Trading cards of UX luminaries was well under way by day 2 of UXLX. Today, we had topics ranging from site strategy to comics.
Strategic User Experience – Leisa Reichelt
In this workshop Leisa Reichelt takes on a huge challenge: she tries to clarify what strategic UX actually involves and how it can help us as designers create better experiences. One of the first challenges she needs to take on is the explanation of strategy itself. For a lot of people this is a very vague thing, even for those high up in organizations. Too often making a profit is seen as the strategy of a company, while in fact this is only a possible result of it. To know what the strategy of a business is we have to look at its purpose, which should always lie outside of the business itself.
Strategy is often mixed up with tactics, so Leisa gives us a very simple example:
- Strategy: we need to take the hill, men
- Tactics: fat guys go behind rocks, skinny guys behind trees
After this she continues and gives her definition of strategic UX: “UX activities focusing on achieving a significant organizational goal where a digital interface is a significant aspect of the product or service offering.” So when we really want to make a difference as designers and not only want to design the shell we should start getting involved on the correct level and try and talk on a strategic level. But before we all get enthusiastic Leisa warns us that this is very difficult to do, since a lot of managers in high positions only want to talk to people who (in their eyes) understand business and they don’t believe that designers can do that. One tip is to move away from our solution and design based position and move towards becoming facilitators. We are great in listening and translating what others think, want and need and formulate it in a clear way. And if you are able to introduce UX attributes in the process to help clear things up that is a win-win situation, especially when the managers feel that it’s actually a business attribute.
During her talk (the session didn’t really turn into a workshop, but was actually a 3-hour presentation) Leisa showed us the different levels in the process where we as UX designers can get involved. She described three levels:
- Business strategy: value proposition/experience strategy, product description, target audience, business model
- Customer experience strategy: experience map & touchpoints, personas, design principles, KPIs & metrics
- Tactical execution: prioritization, strategy led design, design evaluation, methodology
Leisa took on a challenging subject, but really managed to bring an important message across. At the same time there is still so much we need to learn and understand that you can fill a book with it, and fortunately that is something Leisa is working on at the moment.
Know Thy User: Personas — Steve Mulder
Anyone who’s come near a Cooper book (and a lot who haven’t) will know of those famous yet much debated method known as personas. Steve Mulder’s informative presentation got down to the nuts and bolts of using them, from large scale surveys to life-size cutouts.
Mulder stepped through the foundational reasons that we need personas (business results depend on satisfying users, you are not your user, learning about users requires direct contact, knowledge about users must be actionable, decisions should be based on users) and then suggested that personas are defined by three things
The session was filled with useful tips for using personas. Some of them included:
- Surveys — aim for 100+ completios per segment, make it less than 15 minutes long, ask about behaviour (not importance), clear, familiar language…. use scales (not y/n), randomise answers when appropriate, don’t avoid open-ended input fields, break up into pages.
- Competitor analysis pages can include how they relate to various personas (i.e alongside all the other checklists have ones for the personas).
- Persona pages should have realistic photos (cheap or free sites for images include http://www.sxc.hu http://morguefile.com http://istockphoto.com). Other interesting ideas include writing the mini-story in first person so the persona is talking to you.
- My favourite tip was about the roll-out of personas. While you can do the standard one page summary, other more creative methods include making cards, life-size cut-outs (not for everyone but interesting), making a persona space where you deck out a cubicle as it would be for a persona, newsletters, and having the persona faces in the top left of all your wireframes to remind you who you’re designing for!
There was also a lot of discussion about how to bring in personas into a workplace not particularly amenable to them — much like Leah Buley’s talk the day before, the answer given was to quietly start using them and then air them if they show success.
Site search analytics – by Louis Rosenfeld
One of the morning workshops was held by the renowned Louis Rosenfeld in his role as “ information therapist” as he put it. The topic was site search analytics: what to make from the stuff people type in the search bar of your website. That ‘stuff’ can be quite interesting, because it indicates what users want, as opposed to what they need from a stakeholders’ point of view. If you bring those two together, you can greatly improve on your content as well as your search.
Search queries, because they are peoples’ own words, are semantically rich data. To get a feel for that he did an exercise and let the audience play around with a query data file in Excel to see what could be extracted from that. One group came up with an impressive correspondence analysis. What this really showed was that with little effort you can start making quite a difference.
After the break he presented an interesting case study from Vanguard which showed how multiple metrics can back up a feeling that something could be wrong with your new search engine. He rounded up with some practical tips on how to make site search better and get others in your company involved as well. All in all a great introduction on this fairly new subject.
Lessons from Bill Hicks — Ian Fenn
Ian Fenn beat the post-lunch slump with his entertaining — and more insightful than you might expect — video-packed ode to great comedian Bill Hicks. Fenn actually had the fortune to inverview many years ago in his then role as a BBC radio reporter and was impressed with ever since, but realised many of the skills that made him a great comedian could be applied to UX. His Lessons from Bill Hicks were:
- Be honest. “Sometimes you have to tell stakeholders your baby’s ugly.” Hicks’ could be outrageous, but he was always honest.
- Do your research. Get your facts straight, and above all be clear rather than dumbing down. (Hicks could also do devastating political comedy since he did his research and pulled no punches).
- Actively listen. Change if the audience isn’t listening to you. Hicks was a master at reading the audience and changing his tack on the fly if need be.
- Switch perspective. Comedy is about the unexpected, and Hicks could easily make fun of both sides of a particular issue, such as smoking.
- Refine your work. Comedians work at their act for a long time — Hicks’ “How Tall Are You” skit was refined over 30 years!
- Tell Stories. Great comedians know how to spin a story, such as Hicks painting a vivid picture about how weed should be legalised!
- Have a vision. Jared Spool talks a lot about this in UX. Hicks usually finished his show on an inspiring note, with all his ideas about how we might have a better world — having that dream can inspire others too.
- Leave a legacy. This has also been talked about in UX — what will you leave behind? Hicks died in 1992 age 32, but even now there’s eleven thousand clips of his on Youtube, and he’s mentioned on Twitter every 15 minutes. To top it off, a documentary on him was released last year. His legacy lives on.
Fenn talked about sharing the stage with Hicks, and part of the fun was (usually NSFW!) clips. Check out the Hicks’ movie trailer for a feel for them.
Product Personality — Jeroen van Geel
Our very own Jeroen Van Geel but the lightning in lightning talks as we went through a fast paced presentation about cars, cigarette ads and Craiglist .
Product personality is more than just Henri the vacuum cleaner. Many products have a strong personality — be it an HP laptop and the OLPC or the new VW Beetle — but in all too many cases on the web, all pages in a specific category look the same (be it travel sites or car ones).
Why use product personality? Van Geel recommends reading The Media Equation to understand just how important the connection is, but the key reasons are:
- Humans automatically attribute human behaviour to everything
- People prefer like-minded personalities [and products] (there is a famous computer test where people were asked to use choose between two identical computers, one named Linus and the other Max. People chose the one that was most like them).
- Undiluted product personalities are more trusted than contradictory ones (having a defined personality and sticking to it makes it seem more reliable)
- People judge on first impression
Some good examples come from the branding world. Cigarette brands often had very strong personalities (the Lucky Strike personality is very different from Malboro), and cars have a long history of it as well (take the Alfa Romeo and the VW Beetle). These products have values that are used everywhere.
But there are examples from websites.
- Whitehouse.gov in the Bush era was formal, authoritative, traditional, old fashioned; the new one is still authoritative and traditional, but is now also more caring.
- Ebay’s colourful new site is personal, confident, fun. Craigslist, on the other hand, looks very different and comes across as pragmatic, independent, no-nonsense, unorganised, a friend helping you out. It’s key to realise that though Craigslist site looks cheap, the company has made an active decision to have it that way, and benefits by thus appealing to a different audience.
- Finally this can be applied on a micro-level, Amazon and Woot’s sign up pages are very different — the former uses formal language and red text for required fields, the latter chatty and understated text.
There’s a whole area that this can step off into — a question was asked about the personality of interactions — but it was yet another reminder of the importance of meaning and storytelling in UX.
Sell yourself better – by Jason Masut
This really was a lightning talk as no second got wasted as Jason ran us through his UX Portfolio tips. Drawing from 10 years of experience and seeing lots of bad portfolios (80% of recent ones) he sparked the discussion about improvement at IA London and came up with some tips.
His tips in short:
- a proper introduction of yourself, at least descriptive and well structured, if possible enhanced with things like a visual design touch, quotes from others or an infographic about yourself
- demonstrate how you work, which means the process and not only end results. To do so photograph your workshops, keep some of your sketches and outputs and edit some video, e.g. on paper prototyping.
- share your project experience, with attention to all phases of the design process. Don’t do an exhaustive summary and show deliverables as well.
A good portfolio is always useful, not only if you want to look for a new job. It can help you to remember and improve on what you’ve done before and can be helpful for others as an example.
To get you started: Jason’s tips are available on www.betteruxportfolios.com
See What I Mean: Communicating with Comics — Kevin Cheng
Comics are a great tool to communicate concepts, visions and other complicated stories. They are easily understood by people and can depict a lot of detail in just a few tiles. Drawing comics forces a designer to really think about the message that he wants to bring across. They force you to think about what’s the essence of the message you want to convey and at the same time it’s possible to leave a lot of details out and still get a clear image. This last part is because people automatically fill in the blanks. During the workshop Kevin showed us several examples where these techniques were applied and he had us draw stick figures, facial expressions and in the end an entire comic.
But the main message of Kevin’s presentation is not aimed on drawing techniques, but at the message that comics can bring across. In a series of slides he shows us examples of comics that are focused on product features, introduced entirely new products and attempted to explain very complicate technical issues to a non-techy audience. One of the more interesting examples here is the Chrome comic which was used to explain the benefits of the Chrome browser to a broad audience.
Depending on the role in the company that you have there can be different reasons to use comics:
- CEO, decision maker: distill a vision and share it across the organisation;
- Marketer, sales, business development: get the attention of potential clients and customers;
- Engineer, design: crystallise problem and solutions and get team feedback;
- Product manager: compact reminder to keep focus on vision.