Archive for the ‘Design Practice’ Category

Design practice makes perfect

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Evidence gained from research is powerful. It can persuade the most stubborn board members if presented in a way where decisions can be made based on facts. Data is also very easy to understand from different perspectives, it is the tangible, cold hard numbers that make it easy for decision makers to trust and react upon.

Ethnographic studies and user testing also give a qualified set of opinions to go on – who would argue with the voice of the customer? Especially if the risk of ignoring opinions only get amplified through social networks. For business, the value of UCD can be seen in exploring hypotheses backed up by quantitative and qualitative research.

Making from gathering

However the disconnect between design research and design practice is a problem and a difficulty in the discipline of UX that needs to be addressed if the profession is not to descend into the deliverables business. Production of meaningless documentation is a trap that consultancies fall into to boost their role in a project. There are various companies who base their business around user testing or research through ethnography. It’s a viable way to make money but unfortunately business value may not be derived from their results if their client does not have synthesisers on hand to interpret and take action on results.

The synthesis between analysing research and creating design is critical in terms of the quality of the execution and also the efficiency (in time and cost) of getting there. The effectiveness of the synthesizing of the research data is down to the experience of the designer, their toolbox and design environment. Whether a company either has the internal culture or the right design agency will affect these results.

There is another reason that design will always trump research. Research is based in the past, on findings that have been retrieved from the wild at a specific point in time. Design is practiced in the present but the aim is to deliver solutions for the future. Therefore innovation exists in the practical activity of design, or the making of the solution. It needs to be seen as the most important activity within the field of UX, not downplayed but championed.

Remember UX is User Centred Design

A problem with UX is that so much emphasis has been placed on the tools, that the art of producing great designs is becoming lost amongst the user tests and evaluations. For prospective clients and other domains this focus on the human condition seems too academic or removed from their reality. However the target audience’s reality is essential to deliver the right experience that we wish to give to a prospective customer. They are the change agents that we depend upon to push through what we design.

But efficiency can only really be achieved with experienced designers well versed in UCD techniques. To know the difference of being led-by and being informed by the user (and acting on that decision through design work) is core to providing value to any business. They seek innovation execution through designers but they will also find designers will automatically tackle business problems through their design work.

Analysis should never start as an activity without sufficient levels of translation and comprehension from the designers who will create the end product. The optimal method is for designers to conduct the research, and experience the needs and want of a user first-hand and then to make the solution. No matter what size an organisation, it should facilitate this type of working practice. Lack of communication at critical points in a project will result in a failure for the user and the business.

Listen, think, build

Optimization, concept creation and execution on innovative ideas can all be handled and explored by key members of UX design teams. Considered product development with an investment in research and the design tools to be innovative, creates real business value.

Design thinking is one thing but design doing is a far more powerful act for business. A necessary part of this act is to gain real insights from user (or customer) research but then go into rapid production with the ability to iterate the design as the product is being built.

The real benefit of research and design is the ability to create innovative solutions for the companies by being able to act upon the research – innovation happens because there is an ability to follow through with idea generation. The effectiveness in executing is as essential for innovative companies as their ability to ship products.

The iterative nature of design and the need to collaborate with many different disciplines also ensures practical application. Holistic solutions can only occur with a team with a broad skillset, and an eye on the bigger picture.

But most importantly designers need to be researchers who have empathetic understanding of the human condition before they open their toolbox.

Reaching for innovation

If you are in a design process where this doesn’t occur ask yourself could it? What is stopping your organisation from designing this way and do you feel secure that your current approach is the best way?

If you are a client or product owner you can ask these questions to gauge how your agency or internal team may reach that innovative solution you are searching for.

1. How is the agency or team organised and how do they produce work? A collaborative physical environment and multi-disciplinary teams are essential to allow your ambitions to fulfilled.
2. Are the people you meet those who will make your product or service solution?
3. Do they have a codified method for the work they do which they can candidly talk about without the need of a slide deck?
4. Are they credible and authoritative in what they say?

 

 

Six Circles – An experience design framework

Monday, January 30th, 2012

cover

This ebook has taken far too long to write but at last it is finally finished. The beauty of self-publishing is also the major problem with it – nobody pushes you, you aren’t paid and for all you know nobody will read it once it’s published. I wanted to see how the many different aspects of the book may develop conversations within the user experience community.

Elements of the book have already aged, but the principles continue, even though the examples may not! However, I hope you enjoy the read and I am really interested to know your thoughts, either here or on twitter. Currently it is only an ePub available for mobile devices but if the demand is there, other versions will be made available.

Download Six Circles for Epub readers
(See the comments section below for browser-based ePub readers)

Download Six Circles as a PDF

Some accompanying thoughts

In the last year I have seen how the different elements of the Six Circles transcend user experience, into the fields of brand strategy, service design and customer experience. It is my view that in ten years time we will be talking about what we do today in very different terms due to the contexts that we have to design for, using technology that is only beginning to become pervasive in our physical environment. I predict that UX and Service Design will cease to be differentiated, as they will be so entwined it would be too difficult, and potentially inefficient to separate into different disciplines.

I have seen enough of touch and tablet usage, mobile devices, ‘Everyware’ (and even Microsoft’s shift of it’s Windows 8 platform towards the touch paradigm) to feel that we are in for an exciting decade ahead.

Call it the legacy of Steve Jobs, but what he has left us with is a global population who are more instantly engaged with technology than we could have imagined ten years ago. To allow the very young and very old to interact with content through the same device is a stunning achievement, and for the interface and interaction designers to be able to support a richer experience is truly exciting.

Unfortunately companies are still catching up, fearful of failure and what they perceive as risk. Watching their competitors to see who makes the first move but the time for businesses to be brave and bold is now. There is not much time remaining for some businesses to make use of the power of meaningful, rich experiences delivered by brands that satisfy the culture and contextual uses of the users. Those companies that achieve this will simply dominate at a rate that is faster due to the networked society.

But all the talk of technology misses the point. It is the human needs, desires and emotions and their interactions with each other that create our insights that in turn drive innovation and success for companies. These experiences make the difference. It is the quality of experience that is the differentiator for any company in a crowded market.

Solving people problems will inevitably solve business problems. The challenge is to get businesses to believe in it, and trust those to deliver on the promise of user centred design. But with a process that is understood and a philosophy that appeals to many, there is alot we can do to ensure the business world adopts a path to greater product development, that builds on the needs and wants of people at its core.

Social computing on Interaction-Design.org

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

A free platform that offers so much content of benefit to interaction designers the world over is a rare thing. So I am really happy to be able to promote it here  - not least because this particular content was filmed in my home town of Copenhagen, in the impressive building of the IT University.

IMG_2394

Tom Erikson discusses content from his book about social computing – a theme that these days has more relevance then ever in our mobile, ‘always on’ world. Social interaction, between people via machines is at the heart of this work and makes for very interesting viewing if you are even slightly interested in the prominence of social media networks and online communities.

This content aside, some of the brightest minds in the field of user experience have contributed essays, articles and important design research on a free platform - Interaction-Design.org. I’m still discovering content and it’s a brilliant idea to have a place where so much good material can be accessed and shared.

Huge credit must go to Mads Soegaard and Rikke Dam whose initiative started in 2002. It is another example of the passion that people in this community hold, and a similar view point as to why I started my blog in the first place.

Documenting and sharing knowledge will help us all in our future work. Seeing a work of such magnitude makes me relieved that others believe that knowledge that will benefit society should be freely available.

What makes a good UX designer?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

sorensiim

Photo courtesy of Sorensiim

I have always had this post at the back of my mind and often check myself against the qualities I have listed here. Of course I fail in some of them, but if you can aim to succeed with just a few of these qualities, your design work will get there too. At the moment I am working on a particularly tough project. The type that consumes you – energy levels, time, and concentration on any other task is difficult. Without being surrounded by good people it would be unbearable. So if you hire people, or are looking to join a team, try and find out these qualities exist in the people you are working with.

Some personal qualities to try and gain or maintain within a team and elements to consider when working as a unit;

 

Persistence

Commitment to a project needs to go beyond just time allocated to it. It needs to be exhibited as a character trait. To not give up, maintain momentum and motivation and keep on moving towards the overall goal is a core trait for a UX person to show. Inevitably this may result in annoying a few colleagues as you will not leave them alone until specific tasks are finished or you get an answer to a particularly important problem. Using a bit of charm will go a long way to ensure you can get progress.

 

Passion

There needs to be an underlying desire to ensure that the project succeeds and a genuine care about seeing it fulfill it’s initial promise. Having passion means going the extra mile, but also enjoying the elements of the work once it has started. Being interested beyond the bounds of a project but also spending the time to go beyond the normal delivery will affect other team members and soon create a positive working environment. Having passionate people on a team makes an enormous difference to the success of delivering a product or service.

 

Positivity 

It is very easy to become dejected due to research findings or user studies that have shown results that were either not expected or detrimental to a project. Having the ability to look for the good, from a bad situation will pay off. A positive attitude to the work, difficult colleagues, stakeholders or customers, inevitably results in a better atmosphere, working environment and an increased potential for more work in the future.

 

Patience

UX work typically has the ability to impact on everybody inside an organization and certainly the customers or users who will interact with what is produced. The repercussions on some of the decisions made, affects different decision makers at all levels in a company hierarchy. Be aware that some changes will take years to see come to fruition and the plans that are laid out are likely to be the foundations – that you may never witness being executed. Therefore being particularly patient with people is a necessary part regarding change management. With UX work, your users will test you as you are testing them! Learn to control anything you may say in response to seemingly stupid comments or actions. Again it will serve you well in terms of collating valuable design research.

 

Progress

Be aware that on a project UX work has very different tasks that have outcomes with different time requirements. The pace of a project cannot dictate the pace of research and so compromises need to be met, either on budgetary expenditure or time spent. The important thing to be aware of is that incremental progress is a desired outcome for large scale ux projects – particularly on live products. Changes made need to be done in an orderly, considered manner so as not to disenfranchise or confuse customers. On new products, change can be made quickly, but be aware that the grand plan will be phased and broken down into critical elements first, the ‘nice-to-haves’ coming later.

 

Stamina

Some projects will last months and at times will require focus to ensure that the quality is not affected as issues occur and problems arise. The importance of giving the team a break in high-intensity work is very important but not quitting is really important. The ability to finish the work started is important to UX work, why research something if it is not followed through? To exhibit stamina, means that the necessary long hours and unusual times to conduct field research will be needed to offer a product that is well designed.

 

Humour

This is something you must have to get you through elements of UX work that are difficult. User testing in odd locations, the ability to convince a board member using charm and an outlook that can deflect hostility by using humour, is essential to a career in this field. UX people tend to be socially competent because they primarily deal with people to get products designed effectively. Having a sense of humour will allow events that may derail a project to not have a detrimental effect on the outcome. Sometimes you may simply have to laugh to keep sane and the ability to show this, effects team morale and positivity.

 

Embodiment

UX work is all about empathy for the user and designing for their needs whilst also aligning the business requirements in combination. To design with empathy requires somebody to have that as an attribute in their personality. To be concerned about user’s experiences means you cannot just pay it lip service. If a comment by a user is ignored and not represented in the final design, your attitude to their plight will be revealed. As a UX person it is your responsibility to be the voice of the user and make sure it is heard as a product develops. Evangelize the needs and wants to those that are building the solution. But also consider the realities of what must work for the business and the inevitability of compromise. Diplomacy and politics are a necessity here but with all the factors being present above – you will be well equipped to tackle the hardest UX challenges.

Incidentally, I am currently looking for a UX lead at Hello Group – here in Copenhagen and in addition to posting the usual job ad I thought about qualities that define a person who ‘fits’ within the UX team. If the above sounds like you and you have the usual profile and portfolio let me know. One proviso is that Danish language (spoken) is an important skill to have, as well as the usual UX toolbox.

Prospecting in the 21st century

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

I have been sitting on this post (and maybe this fence) for some time and a recent article finally gave me the impetus to write this.

 

innovation_theonlyone
Image courtesy of theonlyone 
 

Firstly, I would like to highlight some opinions of UX (and UCD) themes in evidence in the last 6 months:

  • The purists – those who believe UX should be kept out of the advertising agency world (Merholz and Bowles).
  • The integrators – those who feel that UX must play a part in communication of a product or brand and be an integral element of an ad agency (Abby the IA and Karen McGrane)
  • The skeptics – those who don’t believe in UX being a discipline at all (Ryan Carson).
  • The naysayers – those who believe UCD (and indirectly UX) is a waste of time and even misleading in terms of creating a truly innovative solution (Skibsted and Hansen)

 

Eric Reiss in the Journal of IA took a balanced and considered view to these opinions. Framing them with a sense of perspective and presenting some deeper thoughts about UX and the role of IA in all of this. I particularly like his focus on business reality and the clarion call to embrace Information Architecture as the label that defines what we really do;

Ultimately, it will be our understanding of disciplines both within and beyond IA, that will ensure us a place at the table around which the big decisions are made.

Why UX must be present in the advertising industry

I think it’s important to reaffirm why we should not have an elitist view of UX and why IA is at the very core of the user experience collection of disciplines.

Clearleft and Adaptive Path do excellent work as UX design companies. But they are a minority in a huge marketplace of varied design companies and to say that UX doesn’t have a place in other types of business is contradictory to their usual UX evangelism. Isn’t it much better having people in all sorts of businesses doing information architecture and interaction design under the umbrella of UX?

In the company I work at, we are growing our UX offering around a product and it is a slow but sure process of convincing people that this approach (with the right designers) can really work for their business. However, we must also embark on communication and design work as our market is not as big or as mature as the US or UK. These are driven by the need for business survival but it also ensures we have diverse viewpoints on our projects. Different perspectives provide value.

The concept of baked-in marketing

…there are so many opportunities for engagement through interaction, conversation, utility and actual *use* between the initial message and the product itself.

A day before Peter Merholz posted his view on UX and advertising, Andrew Hinton highlighted  that product development and communication go hand in hand. This closer alignment will have repercussions for UX – pushing it into mainstream design consciousness. Just about every design pursuit will need to look at wider issues that surround the customer and product. Companies will strive to engage, to create interaction. Creating users who become customers.

Service design is the natural progression from UX – taking interactions across platforms and concentrating on the invisible and tangible connections around customer or user interactions. Information architects should be at the heart of this design work and don’t be surprised to start to see IAs appear in companies that you didn’t even think of as ‘digital’.

Let’s also remember that this isn’t just the domain of designers but all stakeholders. We must realize UX work is done by those who do not call themselves designers. This can have both good and bad sides but if there are more people who know what we are talking about, in the right domains, this can only be for the good.

Design practice – risk and innovation

The reality of the times, is that a business needs to innovate and create better products, faster than before. But they need to mitigate risk, and UX methods offer a way of backing this up with real and relevant data. It seems at this stage to be a correct and considered way to ensure you have the right approach.

But the caveat is how to interpret data from users and it can be a minefield. The best designers will filter and discard many findings and see the real gold in reams of user interviews. This level of skill is learnt through experience. The ability to be a synthesiser of data and create meaningful relationships between themes is a core quality of any designer.

Conceptual work needs verification with customers at some stage and even Apple does this before they go to market. So to say they do not listen to users is a fallacy. They have conducted ethnographic studies with their customers, observing them using their products in their homes and offices for weeks.

The amount of data they acquire from these sessions would warrant a convincing case to not go for persona creation or user interviews, ever. They pretty much know how people feel about and use their products, so for them to innovate they need to pick up on areas that are hinted at by user comments and their behaviours through their usage. Concepts that are achievable by being verified with customers who have previously talked about the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘nice to haves’.

Action research and design doing

Negating risk by investing in research that is actionable is a shrewd move, especially in a marketplace where customers are more vocal and more likely to be persuaded by peers than ever before. For business, the value of UX can be seen in exploring hypotheses backed up by quantitative and qualitative research.

Optimization, concept creation and execution on innovative ideas can all be handled and explored by UX teams. Considered product developments and the tangible tools to be innovative, create real business value.

Software design, integrated service design and product design all benefit from design research. In my opinion UCD is purely another way of obtaining the right information. I wouldn’t design anything without ensuring a brief that included as much background information as possible. Would you?

Design thinking is one thing but design doing is a far more powerful act for business. A necessary part of this act is to gain real insights from user (or customer) research.

Envisioning the future by studying the present

It is not just interface design. It is not just about making the world more usable and ethically correct. It’s all this and more. It is a force for changing business in its approach and to make it economically stable by providing for needs but also satisfying wants beyond the present day. This is the business value of UX. How you interpret the data you collect, and create something truly unique, relies on the teams skill set and experience.

All of this leads me back to my belief that UCD as a philosophy and UX (and especially IA) form the foundation for the best products and service design. A whitepaper was released as I wrote this, defining UX – written by academics, practitioners and industry. It would be good if this were a full stop to the infighting and misinformation the discipline faces, but somehow I doubt it.

Creating Hellogroup.com

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Recently we launched Hello Group’s site after 4 years of (let’s say diplomatically) sub-optimal solutions. With the best intentions, getting a site together that everybody in a company will be happy with may never happen. When it is a design centered company this can be even less likely. As it is what we do and are passionate about, we all tend to have an opinion and want it heard. Of course we can’t take all opinions into account, otherwise the project will lack focus, direction and will be difficult to maintain progress and reach a launch date.

 

helloweb_home

 

Other factors come into play such as content. Where there is content there are firm opinions that go to the very core of the strategic direction of the company and what is communicated externally about the business. The site becomes a vehicle that must satisfy so many factors (and people) that there is always a risk that it will not do anything particularly well.

Direction and collaboration
The realisation of this fact early on, led to us having a core group of UX and visual designers working on the project together, after we had gained a clear strategic and creative vision of what we wanted to say. A day was set aside to see how far we could push the project, and though not all objectives were met it gave us a cohesive view of the design direction and interactive elements of the site.

We wanted a platform that tied together our other digital spaces (Facebook, Twitter etc) and did it in a way that we could easily build on. Once the design was decided we could brief the developer on something that was tangible and easy to explain. There was a lot of iteration and discussion between the visual, interactive and dynamic areas of the site between developer, designer and the UX team. Without constant dialogue the project would have become harder to complete satisfactorily.

We also had to involve the other parts of the business throughout in a way where their inputs would help shape the site but not derail the process of building to a deadline. I have no doubt that not everybody is as satisfied with the outcome as I am, but these issues will be resolved and importantly the site must be seen as a living entity that enables change as we go. It has been designed and built with this in mind.

Below are some factors, or principles, that led to a solution that for our market and our company’s values we feel is the right approach. A large part of the philosophy was realizing the importance of not communicating everything. That what you do not communicate is equally important as what should go on the site.

 

case  

Simplicity
What we really strived for with the new design was to produce something that clearly told something about the company, showcased our work, allowed an insight into our people and their interests. But we wanted it to be entirely easy to access, with minimal clicks and interaction. The main reason was that building the site is a first step before growing it, into something more experimental and ambitious. Rather than focus on grand designs we wanted to set a foundation for us to be able to move around content and present new ideas easily. More importantly using WordPress allowed us to have a CMS (though custom made) that allowed everybody to be able to edit and contribute content very easily.

Flexibility
The front page is modular, meaning elements can be switched or turned off depending on the need of focus. News is an important part as we often do things beyond client work that are interesting and valuable to know. The main dropdown also allows extra elements to be inserted inside the structure of the site without interfering with the main navigation. Jobs, news and other elements will appear as they warrant the inclusion through the amount of content available to the user.

Interaction
The website works well on the iPad – some content may be missing (Flash based video – which will be changed) but it does not harm the experience of using the site. So designing for tablet usage has enabled us to see what we are producing is beyond the browser but more about the platform. We had to think about a dual way of looking at user interaction. Touching and clicking on elements on a screen have to have a common element of interaction. The areas needed to be big enough, give appropriate feedback instantly, and convey a way of interaction that is intuitive. Expect more in the future as this crossover allows us to explore this way of designing interfaces further.

Personality
Why show our people? Well apart from giving our clients the ability to work out who does what, we wanted people to put names to faces, and to see where they fitted within the company. As we are only a small number of people it is critical that those who may deal with us know who they are talking to and have the ability to get in touch directly. Not least it gives us a human angle. Humanizing the web is something there simply isn’t enough of. We also wanted to show what some of these people thought, wrote or created. The Follow section allows us to have an area that links the other spaces where we occupy (blogs, Flickr etc) and allow us to pour this content into a general area of interest.

 

follow

 

Content creation
The platform used by Wired, Mashable and TechCrunch is very accessible and is easy to manage content through a team that can collaborate through the interface. It also allows permissions to be set up that require different user roles to produce and publish the content. A very necessary element of producing a site is to ensure that there are methods to publish live, and instantly, when needed. WordPress allows this in a way that is supported by a multitude of plug-ins that ensure other concerns (such as SEO and social media) are addressed. Simply put, WordPress is a free back-end system that helps you run a website professionally. Yes we used extra coding to get things done how we wanted, but the system that runs the ability to add more content is out of the box.

 

fonts   Known issues
We use a home made font solution to render Helvetica on many browsers. Chrome manages it the best but Safari suffers on the Mac (though not on the iPad due to the font renderer on the tablet). This has caused issues and will be rectified for the Mac user. Some elements of the animation of the list are a little clunky and these will be ironed out as we go.

 

Key people
You will find success in making sure you stick to the goal and remaining committed to it throughout. Setting achievable deadlines and communicating that to the other team members is critical. Technical problems may delay a launch but resource issues shouldn’t derail the building of a site – that’s just bad planning or lack of foresight. Also a creative developer was critical to this being built – his can-do attitude with an eye for details and creative flair ensured we have a site we are happy with, and can improve easily. Without his skill it would have been much harder to achieve our vision for the site.

Also make sure you have somebody who can continually badger people to get things done (if like me you haven’t the stamina to do it yourself). I luckily has a great PM to help and she kept on at the team to provide what we had laid out in the plan. At times you will get disheartened but remember that your ability to achieve the goal is mirrored in your personal belief that it is achievable. Always remain positive and it can be done with dedication and team work.

 

work

 

A site for the future
Conceiving, designing, building and refining a website can be a straight forward process or a challenge that will test the patience of all involved. Thankfully by adopting an agile strategy to design and user experience we managed to have a very clear direction quickly about how the site was organized , and the interaction and visual design was produced in a matter of days.

Content held us up and producing cases perhaps took (and takes) longer than we wish. But often they require feedback from all stakeholders and this takes time. What we do have upon launch is a site that has attracted attention and we are happy with. The best part is it is a platform that works well on tablets and laptops, we can add elements and ensure that we have a medium for communication that supports our demands.  

This site represents a new beginning for Hello – and that was a key theme in it’s design. The designers managed to encapsulate this feeling in a look that is fresh, bold and in-keeping with the company. After all the work it is a very satisfying feeling to experience what has been built. The launch is just the start. The evolution of it can now begin…

Usability

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

The final component of defining the (user) experience design framework is Usability. To some it is a de facto standard of good design, but so much of what is produced fails in this area, and not just in digital design. It feels consistently that products, buildings, vehicles and urban planning lack a sufficient consideration of the human being.

Usability has become the easy bat to wield in the boardroom – primarily to help gain sponsorship. It is the element of UX that is easy to understand and very transparent to see. So much so, that usability and research consultancies have become widespread and are thriving – serving up endless recommendations and expert reviews to companies that feel they need to improve their user’s experience.

The challenge to those who actually design is to accept that this part of the job is a necessity, something that is unavoidable, that must be learnt and always considered. To not have a sound appreciation of usability leaves a proposed solution open to attack from any source. Many times design aspirations are shot down because of the ‘it’s not best practice’ statement. This is why usability has a bad name in design circles, and to some extent rubs off onto other areas of UX.

But usability is the starting point, and when placed alongside context, it becomes a design constraint that is a good thing. Played right, and quality design can be achieved that serves many people easily and can still be beautiful, show elegance and simplicity. The designer embracing usability will reward the person every time they use the product. That is the goal of any designer, to produce a meaningful experience by allowing a person to use a tool, service or product with the minimum of friction.

People’s interaction with computers must rely on increased usability because it is an abstract experience. The designer must assume that the user can only go from personal experience to navigate, interact with and control a device without any other human’s help. As UX designers this makes usability core to our design practice.

The following principles explore areas of usability that have direct impact on the quality of a person’s experience.

Way finding

London Tube image with no Thames 

The proposed map of the London tube network

London Tube map with Thames 

The reinstated Thames features on the map
  Finding your way through a website to their sign up page or making your way through a city to get to your hotel – the principles of way finding are the same. Four phases are present; orientation, route decision, route monitoring and destination recognition.

Transport for London felt the Mayor of London’s very public frustration when he demanded that a redesigned tube map – without the Thames displayed, should be scrapped and the old one reinstated.

To remove a physical attribute on this wholly abstract, geographically inaccurate map, was enough to cause public outrage.

It illustrates how we need a reference point – even in an abstract representation to give clarity and meaning. But the story also represents that the object, be it map or sign, takes on an emotional significance to the person who uses it.

There is an attachment to it because the object helps in attaining our goals, and these goals carry a personal value. A map or sign that is established can not be changed dramatically without disturbance to the user. The same applies to established navigation elements in websites or applications.

 

Flexibility Usability Trade-off

The more flexible a system becomes the less usable it tends to be. This trade-off can be seen in mobile phones and cameras that are feature rich. The difficulty of use tends to increase with the added ‘flexibility’ of the product. Over time the flexible nature becomes more specialised as the user needs become more defined in customer segments. Their experience of the product is optimised and so niche products or services become more prevalent. When research defines those needs, a product is produced that may seem a mistake to those customers outside the target market.

Sony's Google remote control image   Sony’s recent publicised work with Google has resulted in this creation. It is a fine example of how when flexibility is pushed to the limit (in this case a QWERTY keyboard attached to a tv remote control) usability is so diminished that it potentially renders the object useless. Ergonomically it appears to be uncomfortable, and by looking at the thumbs in the photo not unlike typing into a pocket calculator.

Garbage in garbage out

image of a web form   This principle concerns problems of type and of quality in the collation of information. In the online world this is typically seen in form design.

Clarifying the type of data can be defined by the constraints afforded by design elements (input fields, dropdown lists etc).

Quality of information can be determined by verification checks and distinct instructions relating to the areas under current focus in the form.

This form is a great example of poor layout which, regardless of the type of input fields, will have an effect on the efficiency of the form to collect useful data.

It is extremely important to balance the usability of a form with the requirements of data that the form must supply. Where larger amounts are required, break down the data entry into steps. Reveal the necessary data in stages to the user and use visual cues to communicate progress.

 Performance load

Complexity is an unavoidable element when involved in the process of designing a solution. As computers become increasingly pervasive in society the amount of data that will be managed and transmitted will give an increasing pressure on the user to filter, rationalise and act upon information communicated to them. This principle can be divided into cognitive and kinetic load.

Cognitive load refers to the amount of thought required to achieve a goal. With screen based systems this largely depends on reading and understanding written text. The form above has a high degree of cognitive load and is often why it is prudent to keep emails short, as people tend not to read due to the cognitive stress of digesting large amounts of information.

Kinetic load is the physical effort required to complete a task. With touch technology, even pushing keys has been replaced by a tap on glass. Dimmer switches are not even dials to turn anymore – kinetic load is something product designers are extremely aware of. Software systems should also replicate this attention to detail, ensure minimal scrolling, and the least number of clicks to get a job done.

Visibility

Indicating a system’s status to a user, the possible interactions and the results of their inputs is described as visibility. Revealing information at the relevant moment, is key to a user responding and acting on information in the quickest time. Too much information or too many options will create confusion and delay. Context sensitivity of a system allows this to happen, influencing the interface to respond depending on the situation.


Old SAAB dashboard photo 
Photo courtesy of cgull
Ford Fusion dashboard photo  Photo courtesy of ogilvyprworldwide

  Dashboards were originally examples of efficient design. The basic mechanics of a car meant only a certain amount of information would ever be displayed. Cars made in the last century had a clarity that modern manufacturers find hard to emulate.

With the added complexity of hybrid motoring there appears to be a trend to emulate a smart phone interface on the dashboard. The consciousness of the design team towards the technological advancement of the car pervades into the dashboard’s design. Note the warning lights are separate entities above the electronic display here. Is it because the visibility of these essential items could be diluted by the electronic dash?
The electronic area is to help the motorist figure out their most ecologically efficient way of motoring. The far right of the screen grows an image of a vine for eco-friendly motoring and kills off the plant if excess fuel is being used. The Ford Fusion physically separates warnings from information here.

 Layering
When conveying relationships between groups of information the layering approach allows a build of complex information groups around an object. Think of the weather map as a simple illustration of this. The object being the physical satellite view of the geographical location. The images describe the layers of air pressure, temperature and cloud cover placed over it. Not only does layering help manage complexity by breaking down complex data into stages, but by grouping information together it can also reinforce the relationship between the information types.

Two-dimensional layering can be sequential (linear), and can be used to manage complexity by introducing the content in stages with context changing easily. It can also be non-liner, for example hierarchical (site structure diagram),  parallel (swim lanes) or web-like. Three-dimensional layering uses transparent layers to introduce conceptual ideas around a particular context that does not change.

 

layers of a weather diagram 

Accessibility
Of all the principles in the experience design framework, arguably the most important one, has been left until last. Without this principle being acknowledged and adhered to, the world would be a much more frustrating, and potentially dangerous place to live in. Four elements define if a solution is accessible or not, and if barriers are present to users that inhibits their usage of a product. Addressing accessibility goes some way in producing naturally usable products.

Perceptibility
Can the design be perceived irrespective of sensory capabilities? Common ways to address this is to make sensory alerts (visual and auditory) when an action is performed. From the doors of a train to the alert box of a computer system, sound and visual alerts are used. Physical objects can be made more perceptive to touch by using size and texture. Online elements can use the ALT tag and code structure of the page can ensure screen readers focus on content and not superfluous graphic items.

 

ratp_ticket_machine_start

Operability and Simplicity
This Paris Metro ticket machine has a large spinning roller that controls the screen above and two very large buttons either side to cancel or accept cues on screen. The machine also talks to the user, is positioned so a sitting person can still operate it and is highly sensitive – so the roller can move with the minimum of physical effort. The design is marred by the credit card area being positioned up and away from the focus area, but generally it is operable to multiple user types. It also manages to achieve simplicity as the control inputs are simple, and the choices can be understood with the use of pictorial elements, text and audio. Even without knowledge of French, the machine can still be used to produce a ticket, revealing relevant steps to ensure the user continues through the sales flow and achieves their goal.

Forgiveness
When designs minimise the occurrence and consequence of errors the design exhibits forgiveness. Reversible actions (undo), controls that can only be used in the correct way and the use of confirmations and consistent messaging all ensure that safety nets are available for the user (and the ability to not be punished for making errors). E-payment systems consistently ensure that their payment system is forgiving and gives ample opportunity to allow a user to decline or leave the process.

Six circles

Ending this six-part series on forgiveness seems apt. Perhaps as designers who cater for experiences in the UX or service design fields, the levels of understanding that we need to acquire will only increase as technology will allow us to do more, with more speed and with more societal ramifications. Forgiveness would be a good place to start in this increasingly turbulent time of technological flux.

There is a pressing need on us to do things better, make things smarter and more efficiently. The six themes within the framework started in a sequence that seemed to have no order but on reflection I have decided that persuasion sits on the periphery of experience. It affects our behaviour, often tacitly from experiences we have had in our past only held within our memory but still affecting how we interact with the world.

The third theme is visual design. The first tangible layer that we see, and come into contact with. As human beings it is how we are hard-wired to make decisions. It is a part of our genetic and biological make up and beneath that lies usability. This is the enabler for meaningful interaction, without usability the interactions that we have with the object will be without merit and will produce a negative effect – a bad experience.

Interaction is the doorway to the content. The ability to feel, touch and gain feedback to the ‘thing’ you wanted to get to in the first place. Content in this series has been described as the textual material we find within websites. But of course content can be anything to anybody. Music, art, film, an object or a product could sit at the core of the other five themes within the framework.

I am compiling the six themes with a foreword into an e-book available as a download on userpathways.com and an accompanying visualisation of the Experience Design Framework. If you are interested let me know on twitter: @userpathways

Euro IA 2010 – ‘Strong IA feels real’

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Last week I was in Paris for an entertaining, yet equally perplexing Euro IA. The majority of talks were a thought provoking foray into the usual domains of information architecture but also service design and co-creation.

image

The opening keynote from Oliver Reichenstein was a strange experience, part personal take on the field and part philosophical reflection on how he personally arrived at his own professional destination.

I am an admirer of his work and yet elements of those great data visualizations and experiments (the web trend maps) were not mentioned here. He did attempt to explain his user experience diagram but after claiming metaphors were only useful to a point, he then likened IA to ‘the recipe for user experience’. This gastronomic reference, was a recurring theme throughout the two days.

Contradiction seemed to be the order of the day. On the one hand stating that he found IA used too many ‘bullshit’ terms that were unhelpful, he then described his own design process as ‘dialectic’. I find philosophy in alignment to IA has never been helpful to our profession. It doesn’t resonate with me as thought-through – ‘the architecture of the mind’ that Reichenstein holds up as one of his views is unhelpful to a layman and really only strengthens the opinion of those who feel that IA is intangible. Even Reichenstein says that ‘if you stretch metaphors they break’.

 

image   Ian Fenn wrote a fictitious tweet, and yet ironically it was exactly what it felt like after he delivered his keynote.

It was a shame that this opportunity was lost of convincing the group that he didn’t just use the term because he liked the phrase. But unfortunately that seemed the real reason if you take the talk at face value.

 

His comment that ‘strong IA feels real’ was ironic, as this ia felt unreal, unrealistic and abstract. Even if it works for him and his company, I felt he didn’t tell the whole story.

I think therefore IA…
Other talks also reflected the philosophical aspect. Koen Claes focussed on designing for memory (enjoyable but try selling that to a CEO). Peter Bogaards talked about the similarity with gastronomy to aspects of what we do as UX people.

All thought-provoking stuff but really it had the feeling of some in-joke that only UX people would get, and that those from other communities who were present, the product managers, marketing and developers would look on and question.

This is not a practical application or useful in my opinion and after talking to a few attendees after day one they felt the same. These talks gave more attention to the experience of being human than the thing that we design. Though the two are obviously connected, it becomes too indiscernible from existentialism.

Lean IA, service design and Ubicomp
The second day proved far better, more real  and more tangible. More useful to talk about how to design in an agile way, using co-creation and the methods and skills found in the scrum processes of product development teams.

Here Jeff Gothelf, Johanna Kollmann and Franco Papeschi proved that the application of our skill set is the most important thing in our domain. The tools and methods are fine but not as important as engaging the team, working collaboratively and transparently and being an agent for change.

Their approaches were the exact opposite to the mysterious design master. This is the future of UX, with Claire Rowland and Chris Browne representing service design and ubicomp in a very comprehensive, fascinating talk.

Christophe Tallec also talked about how the theory of the wisdom of crowds, has usefully been applied to a product. These emerging fields becoming more relevant every year, and I guess in the not too distant future these fields will become facets of the same discipline.

Aimless ends
The closing plenary was given by Paul Kahn where he stated that Facebook was not important to him. But with its 500 million users and a previous slide stating how the biggest sites are user generated it just seemed he was being provocative for the sake of it.

As he ambled through several sites that he liked, it was similar to surfing a smashing magazine post of cool dataviz sites. The structured and non structured aspect of metadata is well documented but the talk really just seemed to meander without purpose.

His closing message that user-centred design is best tackled by saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ was uninspiring. Did this statement derive from too many failed projects?  One he showed – though it used a neat UI trick it was where he openly admitted he didn’t have numbers to know if it was effective or not. Who knows?

Summing up
There were a lot of great presentations and Martin Belam has gathered the talks on his site and are well worth a look. But keynotes are from thought leaders. Surely they have a responsibility to not use the platform as a casual debate (or product promotion) with throw away comments?

Or perhaps that is their call, but I do ask as an attendee for the speakers to prepare the material and avoid being self-indulgent or misleading. Give us something real. Give back something tangible to this community.

I remember last year being at a talk where a student pleaded – ‘give us something we can use’. From the keynotes, I was left with the same feeling…

UX design framework – Interaction

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Interaction

I have already covered content, visual design and behaviour as part of the UX design framework but now for the important topic of interaction…

A major element of UX, it has been described as

“the design of behavior, positioned as dialogue between a person and an artifact. A person commonly doesn’t talk to an object; they use it, touch it, manipulate it, and control it. Usage, touching, manipulation and control are all dialogical acts, unspoken but conversational.” – Jon Kolko

and also…

“a design discipline dedicated to defining the behavior of artifacts, environments, and systems (i.e., products)”. – Robert Reimann

Undoubtedly interaction design is a design discipline that has become a defining element of UX. Though the preceding two quotes assert the alignment with a user’s behaviour they do so here in relation to their interaction (the person and the artifact).

(more…)

Getting UX Integrated

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The purpose of UXBASIS is not only to be a set of methods for UX practitioners but it is also a way of introducing UX to the wider organisation. The talk I gave last month to a group of Danish web product managers was focused on not only the tools we use in UX but how they themselves can successfully integrate UX into their organisation.

The audience represented those who really are empowered to change the user experience daily – the product and web development managers. In the presentation I highlight several ways to create change and use approaches to help give a different perspective to their task in hand.

So much of what they deal with, the political and organisational challenges as well as resource issues and technological constraints, we only observe as UX people. The real-life of producing and implementing what we draft is something that as UX people we need to be more mindful of. After the implementation of the ideas, these people are the ones who must ensure business runs as usual and goals are met.

The presentation is an introduction and also a practical approach to get UX integrated with 5 tips to help UX become a reality in the team and the business.