The eight most common mistakes made on UX projects

I’ve worked in the UX discipline for over a decade now, and have been on a number of projects both large and small. One of the skills I’ve picked up in that time is pattern recognition, which helps me create personas and to identify trends to design for. It also helps me notice when things keep happening, mistakes that repeatedly occur over and over again on almost every design engagement.These mistakes can derail a project and, at the very least, make work more difficult than it needs to be.

I’ve identified the eight most common mistakes designers make on UX projects, and they are (in no particular order):

Undercommunication

Whenever a design team “goes dark” for too long the client starts to get antsy. Keeping key stakeholders in the dark will result in anxiety and frustration. So make sure you provide “check-ins” on a regular basis to let them know how things are going and preview designs whenever possible.

Overcommunication

Having daily stand-ups with the client may make sense for some projects, but not design. This often leads clients to think they can “micro-manage” design work at the pixel level, and that is not constructive. It leads to a frustrated team and stakeholders who end up focusing on the wrong things (details instead of “big picture” stuff).

How much communication is needed? Feel the client out, and do something that is obvious in hindsight: ASK. That will allow you to align your schedule and approach to their expectations.

Overdocumenting

UX designers need to document how a design works, so the developers can know what should be done to make the designs a reality. But design documentation are a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. The design team should document at the appropriate level to support development and testing – not write a novel. How much is enough? Again, communication is key – talk to the users of this documentation to understand their expectations. And, of course, find out what the client’s expectations are to make sure you hit that mark.

Underdocumenting

You can’t just sketch out the design on a back of a napkin and hand it to a developer or a stakeholder. You have to detail screen states, control behaviors, and map out the experience. Insufficient detail results in gaps in the experience and development and deployment issues

Following the same process for every client

You’ll notice that a lot of the mistakes I have cited so far involved design teams being inflexible – there’s a reason for that. No matter what IDEO or Frog will tell you, there is no ne “perfect” design process. You have to look at the context of the project the timelines, the expectations… and adjust as needed. Optimally you want to have some key activities that take place on every project, but you have to “time-box” some of the design sprints and work. It’s all about being “agile” and flexible about your approach.

Not doing enough (or any) research

One of the key activities refered to above is user research – you need to talk to end users (or potential end users) to understand their needs and inform the design. If you don’t have enough time, you need to make time – it’s that important. It gives you context and understanding to do good work, because you have someone you are designing FOR.

Not using analytics and legacy data

“I don’t need marketing research or analytics, I’m going to talk to users!” At the same time user research is important, you also need to leverage any details the client has to inform your understanding about the business “space” the design is intended for. Data can inform not only understanding put potentially trigger insights and ideas. But people who think they don’t need that type of information are often showing one of the worse mistakes a designer can make:

Arrogance

I’ve worked with several “know it all” design types whose ego are the size of a small planetoid. I think that arrogance blinds you to empathy and understanding, and this usually results in angry stakeholders and frustrated team members. UX design is vitally important but… it’s not curing cancer. Arrogant designers need to have some perspective.

 

There you have it, eight mistakes I don’t want any of my fellow designers to make. So go forth and design stuff!

 

What story are you telling?

I had a great conversation with my new friend Yoshi last week about journalism… specifically, music journalism. He asked me my opinion of this piece that claims that modern music journalism isn’t about the music anymore… it’s lifestyle journalism, covering the artist more than their craft and output. The article’s writer says that it’s because the writers aren’t qualified to write about music – they don’t have the understanding and training on music – so they write about the easier topic.

This article – and the ensuing conversation – got me thinking about storytelling, agendas and personal narratives.

One thing I always emphasize is how important storytelling is in life. We are wired to listen and respond to stories, and telling stories help you engage with people in a real and (sometimes) intimate way. The best stories have a point and a purpose – to entertain, to make people laugh, to sell in idea or a product. It’s powerful, and there’s a reason Don Draper focused on telling stories during his pitches. It works.

To respond to the point of the article cited above, the reason why music journalism has become lifestyle journalism now is for more reasons than just a lack of music training on the part of the writer – it’s because it works. Lifestyle journalism works because people love stories and want to read about popular figures they admire. We want a glimpse into that life. Another case in point is NBC’s Olympics coverage – the sports are often secondary to the athlete’s stories, because that is what draws the audience in.

What amuses me about all this discussion is that the best songs ARE stories – they evoke a mood, and have a point. Yes, even music such as jazz that has no words. What has happened has music journalists are jest talking about a different story now.

Additionally, it’s easier to frame a narrative and a thesis around a person – Developing that for an album or a musician’s body of work is much harder. A lot of people will be more comfortable and confident in writing about, say, how Myley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video isn’t as good as Ron Jeremy’s parody than analyzing the chord progressions or lyrical structure . You may have more prestige analyzing the musical choices that Miley made when she created Wrecking Ball, but what audience size will such an essay have?

(Quick sidebar: I studied journalism, many many years ago… and one of the things that was taught was the importance of objectivity and how bias was bad. The thing is… it’s a bunch of baloney. I’m not talking about political agendas, but the most obvious form of bias – selecting what to cover and write about. The line of “what is newsworthy” is never clear cut, and the decision is driven by management. What to showcase, what to report on, what to bury…. bias is part of the process, and it cannot be avoided as long as human beings make these decisions.)

The way we live and present ourselves are also stories, but many people don’t pay attention to this as much as they should. These personal narratives are the stories that people conjure in their minds and they can make or break you. Another words that is used to define this is “reputation.” It proceeds you, and that story is hard to change once its told by your actions and activities.

Personal narratives are all about you deciding the story you are telling, through deeds. What are your actions telling the world? It’s an important thing to understand. What is the point of what you are doing? What is your purpose?

What story are you telling?

The top 10 innovation sites

As a technologist and UX Lead for one of the world’s biggest software companies, I spend a lot of time reading about the latest trends in innovation and tech. How do I do it? I have a short list of sites I visit on a regular basis, and I thought you would like to see that list as well. Here it is (with a bonus link at the end I particularly like, for reasons you’ll soon note):

TED

The TED conference features a lot of very smart people talking about a range of different topics, but innovation is always consistently represented (and presented). http://www.Ted.com

Innovation Excellence

A great site with lots of posts on how many of the top companies in the world focus on innovation. http://www.innovationexcellence.com

TechCrunch

TechCrunch is a news site plugged into silicon valley, and covers startups and established companies. http://www.techcrunch.com

Patently Apple

Not everything Apple patents will ever be released, but it doesn’t hurt to see what they are thinking about. Everything the innovative company files and is granted a patent for is listed here: http://www.patentlyapple.com

Popular Mechanics

The magazine focuses mostly on hardware, but there’s lots of innovation present in every issue. The website features all the content from past issues as well as news and videos. http://www.popularmechanics.com

Wired

Wired has lots of great online-only content about technology and culture – a good place to look to see some of the moral and ethical issues involving the latest innovations (such as Google Glass). http://www.wired.com

Kickstarter

Where can you find a lot of today’s most innovative thinkers? Look to Kickstarter: There you will find new products in the formative stage – these kickstarted campaigns can provide insight into where things are going. http://www.kickstarter.com

Tech News Daily

“Tech news written for non-technical people” is this site’s slogan, and they live up to it: A lot of helpful insights that will not make your eyes glaze over due to technobabble. http://www.technewsdaily.com

Forbes’ Innovation and Science section

Forbes covers innovation with a focus on business and process, and I like reading the science content they provide as well. http://www.forbes.com/innovation-science

CultureBy

Grant McCracken is a very smart man, and he’s written a lot about innovation design and culture. His site has got a lot of random thoughts (like mine) but there’s some great ideas here. http://cultureby.com

This Week in Innovation

This list goes to 11, because I’m also listing my newest website, This Week in Innovation. This Week in Innovation aggregates stories from many of the above websites, giving you a snapshot of what is “top of mind” in the innovation space. It comes out every week (naturally) and can be read here: http://www.thisweekininnovation.com

Photos: The Computer History Museum

Another week, another cool sightseeing destination. This week was the Computer History Museum, in the heart of silicon valley. If you are a geek, then here’s pictures from the museum covering the gamut of computing devices – from slide rules to smartphones. If you are not, there’s plenty of other sites on the Internet.

Here’s some pics (and a lot more are here):

What is the best way to create a UX roadmap?

First off, let’s discuss the term “UX Roadmap.” I’ve heard it used in a couple of different ways. Here’s one definition, from UX Game Changers:

The UX roadmap defines the stages of the user delivery. And while demands can change deliverables, the roadmap provides guidance and helps set priorities. The term “roadmap” is defined as being a course of action or a plan for future actions.  Roadmaps provide the underpinnings of what should eventually turn into efficiencies and revenue.

Here’s my take on it:

A UX roadmap details where your users are, where they want/desire to be, and when you will provide offerings that will take them where they want to go. It is a timeline of activities and offerings that is driven by user needs and aligned (and, optimally, influencing) product release schedules.

An example: You sell a widget that allows people to instantly see their blood sugar level. This widget does one thing – the blood sugar check – incredibly well. Your users like it because it is simple and effective. However, they want more – they want to be able to log this sugar over time, and they also want to not have to sync this information with their computers – they want to just have the information “beam” itself to there. And as these users get more exposed to similar technology, they will also want to have multi-function devices that supports more than one function.

They – and the world – are heading towards “multitasking enablers” that support  health monitoring. How do you evolve your product to keep up with that? You flesh out a roadmap based on research, understanding, technology, and society trends.

This is what a lot of product managers do, but their product roadmaps are often “keep up with the Jones” efforts, where they strive for feature parity with competitors. The secrets sauce is the UX roadmap, because it looks not at the competitive landscape but user needs and their mental models. If you don’t do that, don’t understand where people’s “heads” are at and where they are going… Well, it can lead to a failed product line and a dead company.

See question on Quora