Keeping the customer at the core; setting up regular iterative user testing processes

If your organisation truly wants to move away from being ‘organisation’ centric towards becoming more customer centric, it needs to ensure that mechanisms and processes are put in place to ensure the team has regular access to customer intelligence and feedback.

Agile development is a popular development process these days. As we know, Agile puts the emphasis on creating  a ‘minimum’ product which then can be tested and iterated more quickly than traditional software development processes.

qutoe from edison about learning

In order to support these quicker lighter development sprints,  UX  practices have also  evolved and approaches and philosophies such as Lean UX have emerged.   In Lean UX there is a move away from the ‘document heavy’ more formal UX research deliverables towards providing  quicker and less formal feedback that can be quickly and continuously assimilated into the process.

Benefits of regular testing and customer insights. Continue reading


Creating user experiences of the future


2017 image

The end of one year and the start of another is always a good time to pause and reflect on what is going on in the world of UX and to think about what will happen next.
As we know there is a lot happening in areas such as Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality but two other areas that will, I think, have a significant impact in how we think about future experiences are:


  • The evolution of Conversational Interfaces
  • The battle between companies to control more of their customers end-to-end journeys

Continue reading

Running productive UX Workshops

image of people at workship

We do love to run Workshops in UX and why not?

Whether it is a feedback or co-creation session with customers or a strategy or product development meeting with internal teams; workshops are a creative, fun and efficient way to gain insights and generate new ideas.  And they have the added benefit of keeping key groups of people at the centre of the design process.   However, unfortunately workshops also have the potential to descend into frustrating unproductive talking shops. Especially if they have been poorly thought-out or lack structure.

Having been part of, and run a number of UX workshops over the years, some more successful than others, here are my top takeaways or tactics we can employ to run more effective UX Workshops.  Continue reading

Creating good form (s)

Forms are an important part of the conversations we have with our customers

Web forms may not be the sexist thing to talk about in UX but they sure are important. They are a medium through which our customers can tell us what they want to do online; be that to register, order, sign up to something or simply provide feedback.

Done well, forms give customers a sense of control and allow them to get stuff done online.  Well designed forms enhance customer trust and brand reputation.  Done badly, the opposite is true and ill thought-out forms are a sure fire way to annoy customers and increase their general dislike in a brand.

Recently I was part of a team at work who presented a session on ‘Beautiful, useful and accessible forms’ and below i highlight some of the key take-aways. Continue reading

Changing your life in 30 days

Eat an elephantI have been reading lately about the power of habits and rituals to achieve outcomes and goals. It seems we can achieve much more by shifting our fixation away from setting goals to rather focusing on the processes and changes in behaviours needed to achieve that goal.  This relates to any goals in our lives such as; losing weight, making more time for learning, writing a book etc. Or one of my own goals such as write a blog every month (ahem).

The problem with focusing on goals is that when we get distracted or if something slips and we don’t achieve that goal, we become disheartened and it’s easy to let it slide.

Our goals become something we talk about but not actually end up doing.

However if we shift the focus away from the goal to creating the habit or ritual to support the goal; even if we don’t end up exactly where we thought we would; we will have achieved something along the way; establishing the good habits.   And changes will happen.   But how do we do this?  Continue reading

What is the role of a UX’er today?

Two things I read recently prompted me to think about this question. First was an interesting blog post about the demise of UX research from Salesforce’s Nalini Kotamraju and her suggestions on what skills UX Researchers should learn. The second, was a book I am currently reading by Scott Hurf called Designing Product People Love and one his sections in book where he talks about different roles in the Product team. Both these got me thinking about what role and skills should a UXer have today? And importantly what skills do we need to think about developing so we are still relevant tomorrow?

UX Research is so hot right now…

When I was with Paddy Power, we used to make a distinction between UX Research, UX architecture and UX Design roles. But then Agile came along the role became less about a specific skill set and more about being the person on the product team who was the champion for UX (and the user).   Coming from there to work as a UX Consultancy a couple of years ago, it was a bit of a surprise to see that so many companies, especially the larger ones, seemed quite behind in terms of UX practices.

Though not all companies may not be where they want to be yet in terms of UX Maturity, there does seem to be an increased recognition in the role and value of UX . We see a movement in our clients towards employing more UX people and undertaking more diverse UX activities.  And companies are talking more about UX at a strategic level and looking at ways to implement it across the board to improve performance and drive growth.

Just as companies are maturing in their approach to UX we too, as UX’ers, need to consider how our roles and skills need to evolve to support that shift.

What does the UX’er of tomorrow look like?


  • Researcher: Being curious and asking questions is, I think, one of the core attributes of being a UX’er. We need to have empathy with our customers so we can translate insights into meaningful product features and design. Being a researcher is about being independent and stepping away from institutionalised thinking. We need to be the champions of the customer voice and customer goals and ensure that they are at the core of what the company does. An interest in psychology and understanding more about why we behave the way we do has been personally valuable to me when thinking about this.
    Of course, understanding user needs is not the sole propriety of UX. Especially these days as there is a raft of tools available to those who want to understand more about their customers. And is great to see that more people, who are not necessarily UX, recognising this and making it a part of their role. However, what I think UX Researcher will continue to bring to the table is considering which methods and tools to use when and to consider research in planned systematic way. And to be the glue in the team that facilitates and drives research from other areas of the business.
  • Analyst : As we get more access to data on our customer and their behaviour, knowing about the numbers and trends to back up and add to insights is and will continue to be, a crucial part of the research process. A knowledge of how the data works and being able to communicate this back to the business in a relevant way is important in selling in the benefits of UX activities. We need to work with the business to define what success means in terms of a good experience and determine metrics of how we capture that. And then monitor how we are doing, so we can take actions to improve.
  • Information Architect: Is the next step in converting insights into something meaningful. It is about doing something with what we have learned about customer behaviour and expectations and organising information in a way that makes sense to them. This allows us to design products and particularly the paths within those products, to behave in the way that customers expect and want them to behave.
  • Communicator: As UX’ers we need to be able to report back concisely with recommendations that are specific and relevant to the context, in both written and visual formats. However, a picture paints a thousand words. A large part of our work as UX’ers is taking the insights we learn from testing/research instilling them into visual communications and artifacts such as Personas/User Journeys to make those findings come alive.
  • (Interaction) Designer: Which is also part of communicating ideas. I’m not referring to UI or web design here but more Interaction Design.   I see this as translating insights and findings from research into visual outputs such as flows or wireframes to illustrate how a user will step through the different stages of the journey.
    Not everyone is an artist (definitely include myself in that) but everyone can draw and putting ideas and sketches on whiteboard or on paper allows us to quickly discuss and improve on those ideas. Low fidelity sketches/ideas, especially in an agile world, are our friend. Being able to then link those sketches through prototyping allows for quick testing and feedback.
  • Facilitator: Facilitation skills I believe, are going to be one of the key skills of the UX’er of tomorrow. We know there is alot of internal knowledge within the business and part of the role of UX is to work with teams to extract that knowledge and involve everyone in user research. We will need to work with the team so we can collectively work up ideas based on research insights and bring the designs or product onto the next stage.
  • Strategist: This is another area where we can move up a level in UX. As more companies are thinking about UX not just at product level but as an organisational level this gives UX more clout at higher levels within the business. This give us opportunity to look at UX in a more holistic manner and think about how we can build out the whole UX experience through our business processes, policies and products. Our role here will be more analyst and working with the business to solve problems and suggest ways to improve.
  • The U ‘X’ Factor. Being obsessive, but in a good way. Some of the best people I know in UX are a little bit obsessive about UX in general. They want to know about developments in design/UX/technology and are always eager to try out new tools and methods. They also see the world in a slightly different way and examine everything in terms of the user experience and how this might apply to projects they are working on.

Will we become Jack of all Trades?

No. I don’t think so. I don’t think everyone has to be an expert in every one of those skills, certainly in our consultancy different people have more experience/stronger skills in some of the areas over the others. However, just as the companies we are working with are scaling up in terms of UX knowledge and activities, we as UX’er need to broaden out and evolve own skills to support that change. What we are seeing is a move away from specialisms in different roles UX and a move towards UX taking a more consultative approach were adapt what we do depending on the situation and the problem we are trying to solve at that stage.

And the good news is there are loads of resources, many of which are free or not hugely expensive that can help us be prepared for our evolving roles. Here are just a few of which I have found useful:

Learning resources

Understanding the basics of Google Analytics 

Online User Experience Courses from Interaction Design 

Statistics from Udemy Learning

Smashing Magazine online articles on Wireframing 

Overview of UX courses on line from UX Mastery

Last note:  Just before I published this post, I attended an interesting Conference in Edinburgh called Design It Build it and shout out to Chris Compston at Sky and his talk at the conference “The UX Designer is Dead, Long Live UX” as many of his points about the future of UX resonated with me and my thoughts in this post.

Identifying moments that matter through customer journey mapping

Focus on people- their lives, their work, their dreams. – Google design principle

Nice idea. But how exactly do we translate this into creating compelling user experiences?

We in the UX world used to talk about digital journeys and joining up the different touchpoints in those journeys for better customer experiences.  But now we need to go beyond just the ‘Digital’ journey and be aware of all the touchpoints or interactions our customer have with our products; whether it be digital or physical, or on-line or off. Only then will we get a better understanding of how customers engage with our brand and how other events in their lives impact that engagement.  Only then that we can take a step closer to understanding their dreams.

How can we get this understanding?  Walk a mile in our customers’ shoes
What we need to know about our customers:

  • What are they doing with our product? The basics; How and when do customers engage with us; how many times and which product features do they use when. What is a typical journey? Is it all online or does some of it happen in store etc.? Which device to they use for each particular part of the journey?
  • How did they get there? What were they doing beforehand that led them to our product; what were the triggers? And what did they do, where did they go, afterwards?
  • What other products/services are they using? The most common user experience is a multi-site one. What other tabs has your customer got open while engaging with your website or what else are they doing on their mobile phone? What other products is your brand competing with? What else is competing for your user’s attention?
  • What are your customers doing in social media? Never before has our online identity been so closely connected with our personal identify. What we say or do online represents what we stand for; what we believe in or don’t believe in. How are your customers engaging with your brand through social media?
  • What are they doing off-line? Very few services exist in a vacuum online these days. Successful companies are the ones who understand their customers’ offline experience and how best to meld this with their online services.  It’s interesting to note that even Amazon, one of the biggest online companies in the world has recently opened up a ‘bricks and mortar’ store. What is going on, off-line that is impacting your customer’s experience?
  • What are your customers thinking and feeling? We may all consider ourselves rational beings but when it boils down to it, its emotion that we all base alot of our decisions on.  How do your customers feel when using your product? Which parts of the journey elicit the most emotion? And is it good or bad? Where are these ‘moments of truth’ in the journey; moments that elicit that emotion?  And what can you do about them?
  • What parts of the experience is working well and which are not?  Which parts of your customer journey is working well and which parts are not? Are there any areas in the journey where something is broken, incomplete or missing? Or is there some interesting activity happening in an area you were unaware of – a ‘white space’ somewhere, that can provide opportunity for creativity and growth?
moments of truth.jpg
Moments of Truth

How to… join up the dots…

We have in our UX Tool box, a host of different methods such as Customer Journey maps, Personas, empathy maps etc. which can help us describe what is going on in our customers’ lives.   Using these to describe and map what is going on is useful because:

  • It helps us start thinking about our customers and their experience in a more holistic way
  • It allows us interrogate how our organisational goals align with customer needs and identify gaps
  • It helps draw out and share company knowledge about customers, which we can then test/add to by research
  • It affords us a better understanding of the customer experience and in particular areas that are not working so well. This helps us identify areas for improvement and  innovation
  • It provides useful visualisations of who are customers are and what their experience is like, which we can share and discuss.   This helps keep the customer at the forefront of decision making

Useful resources on mapping your customer journey. 

Google and how to start thinking about ‘Micro moments’

UX Mastery on how to create a Customer Journey map

How to run an Empathy & User Journey Mapping Workshop from Harry Brignull

How we do it at User Vision

Moving towards more compelling user experiences.  Understanding “Moments that matter” 
We need to think about:

  • Moving away from product thinking to consider the whole experience.  According to Air Bnb Head of Design Alex Schleifer, “You need to bring your tool forward when it’s most needed, and hide it when it’s not. And then you need to build the transition from the digital world to the real world”.
  • Moving away from thinking about interactions and understand more about the emotional connection you can create.   What are the ‘moments of truth’ or “moments that matter” in your customers’ experiences.   How can you own that moment, what value can you add?
  • Moving away from digital first and even mobile first design thinking, to thinking ‘context’ first.     Really understanding what is going on when customers engage with our products and empathising with their needs at different stages of that journey will help us design products and experiences that  truly connect to our customers lives and dreams.

Travel and the passenger experience

Travel through the ages.

Back in the 60’s it took my mother at least a month of her wages as a secretary to get a flight to London for the weekend. 20 years ago when I first worked in London, a flight back to Dublin was approx. £200, about a week’s salary.  Fast forward to today and a flight from Edinburgh to Dublin usually costs me about £40, which could be an hour’s salary.  A change for the positive.

picture of airplane
The travel industry has been revolutionised over the last 30 years, thanks to the likes of Ryanair (and perhaps Easyjet to some extent). Frequent flights and low costs have not only changed how people can travel but also how people can work and live. It’s made it possible for me to live in Edinburgh but travel back to Dublin regularly while not breaking the bank. And flights are pretty well organised too.

As a UX consultant, I am interested in process and how technology can improve and enrich our lives. I have always found the airline industry a fascinating one. An airport is a busy place with its own unique challenges; scheduling of flights, security issues, managing the ebb and flow of people on the ground and dealing with customers from all over the world, all contained in one, often stressful, environment. Efficiencies in process save time and money and improve the customer experience. New and better technologies such as mobile apps and improved booking and check in processes save time and effort.

Ryanair logo I can’t talk about changes to the travel industry without mentioning Ryanair, who have grown from a small Irish Airline founded 30 years ago to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, airline in Europe.  Set to carry 100 million passengers this year they have been the biggest disruptors of the airline industry in Europe.  And they have forced others to follow their lead.

So why didn’t I like them?
Up until about 2 years ago I, and almost everyone else I knew, didn’t particularly like flying Ryanair. Of course I liked their prices but not the stress that came with flying with them.  They were cut throat, and would pounce on every opportunity to make a buck out of their customers; late check in, extra bags/weight, on board selling etc.  I was in a panic even before I reached the airport.  And it was well known that they were notoriously mean and penny pinching with their own staff too.  Not a brand you wanted to engage with.

ryan air with cross sign

The tipping point
Ryanair’s aggressive policies finally came to a head about 4 years ago. According to newspaper reports, it involved a particularly insensitive and bad PR incident where Ryanair charged a man to change his flights back to the UK. A man who had just learned his family had burned to death in a house fire. CEO Michael O’Leary vowed to change Ryanair policies.  A noble gesture perhaps but no doubt falling profits at the airline at the time helped him make this decision.

I too had noticed this tipping point but in other ways; friends and colleagues said they would rather pay up to £50 extra to fly with someone else. Not even low costs or on-time flights could combat our dislike of Ryanair.

Change was in the air
Ryanair stepped up their investment in technology and people and a new raft of policies followed.  Changes included small things like being able to take a handbag on board, shortening the on-line checking to 2 hours. Even cutting out some of those annoying tannoy adverts on late flights really does make a difference.  And they got rid of the trumpet on landing. Thank God.

These changes have had a positive impact for me personally and the lifestyle I lead.

Getting here from there
So how did Ryanair achieve this miraculous transformation? To me, as an external but obviously interested observer, it appears that they chose to examine the experience as a whole, explore where the pain points were in the user journey and make them go away.Addressing these pain points or ‘moments of truth’ can really make or break people’s engagement with a brand.

Of course Ryanair’s investment in technology has helped hugely. Investment not only in new planes but also in the new Ryanair Innovation labs in Dublin and with this a shift of focus onto the user experience.

The introduction of their mobile App about 2 years ago was a good start, although I still prefer Easyjet’s and British Airways’ Apps in terms of a seamless experience. Hopefully we will see a new improved mobile App from Ryanair soon.
And they have just launched a redesigned site, more good news for the customer. Although I haven’t booked a flight on the new site yet, I have had a quick look and my first impressions, in terms of design and new features, are positive.
Some thoughts from my preliminary foray onto the new Ryanair site…

Improved Homepage and Navigation 

Image of ryan air homepage

  • Top menu is simple and straightforward with, it seems, sensible labels. This acts as a useful signpost and makes it easy to find stuff.
  • Easy to see and interact with the flights section (the old site drove me mad when I had selected Dublin as a destination from the drop down and it didn’t pick it up).
  • But I’m not sure about the huge £15 red banner. Eye tracking research and Fitt’s law tell us that a huge image like this really dominates the user’s attention when first looking at this page. Okay so it is a MASSIVE sale (I get it!) and the first time you see it might be okay but it would really annoy me after a while.

Yay! I can create an account and save myself time and fuss in booking my flights 

create an account

  • I’m not 100% sure I couldn’t log in in the old site. I don’t think so – it certainly was not obvious or easy to do. I was therefore very happy to easily spot the myRyanair section of the new site where I assumed I could create an account
  • In the myRyanair section, I also like the list of benefits on the left. A sensible place to have these benefits and they are easily scannable.
  • The ‘Create an account’ functionality appears really straightforward too. And I can choose to ‘Show’ password; a good design convention and especially important on mobile.
    But then I ran into some issues…

reminder password

  • The system already recognised me, so I requested a new password, which was easy.  So easy in fact that I ended up requesting it three times.  This was because I hadn’t realised that it had been requested already. Once I pressed the ‘Send Email’ button nothing happened. The system failed to tell me I had completed the action so I kept repeating it.

captcha example

  • I was also interested to see how Ryanair handled the Captcha, a notoriously difficult element to get right. It’s hard to strike a balance between preventing spamming and annoying the customer. I was not sure how Captcha works here but I pressed the tick button anyway thinking ‘this is easy’. Not so.
  • Because I then got booted out of the site and was told ‘code already in use’. What? Not a great start after all. Mind you when I tried to log in again, the system recognised my email and my new password so something must have worked.

In summary I would say, bar a couple of quirks in the login process, my first impressions of the new site are good.  I look forward to investigating more.  And hopefully a new mobile App is in the not too distance future. Improvements in technology along with Ryanair’s change in attitude and a focus on customer service have no doubt been a large contributor to a change in their fortunes. Recent reports show that the airline’s share price has more than doubled since January 2014.  No wonder Ryanair are flying high these days.    Of course cheap flights and efficient on-time services are important too.

Keep going Michael, sure it’s all going grand now.

Blog post published on the Uservision website.

12 thoughts on creativity

Blog post originally published on User Vision website.

Creativity has been a hot topic at two UX conferences I attended recently here in the UK and in the US.

It seems that as UX Professionals in an ever increasing complex world we can get caught up in everyday life and dealing with ‘business as usual’. Sometimes it can be hard to tap into our creative selves and come up with new ideas and perspectives on how to approach our work.

So what did I learn about how can we invite more creativity into our lives?

  1. Make time for creativity. Figure out when you feel the most creative during the day and allow yourself time to be creative during that period. For me, like a lot of people, this is morning time. Some reports say creativity is heightened in the morning because the prefrontal cortex is more active at that time.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Thinking creatively does not happen like a bolt out of the blue (unless you are Einstein), but rather it is like a muscle that needs to be trained. The more time you spend thinking creatively, the stronger that muscle gets.
  3. Create habits and routines to kick start the process. Repeated routines such as that morning cup of tea, listening to music, or meditating can help you get into a creative mood quicker.
  4. Get physical. Not only can exercise help you de-stress from everyday problems, it can also help get you into a more relaxed mental state which allows you to be more creative.imagination quote
  5. Turn the TV off. It is slightly ironic that in order for us to be more creative and come up with innovative ideas around technology, the advice is to switch off all that technology. As mentioned at the conference, it is no coincidence that the best ideas can come when you are in the shower, as there are no screens in there to distract.
  6. Be more “Single-focused”. Attention and creative thoughts can often be fractured by trying to focus on too many things at the same time. In fact, studies from the University of London show that multitasking can make your IQ drop temporarily. Switch off those notifications during your creative period.
  7. Don’t force it. Often new ideas and thoughts are percolating just below the surface in your subconscious and can be hard to reach. But keep with it. Giving yourself time to live with a problem can inspire new solutions. One helpful suggestion was to write down a list of questions you are interested in and keep it with you. This approach will keep thoughts bubbling around in the back of your mind and help surface those new ideas.
  8. Keep learning and build your memory. Learning and memory exercises can sharpen your creative muscles. Challenge yourself with puzzles, read more fiction, and get your brain working in new ways.
  9. Find new ways to organise your thoughts. You may not know yet how the dots are going to join up, but keeping up to date – and in particular, keeping abreast of new technologies – can disrupt old ways of thinking and stimulate new ideas. I use the tool Evernote to capture and record items of interest.
  10. Observe people and their habits. How do your customers use your products? Why do they do what they do? What else are they doing? Having a better understanding of how your customers engage with your products and how those products fit in with their lives allows you to spot areas for innovation.
  11. Do different things. As Einstein purportedly said: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you want to achieve different outcomes we need to change our behaviour and try new things. Making new connections or joining new networks can stimulate creative thinking. Be bold, try different approaches or strategies.
  12. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be so quick to shoot down your ideas. Turn off the self-criticism and let those ideas flow. The first idea may not be best one but it’s the start of the journey

Take a deep breath. It’s time to invent the Future.


Keynotes from:

  • Dan Saffer of Jawbone @odannyboy
  • Neema Moarveji of Spire @moraveji

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp