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Yesterday was a day of listening, today was a day of acting. UX London day two was split up and attendees could join workshops in the morning and afternoon. With the full-is-full philosophy in the back of their heads people rushed through the building to catch a seat at their prefered workshop. We managed to check out six of them for you.

Good Design Faster – Leah Buley

Wireframes are among the most used deliverables in our field. We use them for good and for bad. They are used for documentation and even in the brainstorming phase. Buley correctly states that wireframes are good for documenting, not envisioning. That’s why she created a workshop to learn her peers “techniques to generate new ideas and solve tough problems of interactivity, flow, and form.” And in short this comes down to learning us techniques to sketch, which is a skill that a lot of designers are afraid of… and that’s a sad thing.

There are three steps Buley points out:

  1. Sketch and explore ideas
    First of all you’ve got to start sketching out ideas. You pick a specific part of a flow and start creating possible solutions, and these don’t have to be detailed. They have to be good enough to understand the basic idea. It’s really important that you keep challenging yourself, because most of the times it’s not the first idea but the third of fourth that’s the best. When you’ve got all the ideas you can select the best one and start adding detail to this one.
  2. Bring ideas together
    After you’ve sketched your ideas you bring them together with the ideas of other team members. Yes, with the ideas of others… Having a team instead of working alone is really important.
  3. Share and iterate with the team
    After you’ve brought the ideas together you start talking to each other. Along the way you come up with new sketches and comments on each others sketches. The danger of this phase is that you look and the sketches and will only compliment on them, while being critical can be much more valuable. This is something that a lot of designers don’t dare to do, because they feel they are attacking the other person, while in fact you are together trying to make it better.

The steps above are closely linked with a technique called Sketchboarding. This is a way of creating ideas and grouping them in a flow. When you put your sketches on the board it’s important that the board is filled in both breadth and depth. If there are holes in de breadth it means you haven’t created enough ideas for a part of the flow and if the depth misses it means you haven’t generated enough ideas for a certain part of the flow. This forces the team to come up with many new ideas and not go for the obvious, and often not optimal, solution.

Below you can see a video showing the creation of a sketchboard:

The last technique I will share is called a ‘Black Hat Session’. This is a way of generating critique. What you do is give the entire team sticky notes and let them write down all the questions and concerns that they have regarding the generated sketches, in total silence. It’s important that they start sharing their insights, for otherwise the client will. It’s interesting to see how at first people are very hesitant to put up a ‘negative remark’, but as soon as one starts the rest follows. Really interesting group dynamics.

Having been thrown back to a workshop of second preference in this action packed day 2 of UX London 2010, this one turned out to be much more spicy than I expected. Liz made no secret of the fact that she was there to improve our interviewing skills, and was willing to shift gears as our differing experience levels would require. She succeeded very well.

User Interview Techniques – Liz Danzico

Liz started out with an interesting quote from Malcom Gladwell: “Everyone has a story. When people start talking about what they know and do well, they’re always interesting”. This notion helps interviewers to be genuinely interested in the broad range of relevant answers any interviewee might give.

The first applied part of this workshop was all about interviewing techniques. This part was somewhat basic, but contained all the essentials to interviewing most effectively. Liz covered different question types that you might use, gave tips on posing open questions and using body language, silence, and managing the relation between the interviewer and the interviewee.

The second part of her talk was about setting up an interview properly. What preparation is needed, how many people should do different roles of interviewing, what makes a good ‘screener’, and how to do recruiting. Some interesting heads-up she gave:

  • Not every interview has to be completed. If you get off on the wrong foot or for some reason things are not working out, just end it in a friendly fashion.
  • Go interviewing on location with two or three people. Bringing more is likely to be intimidating. If you go by yourself, you are probably going to miss out on a lot of valuable verbal or non-verbal feedback.
  • Preferably, do only two interviews a day. Your head fills up quickly and you need to save capacity to process.
  • Realize that your set of questions is probably iterative. After the first or so interview, you will want to adjust.

Thirdly, Liz gave us a bit of a field guide, sharing tricks such as when to pop up the consent forms, how to distribute observation rules, and what’s the best moment to start writing down the most memorable insights (which is to say: immediately).

She closed with some very practical pointers to transcription services. She left the group with the energy to really get going and improve our interviews.

Knowledge Games: Design practices for systems thinking and co-creation – Dave Gray

Dave Gray kicked off his workshop by introducing the concept of Gamestorming. Gamestorming combines workshop facilitation and participatory design techniques with games. It is simple, reliable, rugged and lightweight – Gamestorming sessions can be run under time constraints, with tools available in any office.

The goal of Gamestorming is to open the black box of ‘design done by designers’ and involve ‘non-designers’ by an engaging, collaborative activity. As Dave puts it, “Design is too important to be done only by designers.”

Facilitating workshops is challenging, even more so when the goal is to bring multiple disciplines together. The techniques we use have to support improvisation.

Processes and games both have rules, outcomes and boundaries. Processes are good for clear goals; business processes are repeatable engines. When we are trying to innovate, clear goals are limiting, as are rigid processes. Games are flexible and have fussy, undefined goals, which we can adapt and refine as we go along. Games are possibility generators, system simulators, and allow us to isolate an aspect of reality that we’d like to explore in a creative way.

Dave shared his ’10 essentials for meeting ninjas’:

  1. Opening and closing
    Opening is idea generation, valuing quantity over quality. Closing is prioritising, finishing with tangible outcomes. Always close what you open, so people walk away with a sense of achievement and come back for iterations. People can’t open and close at the same time, so don’t mix the two.
  2. Fire-starting
    Energize people by asking open questions. Use the right questions at the different phases of a workshop:Opening: eg What has been keeping you up all night?Examining: eg How does it work?Experimenting: eg What if this technology didn’t exist?Navigating: Is this a productive thread?Closing: Who will take responsibility for this?
  3. Artifacts
    Flipcharts, sticky notes, index cards, play money, or tabletop items – make sure you have materials to make things tangible and visible.
  4. Node Generation
    A node is anything that’s part of a system. The more you generate, the better. Put ideas out there and in motion, move them around.
  5. Meaningful
    Space Games use boards to define a space – a grid, cycle, or snake-like journey. When putting together a Gamestorming workshop, think about the box, the frame. After opening a space and establishing common ground, organize the nodes. Use a wall – “the wall is the new desk.” (Dave) A meaningful space is structured and organized, eg by borders, axes, circles and targets, grids, landscapes and maps, or metaphors.
  6. Sketching & Models
    Combine basic shapes, use the visual alphabet. Practice drawing symbolically, think about how you would communicate something rather than how to make it pretty. Sketches can be abstract (the head), practical (the hands), or metaphorical (the heart) – all add value.
  7. Randomness
    Games shuffle the cards, roll the dices to prevent getting stuck and to keep the gameinteresting. Introduce serendipity to innovate.
  8. Improvisation
    Act out system behaviors, role play, body storm. Combine sketching, models/prototypes and improvisation into a playful, insightful activity. We are comfortable playing games like Charades at home – in a work environment, it’s crucial to establish a safe space to get people into the improv mindset.
  9. Selection
    Kill your darlings. Prioritize and vote on ideas to ensure tangible, actionable outcomes.
  10. Share
    Make sure to allow time to compare, reflect, discuss and iterate.

My team tried to apply these essentials, and after getting stuck over processes and clinging on to familiar ways of brainstorming and organizing sticky notes (think UX folks affinity sorting like in the research lab), we experienced a breakthrough by making the conscious decision: let’s play a game, have fun. ‘Scenario battle’ is a brainstorm game. One team member role-plays a persona in a scenario. The other members form two groups. One group comes up with a challenging problem situation, the other group has to generate as many ideas to address this problem as possible. Suddenly we were energized, had fun, and were all keen to develop our knowledge game further.

Balancing creative chaos and the need for order is tough. The group exercise empathized Dave’s take-away message at the end: Just step in, try things, immerse yourself – and step out if it doesn’t work, try something else. Gamestorming is a mindset. Dare to start playing, and prove that collaborating and having fun is good for products and teams. And check out Dave’s upcoming book.

Content Strategy: The Missing Piece of the UX Puzzle – Karen McGrane

Karen’s story started off with a fairy tail about a city that wanted to build an art hall. In a wonderful way she told a captivating story where the people in the city build the most beautiful art hall ever. They designed every little detail and thought they created the perfect setting for art. But the moment the artists arrived they got really angry because nobody actually checked what kind of art they made and were going to make. And it is the art that should be in the lead, defining the way the art hall should look… not the other way around.

The above situation is a great metaphor for the current situation the web is in. We are all talking about form follows function, while it should be form follows function which follows content. Karen showed a great quote by Rahel Bailie that says it all “Organizations invest tremendous resources on developing the framework for a great user experience – fabulous design, robust content management infrastructure. Yet when it comes to the content itself, there’s often a gap. The end result is that the value proposition for customers can’t be delivered because of the insufficient, inadequate, and inappropriate.” And when you think of it; people don’t come to your site because it looks nice, but because of the content.

So how to approach this? It’s important to note that you can’t just start creating content. You have to create a solid strategy what you’ll be doing with the content. Often companies just set up a blog with the thought that it will be a great way of getting in touch with their audience, what they don’t realize is that they need to dedicate time to fill the blog. They also have to think about the tone-of-voice, frequency among other things. So beside creating content, content strategy is also focusing on publication planning and governance.

During the workshop we had to walk through the different steps needed to set up a good content strategy:

  • Planning
    What content do you need to develop? What categories or topics do you need to cover? What do you want to say about the product? What addition content features do you need to develop?
  • Analysis
    What current content exists? What content do you want to keep? What content do you need to create? Do you know everything about the content you need to know?
  • Creation
    This is the phase where you actual start to develop new content, collect the existing reusable content and start planning the launch of the content.
  • Governance
    After everything is done you need to work on the governance, so how will you keep it in control? How do you make sure you can maintain the quality of the content and keep generated newly needed content? What needs to stay up-to-date? Who is responsible?

This workshop was really interesting. Karen did a great job of keeping a tough subject light and fun. When taking the different steps defined above you can easily start to work on a Content Strategy. The main challenge in most organizations is to create the awareness that this is an important task. A lot of clients have the feeling that they are responsible for the content and that they only need a new shell. It’s our task to make them believe that content is king.

Karen’s previous presentation about content strategy:

Real-World Agile User Experience Design – Jeff Patton

In this three-hour workshop, Jeff took it upon him to sketch possibilities for UX people in the development-dominated field of Agile. He didn’t warn us, but it was not going to be a workshop. Despite Jeff’s own attempts, it turned out to be a 3,5 hour talk. But what a talk! He miraculously managed to keep almost everyone present engaged until the very end.

He had a lot to offer. Let’s start with just a few of the many inspiring quotes:

  • Process is a placebo. Quality is not about following the rules. It is about caring for the end result;
  • Companies with documented methodologies tend to be less successful (Jared Spool);
  • Processes are like haircuts. Trying somebody else’s rarely works;
  • The biggest danger of following a process is falling asleep at the process wheel (Jared Spool again).

Hands on, Jeff presented a liberating view on the creation of personas. He calls this the assumption based persona. Clearly departing from the data-driven approach he stated Cooper has promoted so much, he made a plea for quickly and efficiently creating good-enough personas. And no one less than Donald Norman is at his side there, stating that “people can often mine their own extensive experiences to create effective Personas…”. I think the most innovative touch about the template that Jeff presented is the way that the design implications are integrated.

A hot topic turned out to be the formulation of user stories. A user story is an almost impossible thing to do right. Some pointers: it must be seen as a token for a conversation, not as a definition. It acts as a boundary object: a common denominator between disciplines. More on user stories at presentation slides 57 and further.

Did Jeff really deliver on the title of his talk and did he discuss Agile User Experience Design? I personally think not.
According to Jeff, the home of the UX guys and girls in the Agile process can be in a number of places. Perhaps it’s at the side of the product owner, in an advisory role helping to gain understanding of users, and help decide on prioritizing user stories. Perhaps also it’s somewhere near the scrum master, working on making user stories more concrete by crafting designs before the stories are ready for sprint.

Perhaps the biggest difference between my own practice and the one depicted by Jeff is that he suggests that from a methodology standpoint, you have to do something special to combine UX design and Agile Development. Once you get to the point that you realize that design and development are just disciplines that can be effectively integrated by a set of rules such as Scrum, the model shifts and becomes more clear.

All in all, this session contained as much good stuff as any Agile experienced UX practitioner could handle in one afternoon. Maybe more. At any rate, more than I can do justice to in this place. Luckily, Jeff has put everything online at his website. Go check it out. I especially recommend slides 5, 58, 64, 89, 99 and 100. I’m sure you have your own favorites.
top image: Wootang01

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

Pieter Jongerius

Johanna Kollmann

Johanna Kollmann is a Senior UX consultant at EMC Consulting in London. Her background is in Information Design and Human-Computer Interaction, and one of her main interests is how UX designers collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams. When she's don’t organising or attending barcamps, hackdays or other geeky events, Johanna can be found at gigs or on her mission to find the best espresso in town.

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