. The UX community is now exploring best practices for operationalizing and scaling in-house design.
DevOps is an IT methodology for designing and operating complex IT systems and organizations. DevOps addresses the question of how to build and run sociotechnical systems that can scale without becoming brittle. Understanding the DevOps approach can help the UX community think more broadly and systematically about what it means to scale design.
DevOps and DesignOps are both responses to the same underlying phenomenon. We are living through a transition from an industrial economy whose focus was physical products to a post-industrial economy that centers on digital services. This post-industrial business economy isn’t just about making digital products instead of physical ones. It’s about integrating the physical and digital realms with one another—infusing each with the other. Read More
Product design is more than a series of simple steps or a mechanical process for solving a problem. In fact, when done well, product design is something of a mystery. Solving extraordinary problems and creating customer-centric products and services that people want and need is a valuable skill that requires a unique blend of fact-based expertise and creativity.
Companies are starting to recognize that great design involves far more than just providing solutions for functional or business needs. Design taps into the human experience in new, unexpected ways. So, while expertise is essential, product designers are most effective when they also possess soft skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence. Read More
Great leaders have been able to lead significant social revolutions because they understood people’s needs and recognized and worked to alleviate their pain and suffering.  Such leaders’ empathy toward people has brought revolutionary social changes. Likewise, people who have understood and empathized with users’ needs, frustrations, goals, and motivations have brought the world innovative solutions such as the telephone and Apple iPod. Apple came back from its near downfall by designing products that people need and want and delivering mind-blowing, innovative solutions.
In pursuit of innovation, more organizations have adopted design-thinking strategies, including leading companies such as IBM, Intuit, Airbnb, Microsoft, SAP, and Toshiba. Still, only a few companies have harnessed the power of innovation. If your organization wants to incorporate design thinking into its culture, you must start by being empathetic toward your users. Design thinking begins with developing a deep understanding of your users and the problem you are trying to solve for them. Only by developing empathy for your users, you can design truly breathtaking solutions for their problems. Read More
At networking and business events, I often get asked about where I think user experience is going. A common theme that has emerged during these conversations is the sense that some of the latest trends in software—such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence—may do away with the need for UX design. While I understand the overarching fear of this perceived threat to UX designers’ livelihood, I find this very human fear ironic given what the worry is about. People often fear what they don’t quite understand and, certainly, the general hoopla about robots taking over human’s jobs breeds much fear and misunderstanding.
However, our guiding principle should always be: When we, as humans, use a product, we should not have to adapt to the technology. Instead, technology should adapt to us. A product that does this successfully is well designed. To create such well-crafted experiences, companies will need UX designers more than ever. Good design does not just happen. In actuality, the introduction of a new technology has no bearing on the validity and continued value of a mature design process. Read More
This two-part series describes some common organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers that hinder the ability of people and teams to collaborate effectively. It is important to understand what unique combination of barriers to collaboration exists within your own organization, then devise solutions to overcome those specific barriers. In Part 1 of this series, I described four common barriers to collaboration and provided solutions for overcoming them.
Now, in Part 2, I’ll cover the remaining five barriers to collaboration:
For an organization to create a culture of collaboration, it must overcome these barriers. Whether your role is that of a leader or an individual contributor, you can help your team to overcome these organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers to collaboration. Read More
Do you remember the first time you saw magic? Something that stretched your imagination beyond what you thought possible? For Dirk, this happened in a most unlikely place: a Sears store in a sleepy mid-Western shopping mall, circa 1977, at a demonstration of the Home Pong console, which was, at the time, the latest technological wonder. A small crowd had gathered in awe around a chunky tube TV, and children and adults alike turned the control wheels with delight, bouncing a pixelated ball back and forth. Although, as a child, Dirk had experienced a variety of traditional magic shows involving cards, rings, and pigeons, it was that Pong demonstration that stayed with him. In that moment, the television transformed into a machine with which he could interact, and he began a newfound relationship with the screen.
The interactivity that so enthralled Dirk that day is, in fact, core to computing. Ever since consumers adopted the earliest personal computers, we’ve input commands to yield desired outputs. Today, however, interactivity is changing, becoming far less direct. Using artificial intelligence (AI), services such as Amazon and Netflix have mapped a detailed identity graph for each of their customers. Machine learning enables these services to recommend products that customers are likely to buy and new shows that viewers are likely to enjoy. Read More
We just presented at CanUX 2017, in Ottawa, Canada. Like all good conferences, Can UX created a place for community, conversations, learning, and connecting with local and global practitioners. The conference provided reminders of why we do what we do and opportunities to look at practice patterns that may connect to the practices we use in our own project work. This experience definitely prompted some reflections on our intention to make meaningful work. When asking how we can make meaningful work, we should consider the following core elements:
About six months ago, I left Facebook cold turkey. I had tried leaving it before, but always ended up going back. It wasn’t the not‑so‑subtle hints or wanting to see the pictures of all my friends—or at least people with whom I’d connected on Facebook—that drove me back, but fear of missing out (FOMO). What if something happened to someone, and I wasn’t aware of it? What if I thought of a witty one-liner and couldn’t share it immediately with a group of people, then bask in the adulation they would inevitably provide in response to my genius? What about that important political opinion about Trump or Brexit that I’d need to share among my fellow right‑thinking people?
You know what happened? Nothing. Nothing bad, at any rate.Breaking Free of Addictive User Experiences
I had decided that the price I was paying for being on Facebook was too high. I’d get drawn into arguments and find myself getting annoyed and frustrated. Something is wrong on the Internet! I’d find myself checking my account far too frequently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those things—except that they took time away from other, more important things that I felt I should be doing. I’d read an excellent piece about why one person left World of Warcraft. Read More
In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss their favorite tools for remote, collaborative UX design and how to use them in a variety of situations. Collectively, these tools support verbal and written communication, file sharing, screen sharing, collaborative drawing, and prototyping. Some tools try to replicate the way designers work in person, while others transcend these norms and create new paradigms for remote, collaborative UX design.
Our expert panel also explains how to use to these tools to ensure that the result is a good design and every team member’s voice is heard. As you’ll see, UX designers are comfortable with various processes for creating designs, so some tools are a better fit for certain processes than others. Read More