Design Thinking and the UX Process

Anyone who knows me is probably aware of my love of Design Thinking. I was recently asked to explain how UX and Design Thinking overlapped, and thought I would share the result. Think of it as an illustration and checklist combination of my own personal UX process.

If for whatever reason you have not had reason to think on it, you might be surprised to discover that there is a good chance that you already engage in the Design Thinking process. The terminology may not always match, but the concepts stay the same.

Enjoy (click on image to view zoom in)

How to match the design thinking process to your UX process
Design Thinking and the User Experience Process

This topic probably deserves an article all of it’s own when I have more time, but until then, if you want to learn more on Design Thinking, you could do worse than read the excellent resources made available by Stanford University’s Institute of Design

How to find the right UX pro

There is a fundamental problem with finding a User Experience professional who meets your needs, and it is unfortunately inherent in the use of those two letters; UX.

User Experience is a hot topic these days; everyone wants to make sure that they have a good “user experience” but they do not really understand what that means. How do you hire someone to help you achieve your goals when you yourself do not necessarily understand the goals yourself? It is the sort of conundrum that businesses hire user experience experts to help us answer when it comes to their users, and yet there is that difficulty in finding the right person to help them understand who it is that they need to hire to help them provide the experience that their users need.

Logically, that would be the recruitment specialists, but sadly most recruitment specialists do not really know the answer either; A quick poll among my peers showed that there was frustration about how much time they wasted on trying to decide whether when asking for a UX specialist, they were talking about the particular skill-set that they could cover satisfactorily, or if it was talking about someone else. The recruiters can’t like spending so much time on dead ends either, especially when they are looking for commission.

The reality is that UX has become a buzzword. Too many people want to have a “UX person” to be able to tick a checkbox that says they have done their bit. Hell, the UX checkbox will usually lead to some minor improvements too, so it’s not all bad. However, they don’t really give the UX role the support that it needs to be fully effective. It seems crazy to hire a specialist to make only minimal improvements to a product, especially considering that we are not exactly cheap, and many companies realise that after their first foray into hiring someone. They learn that it is not cost effective to hire an expensive specialist who makes minimal improvements.

Sadly, they rarely take the lesson away with them that they need to support the UX pro. Instead they try and get it for “free” when they hire another role, and that has a harmful effect on the entire industry.

In many cases they require UX specialists to also be software developers, but what they get are software developers who have done graphic design. In other cases they offload the UX work onto a range of people; project managers, product owners, graphic designers, and software developers will all be asked to “do some UX” which is about as helpful as asking a bricklayer to design a tower block. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not exactly the best way to get to the end result, if that is even the one they were hoping for.

As a result, UX professionals then start having to filter out all the additional jobs which are now being described as “UX” when they are not. It is not a good return on investment for them, and that work is not done for free; it is fed back into the cost of hiring both freelancers and permanent staff for those who eventually find the right people. To top it off, it also makes it more difficult to find the right hire, when you describe things wrongly, so more time and money is spent on the hiring process than necessary, and that affects the hiring company as well as any recruitment agents who happen to get caught in that mess.

In truth, if you want to hire someone to “do your UX” you need to hire a UX consultant to tell you what you are looking for in your UX hire. For starters, nobody “does your UX” because the user experience is the gestalt result of everything that your product does.

Obviously there are issues with hiring a UX consultant to tell you which UX professionals you should hire, since they may well suggest their own people, or shoot down perfectly good candidates in favour of their own. I would suggest that in those instances you look at freelancers who do not work as part of an agency, and whose role is purely in an educational capacity; they will educate your people about UX, so that they understand it well enough to know what is needed, and how to support it.

I, or any other consultant worth their salt can do that for you easily enough. It’s as easy as writing project specifications.

 

Understanding User Needs

I’ve heard this gem a few times now when an agency claims to have moved beyond user centered design principles.
“we’ve moved beyond user needs, and we focus on what the user cares about”

It sounds good. It really does. Unfortunately, all it does is illustrate a lack of understanding on the finer points of how your users think: We may not always be able to articulate it, or satisfactorily explain it, but the things we care about are things we care about for a reason. We only care about the things that meet some of our needs, even if those needs are non-technical, or are specific and unique to our particular and unique mental position. They have moved beyond nothing, but they dress it differently, and risk making some easily avoided fundamental errors in their quest for new buzzwords.

For example; a user might care about the colour of something, because the colour speaks to their past experiences, or it might make it difficult for them to see things due to a quirk of their eyesight (something like 0.7% of the population has some form of colour vision deficiency, but for men it is one in twelve).

We care about things, because they satisfy a need, whether that is task based, or a more personal and general need.

Claiming that you focus on what they care about more than focusing on what they need is a very dangerous minefield purposefully chosen only by those more interested in hip jargon rather than substance; instead you should study what they care about to determine what needs it satisfies, and weight it accordingly.

Course Development Done!

My course development work for QA.com is finally done.

There may be a few tweaks here and there once I go through the course with their training delivery people, but that is ostensibly the end of that particular work. It was fun, but it was hard work. Much as I would do it again, I think I need a bit of a rest.

Of course I will be looking around for my next new exciting gig, but until then I would just like to share something with all of you

Heading into the final stretch

As I type, I am heading into the final stretch of my course development work for QA.com, and the main thing that I have learned in writing the content is that it is difficult to offer anything approaching a comprehensive understanding of user experience in anything approaching two weeks, let along a single one.

With that in mind, my approach has been to teach the course participants how to analyse their designs, and how to think about things, rather than teaching them a list of techniques that they may never be able to remember, let alone use. After all, most if not all the information I cover is out there and easily purchasable (if not free as it is in almost every case). However, reading about a UX technique does not a UX designer make, and it is more about training yourself to think about the user experience, and to analyse the design that makes those techniques useful. Understanding the concepts of UX is after all much more useful than knowing how to build a wireframe in Axure.

Besides which, a sizable number of those taking this course are likely not aiming to become UX designers, but are looking to be better able to anticipate the needs, understand the requirements, and work better with said UX designers. Either way; the quality of the work that the people taking this course will do is going to improve either way.

Of course, it is now time to start thinking about the next role after this one, but as it is my birthday I think I will let myself have an evening off, raise a glass with my nearest and dearest, and leave the searching for another day.

Catching Up

I have started working with QA.com to develop a User Experience training course for them. It is quite an undertaking, and has meant that work on developing the book is now on hold for a few months, but the opportunity was simply too good to pass up. Of course the course development work will feed back into the book development and make for a better end product.

It is exciting to see that more companies are starting to realise that User Experience is as a discipline in it’s own right, and I am looking forward to helping them prepare them push forward with a better vision of how to improve their products.

Researching a book

I have been working on a book to educate business owners, and other non-UX professionals on the basic concepts of User Experience Design. This is meant to help break through the jargon, so that you can understand what you are being told, and to ensure that you have a better idea of what you are paying for without having to become an expert yourself.

I am looking to find out which areas business users are looking for the most clarity and guidance on, as well as information regarding what areas it is most important for business users in different sectors for the book to cover.

If you would like to be involved in the data gathering, please get in touch through the Contact page, with the subject “Research” and I will get back to you.

Automatic Infographics

 

Infographics are one of those wonderful things that can make communication so much easier. Of course, good infographics will often take some time to put together, and when that is limited you may simply not have that option.

create.visual.ly might have the answer for you. Give them an appropriate data source, and they will try to create one for you automatically. It is currently quite limited in what it views as an appropriate data source for their free samples, and you’ll want to try the different output options to see which one(s) display your data in a clear way, but here is an example of the output built using my Linkedin profile as the source.

It’s not how I would have displayed the data (take a look at the skills section for some of the most obvious examples; e.g. I have a lot more Photoshop experience than I have 3D Studio Max experience  and Documentation would not be in large red letters), but it took me no time; not as good as a hand-built infographic, but good enough for when you need a basic illustration in the next two minutes.

Take a look. Try them out. Presumably their paid services offer a lot more control.


create infographics with visual.ly

Advertising in a User Experience.

John C. Dvorak writes in his PCMag article that adverts are too often annoying, obtrusive, and an interruption. He is not wrong.

The problem with advertising is that it is often at cross purposes with what the viewer of the advert is trying to do. In television, the viewer is trying to watch a show. In a written medium, the reader is trying to read an article or story. To be interrupted by adverts is an almost surefire way of diminishing the experience.

Whilst it is true that advertising pays the bills, it is not true that adverts need to be interruptions. They just need to be done more intelligently. After all, no matter what you try, the viewer will not watch an advert that they are not interested in, because they have the capability of processing it as background noise that they can ignore until it changes.

If you can integrate it into the experience, then that is good, or if you can place it somewhere that does not impinge on it then that too is good.

The best course of action though is to make sure that the audience for your product will also be a willing and enthusiastic consumer of your advertising, not just as an advert, but as media in its own right. People stop to watch the “Get a Mac” advertising campaign because… well because people seem to like them. (For my part, I find them infuriating and smug; I prefer the Think Different style of advertising). If you can make the right people want to see your adverts, then you have made a much more successful advert. After all, no matter what you do the person watching your advert can always continue to ignore it and do something else.

UX Designer