You need these two things for UX success

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User experience, like any change, can take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of persistence. Even in those instances when preparation and opportunity intersect change isn’t easy.  I’m talking about UX, but I could be talking about organizational change of any kind. Sometimes, I feel like this is a perspective that comes with age, something that my younger self, wouldn’t have wanted to hear, but my more seasoned self knows as a fact and embraces accordingly.

In order to be successful with UX, you need to put the energy in and you need to be persistent.

The energy comes in many forms. It’s your passion, it’s your vision, it’s your need to share the idea of UX and push the change forward against bureaucracy and those who aren’t willing to accept any change, and those who feel like you’re presenting hurdles, or unnecessary steps when the old way of doing things will do… But you know that UX isn’t just necessary, it’s important to an organization’s ability to change and grow, and perhaps, most importantly, it’s the right thing for your users.

This is where the second part comes in, because without this one, all of the energy in the world doesn’t matter.

Persistence.

Energy without persistent direction will be put into something else when you want to give up, when you get sick of putting the energy in and getting no positive feedback, no return on time and years of your life invested in the change.

Energy and persistence are the 1-2 punch that no change, no matter how great, can resist. Admittedly, this may seem like an over-simplification as change comes in many shapes and sizes, but at the core, if you can persist and direct your energy accordingly you will make great strides as an agent of change.

Change takes time; Pace yourself, treat yourself well and don’t forget the goal. Remember that change is a marathon not a sprint, and today’s setbacks could be tomorrow’s opportunities to stop, reflect and make course corrections. I wish I had somebody to give me this advice as I embarked on changing organizations, but hopefully I can help somebody in a way that would have helped me by writing down these lines.

When you combine energy and persistence UX change isn’t just possible, it’s inevitable.

 

UX Design: Putting users first

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A user experience can go two ways.

The first way is the one you design.

With the first way you do research, build personas, do user interviews. You’re constantly testing, measuring and making adjustments. With this way, you know your users, your audience, your customers, etc… With this way, they use the design, and they appreciate the work you’re doing for them. They might even be extremely satisfied with your site, app or product and return time and again, with enthusiasm, because they know you care and are trying to make the most of their time.

User experience can go another way.

The second way is the one that has no design.

People need to use your site, app or product, but you do no research and give no consideration to the user; there are no personas, or user interviews. You don’t know your users, you underestimate them and you don’t value their time. You know that they can get the tasks done, because they’ve found workarounds, and for those that can’t we chalk it up to “user error” and write it off.

Nobody wants to do it the second way, but sadly, this is still how many organizations operate. A time is coming when this organization will be moved to the margins, and eventually discarded entirely, by others that are more enthusiastic, more energetic and more service-oriented, in fact it’s already happening.

Which way do you want to take?

UX isn’t just for designers

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To non-designers user experience can a very abstract concept. We’re lucky to have this empathic perspective of walking a mile in somebody else’s use cases, but mostly, folks don’t get it. It’s kind of like trying to explain to your parents what you do as a user experience professional… ‘what the hell is that?’ They might say back to you… or they might just nod in feigned acknowledgement… Either way, just like having empathy for users, we need to have empathy for those folks who don’t understand what UX is all about.

It’s kind of exciting, really, because it’s our job to teach them about UX.

Where teaching UX is concerned, I’ve found that nothing works quite as well as a ‘show don’t tell’ approach. Teaching UX is even better if you can get lay-people involved in some kinds of interactive exercises around UX.

I’m reluctant to say something is easy, but teaching the value of UX is, well… kind of easy. In nearly every instance where I’ve had to introduce UX folks have been pretty quick to get what UX means and how it could benefit users and an organization alike. After all, who hasn’t had to work with crummy software, navigate a horrible website or complete a task through an ill-conceived smartphone app? These experiences are ubiquitous and universal in a world driven by human-computer interactions.

Two simple, high level, ways to teach a lay-person UX might be to:

  1. Make a series of paper prototype user interfaces for paying a bill or ordering a book online — a straightforward interaction that should have only a few clicks;
  2. Walk through a simple purchase on Amazon or eBay, narrating the steps and what’s happening, from a UX perspective, as you go.

Each of these simple, low-tech, steps, highlights in context, what the user experience is and what its benefits could be. Exercises like these bridge the gap of abstraction, making something conceptual into something practical. When you make a connection for a business person or some other non-designer, it’s magical; these Aha! Moments make the teaching of UX very satisfying and a lot of fun.

While UX is quickly achieving buzzword status, it’s a real and necessary discipline whose time has come. UX, after its vogue period, will stop being “cool” and will just be… a mature operational practice taken for granted like automobile safety features or tamper-proof packaging, so it’s our job to be teachers and stewards of UX, not just how it can benefit our organizations, but how it can benefit the world. We may get to a time where user interfaces cease to exist, but UX will be at the heart of that, too.

The privilege of service

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Today, I began thinking about a blog post that I wrote onmy mattborghi.com website back in 2009 – The tool of choice, the privilege of service – It feels like a dog’s age since I wrote down those words, and it was well before the idea of ‘user experience design’ was getting used as much as it does today (corroberated by Google Trends, below), but the ideas there were as true then as they are now.

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Let me set the stage…

Google was the king of search, kind of like they are now. Microsoft had just released Bing and they were working very hard to knock Google off the search mountain. Many folks thought that they would succeed. As a heavy Google user then, well before mobile/Android ubiquity, I didn’t think Microsoft would be able to pull it off.

Back then, I wrote:

The thing that’s easy to forget is Google did next to no marketing for their search (interesting Salon article from 1999 that touches on this a bit, as well as a 1998 Cnet article here). I know for me, back in 1999 or 2000, numerous people recommended that I use Google, as I had been a big user of Yahoo! for everything. Eventually, Google became my search tool of choice, not just for me, but for a lot of folks. Was it because it worked well? Was it because it was lean and uncluttered? Was it because it was quick? Honestly, it’s probably some combination, but I know that value that Google offered came to me through word-of-mouth, and when I tried the tool, it delivered as promised. It was no frills, just a simple tool that worked well.

What I wrote here really is the essence of what user experience design is all about. Google worked well, it was lean, uncluttered and quick; It wasn’t bogged down with ads or Flash graphics… It just worked, quickly and the results were good. Google understood user experience and user-centered design, whether intuitively, or otherwise, and that was the tool that they brought to the marketplace.

This isn’t new news, but rather a history lesson, of sorts, to remember the roots of user experience and the benefits of user-centered design.

More from 2009:

Again, Google did very little marketing; they put something out there that worked, and people came to it. Clearly, they knew what people wanted, and how to add value… to serve is a privilege, and if your tool is chosen, then it’s bonus and bonus! Create the tool of choice, and cherish the privilege of service.

The fact is any company that stops thinking about, or doesn’t consider their, customer is going to go out of business; whether they’re selling Web services or hot dogs…

As true today, in 2016, as it was in 2009, I’m reminded that as a designer and then a design manager, my goal was always to ensure that we were serving the users, to ensure that we were delivering the best possible user and customer experience possible by delivering the best possible solution. That means that you have to be conservative and not just jump on every new trend. Try things out and see what works. Of course, there’s a balance between this and analysis paralysis, but you don’t want to be constantly throwing new tools at your users or your customers… vet the tools with research and always try to undertake a user-centered design approach. It’s not always easy, as simplicity is almost always complicated, especially when you’re working with pre-web companies, but the privilege to serve is a great and noble pursuit. And if you get your chance, it just might make you one of the richest and most successful organizations in the world.

User-centered design hugs you back

 

 

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(Snazzy graphic courtesy of Daniel Kim)

We’ve talked a bit about user experience, so far, specifically with the 10 promises of user experience design, but at the core of UX is the dedication to the philosophy of User-Centered Design (UCD), and that’s the key ingredient to getting UX off the ground at most organizations.

UCD at a high level is an ongoing, iterative process that requires planning, research, design, adaptation and measurement, basically on an infinite loop throughout the life of a product or service. I won’t even say that an organization needs to be dedicated to it operationally, let alone have an operationally-mature UCD practice in place, but embracing the philosophy is the starting point.

But… wait… Actually, before I go any further, I’m getting ahead of myself and need to step back…

Embracing the philosophy of UCD is important for one specific kind of organization, a type of organization that falls into what Paul Boag called in his excellent book, Digital Adaptation, the “pre-web” organization. The pre-web organization is what we’re most familiar with at USAGE, that’s because “post-web” organizations were born thinking web and mobile-first; UCD is built into the fabric of these organizations, so there’s little we can say about them for this article. Instead, we’ll focus on the pre-web organization, as there are many lifetimes of work to be done there.

These pre-web organizations, very slowly, are getting the joke: A great user experience pays. Disney taught us this, Apple taught us this, Zappos taught us this and so, organically, organizations have learned to adopt this themselves. Adoption is hard, because adoption means a user-centric perspective. Coca Cola didn’t ask people what kinds of ingredients people wanted, they gave them what they were selling, but learned a valuable lesson with New Coke. Henry Ford introduced nearly a dozen models of cars, before the Model T, the others were too expensive for the average person… While they might not have started off being user-centric, their success would depend on this critical pivot.

As I write this, though, I’m reminded of the Nielsen Norman Group article, “UX Without User Research Is Not UX, specifically, the area of the article called “Paying UX Lip Service”. This line really says a lot about current state of UX at most organizations. Folks can talk about it, praise it, even evangelize for it but the actual work of organizational UX is no small undertaking and poses unique challenges. Fortunately, that’s where we at USAGE can help.

The first step for any organization is spreading the idea of a user-centered design approach. At a recent O’Reilly Design Conference, Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer at 3M pointed out an equation that really underscored, in a quite manageable way, what’s required to begin changing an organization: “The square root of employees is the number of ambassadors you need for transformation.” So with math not being one of my strong suits I went to work finding a square root calculator to figure out if his anecdote matched my experience, and sure enough it did, it matched our experience at USAGE exactly. So, for example, a company with a thousand employees would need roughly 32 ambassadors to advocate for transformation.

When we work with any organization we immediately go to work figuring out what the feeling is around the idea of a user-centered design approach or how knowledgeable an organization is about UCD or even just researching their users. Most organizations like the idea, after all what’s not to like about getting to know your users and then giving them what they want. Beyond the heady terminology a user-centered approach is really just taking care of your users. Designing something for your users without their involvement is like hugging somebody who doesn’t want to be hugged, user-centered design hugs you back.