Thursday, November 8, 2007

3 more Principles

So you're finally out! You've just completed your usability training from a commercial organization like HFI, or you've taken a program in Bentley College or Carleton University. Now what? Does the learning stop? Quite obviously, no. In fact, the real learning has just begun. While courses and programs give a basis and fundamentals from which to work on, the application of this knowledge is where you really start to learn. Please note, I said "Start". Even applying this knowledge is not enough. So really, when is enough really enough? From what I've learned over the past years are three timeless principles that contribute to the success of any businessperson:
  1. Read
  2. Listen
  3. Associate
Read - Read books and manuals for reference so that when you come across a situation you need more help in, refer to your materials. Also look for articles on the web that relate to UX that may give you a larger perspective on something you are encountering or may encounter in the future. It has been known that when a person reads, they retain more than 90% of the material because the brain is more active in producing visuals that interpret words to pictures.

Listen - I know for me, I have yet to do this. I have yet to plug myself into an audio book or a podcast. What I have done in fact is connect to some of HFI's webcasts on some of the topics I find interesting or relevant to what I'm currently doing. Video is just as effective a learning tool as audio as visual examples can really hit home what is being explained.

Associate - We have a local usability community that meets every month. Unfortunately, I was told by a colleague that I missed the entire year and I am guilty for not following this principle. It is in a physical forum that we learn the most from. There's nothing like telling a story and listening to them to impact others around you whether you're in a job or in your own business. This goes for success-thinking - if you want to be successful, associate with like-minded successful people. I also find it to be quite fun.

As a lesson then, continuous learning and growth is crucial to anyone looking to become successful. As an example, I heard that the GE corporation has been known to be one of the most advanced companies because of their expenditures on human resources and learning. Most people that come into the company are in fact retrained so they can "unlearn" what they've learned in traditional schooling.

Talk about assimilation to the extreme.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Focus on "BE-ing" instead of "DO-ing"

Here's some words of wisdom:

"We are human beings, not human doings."

With that said, while I see so many sites offering much insight into the outside world in techniques, ethnographic studies, case studies, etc. , not everyone knows what it takes to be the person on the inside. Enter, this blogspace - the one you're reading right now.

So to be a usability professional, user experience designer, usability analyst, user interaction designer and all these titles, one thing I've found in common, is that each of these positions require what I call, Design Sense. Without Design Sense, there is no distinction between good design and bad design. And Design Sense is not acquired overnight - it takes immense practice, sometimes years, and other times just days depending on the individual.

We had a discussion about how some corporations embrace the full user experience or usability from everything within their offices, making sure they're Feng Shui-compliant or to make certain structures accessible by the physically challenged. The fact is, it's not nearly as much about usability - it's merely a by-product of the actual design focus or Design Sense.

While we all know users are the worst designers (leave the designing to the designers!), we also know that they are instead the best people to provide feedback so we can change the design of any product. Being able to translate this also takes practice and a sort of innately-developed skill that not everyone has - it's more a sense of being, living in the present, taking in all the factors and then being able to produce. The translation gets lost sometimes because it's metaphysical - primarily in the brain, heart and soul of the designer (and not just in the brain).

And thus is defined as Design Sense.

One might ask, "How do you become a person that has this Design Sense?" Unfortunately, it's not as easy as exposing yourself to many pictures or products filled with great design - you might still be oblivious to this after that. Perhaps then, a slideshow juxtaposing words of
good versus bad with a picture, just like those in psychological experiments for conditioning might help? Nope.

To really develop a Design Sense, you must do it. You must create and refine, create and refine. Get feedback, create and refine. Or these basic steps:

Action, feedback, correction, action.

Get into an art or design class. Study architecture, still-life, industrial design, color theory, art history, drawing and painting.

Being a person with Design Sense also means dressing appropriately for certain times and events, making sure that not only is the color palette appropriate for your skin color and hair (as well as your aura), but also making sure the style is correct.

I must say that even though I'm writing about Design Sense, I cannot really pinpoint exactly what makes a person like me who has it, except to say that it's about having experiences that are timeless. And it's through these experiences that create the person who I am.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Certification - Part 2

I was in search for some information, something specific to find a solution for some variances in the overall conceptual design. Trying not to "make it up", I came across a few articles, only to find out later they were out-dated. The Internet can be unfriendly like that. I came across this article talking about patterns in HCI design. While somewhat useful, the fact that it was linked to a known source for usability information and without a date on the link, it proved to be useless.

Useless because looking back at my study material , my guideline books I have from my HFI Usability Certification, it has already solved some of those issues. I say some only because of the latest innovation in using ribbon interfaces in Microsoft's Office 2007.

So the question came up again, was the certification worth it? Indeed it was because if it weren't for the fact that the most basic information is available to me at all times, I'd be going to many different links, websites and pages still wondering when can there ever be a central location for all of this information.

Which then also brings to the issue, what if I have a specific question that I want answered by different people?

In usability, there's very little support.

Because of that, perhaps then, there should be a forum? Something I think needs to happen because I have yet to come across one with complete professional interactivity.

So here we go, the dawn of something new:

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Certification - worth it?

Okay, so I've been urged to write about this since it took some time and effort to get me to this stage. Last month, June 13th to be more exact, I took the Human factors International Certified Usability Analyst exam. It was indeed a "doosy" since there was a lot of material to be covered in just 2.5 hours. 100 questions in total and it's an open-book exam and I had to choose the best answer - of course, there's only one answer each question.

I failed the first one 3 months before that, only because I barely studied. The minute I discovered I was only three questions off from passing, I vowed to shoot higher - 80%. So over the course of three months, nearly every day, I studied by creating an index I could use to search through during the exam. This was my way of studying - and it worked.

Now, I'm a certified anal-ist, that is, anal-ise about details meaning to be extremely thorough before a decision can be made as to what is best for certain interfaces. Of course, I don't anal-ise all the time as some designs are more apparent than others. But now I think differently.

I was doing laundry the other day and found out I almost put the dial to the wrong setting. The indicator wasn't marked completely to enable accurately setting the dial. Think of the catastrophic proportions that could have happened! Okay, so it's not life-threatening, but it could have been a pain.

So now, I'm constantly thinking about ways to improve user experience when things go awry. The second example, having to go get gas yesterday at a Mobil station instead of my usual Sunoco. First off, to cancel a transaction took over 1 minute - or it felt like that. Then I had to re-enter the information. After finishing pumping the gas, I selected to have the receipt print out - getting it out itself was a chore. I had to flip a cover up just to get at it, then it wouldn't come out entirely so it got ripped. Compare this with the experience of the Sunoco station - clear markings, no need to cancel a transaction and if you do, it doesn't take over one minute, receipt is taken out without obstacles - clearly it was a better machine.

Third example - yesterday I was also teaching my wife to drive a stick-shift. How does that happen with a beginner when she couldn't even "know" what gear she was is without having to stall it a couple of times before knowing she did all the correct things aside from shifting to the correct 1st gear? So really, it doesn't because there's no indicator, no affordance for the user to discern between the correct and the incorrect without having to put some strain on the drivetrain - it's a good thing the gearbox was built by the same company as Porsche's trannies or it might have been toast. So in the end, it discouraged her to continue - until the next time.

Fourth example - reading about someone having to modify their steering wheel to one that had aluminum sections on the top and bottom. So, what if the car has been in the sun and the wheel has been exposed for a certain time in the summer? Doesn't it burn the driver's hands? Of course, there's still other thicker leather parts. What if the driver forgets? According to the person doing this modification, he said Porsche didn't want to make the wheel too thick that the driver didn't get enough "steering response". So I asked, how about just putting less power steering into the system? A Lotus doesn't have power steering and is very responsive, and my car, a 2002 SVT Focus have less power steering than the later models - I've tried this and the later models felt like I was driving a boat! So in this case, reducing the system input could have improved the user experience.

So do I think being certified is worth it? Yes, up to a certain point. I just have to control my thoughts as now, I might be more critical than ever. The good thing is that it's about systems and not people.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Experts - the detriment of usability development?

I have one philosophy going - try not to be the expert of the program - instead, let the domain experts tell you what they know. This way, you can remove yourself from all the noisy data and the intricacies of certain ways of doing things. What I try to find most of all, is to ask the right question to compel a better response to find the answer.

Of course, easier said than done. To NOT become the expert requires almost complete removal of yourself and the ego some designers or usability practitioners might have. I heard of one definition of what certain politicians are suppose to do - represent their constituents - namely, our users.

So in that case, remain objective in no matter what you do. Most of all, embrace uncertainty because even though I might have to learn or become familiar about a certain program, all I really need to do is learn enough to understand the why's and the how's and the sequence that they come in so that even the sequence or its fundamentals can be shifted to improve productivity.

I'm finding that the experts that give me the data can sometimes be too much - so I read between some lines and find the fundamentals, something the novice user can understand. Because let's face it, the experts and the expert users aren't necessarily your everyday user - what about those coming aboard to learn the program? To dumb-down the level on conceptual understanding translated through a less complex and task-flow streamlined interface is the way to go, and I believe this eases the tension more for these expert users. They become experts for a reason - the interface is sometimes too difficult to understand, so they go about learning everything within the program so that they can explain it to someone who's a novice. Ever thought of that perspective?

If you keep it simple, in no matter what you do, you'll get the message across a lot better and people will use your programs more often with less hassles. And so, not as many "experts" develop.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A process for digesting user feedback

One thing I've learned through the television program CSI, is that the evidence doesn't tell all. In the case of user experience design, neither does user feedback.

If I just blindly follow the user feedback, without combining principled thought into your designs, I would just end up with very little functionality or something unusable. The fact of the matter is, any time I come into such feedback, either positive or negative, there's always something to be learned here. Most of all, question the fundamentals - question the feedback.

I ask myself why someone says what they said. Is there a better way where I'd be able to change that perspective but tweaking my design? I usually answer - "Of course". And that's where better ideas come to solve the problem. I focus on the desired result, asking myself - "I want them to say -this- about the interface, now how could I go about getting that result?"

I look at many things in user feedback.

1. Patterns - namely, user habits.
2. "Negative" feedback - it's not always negative. There's actually more to learn from it.
3. Why it was interpreted the way it was - find the causes.

I then look at possible steps to correct or enhance the user experience in small bits at first, then use a bit of my subconscious (i.e. experience) to guide me. In these steps, I usually do several quick prototype iterations either in my head or on a whiteboard where I can explore solutions and its interactions to solve the inherent usability problems. Then I translate the best solutions into the actual mockup.

This is just one of the ways where digesting user feedback is taken in little steps - and systematically at that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Five points to focus for UX

1 - Forgo the Ego
I don't let my ego enter into my work - at all. Would I say 100%? Most definitely. The user is always right. Or rather, the user is mostly right only because there are certain priorities that have to be taken into consideration. I don't take some user feedback too literally, meaning I won't take feedback and immediately implement them without further thought. There are also times when I must ignore the feedback only because it either doesn't make sense to fit it into the design. That doesn't happen too often.

What I always do is to let the user speak in spite of poor quality feedback. I let the user be heard regardless and by doing that, I serve them better. I also know that in order to be flexible, my ego has no place in my work. I let the user tell the story. I'm only a messenger.

2 - Prioritize the Plan
What I need in order to have User Experience successfully implemented is by prioritizing the plan. It's not just enough to go around wandering the software development roadmap without any dates or focus, hoping that Development will do its duty. It simply doesn't work that way. If any place is worthwhile going, it needs to be defined in a specific manner, with dates and with priorities.

3 - Know thy User
If you don't know what your user is doing, how will you be able to sell the software? It's as fundamental as that. Most of what software development and for that matter, User Experience is about is to fill the user void. Other times it's to actually create and fill the void at the same time - that's when users didn't even know that they need a better experience in productivity savings or improved efficiency. Better User Experience provides that.

4 - Test, test and test some more
Usability testing will reveal all that is wrong and right about the concept. Advanced Prototype testing will tell you where users will have the most trouble and areas where they are successful in performing certain tasks. Testing and the results that come with it is the cornerstone of change. Break it, fix it,then break it and fix it some more.

5 - Apply the Correct Principles
That means to further your own knowledge by taking a certification course in usability or just merely keeping in touch with current best practices and timeless principles. There are many resources out there. And just like any successful career or vocation, that extra "edge" will always propel you forward.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's more than just a checklist

I had it in my mind that usability was nothing more than just a checklist.

I was wrong.

It wasn't just about heuristics or just developing then following a bunch of guidelines blindly. It's more than that. So I ask myself, what is it about this practice that makes it more?

There needs to be understanding - a total and complete removal of ego so that I am able to learn what I need to, asking the questions of "Why?" the whole time. And with this, I create an environment that is more open. What I attract around me are people that will think the same way by looking at the challenge in front of us and coming to a resolve.

Right now, we're in the midst of starting the first ever Agile Development methodology. It has never been tried on this end, while other companies have been doing for so many years. To be able to survive and then to thrive in this kind of methodology requires open-minded people. It's not really about "having their say" as much as combining the efforts together, to
mastermind ideas and form them into reality.

The challenge for me right now is whether or not reality can be created as fast as the mind can think.

I think I can.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Adaptive User Interface

I've just downloaded and installed the trial version of MS Office 2007 with the "ribbon" interface. In just a few minutes of playing around with it, I've learned that this is probably the first interface I've come across that has an Adaptive User Interface (AUI).

By adaptive, I mean the interface (in both high and low levels) actually changes based on the context of the activity involved. The actual menu items are not user-controlled - instead they are based on user behavior and their tasks. For instance, additional first-level choices appear when the user is performing, say, a table creation or edit, or a picture or art object creation or edit. Specific functions also change based on the object that is selected for either formatting or editing, resizing etc..

The idea is to have the system use anticipatory design practices to better predict user behavior and flow with the daily interactions. Whether or not the system becomes smarter with use is up to the time factor.

Taken this further, I can definitely see an AUI that has algorithms that actually anticipate user actions before they happen. But how could this be without digging into the human brain? This is where science fiction becomes science fact - and it seems we're getting closer to this every day.

As for actual AUI's being in use, I will have to research this subject more to give me my perspective.

** Okay, so by Adaptive, you can say the interface is adaptive if there's personalization functions (displaying or hiding toolbars) as opposed to what I'm thinking in full anticipatory design model, with use of perceived artificial intelligence.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Usability Findings is like an episode of CSI

I'm a big CSI (Crime Scene Investigations) fan and I'm starting to come across some parallels on how the usability profession is very much like solving a crime - or in this case, the crime of un-usability. So here's my take:

Where this parallel starts is when product support finally tells the development team that users can't take this frustration any more. "Do something about it!" they would cry. So the manager comes to the usability professionals after determining it might have something to do with usability - usually because it wasn't covered before.

So, as usability professionals, we start investigating. We first look at the data given to us by support - do some supposition and hypothesizing, some reflection, some research. We also use observational techniques, question those suspects that may be violating the usability laws.

We pour some heuristic phenol into the samples and find out there is blood - instant proof that someone has bled from the unforgiving usability issue. Let's just hope the user doesn't have carpel tunnel because of it!

We conduct more tests to prove or disprove our hypotheses. "Let the data tell the story" is our mantra. Through this, we can find the culprit - the issue that's holding us back to release 6.0 from version

The blue UV lights of remote testing tells some more, uncovering and unraveling more than we wanted. The task flow DNA tells us little molecular and granular stories that something is fundamentally wrong.

"So what did you find?" Grissom Neilsen would ask.

An eyebrow goes up in surprise as the team hands him the final paper, the usability finding.

The issue is then resolved by confronting the developer user offender. He/she sweat in their pants for minutes in the interrogation room before he/she finally gives it up. They can't take it anymore!

The offender confesses.

The difference is, no one goes to jail. No one gets reprimanded. Usability on anything can always be improved.

So please, feel free to confess before going through an episode such as this - unless of course you want such entertainment.

Why Usability Training?

One thing I discovered - Training is a means to organize your thoughts so the communication is clear.

How I've realized this is because I have this innate ability to recognize and use my instincts, based solely on experience to design whatever it is that needs to be designed, but without all the language. Basically, it's second nature to me and to justify it can sometimes be a task in itself. Artisans don't really need to explain themselves or justify their work unless they're in the selling stages. Since usability has an art and science, on my part at least, the science and the art of communicating that science is more clear, simply by taking a training course on a heavy subject that takes three days to cover.

Now there are words and groups of words that form an explanation of how and why usability works. Knowing the why is half the battle. Explaining it to anyone else other than yourself, in an objective, non-opinionated way is the other half.

So for those who are still apprehensive into taking extra courses, let me just say that if you're not open for this kind of learning and relearning, you really have no business in the usability field. Actually, to take this further, those who think they "know-it-all" will find themselves stuck when all of a sudden they discover they don't and now is in need of additional knowledge or resources, but it is inaccessible because you haven't bothered to take the time to learn more than you already know.

For any kind of success, in business or in life, and in this case, user experience design or however you want to call it, growth is the key.

Take that extra course. It will change your life.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Usability Training

I'm writing this at MicorTek right now, a common place where companies can use the facilities to train their people. At this instance, I'm in the course for application design held by Human Factors International. even though I have an extended background on many industries, I felt the need to brush-up on some of the principles. Not only that, since the material is quite heavy, it's a great precursor to knowing the material for the Usability Analyst Certification Exam. It's just another one of those "nice to haves" under your belt when you're a professional.

One thing I've already learned today was to bring this kind of information back to our developers so that they get a perspective as to how involved this process can be. Well, HFI has a course for that too, where in just 6 modules, you can be a certified trainer and teach this material to basically anyone. I'm up for that!

Okay, back to class. I've got a week before I head back.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Impact of Design

After reading Donald Norman's first chapter of his new book, I realized a couple of things:

  1. What I'm designing right now has no catastrophic consequences if things go wrong for the user or the system;
  2. What I'm designing can be referred to as "low impact" because of the nature of the product (administration). Functionality is more driven than usability at certain times.
  3. The only thing I can affect is the bottom dollar, directly dependent on learnability.

Yes, I think in fundamental ways. I can also tell you that I've designed systems or products where catastrophic failures can occur. When this happens, more and more scenarios go through my head to anticipate every situation imaginable. And from Donald's new chapter, it can only come from the designer's head - that is why having usability analysts are important.

Anticipatory design is what we do. Solve it before it becomes a problem. But then that means automation in certain respects - by autofilling users' previous entries, by autocalculating cruise control speed on a car in approaching traffic. The objective is to meet the users' needs even before they start to complain - like a decent waiter at an exclusive restaurant.

While I won't be saving lives (directly) with what I'm doing (as opposed to developing airplane systems or auto-cruise control on cars), I will be improving some people's attitudes by creating a more pleasant and usable interface. Not that administration work is in itself pleasant, but perhaps then, less evil.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Leadership in User Experience

It's been on my mind for quite some time, and in fact, I've taken a position that best suit me and the company I work with:

"To be involved with user experience in a company that is in the middle of growth, you must serve everyone."

And for this, I don't mean to cater to everyone's beck and call. I mean to make an actual difference. To empower as well. What I did was to have actual leadership training, or more specifically, Servant Leadership training. It's funny because most people equate being a leader to be someone who "takes command" like in this article. Not so. I can tell you right off the bat, while you do need to have accountability on your plate, you don't have to take full command like that of a dictator. A dictator is not a leader.

In actuality, being a Servant Leader means to listen to people. Being a Servant Leader in the User Experience field means to listen to your users, your development team, your product managers - you get the idea. Not only listen, but also understand and compile the feedback and the data and whatever else research you do in order to come up with the best solution.

Indeed, it does take a lot of energy, time, patience and people-skills, but more importantly, also vision, fortitude, self-accountability, growth, and an ability to change at a moment's notice.

One could also say we are the mediators between the users and the developers. We make the graphical language simple to understand for the users, and our knowledge is enough to understand the complexities from the developers. This knowledge comes from experience and exposure - part of the Law of Gestation. It also comes from taking nothing for granted.

One also might say we're the software private investigators, asking a million questions just for the sake of knowledge and understanding in an unwavering belief in that when the truth is revealed, it will set the software application free. Free from any troubles, reducing support calls and training time, increasing profits so that our share also becomes larger, hopefully. (But I digress.)

So when someone asks you want you do, and you tell them you're in user experience development, what kind of vision are you painting?

If you don't have an answer, you might be in the wrong field.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Let the interface tell the story - Part II

Well it looks like there's some consensus with letting the interface do the talking. Take a look at this article:

A lack of user-friendly technology in the marketplace is exacerbating a digital divide in the workforce between those who can use technology effectively and those who can't and is likely to provoke a backlash among users, according to a new Technology Predictions for 2007 report from consultancy Deloitte, released today.

Hmm..15 days after this article was posted, I write about that fundamental issue in another way. Perhaps that's how long such energy from Europe takes to traverse the Atlantic.

You'll have to read the article to connect the dots.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Fundamental Thinking

I've been hearing it time and time again and it never seems to escape me - probably because it's my profession that draws out such magmatic words.

"Intuitive. It's needs to be more intuitive!

Of course, I am referring to interface design. Almost every usability test ponders upon the idea of
intuitive design or how much intuitiveness is inherent in the design. But really, how much of this "intuition" do we really use?

I read the article by UIE and it gives a great visual as how much intuition we really use. Based on this article, in fact, we do not use our intuition, but more so upon our knowledge. Take it further and we actually base all our reactions on experiences. Our conscious and cognitive ability is as follows:

1. See the situation (without interpretation);
2. Recall and relate to past experiences (with some interpretation);
3. Base a decision (with full interpretation);
4. Act on the decision.

When this is considered into the Fundamental Thinking Process, can we honestly say then, there is something in the design that needs to be more intuitive? Perhaps in this context, intuitive only means a gathering of our past experiences with applications and programs that we have already used. Which, in this case, provided that we all have the same experiences - most likely not, then to achieve such intuitiveness in our designs is a complete fallacy.

So really, there is no such thing as intuitive design.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Let the Interface tell the story

One of the most dreaded things being a user of any software application is the training and learning process one has to go through. The company pays for your courses. But if you're an independent, you have to go out there to learn it yourself.

Being and interface designer isn't any different either, especially if you're looking to redesign any interface. From my experience and my opinion, if the documentation or training course has more than 25 pages, the application is probably too complex to learn quickly.

There are many times where I come across a current design ready for revamping, and the interface tells me very little, or rather a lot - too much in fact because at that point, I've already assessed it to being too complex to learn in 30 minutes or less.

Some factors that prevent quick learning:

1. The documentation is the tutorial. They are usually too long and too complex to understand;

2. The interface was designed poorly. This is usually a case of when usability is still in at its infant stage;

3. The application is not focussed. Usually is the case when a set of target users is too broad or inappropriate.

I could go on, but then like some long documentation, I'd lose your interest.

So to solve all this, why not let the interface tell the story? Have the development processes integrate such a way that enables pre-development work. This also includes focusing your target users and developing mental models - a translation between the human being and software system. So that once actually concepts are being developed, the end in mind is always letting the interface tell the user how they want to be operated upon.

Of course, a lot of past experiences would have to be harnessed. This is what we call "intuitive". (That could also be another debate.) At least in this case, documentation is lessened, the training is made easier and simpler to follow. It would definitely make life a lot easier.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Usability Practitioner's Code of Honor

Every person needs a Code of Honor - that is, rules that govern how a person operates whether in their daily life professionally or not. This is a great way to keep track of how you're operating under certain circumstances. It keeps your behavior "in-check" especially if you're looking to improve or reach some of the goals for the year or lifetime.

I have my Usability Practitioner's Code of Honor. It has also adapted some of the principles from the UPA website I feel need to be addressed or kept in mind as a third-party ruler, thus removing my own opinion about whether something should done in a different way or not.

Here it is in full:

Usability Practitioner’s Personal Code of Honor

• Be on Time – apologize when late;
• Act in the Best Interest of society, your client and employer;
• Be Honest and Kind with everyone;
• Act with Integrity – do what you say. If something cannot be met, arrange for alternative ways for completion;
• Be Responsible to my actions – take ownership;
• Ask for help when I don’t know – I am not suppose to know everything;
• Honor intellectual property rights including copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, contracts, and licenses;
• Respect the privacy of your colleagues and participants;
• Honor promises of confidentiality, and anonymity;
• Strive to increase your competence every day and empower those you work with;
• Encourage others around me – others will return the favor when it’s time;
• Take initiative – find a way, make a way, no obstacle thinking;
• Anchor and celebrate all wins – especially when we reach milestones.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Imparting the user experience knowledge

Where I'm working now, we've implemented the User Centered Design processes starting a couple of years ago. We're currently a two person team as I have replaced another whom had left just last year. In terms of where we are in UCD maturity, we're on the brink of consistently hitting Stages 4 and 5 especially with some new initiatives. The reality is, we're not at the point of having enough people in our usability team to really expand our activities, yet we also want to make enough of a difference to empower our working colleagues. So how do we do this?

A great way to impart knowledge of what we know and ways to implement the user experience design into current processes is to develop an Intranet. This way, anyone who is in need of our help has access to us, not only in our database of UE knowledge, but also through constant feedback mechanisms.

This is a great way to serve those around you who have little or no exposure to what the UCD/UED discipline really entails. The transition is always constant and always progressive, little by little - not one big gigantic step. People cannot handle that much change all at once.

The key is also to have a plan, a strategy with a timeline of where you want the corporation to be (at what stage) and when.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Influence of User Experience

Having six years of experience in the designing of User Experience is actually not saying too much. Is it really six years, or is it one year, six times over? Many professionals view themselves as having so many years of experience in their occupation, they forget to look at the true value they have put out into the corporation or community they are trying to influence.

So in fact, there are probably a lot of "fakers" out there, not knowing really why they're doing what they're doing because their vision has been lost. Then there are others who actually achieve, who really set realistic, attainable goals - goals that make them stretch to the next level. When this happens, there really is a greater level of expectation and the person truly attains a "year of experience". Of course, this goes without saying, there needs to be consistent action.

So when I look at myself in terms of what I have achieved in Usability or User Experience Design, I have a long way to go. The foundation is indeed set. I have enough talent and know-how to take myself to the next level. What I need to do is to keep in the learning mode in everything I do. This kind of approach is much overlooked.

I can tell you that in terms of designing for the best User Experience, the principles have never changed. The practices have gotten better with each year a new application tool is revamped, redeveloped or newly developed. Methods such as Task Analysis, Card Sorting etc. have all been "tried, tested and true" methods into developing a better understanding of the user and what they experience.

I think the best way a usability professional can do to serve their users, aside from all these fancy techniques, is to Listen to their users. We have two ears and one mouth. Let's use them in proportion! Taking some of the principles of Dale Carnegie's book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and applying them to everyday activities can give you great returns. For instance, Carnegie says that people love talking about themselves. That's great! And it's all in-line with the usability profession. We listen to user's gripes and concerns, we jot them down, take as many qualitative notes as possible. We listen, listen, listen to no end. It's when there are no issues that really, we should question the quality of the feedback. It's not like we look for problems - we just want to serve those users and help solve user issues.

I think to that end, our influence as usability professionals, and the discipline within User Experience Design can affect more than what we deal with daily. Implementation is improved, support calls are reduced, and all the other basic ROI factors are amended. It's just business sense to empower as many people with this type of basic knowledge, as it takes any corporation farther with a greater competitive advantage.