Interaction Design considerations for creating conversations

Interaction design 

talking headsThe art of interaction design is about understanding human behaviour and how that relates to how we humans engage with technology.  It is about creating interfaces and experiences that are based on a sound understanding of technology and human behaviour and applying that knowledge to create intuitive, easy to use designs.

And interaction design principles; that is design standards and rules of thumb based on human psychology, are useful guides for us UX’ers when we are creating new experiences.  For example, knowing more about cognitive processes such as visual perception e.g. how we experience and see the world around us in patterns (Gestalt principles), helps us design interface elements such as menus, that speak to that human trait.   Interaction design principles and design standards are useful in supporting us to building interfaces that are easier for people to recognise and engage with.    However, what happens to our standards and guidelines when our ‘interactions’ turn into conversations?  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

UX Strategy Part II – Where does UX fit in and who does it belong to?

UX Strategy continues to be a hot topic in our consultancy world.

More and more businesses now appreciate that building a user experience capability in their organisation is no longer a nice to have but rather a must have. They understand that sound UX policies and practices are essential not only in developing better products but also in driving innovation and growth.  In a previous blog I shared some of my tips on how organisations could start thinking about implementing UX in their companies.  In this blog I would like to focus on two key questions that keep coming up when we are discussing Strategy with clients.

  • Where and How does UX Strategy fit in within the overall business strategy?
  • Who does the UX Strategy belong to? Who has overall responsibility for the final user experience?

Where does UX fit in?

An interesting question arose at a recent presentation by my colleague Stephen Denning who was talking about UX Strategy:

  • Question: Should the UX Strategy be separate from the overall Digital Strategy or even the Customer Strategy for that matter?

Some UX experts such as Jeff Gothelf say no.  He contends “that there is no such thing as UX strategy. There is only product strategy”.

Or perhaps UX Strategy should just be part of the overall Business Strategy and focus on objectives such as putting the customer first etc.?

  • Answer:  My view is  that having a set of UX principles or Vision that clearly articulates what UX means to your company is an important part of establishing a culture of UX within the business. Especially if a company is at the beginning of their UX Journey.

Of course it is important that the UX Vision is connected to a company’s business objectives and that it reflects the core values of a business.    Often when we are working with companies to help them develop their UX Strategy, we use Morville’s Honeycomb as a framework to help them map out what the different elements of UX could mean in terms of their situation.

morville honeycomb of UX
Morville Honeycomb of UX

Who owns the User Experience?

Another interesting question or rather debate, that we often come across is about ownership of the user experiences.

  • Question: Who has overall responsibility (and the ability to make decisions on) the final product features and user experience e.g should it be the Product Manager or the UX Manager/Designer?
two foxes fighting
from flicker D Kingham

Often when UX teams start out they are not given a huge amount of influence or authority over decisions which impact the product or the final user experiences.  This can be especially true in an Agile working environment where the buck stops with the Product Manager who makes all final decisions.

  • Answer:  It depends on the structure within the organisation.  However in my experience teamwork and collaboration within the product team are the keys to success.  The UX Team, Product Managers and specialists such as Head of Mobile etc need to learn to work together in a way that is best for that business.  Defined roles and responsibilities are an important part of making this happen.  And creating practices that support communication and collaboration at all stages of development.

We do see however, that in more mature UX organisations the UX team having more influence over the direction of development. This is often reflected in level of seniority of the UX Team has in these organisations.  And this is reflected also in the emphasis and the energy those companies put into promoting a culture of User Centred Design within their company.

Myself and my colleague Stephen will be talking some more about UX Strategy in two upcoming Conferences.

UX Scotland in Edinburgh, 11-12 June.

UXPA 2015 in San Diego, California, 22-25 June.



Personas in UCD – Just a Pretty Face?

How do Personas fit in User Experience and User Centred Design?

Sarah the Shopaholic

Personas plural of per•so•na (Noun)

The aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others.
A role or character adopted by an author or an actor.
‘an archetypal representation of a user’ ‘Not real people’
‘a design target that helps everyone focus on users’ needs’

                                                                                (From Google)

I recently started as UX Research Manager in Paddy Power and these are a couple of the questions our UX team recently grabbled with when we were looking at the use of Personas as part of a User Centred Design process.   And here are a couple of things we came up with…

Just a pretty Face? Why do we need Personas?

I have been involved in Persona building exercise before which didn’t serve much purpose bar creating pretty profiles that impressed clients.

So why do we need Personas?
Two main themes emerged from our discussion

  • Continuity about process
  • Focus on the User

Some other reasons for building personas from the textbooks:

  • Make knowledge about users explicit and to test some of those assumptions we hold as an organisation
  • Bring raw data alive and communicate insights – paint a picture – Tell a story
  • Inform and justify design decisions
  • Design for the critical and not the exception – identify your most important users -help you prioritise and make decisions
  • Language and communication within team and with stakeholders
  • Show differences and relationship between groups of users

How do we arrive at a Persona?

Cooper (2007) says starting with a demographic grouping is okay but it is better to identify primary behavioural variables such as user activities, attitudes, and motivations as starting points for Personas.   And to do this by first undertaking research with users.

photo of workshop
We recognise that UCD should start with the users but we also recognise that in order for Personas to be accepted by the business we need to create something that is easily recognisable by our business.   We also understand that there exists a lot of knowledge about our users in our business already and we want to capitalize on this (but to test assumptions also).    Using data to make decisions is important.
We want to produce something quickly that is meaningful, based on research and is recognisable.

We settled on a process that starts by looking starting to look something like this:

diagram of persona
Persona Process

What should you include in a Persona Profile?

Roughly grouped into:

Context of Use: where, when users use product. Platforms and technology used

Product usage: what features are important to our users – preferences and habits (and to consider preferences in relation to all products)

Demographic and profile: Demographics, habits and behaviours

Story and User Picture : Personas should be likable, visual and fun.   And include narrative

Motivations and goals– end user goals and experience goals ** important if we want to design an experience that is engaging and meaningful for our users

Triggers and Barriers/Concerns

workshop image flipchart

How do we keep Personas alive?

We need to:

  • Keep them close – ‘sitting beside you’, refer to them when making decisions about product – in design discussions, meetings etc. Advertise them.
  • Have them around your office – on boards etc. so they are visual and people see them as they go by. ‘ A persona wall’ – creates interest
  • Produce them quickly and iterate often – update them as you go..

So, now we have an idea of how to go about building a Persona.. we will see how we get on..

Further Reading and Resources:

Cooper, A., Reimann, R., and Cronin, D. 2007.  About Face, The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis:  Wiley Publishing

Pruitt. J., Adlin.T., 2006. The Persona Lifecycle. Keeping People in Mind Throughout the Design Process: China Morgan Kaufmann publications

Susan Weinschenk – 4 Reasons Why Personas & Scenarios Result In Great Design

Keeping Personas alive in Yahoo from Jared Spool’s blog.

The meaning of User Experience (UX) (Part 1 of 3)

User Experience has been quite a hot topic over the last number of years and there has been a lot of discussion on what it means or doesn’t mean in different contexts.   My first task in my Ph.D. is on Positive User Experiences is to try to get a handle on UX and after an initial trawl through academic papers, digital agency websites, UX interest groups and discussions, this is the picture that I see starting to emerge..

Woordle image of UX

Some initial observations:
  • UX is about the interaction between humans and technology
  • UX starts with the Usability of a system e.g ease of use, efficiency and satisfaction
  • However UX is much more than just usability and the bigger picture encompasses concepts such as users emotions and feelings, needs and motivations (see UX part 2 )
  • At one end of the UX journey, the focus  is on customer needs, branding, satisfaction and marketing
  • UX is also about more effective user- centred designs; identity and aesthetics are important
  • Digital Agencies talk of UX in terms of connection to customers, brand, content, actionable results, flow, design, conversion and accessibility
  • Academic discussions focus on UX as an Experience or a phenomena which is contextualised, social, individual and dynamic

**Got any comments or know of any great resources related to what UX is?   Please leave me a comment!

Two websites in particular I have found useful.                             

And just started using Mendeley – Free pdf organiser and reference tool.  Well worth a look.

Up next – part 2 of 2 – The Psychology of  User Experiences…

The Human Mind and User Experience

Here goes.  I have officially started my PhD by Research with the School of Health and Life Sciences and the Centre for Interaction Design at Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh.

My working title is:

The UX Factor; what makes Positive User Experiences
 and how do we describe and measure them?

Companies talk about creating a ‘great User Experience ’ for digital customers.  I would like to know more about what that means.  As UX it is essentially about experience (of technology) I believe the study of human behaviour- psychology- has a lot to offer us in better understanding what is going on.

Anyone who has done or is undertaking a PhD knows that starting off is daunting task.  There is an ocean of material out there to navigate through.   Where to start?

How do you eat an Elephant?  One bite at a time.

The first areas I would like to look at are:

  • What does UX mean? And what elements does it comprise? Both within academia and in industry.
  • What has psychology got to do with it? And which areas to consider e.g. the affective (emotional/feelings) or the cognitive (analysis/evaluation)
  • What measurements/methodologies are companies currently using to capture these processes?

The term user experience has expanded in recent years to include all aspects of users engagement with a company from branding to design.  It is a continuous loop with all parts of chain impacting on each other but I would like to focus on the  area between marketing and user experience/research.

Take a deep breath.

How the internet is changing who you are

I think therefore I am.  How the internet and new technology is changing how you think.

Technology is changing our behaviour.   We all know that.   But by how much?  I am reading a great book at the moment by Nicholas Carr called the The Shallows and How the Internet is changing the way, we read, think and remember.

He talks about how, through the use of the Internet (and other technologies) we have learned to skim, scroll and consume information in small swiftly moving stream of participles and no longer do we have patience for long drawn out arguments.

On the flip side, he argues we now have quick access to lots of info, searches and filters and the ability to share opinions with specialised audiences.  

As he points out, it is probably more valuable quickly skimming 25 articles about a subject rather than reading in depth 1 book of 250 pages on the same thing.    He says the internet can make us smarter.

But it also makes us less calm and less focused then we used to be, as we now (especially with advent of SMART phones) are continuously hooked up on-line waiting for next email or next update of information. 

This new type of behaviour, like any learned or repeated behaviour, changes the way the brain works and has led to reprogramming of neural connections.  It changes the way we perceive and think about information.

Carr says ‘he misses his old brain’.   But the news isn’t all bad. 

Neural programming works both ways.  We can through mental activity rebuild skills we’ve lost.   Also by making the effort to establish good habits like those listed in Tom Basson’s 16 Tips to Simplify Your Life blog. Such as;

  1. Tip Nbr 1 – Turn off all technology for 60 minutes a day and focus on doing your most important work.

It’s about balance. I think.

Thanks Jim‘s Computer Store for sending on video..

Understanding the User Experience

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are…


I would like to know more about the User Experience – what is it? How do you describe it? How do you measure it? 

During my time as Manager of UX lab in National College of Ireland, I was involved in over 25 UX projects ranging from usability testing of on-line maths and accountancy support programmes through to analysing the search behaviour of Google users.

One development that I particularly found very interesting during that time was how important the emotional side of the engagement was to users.
For example, we would test two applications that performed similarly in terms of task completion and success, ease of use etc.  yet users would much prefer experience of one the applications over the other.    Why?

We see that as technology is becoming more accessible and users more technologically sophisticated, that users are increasingly looking past the mere functionality of an application and seeking to engage in interactions that are not only usable but also offer a more meaningful positive experience.   But how do we describe it? and begin to analyse it?

Of course we know users’ experiences vary on context, the product and user themselves.   Each user will bring with them their prior experiences, expectations and their values and beliefs; they have their own story.

As someone once said  ‘ we don’t see things as they are, we see things we are’,

And while we may not have a complete understanding  yet of what that story is,  the literature suggests that much of this engagement is psychological in nature and dependant on users’ attitudes, emotions  and feelings.   I believe psychology and scientific psychological research methods have a lot to offer us in better understanding this part of the users’ journey.,, and this is what this blog will be about 🙂