Archive for the ‘Process’ 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?



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.


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.

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.

Agile and the importance of cultural understanding

Friday, April 16th, 2010



Image courtesy of  Stewf

  Though I work in UX, a core interest of mine is not so much the practical application of tools but the importance of the organisation of the teams behind creating the best products and being aware of the cultural makeup of those teams.

Getting this right allows us to concentrate on the production of the best ideas and solutions and generates momentum and further inspiration.

Holistic concept models: an ROI blueprint

Sunday, November 30th, 2008


process    I read a post recently that illustrated how concept models are rarely used in the right way and are often  misunderstood. Are they really worth doing at all?


Now seems a good  time to expand on the tool that Dan Brown has popularised through his book Communicating Design. Not as simply a stand alone tool but one that can provide a blueprint for giving solid ROI on design, analytics and testing.


Extending the experience

Saturday, October 11th, 2008



Synthesis of research, business culture and product goals ensures a UX team sits in the middle of a web development process. However the team can benefit by not being solely project focused…


User experience is heavily associated with brand experience and as technology becomes less visible and more pervasive, the two elements will converge into one. User experience adds substance to the brand experience – experience design defines the brand.


The what, when and why of wireframes

Thursday, June 26th, 2008


I recently presented at a conference on the humble wireframe and thought it would be a good idea to run through some key points. I have also noted that some feel the wireframe is dead, though if anything its more alive now than ever. Pay heed to 37 signal’s take on the subject…

If a wireframe document is destined to stop and never directly become the actual design, don’t bother doing it. If the wireframe starts as a wireframe and then morphs into the actual design, go for it.

Yahoo! Pattern Library is open for all

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008


yahoo   All this talk of recession and the web is currently awash with generosity. After my favourable words about the BBC who gave us a view of their new design language, Yahoo! have decided to go one better and provide their entire pattern library and developer tools for free.

Very kind and of course there is a monetary side to it but the new site is live here and during the day long workshop they gave at the IA Summit 2008 the complete set was given away on a memory key.


IA collaboration – two heads can be better

Saturday, March 1st, 2008


IAcollab   Two months ago I wrote about a case study, how it was implemented and what the results were. I thought I would go into the detail of the information architecture and how collaboration with my colleague helped us reach a successful conclusion to the project.


I was extremely fortunate to be working alongside a taxonomist, Rachel Hammond. We were sat beside each other and interacted continuously on the same project daily. This made for an extremely good collaborative working environment.