TGIF: If a novel was written about UX …

Late last year I took the Creative Live class, Between the Lines. A series of talks with published writers on what inspires them, what makes them do what they do, and how do they do it. I enjoyed all of them – I can’t pick a favourite. But Chip Kidd’s interview made me think about user experience.

Kidd’s training in graphic design and his love for the discipline inspired him to craft a novel seen through the lens of a designer. He asked himself, what would a novel about graphic design be like? He asked his friends and fellow alumni, if they knew of a book written in this fashion. He stumbled upon a concept which had not been attempted before.

It became the best seller.

It was a logical progression that I should substitute user experience design for graphic design and wonder…if a novel was written about UX what would it be about….

Scenario 1: Action Drama

A prize fighter climbs into the ring, the floor filled with onlookers – but on first sight, his opponent appears in a haze. He moves forward to take a closer look, his muscles flexed by the adrenaline he feels, that at any moment, the vision will take hold of him and knock him for a six. He begins to speak, hoping the words will rebound off something to prove that the opponent is actually there. Suddenly, a brush of air blows across his face. The bell rings. He steps back and begins to throw his arms about – words coming more quickly, loudly. But his words fall to hit a mark. No one wants to listen. The bell ring heralds the end of round 1. The fighter leans on the ropes but they fall away. The second round bell tolls, and now the onlookers are entering the ring. They circle the prize fighter, yelling at him, trying to displace his focus and energy. They talk him down, telling him his technique is old hat and how to win. He now can’t make out who the opponent is – the boxer or the onlookers. How many rounds will it take before he gains a foothold?

Or..

Scenario 2: Romantic comedy

A senior cop on the beat, facing extinction. Any day now, the Sarg is going to draw up the new list of promotions and recruits. Which means an imaginary line drawn threw the rest. Age and seniority are no exceptions. The cop hopes he can stick around long enough to befriend one particular recruit – a shiny and beautiful addition that speaks the cop’s language. Not handcuffs and mug shots – but microinteractions and hero images. The cop knows that together they could turn this rusty organisation around to work with the people and not against them. Cop’s interest is not only professional. Cop can see the two of them walking hand-in-hand in the sunset, drawing them closer and closer, until ….. But first, organisational transformation. Recruit’s skills and nous will surely turn some of the older leadership around. Will these old rust buckets see through Cop’s motives as being just career survival or a strategic push into a new age?

To be continued…

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That Trivago ad … again.

A sojourn in Australia over the Christmas break has exposed me to a lot of television. Too much in fact. And way too many, Trivago ads.

Much has already been written about the ‘merits’ of the Trivago advertising campaign. I’m not regurgitating the lack of creative here.

But its focus on the site’s usability as its strategy perplexes me as a user experience professional. Our role is to make the technology disappear. Enable a user to find what they want intuitively.

So why would an online travel site choose to use their site’s usability as the cornerstone of their advertising strategy? How their site works, is the same as how hundreds and thousands of other websites work. One particular ad talks up a feature that is already prevalent on Expedia.

Surely, the Trivago peeps don’t think their customers haven’t used the internet before? Or searched any website before? I’d be keen to see a breakdown of their user demographics.

There’s a code that is understood between all UX-ers – if you need to explain how to use your website, you’ve done a bad job as a designer.

Love thy user

It’s not rocket science, as Wojciech Zielinski writes.

Getting out and talking to users one would hope that those with UX in their titles, are doing – it’s just what needs to be done. We don’t design for ourselves.

I applaud the title of this article – falling in love with users – and yet, sometimes I’ve seen it lacking. In some larger organisations, I have witnessed sizeable research teams observe user sessions and either laugh or shake their head at a user’s chosen behaviour.

Yes, users are unpredictable. They – as well as we – all have different experiences of how we see and perceive the world. They will pull and test the software in ways that not one or many UX designers can foresee. That’s why we test.

But not only test. Research our user, their worlds and what they do. While it can sound extravagant, it all helps paint the landscape of where our products belong. Useful and usable products should ideally fill a gap or be embedded in an existing workflow.

Implications for designing for Generation Z and beyond

A recent presentation at York St John’s University explored the rise of perfectionism in young people. Researchers in the UK found a greater degree of competition and the need to outstrip others had risen in the last 30 years. Demand to do better was found to not only be pressure they put on themselves, but from external factors – namely, parents.

Photo credit | @daria.shevtsova via Pexels

Three key factors of the research identified:

  • The extent to which young people attach an irrational importance to being perfect, hold unrealistic expectations of themselves, and are highly self-critical has increased by 10%

  • The extent to which young people impose unrealistic standards on those around them and evaluate others critically has increased by 16%

  • The extent to which young people perceive that their environment is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval has risen by 33%.

The budding sociologist in me found this fascinating, and one’s study of a week’s worth of news and current affairs, will witness the enormous pressures faced on today’s youth.

The user experience designer in me saw the implications for product and service design. See point 2 above, the rise in expectations of those around them. It’s logical to take from this, a rise in expectation of how well products and services they use, function. But still in software development, there are ill-conceived interactions and work flows that bear little connection to the intended users.

Be this due to conflicting priorities, lack of resource to make it happen, development-minded organisations and product management, or any other reason.

This has implication for everyone, and everything.

Brain re-wired

Hotels are great aren’t they for wayfinding? A series of signs that take you on a journey of discovery, confident in your own ability to find your way around. Only to have your path halted mid corridor when all of a sudden you’re met with blanks walls adorned with work by the artist of the moment instead. TripAdvisor is littered with comments from guests of MGM Grand and the Venetian in Las Vegas getting lost in the 6000+ room hotels. Studies of those wayfinding systems would make interesting reading.

On the smaller scale, there are still challenges to overcome. On a recent trip, I stayed in a hotel of probably less than 100 rooms. Stepping out of the lift to my floor, I was met by this:

Now I might have been tired and weary, but it took me a little while to compute this. We in the western world read left to right. Yet this sign required me to read right to left, then back again. Firstly I locate my room number – 517 – then to see which direction I turn.

Having the arrows so close to each other didn’t assist scannability. Some space and distance could’ve helped with that.

Ok, so I turned right. I locked this away for future reference. Next time, I’d let my nose do the walking.

The next time I got out of the lift, I turned right. As I walked I perused the door numbers but they were not as I expected. They descended away from, not ascended to, ‘517’. What the…?

I returned to the lobby to discover 4 lifts – 2 x 2 lifts facing each other across a small lobby. And 2 room signs – one on either wall a mirror of the other. From one side of the lobby turn right. From the other side, turn left.

I got there in the end but I didn’t want to be dealing with this on holiday.

Agency Designworkplan outline 3 core principles that drive their work in helping people navigate in built environments. These include landmarks, orientation and navigation. A three dimensional rule that tells you where you are in relation to another place, how far you are from your destination and what direction you need to get there. Simple. City maps accomplish this easily with a helpful marker of ‘you are here’.

Based on this, here’s a suggested approach:

The amenities are fictional, to help illustrate the point that surrounding landmarks can help with orientation. A little more helpful than a batch of numbers tacked on to a wall.

Data-driven world

The hot topic at a client organisation at present is data-driven development (DDD). Not only a topic, but an approach that is well integrated within the engineering team. Sitting alongside various measures – analytics and heatmapping tools (on both legacy and new infrastructures), NPS, and A/B testing – various departments are grappling to implement code and get access to the data stream that will soon hit all product team’s shores.

Its intent is to be a more accurate measure of friction in customer experience, where they struggle, drop out of the product and gather their feedback along the way. What it won’t do is sweep the floor of the qualitative approaches – the data team have been very clear about that.

Some product managers however have missed this vital point. Those uninitiated, or still in a world where Google Analytics used to tell all, believe that a number alone does not lie. A feature or flow only gets 2% usage – ‘ah, off with its head!’.

Once, I would have agreed with this response. Many years of experience later – and to some product managers chagrin – has told me, the question we need to ask is, why. Why is there only 2% usage?

It may be painfully obvious to the team why – usability problems, doesn’t work on mobile, wrong place in the user’s flow, too many other competing options, etc.

Descoping is too a factor. All too many times, I’ve seen due process followed – user research, market research, diligent design, testing – leading to a design solution that stands on its merits. Only to have it ripped apart by technical limitations, reducing time scales, dwindling budgets, development team reshuffles and changing priorities.

So when a validated design solution only fulfills a shadow of its intended glory when implemented, is it really a surprise if only 2% of customers use it? The number identifies the problem; it may be the design or it may point to process. But only after we dig around and ask, why.

At the end of the day, these are all assumptions and need validation. A number alone does not state this. It simply lights the way to finding out a problem.

Research. Insight. Discovery. It’s a cyclical process.

Simply looking at a number and saying – well no one’s using it, we’re taking it out of the product – is a naive approach. A clear intent led to its inclusion; the execution failed.

This idea left me wondering, DDD comes after the fact. It’s measuring the impact of a feature or interaction AFTER it’s been implemented. It’s assuming that an upfront design-led process is in place and working. That a customer’s experience influences a process, not only at development level but at a higher strategic level. Influencing a product offering, driving the discovery into new markets, fully exploring a user’s world and context to ascertain how technology can help them – rather than devise a solution and push it to them.

While DDD may be a move in the right direction, it raises the question of, is it the right place for an organisation to start?

Prototyping tool of choice ?

Source: Morguefile.comI was heartened to read the highlights of Future of Web Design by Hayley Charlton, UX Consultant @uxconnections.

For too long now I’ve found the emphasis placed on prototyping tools in job ads, distracting. Mind you I love the power of Axure and the minimalism of Balsamiq. A beautifully executed freehand sketch is the ultimate to me – no surprise there.

But crucial time is lost sometimes tooling up for the job at hand, when there are so many ways to demonstrate an idea, all as valid as each other.

Surely it must come down to the nature of the project, the time allocated and, as the article states, the ‘feel of things’ that a designer has. The best ‘tool’ to use to express this would be a natural selection and different each time.

Anyone can learn software; it just shouldn’t drive the execution of an idea.