Why I like Meetup

Making it easier for people to connect

meetup-logo-biggerLast year, someone asked me what my favourite app was and I said Meetup.
I wasn’t talking about the aesthetics or features of this product, though I found the App easy enough to use, but more about the concept and philosophy of Meetup and what it does.  The clue is in the name; Meetup makes it easier for people to meet each other and in doing so; supports one of the most basic but important human needs we have; that is the need to form social relationships with other people.

As many of good ideas are, Meetup is a simple enough concept and is based on location and user interests.   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

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?

2

  • 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.

The Internet is watching you

With every digital move we make, someone somewhere, is monitoring that activity.

As consumers, we understand to some degree, that this is happening.  Sites like Amazon have been using personal data to make recommendations etc. for some time now. In fact, we are used to being asked questions when we set up profiles and want the information returned be personalised towards our preferences.  We expect sites to remember who we are and what we like.

picture of good v evil
From NJ on Flickr

But do we, as digital users understand how much of our personal information is being tracked and all the purposes it is being used for? And as UX professionals, where do we draw the line between using customer data to create a better user experience and using it to influence user behaviour?

Smart Data

Tracking user data across services and using it to shape the way users engage with products and services is transforming user experiences as we know them.

Take Google for example and how they mine data across apps and services.  Recently when I logged into Google maps the addressfield was pre-populated with an address a friend had recentlytexted me. And Bingo, this was exactly the address I was about to search for.  Google had put 2 and 2 together and come up with 5.

We can see more and more examples of this context related or ‘Just in time ‘data when the right information is presented to the user at the right time and in just the right context.  Often predicting what the user would like to do next and making it easier and quicker for them to do so.

This makes for a quicker more efficient user experience.

Targeted data

We know that User tracking allows companies to target advertising and marketing based on their users’ online activity such as browsing history and search.  Research we undertook at Paddypower showed us that when adverts were shown in context and were relevant to users’ interests, users were less likely even to register that it was an advert but rather saw the marketing as useful information.  A recent example I have seen of this is the Lynda.com. With LinkedIn’s recent acquisition of online training giant Lynda.com they are now able to target learners with more relevant courses based on data mined from users’ LinkedIn activity such as their network or what groups they follow.

Darker Data

Personal Data is big business.

As consumers we regularly input and share our personal information online.  This is generally done in good faith and we expect our information to be both safe and used in an ‘appropriate’ manner. We don’t expect the companies to re-use this information to blatantly retarget us and upsell their products or services. Or worse yet, we don’t expect them to resell or pass on our data to ‘marketing partners’ and/or others.  Take Facebook’s covert ‘emotional research’ project last year, were 1000s of users were unwittingly test research subjects without their knowledge and consent. This provoked an outcry against their unethical use of personal data.

Facebook comprised their users’ trust in their brand. A foolish move when Trust is such a strong currency online. Being upfront and transparent about data collection policies will be paramount in building future loyal customer databases.

Google data policy
Google Data Policy

How can data help us invent the future?

In the Internet of Everything, data will help us to:

  • Create seamless ‘technology ecosystems’; joined up smart experiences across different devices,  platforms and networks
  • Provide just in time, contextual data which will make products and services more pertinent and accessible
  • Harness the power of new technologies that will become more invisible and allow the user to focus more on the experience
  • Build brands that users can identify with, and trust

Not only can we as user experience professionals improve experiences, but smart data will allow us to re-invent those experiences so that they are more immediate, seamless and relevant to our users’ everyday lives.

Keeping on top of it all

The Internet of Everything…

There is so much information out there these days and so many different ways to engage with, I sometimes struggle to keep up with all.  With so many discussions, articles, courses, stories etc. it can be easy to end up clicking on everything and learning nothing.

No matter how busy I am, I think it is important to take a little time to ‘Sharpen the Saw’ as Stephen Covey put it, that is take a little time for yourself and learn from the wisdom of others. Here are a few of my regular go-to links and sources which help me keep up to date.

USER EXPERIENCE

logo UX Design WeeklyUX Design Weekly is described as “ subscribe for free to a hand picked list of the best user experience design links every week. Curated by Kenny Chen and published every Friday.

Why not take advantage of someone else spending time to pull together the latest updates in the UX world and usefully, there are usually updates on the latest UX testing tools included in the update too.

UX matters logo

UX Matters aims to “provide insights and inspiration to both professionals working in all aspects of user experience” . Brought together and edited by professionals in the UX industry, the articles provided are a great way to keep up to date on latest ideas and discussions around UX Strategy, Research and Design.

User testing logo

User Testing provide remote usability testing services. They also have a blog which is well worth signing up to.  Not only do they have some great articles on the benefits of UX and tips on carrying out UX Research but also some interesting posts on latest Design techniques.

MOTIVATIONAL 

ted talks logo

Ted Talks is run by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading” TED  Talks online videos offer plenty of ideas and inspiration.    With colourful presenters talking on a range of topics from business to science to entertainment, a Ted Talk is a perfect 20 minute break at lunchtime.

Daniel GolemanDeepak Chopra

Having been a fan of Daniel Goleman and Deepak Chopra for a while, I was delighted when I discovered their blogs on Linkedin.  Among others things, they offer great articles on how to maintain a healthy work life balance.  I particularly like concepts they discuss around How to maintain Flow, How to become a better Leader and tips on how to become more Focused. In an every increasingly complex world, their perspectives and ideas around mindfulness and mediation and how these can be used to help us work smarter, are welcome.

Designing for the Experience, Why Content is Queen and Faking It @UXScotland2014

UX Scotland conference organisers brought the sun again this year for UX Scotland 2014 in Dynamic Earth,  Edinburgh.  And once again we were treated to some interesting presentations, tutorials and opportunities to meet and mingle with other UX Folk. Dynamic Earth

While there was lots of interesting presentations and conversations, some of the key takeaways for me were:

CROSS JOURNEY CONVERSION 

I attended an interesting talk with Stuart McMillian, Deputy Head of E-Commerce from the footwear retailer Schuh.  He told us about how Schuh were building an internal testing team.  He spoke of Schuh’s ecommerce strategy expanding from a focus on ‘visitor’ conversion to look at ‘cross journey’ conversion.

For me, the focus is on understanding user needs and putting up front and centre what the user needs at that time and place they are in, in their journey

DESIGNING FOR THE CROSS CHANNEL EXPERIENCE

Chrissy Welsh Lead UX Consultant for Backbase continued this theme in her presentation on designing for cross -channel experience.     She spoke about four key elements of a usable cross channel experience.

  1. Consistent: do not make users learn something new on different devices
  2. Seamless; users should be able to complete a goal across multiple channels
  3. Available; users should be undertake desired activities regardless of channel
  4. Context- specific: understand what is important to users depending on their context and putting this up front and centre when they need it.

Once again the focus was on understanding user needs and context of use and designing for end to end experience as opposed to a single channel or device.

CONTENT IS KING OR RATHER QUEEN (a more powerful chess piece)

Alberta Soranzo from Friday spoke about ‘The Web You are Used to is Gone’. One interesting statistic I took home from her talk:

“by the end of 2014 the number of internet mobile users will override desktop users to access the internet”

This drives home to me the point that when people want to do something on “the internet” or the ‘the web” they means to them that should be able to complete their task regardless of how they access the internet be it via web devices, desktop etc.

Again, Alberta emphasised designing around user needs and goals and not just around devices or platforms. She does this by focusing on producing meaningful content and producing ‘content aware wireframes’ that specify the maximum amount of words per content block.   She suggests chunking content into small, medium and large chunks that can be accessed from any device.   And to build content that is device agnostic and rather focusing on meeting users’ needs.

 

FAKING IT

I was at a really interesting and interactive presentation from Graham Odds of Scot Logic on designing for innovative interactions. True to the title I loved the way he set up the presentation with his two assistants; one showing interactive gestures from a camera straight to PowerPoint and the other ‘assisting’ Graham as it he magically moved on his presentation from one slide to the next by simply swiping his finger through the air.

UxScotland
And finally.. I would like to take everyone who attended my own presentation discussing UX research methods and talking about my experience as UX Research Manager at Paddy Power.  A great turn out and enough to win a wager against my fellow User Vision colleagues who were presenting in another room at the same time 🙂

Perception and the User Experience

How do you make sense of the world around you?

We are bombarded with a  huge amount of sensory  information every day.   We could not possibly process all of this information – our energy is a finite resource.    The cognitive process of Perception helps us select which information we play attention to, and how we interpret  that information.

So how does Perception work?

we see with our brains

  • Sensation is the reception of sensory information. Perception is the organization and interpretation of sensory information
  • Sensations are messages carried by the nerves to the brain about events going on around us.
  • Vision is probably the most important of the senses; through our eyes we see fluctuating light waves but it is not until our brain translates those images into objects do we perceive or see them. 

“We don’t see things as they are but as we are– Anais Nin

  • Perception is largely a constructive process influenced by our needs and values
  • A distortion illusion is a visual display in which the viewer is likely to make mistakes in judgments of size
  • An Ambiguous figure is an object that can be seen two ways
  • Ambiguous figures and distorted illusions show how each of us interpret what we see in our way and can be influenced by our own experience
  • We often make mistakes in our visual perception regarding size, movement and distance of objects cues in the environment such as Relative size help us interpret perspective
  • What we perceive is based on our personal past experiences, stored information, our motivations and expectations
  • We do not perceive or see every bit of information but our brains compensate by filling in the blank and we form a hypotheses of how we see the truth

perception is our best guess

  • This often leads to perceptual bias and/or error
  • Perceptual defence is when somebody refuses to see or accept the event as it happening. They perceive it in a different way to suit themselves

 

Perception and the User Experience

Understanding your customers perceptual set

Perceptual sets or templates describe our tendency to perceive things in a certain way. We construct these templates though experience (Henriques, 2013).  These templates help us classify or filter stimuli we are exposed to; they can be deep rooted and persistent and will colour how we experience things . Or how users engage with something.

Mental model

A better understanding of your customers mental templates will allow you to contruct mental model diagram highlighting your users’ needs and expectations as they engage with your product and should help design a more aligned experience.

 

Constructing the user experience; Gesalt principles:

The Gestalt principles, developed by German psychologists in the 1920s, are rules about how people group or classify objects as they perceive them.    The word Gestalt means “whole” and the psychologist’s behind these principles believed that when it comes to how humans perceive things, that “the whole is greater than the sum” of its individual parts

whole greater than the sum

We as humans tend to group what we see into different categories or patterns so it quicker and easier to interpret or recognise objects.  An understanding of these principles allows us to design better user experiences:

  • Similarity – we group things together on how similar they are to one another.  We normally perceive similar objects as a group or as a pattern
  • Proximity – this principle states that when we see objects that are placed close together we tend to perceive them as a group.
  • Closure –  -when an object is incomplete, yet there is enough for us to make a guess, our perception will complete the picture

A picture paints a 1000 words @UX Scotland 2013

UX Scotland
UX Scotland 2013

I was delighted to be back in Edinburgh and among the UX Community in the UX Scoltand Conference at the end of June.   Lots of interesting talks both inside the workshops and outside.   Dynamic Earth is a stunning venue in Edinburgh and the organisers Software-Acumen did a great job on the organisation, content and energy that was UX Scotland.
Well done Ryan on the recording of the event and subsequent gathering of materials and generally being everywhere at all times with a camera. 🙂

photo of conference

One theme that was particularly prevalent for me during the sessions was the use of pictures or visualisations to tell stories.   Whether that story is about a person’s presentation or feedback from research or even your customers’ journey; pictures make insights more accessible and digestible.

Three talks in particular drew me in (pun intended)

  1. The Mind’s eye: How we Perceive Data with Graham Odds
  2. Getting started with Sketchnoting with Michele Ide- Smith
  3. How to make your first Comic or Storyboard with Bonny Colville-Hyde

Easier to process

During his talk, Graham mentioned Daniel Kahneman’s book on Thinking Fast and Slow and his two systems of decision making

picture of system 1 and 2
Rough drawing of System 1 and 2

Graham spok of how Data Visualisation can help us present information in a more ‘system 1’ type of way, making it quicker and easier for an audience to process

Easier to Remember

I had a great time in Michele’s workshop creating basic shapes and getting over my fear of sketching.    Michele told us and showed us how, when we see and hear something at the same time, it helps us commit it to memory.

drawing of brain
Michele Ide-Smith drawing

Easier to engage our stakeholders

Bonny Colville-Hyde’s workshop was also very hand-on and engaging, which is exactly how she described working with comics.  She spoke how we spend lots hours creating reports , which in the end are loved only by the authors.

presentation
Bonny Colville-Hyde slide

And last but not least  I must mention the first presentation of the conference-“Better Product Definition with Lean UX & Design thinking”  Keynote talk by Jeff Gothelf of NEO.   It was a great talk with lots of food for thought; Agile UX is something we are trying to get to grips with here in Paddy Power.  Rather than go on about it, I thought I would try and capture my notes via a Sketchnote…

sketchnote talk

UXPA launches in Ireland.

UXPA logoI delighted to be part of the launch of UXPA Ireland Chapter on World Usability Day Thursday 8 November 2012.

The User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA), formerly UPA, is a worldwide organisation that supports individuals who research, design, and evaluate user experience.

And in the Irish Chapter our goals are:

  1. To provide community and quality collaboration to local UX practitioners and organization members
  2. To provide value (knowledge, idea sharing, networking) to local UX practitioners and members through scheduled meetings and events
  3. To provide local industry, organizations and interested individuals the opportunity to learn more about user experience research and its value– to raise awareness
  4. To provide quality user research resources to local industry, organizations and interested individuals

Find out more information about UXPA Ireland.

Come along to our Launch on 8 November in National College of Ireland, IFSC

We are delighted to have Tom Tullis, Author of Measuring the User Experience and Beyond the Usability Lab, Adjunct Professor at Bentley University, VP, User Experience Research at Fidelity Investments, joining us to kick off the event.

Some great articles from Tom and his colleagues on his Measuring UX website.

Add your name to our UXPA Ireland database to find out more details about the launch and to be kept informed of other upcoming events.