Tag Archives: UX

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.


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.

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.

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.


My partner and I have decided that this is the year that we get fit. Naturally, being people of our age and disposition towards connected interactions, we have turned to the web for help. So I brushed the dust off my Fitocracy profile, and started logging my activities, earning those sweet points that Fitocracy believes will keep people motivated. Gammification is a major trend in serious business, and it makes sense for them to employ it. Gamification, and Incentive -centered design are however not the subject of this blog post, but rather one for a later date.

Fitocracy is one of the biggest of the fitness sites, helping countless users to achieve their goals (whatever they deem them to be) but this is despite some rather serious flaws in the design, rather than by virtue of the good design. The good idea has carried it thus far, but if they want to see faster growth and increased revenue, they need to focus on the most important part of their platform; the user.

Currently, they send mixed messages about the interface functionality such as using the name “Feed” for two different functions: Both options can be navigated to from the same page creating confusion in the user’s mind the first time that they click on “feed” and it takes them to a different place to the one they were expecting. From there on in, there will be a slight doubt in the mind of the user when they see the two options, and want to click on one or the other. This can be over momentarily, perhaps even without surfacing consciously, but it has a process cost for the user.

Then there is the semi-comprehensive exercise database. There is no function to add exercises that Fitocracy do not already list. True, there is the option to send them an email requesting additions, but the user needs to search around for that information. Ideally, the option to request it should be right there on the screen.

Actually; the truly ideal solution is to allow users to add their own exercises, and to leverage the human-computing potential of their rabid user-base to group, categorise, and assign a point value to that exercise. Make it a truly social feature that combines social networking and distributed computing concepts. They could take advantage of crowdsourcing, which is ideally suited to the ever expanding task of listing exercises, their variants, and the different names by which they are known.

This year, the site sees its second birthday. Hopefully it will see its third year in with an improvement to its UI, its workload distribution, and to its social functionality: the social functionality remains the genius of the site, and the feature which makes it as successful as it has been. Leveraging social gaming has brought it this far. It needs to do more to go further.

Neuroscientists can predict your behavior better than you can

It’s a well known fact that people are unreliable when it comes to knowing what they want, and what they will do.

A human can decide to do something, and then fail to follow up on that decision, often without realising it until much later. Furthermore, they can decide that they won’t do something, only to go ahead and do so. As a species we are pretty bad at predicting our own behaviour, because we often do not realise that our predictions have been so off-base.

If UX researchers could routinely only have access to fMRI scans of users, I wonder what we would learn.