Continuous User Engagement


Why do user research projects have finite starting points and end points when users interact with your product or feature continuously? It’s a rare organization that has the resources or ability to constantly observe their users experiences, however, taking some ques from ethnography, and from some of the best market researchers, it is possible to establish a continuous user engagement effort. In his brilliant book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell provided a case study of a marketing maven who did just that. Constantly monitor the pulse of users, with a goal of understanding how their needs and interests change, even ever so subtly with time. One practical way to do this is by establishing relationships with several lead users and continuously engaging with them, and this is key – do it in their environment. Not with a problem solving agenda, that could lead you to short-sighted solutions, but to understand the context that drives their needs. Pick one or two lead users and develop a monthly dialogue with them, in their environment as much as possible. This also resonates with one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, seek first to understand. For practicing user experience professionals or user researchers, be wary of project sponsors that try to limit or block you access to users. It’s like a doctor being hindered from fully examining their patient.

Creative Process from the Perspective of one Playwright

Creative process : collage

While (half) watching a PBS documentary one evening this past week, I was introduced to one facet of the creative process of a famous playwright, August Wilson. This Pulitzer Prize winning playwright had the habit of taking odd jobs for exposure and immersing himself in environments that provided an opportunity to interact with, and observe many people that would eventually feed his writings. Wilson was known for writing expressions, conversations, descriptions and situations on loose slips of paper or even napkins. He would then collect these in a box and later assemble these snippets into characters, dialogue, scenes and acts and finally completed plays. The creative process for him was never about sitting down to draft an entire play from beginning to end, rather it was about being open to weave disparate pieces into a coherent whole. Wilson gave himself the time and space to create theatrical collages out of snippets of his interactions with his environment.

Trust the Process, for real


I had two incidents come to mind that prompted me to reflect on the theme “trust the process”. See my previous post on working across different personalities. In one case, several designers I worked with were quick to jump to a UI solution, without thinking through user goals, workflows and exploring several design ideas. Strong personalities, so I caved. I started developing mock-ups of the idea, and the more I worked on them the more apparent this oversight became. In the second incident, I was working with a technology development manager that wanted a solution to something in a few weeks, in a space so complex that it really would be better off going through a more extensive design process. Looking back, I am not clear there was anything could do to influence this second case for a more favorable timeline. For the first case, I decided to go back to basics. User roles, goals, workflows and then sketches of the UI mapped to workflows. After all, Design Is Basic. Note to self, “trust the (UX) process” for real.

On Leadership, Design Leadership

Institute for Human Centered Design
Institute for Human Centered Design

I attended a two day leadership training retreat, one that the organization sends everyone to regardless of your role, under the premise that no matter what your function is you can display the qualities of a good leader. From past participants, I saw photos of people holstered in ropes, blindfolded etc. Prepared for the worst, I donned my t-shirt, gym pants and a pair of run-down sneakers. I was ready for whatever would be dished out, except bugs..especially not spiders.

As usual, I was surprised. No swinging from trees. It was a beautiful and reflective few days where I gained a view of leadership (for the professional world) that I haven’t see communicated in this way. The main points are that true leaders*:
1. Lead by personal example
2. Develop cooperative relationships with people they work with
3. Follow through on commitments
4. Treat everyone with dignity and respect
5. Empower people by giving them the freedom to choose
6. Show gratitude and humility
7. Encourage and never discourage either by word or by deed

Good examples of leadership in the design and technical professions can be hard to come by if measured by the above criteria. Hubris and heroics can seem to reign over humility and cooperation. Yet looking around, I can point to wonderful examples of true leadership I have been exposed to. I’m thankful to the many positive examples of leadership I have had in my professional life (and beyond) and I will let them know this.

Many lessons learned, ideas to apply. And yes there were bugs, even spiders.

Training was based on the book: The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Presenting and Visualizing Information, Tufte


I had the opportunity to attend one of Edward Tufte’s seminars on Presenting and Visualizing Information. I wasn’t quite sure what I could get out of a 1-day session on such a broad topic..and i’ll end right there because my fears were totally unfounded. It was probably one of the most insightful classes (professionally) that I have ever had, certainly one that is likely to have a big impact on my work onward. Some personal take-aways:
(1) Get out of your own voice and into the voice of the experts, (2) Every bit of data should lead to credibility. In UI design, scrutinize every element. Why is it there? If it’s not adding to the goal, take it out. (3) Hack examples, (in a good way), learn from the best.  (4)”The difference between a good idea and a great idea is the implementation of it”..enough said. Underscores in a large way my move from pure user research to design. Make something. (5) Information is the interface, (6) In presenting ideas, think the best you possibly can about your audience. Think positively about them even when there is criticism or you are challenged. I didn’t expect this interpersonal-dynamics aspect but really appreciated it. (7) As a member of the audience, “Loot the presentation”. Mine it for gold. Even if the presenter isn’t great, search hard for those golden nuggets you can extract. Finally, I appreciated that he showed us how to mine his books, which initially looked daunting. Treasure trove of information. Go if it comes to your city! Don’t miss Tufte.

Deciding for Decisive

Decisive_heathI’ve been a fan of the Heath Brothers book ‘Made to Stick’ so I was pleased to find that they came out with the book ‘Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Work and in Life’. I have a small set of books that I plan to re-read every year and this one made the cut.  As a designer, understanding how people decide is critical. Making decisions on design without a process can lead to poor outcomes. Without giving up too much of this book, I have to cite two of my  key take aways; (1) Ask yourself, ‘What would have to be true for an option you are considering to be the right one? ‘ and (2) ‘Multi-track’, don’t limit yourself to a few options, ‘think and not or’. Brilliant book for many reasons. Highly recommended read for anyone interested in the mechanics of decision making.

Lean UX, my take-aways


Lean UX is the intersection of three principles: Design Thinking, Agile Software Development and Lean Start Up (auths: Jeff Gothelf, Josh Seiden)
I had a number of take-aways, of which i’ll share a few:
1) Cultivate an experimentation mindset
2) Place greater emphasis on ‘making’ versus ‘analysis’
3) Work more collaboratively, think of UX as design facilitators versus design heros
4) Set up infrastructure to enable continuous and collaborative user research
5) Drive for continuous improvement; frame and address your UX debt

Maintaining Technology

This is the ordeal i’ve come to dread. Making updates to my iPhone.


I’ve known updates have needed to happen for a while but I also know that for me updates using iTunes is a 3 to 4 hour time sink. I hoped against hope that it would be different today but alas, it actually took almost 4 hours and everything is still not working. The one main App that I wanted to update I can’t even see. This by far is the most frustrating part of my experience as a user. This is what I had to do (1) Update iOS, (2) Update iTunes, (3) Update my Apps, (4) load my updated Apps to the iPhone, (5) reload apps that I downloaded from the App store when I wasn’t connected to my computer, (6) troubleshoot Apps that show up in iTunes but not on the phone, (7) delete apps from iTunes and try to reload them again from the App store and then as all else has failed, I search the reviews in the App store to see who is having the same problem. Lots of crash comments but nothing with my specific issue so I post a review. Then I start wondering how I can do what I wanted to do without the App I just lost 4 hours of my life trying to access. Did I really need that update? Too late now. It’s gone.

Hit the Ground Running


This was another very actionable insight that I gleaned from the book QE. Whether your research project is a few days, or involves tracking users over several years, it is imperative for researchers to get going. Spending too much time at the beginning limits the time you have to spend in the field. After your plan is developed, give yourself a goal to accomplish 3 key research tasks in your first 3 weeks in the field. One of the tools that may help to organize your research is a user research database. This can take on many formats but I personally have found spreadsheets to be both lightweight and effective in this regard. On a new research project, I would organize a user research workbook (one page per user) with sheets to include things like user characteristics, preferences, dislikes, tasks and any answers to specific questions. Documenting and organizing each user from the beginning is helpful, it’s very painful to do field work and then spend days on end trying to decode your notes well after the fact. As your research progresses, you can fine-tune the database to add more details or organize the details in a way that will help to uncover patterns or simplify the process of aggregating and analyzing your data.

Inside Looking Out


I found two ideas in the third chapter of “Quick Ethnography” to be particularly useful. First, “seek to understand people from the inside looking out”. It can be really easy to use our individual perspective to construct or deconstruct how or why a user perceives a product of feature to be. However, using our perspective instead of the users could lead to very wrong conclusions. This leads to the second important point, “anticipate your best data by appearing a little stupid”. As UX practitioners, we must strive to push aside the expert in us in order to learn from the user expert. This way we can collect the best data to draw accurate conclusions and make effective recommendations on future designs.