Thoughts on User Experience by Boon Chew

GlueThink

So, I attended Leancamp London last weekend…

I attended Leancamp London 2 last weekend because Rob told me about this really excellent book he was reading, and that he was attending Leancamp to learn even more about it. This book is “The Lean Startup” book by Eric Ries, which has taken the world by storm. So I needed to find out for myself what it meant for me.

In that process, I realized that “Lean UX” is really a term targeted at a business audience, but it somehow got misinterpreted as a “new” way of doing UX. I don’t think it’s a new way to do UX. But I think it’s a more focused way to do UX. In short, Lean UX is a way to apply UX for Lean Startup practitioners.

What is Lean Startup?

Lean Startup is mostly a combination of Agile (mostly with a big A) and Steve Blank’s Customer Development, tightly integrated into one machine. Subjectively, it is a model for operating a business with an entrepreneurial mindset where the there are a lot of unknowns – so the successful execution of a lean startup is more art than science.

Lean UX is a disciplined effort to play by the Lean Startup rules. In that sense, I think it’s good because it’s a way to embed UX into a system. How successful it will be, I’m not sure we can tell yet. I think it’ll take awhile to see if it sticks.

Should we all do Lean UX now?

However, I’m still not sure about Lean UX as a way to “get out of the deliverables business“. I think we need UX designers who are able to play well in an Agile environment, but I also think we need UX designers that work in rocket-ship environments, where it may not be so practical to run an effective Agile shop. Maybe your teams are not co-located, or the effort to integrate silos are too costly, who knows.

Do agencies need a modified version of Lean UX? I think many already do – this is why this I think “Lean UX” is really a term for the Lean Startup community, and while those outside that can and should learn from this partnership, I don’t necessarily think we need to jump into the same boat. I think there’s a lot of room for all of us to grow and provide value.

Don’t stop until you succeed

Lean Startup also applies very well to environments where teams continue to work and iterate over a (somewhat) indefinite period of time, usually expiring at the time the business is mature and developed enough (i.e. it’s business model is validated to be profitable, repeatable, valuable).

Not all UX practitioners work in this kind of environment. Freelancers and agencies are hired for a period of time to solve thinking problems – e.g. planning, design, strategy. I think agencies want to move away from pure delivery work, but delivery work is here to stay and more, not less, UX will be needed in the future – for delivery work or otherwise.

Lean UX is an opportunity for us to learn

I think what’s exciting about Lean UX is the opportunity to bring focus to some of the following issues:

  • what skills, knowledge and aptitudes does a practitioner need to have to succeed in highly collaborative teams?
  • how work spaces, artifacts, information systems and the coordination of all those come into play
  • how UX can integrate deeply with development and business
  • in the spirit of Lean Startup, what can UX communities learn from other industries to be more successful? (Lean Startup borrowed elements from Toyota’s manufacturing system)
  • how can we measure UX output and effort more effectively? How do we use these metrics to improve traction and value?

I see Lean UX as an area that’s contained and focused enough that we can observe and learn from, possibly even emulate, steal from or modify.

Note: I’ve uploaded my presentation on how to use Diary Studies for customer validation (part of the Customer Development framework). My sketchnotes for several leancamp sessions I sat in are also up now.

2011: The sandwich year

About three years ago, I embarked upon a silly idea to change my career away from engineering towards design, and 2011 was the first full year where I wasn’t paid to write any code. It’s been highly enjoyable and I feel there’s so much to learn, it’s overwhelming.

The first half of 2011 was filled with conferences, and it has really paid off. So much of what we do as designers is social. Being part of a community makes you more keenly aware of the little things in design, especially when you’ve already spent a lot of time in the literature. The field of UX is still evolving a lot, and so is the language. Being exposed to other people’s practices has helped me learn and validate my own work.

After I joined SapientNitro in March, I continued to absorb new things. I spent a lot of time thinking about interaction, experience, context and aesthetics. Working with concepts and ideas has been fun but challenging as well – communicating effectively is not easily taught. I also learned a lot about working collaboratively in a design team, with real commercial pressures.

If that was not enough, I volunteered to organize UXCampLondon 2011, which was a real challenge. One’s experience of organizing events can vary greatly depending on the team, venue, sponsors, weather, marketing, networks… the list goes on. While the event went okay, I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. Still, I’ve grown more respect for people who put on events, and a better appreciation of the value of events as a whole.

I’m excited for 2012, because I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead. I want to devour that pile of UX books I’ve bought over the months, and concentrate on certain areas in my work – notably prototyping and adopting a more iterative and inclusive way of designing. Finally, I feel I should use 2012 to get a bit of rest after the hectic times in 2010 and 2011.

Learning UX on the job

I recently passed my one year mark as a full-time user experience designer. While I have been applying user-centered design in my previous roles, this feels like a big change for me. I’m now in a job with a different title (information architect), with different responsibilities (design), working in a different industry (customer experience). In getting here, I immersed myself around books, events, practitioners, and finished a postgraduate degree. But now, it feels like I’ve shifted gears by putting it into serious practice.

The theory vs. practice gap

There’s been a bit of debate about whether you need a postgraduate education to qualify as a UX designer/information architect/interaction designer these days. Having done the MSc a few years ago, I don’t think it’s necessary in building a career, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find good practitioners who have the passion to acquire knowledge apart from the day job.

One of the things I find lacking in commercial practice is the general awareness of solid HCI theory. Granted, it wasn’t HCI alone that gave birth to this industry, but I feel quite strongly that HCI covers enough of the essentials required for sound practice.

At the same time, HCI as a field is also changing, but we’ve been borrowing a lot from the older stuff – passing our knowledge on our colleagues like chinese whispers without keeping things in check. For example, Don Norman has been trying to get designers to stop misusing the term “affordance” when they actually mean “signifiers”. It’s not just HCI, but other fields too – see Mags Hanley’s “Fill in the IA gap” talk at London IA.

Multidiscplinary teams and processes

I love that I now work alongside strong visual designers, copywriters, project managers, developers and directors. It takes many hands to produce good experiences – UX designers should never work in isolation. However, this means we all need flexibility in adapting to multiple processes and practices, yet remaining fully competent in our own areas.

Flexible, focused teams place top priority on shared understanding, willingness to change work approaches, being sensitive to project execution, and effective communication of the overall design. Exceptional teams are very detail-oriented, but focus too much on the details while ignoring other issues leads to misunderstanding and communication breakdown (and occasionally screaming and crying). It’s one big balancing act.

Of course, my experience is heavily influenced by the design studio approach (which I feel is a better way of doing things), but my point is that learning UX on the job has given me that necessary exposure to complex design practices in its various forms.

Designing for more than just users

Another balancing act that is seldom discussed is how to effectively design for the client and even the design team’s agenda. We focus a lot on discussing users since they rarely ever get a say (until the design is launched) – but in reality we’re heavily influenced by client requirements and goals, even our own design preferences and styles. Plus, they’re all moving targets, making it even harder.

Designs are never finished, but they get pushed out into the wild one step at a time. I like the idea that our designs become mediators of conversations, relationships and behaviors. Sometimes it’s about enabling an experience we think our clients or their customers want. Or  changing the way people do things. Other times, it’s just a really good idea.

It isn’t always pretty though. Projects can sometimes be set up to fail, opinions can take a wrong turn, and new technologies can be really disruptive.

The need to reflect

Project pressures and uncertainties rob time away from learning things the way I did before (books, events, etc.). Sometimes I have to stop and think about what I’ve learnt over time, much of it is hard to put in words – but learning on the job has been invaluable. Forcing myself to write this post has been good way to keep things in perspective.

Why foodlah.com had to die

In October 2007, I launched a pet project called foodlah.com, a website that aggregated blog posts from Malaysian and Singaporean food blogs. The whole project was really an experiment in content curation. There was then a big rise in food blogging in Malaysia, and content was all over the place. My aim was to aggregate all that content to make it more convenient to read and find content. I also wanted to see if the project could sustain itself through means like online advertising and sponsorship. Today, I decided to shut the site down for several reasons. There were many lessons learnt from that project leading up to my decision to shut it down, and I felt it was worth sharing.

Good content – a basic necessity

The site started off as a simple wordpress site with a plugin to aggregate content via RSS into one place. This is a common model for many sites that farm and scrape content from multiple RSS feeds. Despite the fact that farming and scraping content is frowned upon by bloggers (there are some notable exceptions), I felt that aggregating good content in one place to make it more accessible was worth the experiment. Over the years, I carefully selected blogs that had good content, and I removed blogs that were neglected or showed a considerable drop in content quality.

Good content was crucial for two things: people searching for specific food reviews and people browsing the latest food reviews. Keeping the site fresh with good content alone made the site sustainable, averaging more than 2000 visits per day for more than 2 years. When I asked readers for feedback, they said they liked coming to one place to find everything. And that’s pretty much the only thing the site did.

Caring about content and the people who make them

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. When I started, many bloggers got upset that I was ‘stealing’ their content and I apologized. Instead of publishing full articles, I published summaries instead and made the links back to their site more prominent. I learned to be more courteous with authors and to treat them with greater respect. Every subsequent site I wanted to aggregate was initiated with an email asking the author for permission. I also disabled commenting on foodlah, because my main goal was to drive people to the food blogs where the real conversations were taking place.

Later when the site grew bigger, I installed an “add my blog” submission form so bloggers could ask for their blog to be aggregated. When bloggers sent me a request, I evaluated each site for quality, consistency, and authenticity – then wrote back to every one of them. Not all of them responded back whenever I agreed to add their blog to the aggregator though. This made me sad but there are many food bloggers who blog for profit and profit alone. Not that I’m against making a profit – but sometimes the quality isn’t there to match.

Features can choke your content

Besides content aggregation, I experimented with many “web 2.0″ features, thinking it would make the site more innovative. I tried things like automated tagging, manually adding location data, adding a gallery of thumbnails from images in the articles, and adding links to most viewed posts and related posts. The features made the site feel bloated and clinical, as the features came to overpower the content people were really after. I didn’t take long before I started kill the features, but I kept ones like “most viewed posts” and “related posts” which improved the browsing and searching experience.

Partly due to my inexperience, trying to make the features work to achieve a good user experience took up too much time. Good user experiences are almost never achievable out of the box, especially when ‘plugging in’ new features one after another. Enabling more plugins meant performance drawbacks, and many needed to be modified. It wasn’t worth the effort, especially when each new feature seemed to choke life out of the content, and ultimately out of the site.

Be wary of your ability to maintain your site’s overall experience

Running a good website takes a lot of effort. Good content requires effort to write. Good interactive experiences require effort to design and build. While tools and platforms make it easier to publish, design and distribute content, the real work remains a human endeavor. It’s too easy these days to enable plugins, add scripts, install themes, but none of these add any real value to websites and can hinder the overall experience.

That’s hard to swallow for many people who can’t control every part of the UX of their website, whether it is the content or the code. And even if they do, they still need to design it. But I think it’s important to scale things back when websites get so unmanageable that it hurts the quality of the experience. And sometimes, some websites just need to die.

Why foodlah.com had to die

Ultimately, I shut down the site because there weren’t anymore lessons worth learning from it.  The underlying code was rough and ready, and I wasn’t willing to re-write everything from scratch. There are now better ways to viewing aggregated content and I felt the site wasn’t doing anyone favors by “hanging around” – shutting it down was like pruning the dead leaves of trees that made the Internet. Part of me was never happy with the site even though it lasted so long. And while I was able to pay the server fees from the ad money, profit was never the main objective.

I do think it’s worth investing time in pet projects as they can provide valuable lessons outside of a traditional office, but it all depends on how much you want to invest and what you want to learn from it.

Experience is the material of our craft

This post started out as a reflection of an article I wrote for Johnny Holland titled, “What I bring to UX from Computer Science“. Instead, it ended up being a reflection of my career now as a user experience designer.

When I started out in UX, I used to feel giddy thinking about all the cool methodologies, processes, patterns, practices and tools I could employ. But none of those guarantee any success, so I thought instead about the material of my craft – the craft of experience design. When I was a software engineer, it was obvious the material I needed to master was technology. But I wasn’t so sure about UX, so I started comparing.

You don’t need to be an engineer

Whenever I tell people I worked as a software engineer in the past, I get opposing comments about how that has affected my job as a UX designer. Most designers assume the invaluable insights I must’ve gained from my deep understanding of technology. Developers, on the other hand, always ask if I find my experience a hindrance rather than an aid.

Up till now, I haven’t been able to give anyone a straight answer. The fact is – I don’t think it matters all that much one way or the other. Many UX design problems are varied and complex, such that I’m forced to think on my feet a lot. It’s hard to say how often I consciously draw from my background as an engineer. I’m sure there are lots of benefits from other backgrounds that are applicable to UX work too.

Experience is complex

Another contrast is the fact that I find myself thinking about problems in many different ways than I did before. I spend a lot of time trying to understand the problem in order to design appropriately. When I was an engineer, I was bound to a specific domain. Now, it’s my job to consider the effects of many different things, all at the same time.

I also have an ever-growing list of books to read on a variety of subjects, and many of them I consider crucial to my work. Never in my professional life have I read so intensely and prolifically. I can count with my fingers the number of books I considered important while I was an engineer. It is the opposite with UX.

Hard to define, hard to solve

I’ve observed that despite all the hype about UX on the Internet, only a handful people in the world aspire to be UX designers. What *exactly* do we do? How do we measure the value of our work?

It’s not a surprise that people don’t “get” UX – even us as practitioners spend a long time trying to define it. Engineers never have to worry about that. As an engineer, I was paid to make things work. Now, I get paid to solve all manner of problems involving experience. And what doesn’t involve experience?!

That brings me to my next point.

Alas, experience is what we have to work with

All craftspeople need to understand the material of their craft. Some say the material of our craft as UX designers is the underlying technology, but I disagree – we are not software engineers. Instead, I think the material of our craft in designing for experiences is experience itself.

Just like an engineer using code to give life to software, we use our understanding of experience as material to solve design problems. We observe experiences (research, testing), deconstruct experiences to understand it better (flows, mapping), re-imagine what experiences could be like (brainstorming, prototyping), and communicate it back to ourselves and others.

We are all storytellers

It also seems that the only way to communicate experiences is to tell stories. If that’s true, then the purest form of our craft is storytelling; Professionally though, we’re problem-solvers. So, in many ways, our work involves solving problems by telling stories.

So here’s what I think… the plethora of UX methodologies, processes, patterns, practices and tools we have are useless if we don’t have a good understanding of experiences and how to communicate those experiences effectively in our design solutions.

And maybe that’s why it’s hard sometimes: we take experiences for granted all too easily – our own as well as others’. Rather, we should consider it with greater intent, for it is the material we have to work with most as UX designers.

Update: It’s worth reading Oliver Reichenstein’s excellent take on whether experience can be designed.

UXCampLondon – a retrospect

Sometime late last year, I offered to organize uxcamplondon 2011 with the support of previous years’ team and a bit of help from my friends. I was determined to see it happen this year after I missed last year’s uxcamp due to an illness. After all, I had learnt a thing or two after volunteering since 2009 – I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.

But organizing an event for the first time teaches you a lot of things. It’s a very “people” job, one that often requires a certain amount of savvy, timing, and humility. Only then does everything else become “logistics”.

As Cennydd said, the devil is in the details.

So being an organizer, you will replay countless scenarios in your head, but the end result is often surprising. And just as some had predicted, we had a decent turnout (about 60 people – see update), the day went by quite smoothly, sessions were really interesting, and everyone had a pretty good experience through and through.

Some highlights included James O’Brien’s Agile UX talk, Laurian Gridinoc’s session on “reactive documents“, and the repeat of Cennydd’s IA summit wayfinding debut.

I regret not putting enough thought into my own session. That’s a scar I’ll have to bear forever, but the credit certainly goes to the many UXCamp newcomers like Nick Dunlavey and Clarence Lee, who presented some really interesting stuff.

Still, the best part of any UXCamp is the sheer camraderie and partnership you get from the combination of attendees, sponsors, and organizers.  What we may remember best is Jonty Sharples’ venn diagram oddities, finding common ground about UX in the enterprise, Dr. Simone laughing over a pint, Cennydd as a perennial UXCamp favorite, and the crowding of the otherwise quiet local to wind down the day.

Plus I met so many cool new faces on Saturday I stopped worrying whether this year’s camp would be as cool as the last.

And that’s the way it ought to roll.

 

(update: I made an error calculating the percentage of 60% turnout initially by basing it off an outdated list. The number is closer to 75%, or 20 no-shows. It’s still a concern, but not as bad as I originally thought.)

Design Jam 3 – a revisit

Design Jam London 3

When I attended the first Design Jam last year, no one was really sure what to expect. It was great at the time when I was transitioning careers from being a hybrid dev/designer to full-time UX, as it gave me an opportunity to practice a lot of cool stuff I’d been dying to try out. I did skip the second one for several reasons, but by the time Design Jam 3 came around I was itching to give it another go since full-time UX started to feel quite repetitive.

My primary goal for the day was to keep things simple and to test how my UX skills had developed over the last 6 months. My plan was to avoid pre-selecting specific methods to use and to go with the flow. I wanted to know if I was more aware of the design process, and whether I was able to influence it towards a positive outcome. So, while the first jam was for me to test out UX methods, DJL3 was for me to evaluate my ability to navigate or influence the design process (which I feel is a core part of what UX designers do).

I think that overall, I’m quite okay at facilitating generative activities by prioritizing ideas, chunking activities up into tasks, having a ‘feel’ for the team’s flow and encouraging discussion. I was not so okay with the delivery part of the day when we needed to pull together to make something. With the generative part of the work, all I had to do was organize the information that my team members were freely sharing with each other. But with the delivery part of the day, I wasn’t really sure how to suggest an approach that worked for everyone – almost everyone had a different idea of what needed to be done.

In the end Jason Mesut stepped in and helped us formulate a plan. The mentors made a big difference that day and I was particularly pleased they were handpicked by the organizers to provide teams a balance of domain, team, and design advice.

While I certainly came away with some interesting insights from the day, I spoke to a lot of people who said they weren’t exactly sure what they got out of design jam apart from the fact that it was sort of fun. Some people were expecting to have a kind of workshop-like experience where they would be exposed to UX methods, which they could incorporate into their current work. Some said it would’ve been better to be assigned into teams for skill balance, rather than assigning themselves to teams in a semi-random fashion.

I agree that its impossible to please everyone, but I think that it may be worth reflecting on what attendees really want out of a design jam. For me, it was first a place for me to try out UX methods, and then a place for me to evaluate my design skills. But for others, it may be something completely different.

I wonder if there are patterns that are starting to formulate, seeing that Design Jam is now in its third iteration, that could help shape future iterations of the jam in a new way. So far the formula for a design jam hasn’t really changed very much. On the other hand, maybe all we really need is for design jam to be a testing ground of sorts for multidisciplinary teams to work on something and have fun at the same time.

Either way, I hope and trust that future iterations of design jam exceed the community’s expectations for a UX hack day.

Check out my team’s work here at http://djlon0310.tumblr.com

Confessions of a UX conference junkie

This year I decided to attend more UX conferences, having fully made the transition into UX for good. The year kicked off with UX Hong Kong (which was amazing), followed by UX Lisbon in May, and just few weeks ago – the DIBI conference up in Newcastle.

Every conference has its own strengths and general vibe. After getting advice from some seasoned conference attendees, it was a matter of choosing the conferences that would suit me best. For me, UX Hong Kong was a perfect start, as it was a fairly intimate conference where I got to meet some really interesting people and give me a taste of what a UX conference feels like.

May came around and it was as people had prophesied – UX Lisbon turned out to be a big UX party – food, fun, sights and Don Norman. Plus a stellar cast of UX rock stars made it promptly a trip to remember.

Then, just when I thought I had exhausted my remit for conferences, I made an impulse purchase to attend DIBI a few months later after finding out that Jared Spool and Jeffrey Zeldman were speaking.

At this point you’re probably wondering why I keep attending so many conferences, and what have I really benefited from them?

Well for one, I don’t really attend conferences to learn new skills or even pick up on future trends. The real reason I attend conferences is to absorb the intangible benefits of being around people who influence and care about this industry.

Some people call this networking, but that’s such a lame word. I prefer to call it a ‘community of practice‘, based on the work done by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, where a profession evolves and develops around groups of people with shared interests.

There are several reasons why this is important with regards to conferences.

Watching our industry evolve in real time

UX as an industry is still taking on form, shifting and moulding from a primordial soup of different disciplines, practices and vernaculars. Thus we constantly draw upon the work of highly influential people who have done the good job of piecing together these otherwise separate domains. Each practitioner represents a specific sphere of influence, but this again is constantly changing in and outside the context of work.

Conference settings allow for ‘change’ conversations to happen between experts, practitioners of varying levels, students, and casual observers. It is during these moments that we collectively work out our perspectives, beliefs, and approaches as a community.

As with all new industries, the main challenge isn’t about solving problems from what we already know as a community, but about how to tackle issues from what we collectively don’t know.

You can only get this kind of thing by working it out with other practitioners, and conferences are great places to do that.

Engaging with the wider conversation

There is a tendency of assuming something had been codified after it has been published in some form or practiced more widely – the more popular, the more ‘permanent’ its effects. It’s far better to understand the wider conversation that is taking place between influencers, and the work that goes on between them.

At DIBI, speakers like Inayaili de León, Jeremy Keith, Faruk Ates and Jeffrey Zeldman all made references to the history and progression of digital (publishing, web, devices, teams…) to establish the context in which we *ought* to think about digital. So although they each delivered different talks, their overall message was the same – that the web has now matured and a huge re-thinking is in order.

Missing the wider conversation is really about missing the plot entirely, because the wider conversation (in the case of DIBI) explains why we had the web in the first place, how it has become what it is today, and where is it trying to get to. Skip that, and all you get is a dumbed down instruction book on how to code HTML5. That’s not what you come to a conference for.

Understanding UX across horizons

Conferences like UX Hong Kong and UX Lisbon are great for meeting an international crowd. Everyone has a different story to tell about how they got into UX and it varies per country, locale and city.

I think this is important since we’re increasingly designing for a far wider audience now. This isn’t just about solving design problems, but also about how clients in different countries perceive the value of UX, and how designers adapt their practices to the local culture and market demands.

This challenges us to rethink our own approaches – are our designs really fit for purpose? Is there such a thing as a universal design language? How do we ensure that we communicate design effectively across borders and cultures?

Being human

Conferences shouldn’t feel sterile and mechanical but it occasionally does. No one’s really at fault but it does take a lot of empathy, hospitality, encouragement, patience and candidness for attendees to feel welcome and in good spirits.

By all means, organizers should consider hygiene aspects such as the registration process and fun stuff like the schwag bag, but I think it comes down to the fact that practitioners are making a sacrifice to be with other practitioners, regardless of rank, background, specialism, principle or agenda.

Plus, I try to stick to conferences that allow me to be myself. And I suppose this is self-selecting that certain conferences tend to attract a certain crowd, but it’s better when people get along.

So, yes – I feel there are good reasons to be a conference junkie – however I think setting the right expectations, picturing the broader context, preparing to meet people, and a dose of humility and empathy can make a big difference in the conference experience and how one is ultimately enriched from it.

Start UX – peer meetups for UX practitioners

There’s a really vibrant UX community here in London, with a diverse range of activities and groups such as book clubs, talks, field trips, mentorship programs and the like. But there’s one type of meetup I’ve particularly gained a lot from, called Start UX.

About a year ago, Joe Lanman had an idea to gather a few people who weren’t officially UX designers but were trying to build it into their work and organizations. At the time, I was working at a startup and I was doing everything from user research all the way to the production code. One of the group’s first members, Jeff van Campen, got me into Start UX along with a few others – Francis Norton, Nick Smith, Rob Enslin, and Basheera Khan, who were all interested in getting UX into organizations and influencing change.

We’ve been meeting informally since then to talk about our experiences (war stories) about getting UX into our work and organizations. I’ve been extremely grateful to have these friends to share with, bounce ideas off, and rant to whenever I needed an outlet, some help or support, even another perspective.

The benefit of having a group of people like this isn’t just about learning from each other, but about challenging each other to do what’s worth doing. It’s like peer-coaching.

A year has passed since Start UX first got off the ground, and even though some of us have moved on to dedicated UX roles, the journey still continues and the relationships have grown more mature and valuable. So, I think the spirit of Start UX is about challenging, encouraging, learning from, and growing with one another – like apprentices in a guild.

I highly encourage other practitioners to start their own version of Start UX. If you’re interested in starting one, here are some loose guidelines that may be useful to you and your group:

  • keep the group to about 10-12 people, with each meeting made up of about 5-7 people (not everyone will make it at all times) – this keeps the group more intimate and allow for better sharing and social cohesion
  • keep to the same group members, so that the members will really get to know each other and each member’s issues over time
  • use google groups or something similar to facilitate discussion online, plan meetups, etc.
  • for the meetup: find a spot that’s conducive for discussion, has enough room to support a meeting space, and refreshments
  • choosing a meeting topic can help scope discussions (e.g. we had a meeting about deliverables once)

Also, make sure to share it with the wider community. That’s one thing our group has failed to do, but that’s going to change -  starting with this blog post. :)

Improving success through increased exposure

Jared Spool does it again.

He explains how two important aspects that are key to successful design teams:

  • Direct exposure to user observation of team members for at least 2 hours in six weeks

Each team member has to be exposed directly to the users themselves. Teams that have dedicated user research professionals, who watch the users, then in turn, report the results through documents or videos, don’t deliver the same benefits. It’s from the direct exposure to the users that we see the improvements in the design.

  • Involvement of strong influencers (execs, project managers, etc.) in direct observation of users

The tipping point came when we found teams where all these other folks were participating in the user research studies. No longer did they assert their own opinions of the design direction above what the research findings were telling the teams. Having the execs, stakeholders, and other non-design folks part of the exposure program produced a more user-focused process overall.

The question is – will we be willing to sacrifice invest in order to ensure this happens to make our designs more successful? It’s a common occurrence everywhere, and we as designers need to stand our ground.