Tag Archives: User Experience

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.

 

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.

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.

User Experience; not just for websites!

You would be forgiven for thinking that user experience is a web only field. Certainly a lot of companies do not step away from the traditional thinking of “UX = web” but it is that thinking that can hold them back from their full potential.

The most successful entrepreneurs tend to recognise that their products are about crafting experiences; anyone can copy a template of success and find ways of making their competing product cheaper, but an experience is much more difficult to copy cheaply. Take a look at the experience of opening an Apple Product; you feel like you are holding a quality product in your hand even before you have turned it on. Everything oozes sleek sophistication and highly engineered simplicity, and that is just the packaging! It’s not just Apple who benefits from this though. Even companies like Starbucks invest millions in research into this area, and research has found that the packaging affects the perception of quality. The feel of the cup can make the same beverage taste better.

It is difficult for another company to give as good an experience with the packaging, but by no means impossible. However, all too often the temptation to try to copy an experience rather than craft one of their own leads them down the path to failure. If they get it right, then they are simply a copy, albeit a high quality knock-off. If they do not, then they are even less favourably compared.

The experience of the user should convey the message and image of the company, whether that is in a website, a piece of software, or a physical product. In fact, if somebody uses the product, whatever that product is, you want the experience to be well crafted. After all, would you feel well disposed towards a company that told you it did not care about you every time you tried to use it’s products?

I did not think so.