Archive for the ‘User Experience’ Category

Why interaction is brand

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012


The power of aesthetics, story-telling and a poignant communication can contribute to a user’s experience, however it does not define it. This fact was recently highlighted by UX Strategist Whitney Hess;

Advertising is about getting the customer to love the company. UX is about getting the company to love the customer.

The quote was a response to a Fast Company article from Brian Sollis where parallels were drawn between UX and Mad Men. The scene Sollis describes was memorable and reminded the viewer of the importance of a human connection to a product. This emotional connection contributing to a person’s experience can easily be misconstrued as UX design.

But the quote from Hess encapsulates the difference of how some companies think and still act and how others are on another path. Easily measurable advertising is first choice for marketing professionals and in many ways it should be. Communicating the benefits of your product or services is the minimum requirement for business. Very often they also market and spend within a financial calendar year for predictable forecasting and measurable ROI. Everybody knows the importance of advertising your product to the market. Marketing and sales success can easily measure the success of advertising campaigns.

As a service industry ‘Advertising’ has always had an easy sell. For great products and companies it is an easy win. For those struggling or under threat advertising is what companies must do to keep up and make the right moves to gain traction in a competitive market. Advertising is something all companies must do to compete. And so the cycles of spend continues. But in the emerging consumer landscape of multi-channel, peer influenced networks, it is necessary that the spend of companies is diverted into understanding the customer in ways they can see as logical, and see measurable returns from.

This is where UX methods can come into play. But getting a company to love the customer is more labour intensive than getting a customer loving a company. Therefore advertising wins in organizations that find it very difficult to change either company culture or organizational structure. I have no doubt many companies would want a UX approach, or just customer-centricity, but the siloed nature of businesses prevent this from happening.

Interface is not brand

‘Interface is brand’ is a term I have heard repeatedly over the last few years. It neatly sums up the intersection between advertising and digital product design. But in those words lays the same error as Sollis made. Reducing or over simplifying something that is complex and extremely challenging underplays the problems that businesses face when organising to produce successful products or services.

“Organize around customer satisfaction instead of software, around personas instead of technology and around profit not programmers”
– Alan Cooper

Designing an interface is a step within a much larger more involved process. To say interface is brand ignores the importance of the customer. Brand and interface can be seen as the business and technology respectively but it completely overlooks the importance of the human. Humans interact with objects and each other. The best experiences are researched and important insights improve the design further. Interface describes the skin between user and the product. However it is the user’s interactions that are deeper, beyond interface and nearer to a brand’s essence to the user.

Skype and Spotify have excellent user experiences through their interfaces but it is the service and human connections that qualifies the experience of the brand. The interface is a simple gateway to the experience but it is far too simplistic to reduce it’s success to the interface alone. We must admit that people make brand experiences occur these days and that advertising is merely a by-product of this interaction. They persuade but do little else, and how effectively is still a point hotly contested.

Customer service, after sales care, fulfillment, trust and promise are the real brand commodities today. Notice that they are all very human needs that are met. They are tangible and require sustained effort on the company’s part – not a campaign burst of activity but committed strategic execution.

Brand is interaction

Online a brand should be defined by a user’s interaction with it. Customer service (how brands and businesses interact with their customers) define their success. Technology merely facilitates this interaction. In some cases it is the service (Skype, Spotify) in others it is the service layer (Amazon and Ebay). But simplification of service is tech at it’s best, allowing a user to interact and use a product in an enjoyable way is the strongest connection a brand could ask for. Only companies who ‘love’ their customers connect in a way that is appreciated.

Social media has confused and distracted from this crucially important point. It was ‘Web 2.0’ prior to the social web. The reality is that businesses that understands how consumers use the web are now far removed from competitors floundering around trying to hire experts to transform their businesses that have not changed for decades.

Even the importance of search is only a part of the big picture. It’s importance is diminishing due to the power of influence from peers. The web is a transformative power that topples governments, and calls wealthy corporations to account. Paul Ford writes how the web is a customer service medium. When companies understand this and the power it will have over them, they will always start to think; customer first, business second.

Old habits die hard

Facebook’s recent announcement to encourage brands to interact is likely to result in companies who are desperately trying to make people love their brand without truly understanding what makes them tick. Following a customer segment’s Likes list is not a quality metric. It is the old school approach being conducted on an evolving medium with complex dynamics. Liken it to the world’s intranet being opened up for a banner blitzkrieg. It again proves that the media channel that is Facebook is one that we have not fully understood yet and we are applying our traditional approaches in ways that are basic and unimaginative.

Truly know your customer

Peter Drucker said that: “The information you need the most is about the outside world, and there is absolutely none.”

These days you just need to monitor what is being said in public forums to gauge opinion, interests, wants and needs. You need to take this data and synthesize it into meaningful assets that a business can work with. For companies unable to do this it is either down to poor organisation or/and a lack of funding.

Conducting advertising without truly understanding your customers is as bad as that failed Facebook page that never really took off. Pouring money into hopeful media destinations will become less effective and for the few destinations that still have an audience it will be increasingly more expensive to advertise (witness the Super Bowl as one of the last big ad spend destinations).

So getting the company to love it’s customer is the goal. Then the interaction with them will define the brand with a credible relationship. Easy? No. Worthwhile? More than can be calculated.

Six Circles – An experience design framework

Monday, January 30th, 2012


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.

What makes a good UX designer?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011


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;



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.

A UX design framework to address contextual needs

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
Photo courtesy of Brandon Shigeta
User flow (user pathways) have become so important to the experience of a site that they go beyond standard best practices.

Their difficulty to architect for, gives rise to the post’s purpose – to form the basis of a contextually based design framework that can be used in UX design problems.

This framework defines the work we do as user experience professionals and the effectiveness of the designs we produce.


UX Design Framework – Persuasion

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Previously I have written about Content, Behaviour, Visual Design and Interaction. The fifth element – Persuasion, is a part of the UX design framework that has many darker, or manipulative connotations. Some would say that persuasion does not align itself well with the ethics of designing for the user.

But as BJ Fogg in his book, Persuasive Technology, says:

The answer to the question – Is persuasion unethical? Is neither yes or no. It depends upon how persuasion is used…The designers intent, method of persuasion and outcomes help to determine the ethics of persuasive technology…If a human were using this strategy to persuade would it be ethical? We expect ethical persuasion to include elements of empathy and reciprocity but with interactive technology there is no emotional reciprocity.

Which is why we sometimes feel cheated when technology fails to deliver an experience that is empathetic, and why as designers we need to be more aware of these potential pitfalls.

Here persuasion is explored in terms of design principles that influence people and factors of motivation – competition, cooperation and recognition. These characteristics also give products that are connected (from social networks to mobile applications) the power to persuade.


Usability is dead…

Friday, June 19th, 2009



On Wednesday (17 June), I attended the SIGCHI Interaction Design Day at Copenhagen’s ITU. It’s an impressive building and apt to host an event about technology and our interaction with it.


I also did a talk about Usability and user centred design and how user experience is always key in what we make.


You can see the presentation on SlideShare here and I will be writing an article about it published next week. I have placed the notes here


Engagement and optimisation: Defining behaviours

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009



Photo by Nicholas Nova


The second of a seven part post about optimising a site to create a more engaged audience. Here we look at user behaviour and how methods used help ensure you address user needs.

Previously: Success metrics


Engagement and optimisation: Success Metrics

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
sale You hear alot about engagement, and not just in the UX community.

How do you engage your website users? What exactly constitutes the different parts of a website’s content that will attract people and make the website an enjoyable experience for them and a profitable one for your business?

In the first of seven parts, I’ll take a look at what goes into creating an engaged website audience and an optimised site.


Do you see numbers or people?

Monday, March 9th, 2009


omniture banner  

I recently attended  a training course where we were taught how to interpret figures in web analytics software. We learnt about the different reports to use in specific situations and where to look for trends and behaviours. All massively valuable and seen in Google Analytics, Omniture and WebTrends amongst others.


Remember – the figures are only a part of the solution
Something strikes me about this software, and web analytics in general. The knowledge of using the system and synthesising the data is really only the beginning of the work (and perhaps the job roles that are needed to be employed).