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!

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 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

Seven things your boss needs to know about UX

As someone who has been in the user experience domain for a LOOONG time, I have had lots of conversations with many different executives. And, most of the time, these execs knew how to spell “UX”, but they didn’t know much else about it. There were many misconceptions that needed correcting and while it was sometimes frustrating, I also enjoyed the opportunity to educate these key decision makers on the discipline and how it worked.

Here’s seven conversation topics that came up when I was discussing UX with managers, and all are worth pointing out to YOUR boss – especially if you are a UX consultant and your boss is your client:

UX is iterative

“What is taking so long?” One impatient CFO once asked me. He expected the design for the application my team was doing to be “one and done” and the idea that we were having iteration cycles confused him. I had to explain to him that the process we followed was iterative, and that we had to refine the designs to get to the point where it was at the appropriate level of quality. He resisted that idea, but the results convinced him that iteration produced results.

User research is vital

“We already talked to our customers, why do you need to?” A project manager was surprised at the request, and we had to explain to him that a proper UX project required insight and understanding about what people thought and felt about the domain, and we couldn’t just leverage marketing research. Having those one-on-one conversations let us build out personas, and these personas, representing what we learned about the users, gave us “targets” to align our designs too. The project manager grudgingly accepted the results.

There is no standard “UX process”

Some managers are very process focused, and they want to see a Six Sigma-like UX process chart, one that is approved by some central UX “signing authority.” Well… while UX is a mature discipline with many different defined processes, it’s more flexible than that. In fact, UX is more a series of tactics and approaches than a formalized process. Many design teams and consultancies have formalized their specific processes, but there’s on “one UX process to rule them all.” Which is a good thing, in my opinion. It allows us to apply a flexible toolkit to solve specific business and user problems in targeted ways – letting us use the right tool for the right job.

UX is not UI

Well, specifically, UX is not JUST UI. Many executives that I encountered think that UX work was just designing screens. It’s not. And in fact, as we move more towards a connected “Internet of things” world, user experience design is going to be less about screens and more about how different systems and processes interact with each other. And burgeoning UX specialties like service design and content strategy are leading the way to be more about process and content design than UI creation.

Even if you are designing an application or a web site, there’s still more to the jib than designing and documenting screens. There’s the aforementioned user research, scenarios, storyboards… and of course:

Usability testing is incredibly important

“You guys are experts, why do you need to test the designs you come up with?” That was the question one stakeholder asked me as we were planning out the engagement.

My response was as follows: “Even if you have confidence in the design you have done, you are not the user. You can apply best practices, use the right design patterns, and do all the necessary research… but you still will not know how people will react to the design until you test it with them. And the best way you have got the design right is to have the user engage with it and then TELL YOU how it works, with no instruction or demonstration before hand. If they can do that, then you know you’ve got the design right.”

That answer convinced him. Because it’s true.

Usability is not UX, either

“You’re the usability guys, you tell us what it should do.” I sometimes think I should start a consultancy called “The Usability Guys” because of that comment. Usability is not UX - it’s important, but UX is much bigger and broader than that. In fact, because people’s standards have increased as they are exposed to better and more usable apps, usability has become the “table stakes” that all solutions need to provide. Anything that isn’t usable, in the competitive marketplace of ideas… will not succeed.

UX “Unicorns” are rare

“Why do we need a lead, a designer and a graphic artist? Can’t we just hire one guy who does all of that?” That was an executive looking at a proposed job ladder that was created for my team. I had to respond that what he was looking for was a “UX Unicorn,” a rare breed that is nearly never found in the wild. UX is a broad domain, that encompasses many different disciplines. While I believe that, as Robert Heinlein famously stated, “specialization is for insects,” it’s incredibly difficult to become proficient at all the skills in UX. Sometimes, specialization is useful and necessary.

There you have it, seven things that bosses should know about the user experience discipline. Hopefully, you can use these points to educate your superiors and “manage up.”

What is expected from a UX leader (director, VP, etc.)?

Leadership, mentorship, passion, and business acumen.

Leadership in that that person must set the standards and direction for the organizations’ offerings, be they products, services, or both. How much due diligence should be done to ensure designs align with user needs? What process should be defined and followed to do this? What level of design documentation and testing is required? And so on. He/she needs to be the person who says “this is the way to do things” and they need to be able to convince the powers that be that their way makes sense and is the right approach.

Mentorship in that the person in charge of UX needs to provide opportunities to learn and grow to all of their team members. He/she needs to provide a UX “job ladder”, with a list of all roles and what is needed to get there (so the team will have a “target” to hit) and needs to support the training and opportunities necessary to help the team members get to where they want to go.

Passion in that the UX leader needs to be passionate about making lives better by providing user-centered products and solutions to people. This passion needs to be (somewhat) tempered by pragmatic realism, so that the passion will not override or supplant business goals. Unrealistic passion often results in academic exercises that don’t produce useful results.

Finally, a UX leader needs to have business acumen. He/she needs to be able to read people and situations, understand the “politics” of a particular organization, and communicate effectively both “up” and “down”. UX leaders who fail to have business “savvy” usually end up being ineffective in getting things done and supporting their team.

See question on Quora

What are the job prospects for UX researchers?

Not bad, but not as good as they used to be.

These days, companies large and small are often looking for something know as a “UX unicorn” – a designer that can do research, detailed documentation, research findings, develop the UI, do the graphic design and plug the front-end into the middle layer and back end. In other words, they are looking for something that is as rare as… well, unicorns.

There are many people in the UX discipline who are multi-skilled and can cross disciplines with ease… but even they can’t do it all. The fact that companies are looking for someone who CAN is more a reflection of their desire to keep costs low than the actual existence of such a person.

All this is a (round-about way) of saying that UX researchers need to be more than JUST “UX researchers” these days. You need to bring some design or other UX-related skills to the table in order to be considered. Way back in the beginning of the UX discipline companies were more likely to hire specialists, because they didn’t know anything ABOUT UX, so they relied on straightforward (specialized) roles. Now (and in a softer economy) they are looking to hire less specialists and more “general practitioners.”

So, flesh out your skills and your resume – build up a portfolio of work and keep evolving your capabilities. Just accept that some companies will still be chasing unicorns.

See question on Quora