Everyone is doing the whole AMA (Ask Me Anything) thing, so I thought I’d join in. I’m now on Ask.fm, and you can “AMA” here: http://ask.fm/JosephcDickerson

Some of my answers so far:

How often do you listen to the radio? What is your favorite radio station? The voices in my head usually drown out the signal. I thought the tinfoil would help, but, alas…

Shall we look for love, wait for love or forget totally about it? You should look for love in all the wrong places, get addicted to it, have the look of love, and then ask our friends, “what about love?”

What magazines do you read? Wired, Popular Mechanics, Consumer Reports, Women’s Day.

Do you prefer to be alone or around people? I like to be around people who are alone.

What makes a person “good”? The amount of seasoning applied and being cooked at the proper temperature… Oh, wait, I think you were asking about something else.

Get my book UX 101 as a free download!

After getting a lot of feedback (some good, some bad – all helpful) I have made some revisions to UX 101 and have finished up a second edition of the book. The new edition will soon be available on Amazon (in paperback and on the kindle) but, hey… Why wait? I have decided to make it available as a FREE download for any and all interested parties.

The key reason I wrote UX 101 was to provide guidance and education to newcomers interested in user experience, and the best way to get that information in thier hands is to give it away (though you can still buy a print copy if you’d like, of course).

You can download an optimized PDF of the book here, and I hope you like it!

Photos: The Toonseum Museum

Recently took a lunch break from work to go visit the Toonseum Museum in downtown Pittsburgh – They have displays on comic books, cartoons and comic strips as well as wall where artists who have visited add their sketches and signatures. Their current featured exhibit is on Big Little Books, with a lot of original art from some famous names. Here’s some pics:

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?