The First Steps
The Outline – Writing UX Books With a Plan
The Coming Week
This week, I’ve begun work on my first book-length UX project, which I’m calling The UX Universe until my brain cooperates and comes up with a snappier title.
The driving force behind the project is the variety of UX specialties that exist out there, with room for growth and improvement, but that get very little writing or discussion.
It could be that they’re highly technical. Maybe they’re only used in very specific industries or contexts.
Possibly they’re just a little bit… uncouth.
My goal is to answer a few questions on each topic to provide a rundown of the work to new UX professionals or current UXers looking for a career change.
With the help of my friends over at UXMastery.com’s forums, I’m working on building a list of specialties to research. These specialties include:
The best book projects are collaborations. This is no exception. I want your feedback on what will make The UXiverse one of the best UX books you’ve ever read.
So how can you help? Tell me: do you know of a UX niche that deserves some love and attention? Do you have any good resources or professionals to reach out to? Leave me a comment below, or contact me via email at Doug@DenverUXer.com or on twitter @5280_CS.
I’m a firm believer that you need to do something each day to build your skill set. Like so many other technology professionals, one of my favorite proving grounds is StackExchange.com. I’ve long used the site to hone my front end development skills, but in the past year or so I’ve spent some time becoming a more active user on the UX Stack Exchange community.
These days, I try to drop by and answer a question there every day. I do this for a few reasons. Most importantly, answering questions allows me to tackle practical UX problems on a daily basis– problems that I am likely to encounter in the real world at some point in time. It’s also a great way to meet other UXers, to build the community’s overall skills, and correct errors in assumptions or logic on my end.
Today a good question popped up, and I took a stab at answering it.
Q: My client is a photographer, his website contains 3 types of images:
1)Homepage Full screen background gallery images
2)Gallery slider images
3)Blog posts with images
I can’t decide which option to choose for each one.
When it comes to enjoying the experience of watching photos, is it ok to use the spinner?
Or should I blur them while they are loading?
Much has been written about the need to load page content quickly, with some studies showing that even an extra half second delay can lead to a 20% increase in page abandonment.
The purpose of any loading progress indicator, whether a simple spinner or a more complex system, is to give feedback that the page is, in fact, loading, thus reducing the user’s perception of time passed and giving them a reason to wait. For this reason, however, progress indicators have come to have a negative connotation as users correlate their appearance with a lack of overall site speed.
Conversely, the blurry image approach is meant to give the impression of speed in loading without actually increasing page load time. Especially on pages with multiple large images, this approach works because it gives users content to focus on while waiting for other content to load. It provides faux speed to the user by giving the impression of faster loading without necessarily delivering extra speed.
It’s worth noting that there are several different implementations of the blurry image approach, each with its own load time and usage considerations.
Pectoralis Major’s points on the utility of lazy loading and the necessity of using a consistent approach across pages are well-founded, and should be adhered to if at all possible.
I use my red Swingline stapler every day, though I can’t recall actually stapling anything in years.
The colour of the stapler is no coincidence, as my first encounter with a red Swingline was the cult classic Office Space. In the movie, Milton Waddams defends his prized piece of office equipment from theft and destruction at the hands of unscrupulous coworkers.
For Milton and millions of office workers worldwide, the red Swingline has become a symbol of those pieces of our work life for which we would, if ignored, set the world on fire.
My stapler’s daily use is as a reminder that everyone has red-stapler issues in their work life, and that a failure to communicate on those issues could have dire, unforeseen consequences.
It’s an important reminder, to be sure. Our placement in our company’s organization and workflow means that communicating as a UX professional is both imperative and, at times, extremely difficult.
Here are a few important lessons to learn to help avoid those red-stapler situations.
My wife and I do not speak the same language.
My wife is an Archivist, and I’m a User Experience Engineer. Unsurprisingly, there is very little crossover between the world of antiquities and modern technology and design. Any dinner table conversation that begins with the inane question of “How was your day?” can lead to a whole meal spent translating different professional terms and concepts into language the other can understand.
This simply goes to illustrate this point: no one speaks the same language. Our individual collections of idioms, slang, and jargon is unique to each of us. What’s more, our own language changes and evolves depending on the group of people we’re interacting with at the moment.
Most of what we know about the psychology of HCI (human-computer interaction) and human learning principles is based around studies conducted on college students.
This is one of the primary complaints about the study of psychology in general. We have mountains of data pertaining to 18-25-year olds. Much of what’s been studied has varying applications to either the psychology of older adults or children. And very little about kids’ UX has been studied.
As such, there is an opportunity for emerging specialists in the fields of either adult or childhood learning UX. It’s a great skill to build, as we should all spend some time every day sharpening our UX tools.
To help us out, the Nielsen-Norman group completed a couple of interesting studies into children’s usability. NNGroup.com produced 170 recommendations for childhood usability. Additionally, they were able to make some general statements about how childhood usability differs from adult usability:
Some of the more interesting findings:
If you’re interested in reading the full report, you can purchase a license to the report for $188.
A few additional resources:
Note that all screenshots used in this post are claimed as “Fair Use” for educational purposes. To use them on your site in a commercial perspective, please be sure to contact their respective owners.
This post was driven by a discussion in the UXMastery.com community.
Though the above image is a great example of programmer humor, the very nature of human existence is a tribal one. From time immemorial, humans have banded together in small groups for the purposes of protection, sharing of food resources, and camaraderie.
The modern workplace is a reflection of this, with a few twists. Instead of protecting against beasts and burdens, we now protect against rogue stakeholders. We share work resources like helpdesk professionals and software licenses instead of food. And our camaraderie is limited in most cases to the 8-5 workday hours.
So it’s no surprise that we get content cropping up like the above image, submitted to reddit today by /u/super_good_aim_guy. It couldn’t be more accurate.
I couldn’t agree more with this matrix, especially as someone who’s worked as a Front End Developer, UX Engineer, UI Designer, Project Manager, and done some moderate System Admin work.
From a Designer perspective, which is closest to my current role as a UX Engineer, I’m not surprised that the view of Designers in general is pretty childish. To Developers, we add seemingly random complexity without adding value. QAs and Sysadmins tend to have a knowledge of the requirements, but lack an understanding of the “why” behind the knowledge. Project Managers, who have a better overall view of a feature, tend to have a more favorable but practical view of our work.
So what can we do to increase our overall image and promote understanding of our design process among the other business tribes?
Taking these precautions should be a part of our everyday work, unless we want to be seen as childish monkeys. That’s bad.
It’s no secret that I Love UXMastery.com. I spend a lot of time at the forums there, and many of my UX-related posts originate from my responses to topics posted by others over there.
Today I was reading through one post in particular from a new-to-UX professional who was challenged to complete an at-home design task as part of a job interview. Here’s how the candidate, misaif20, described the process:
“…This was a UX designer full time position at a saas company, their product was a recruitment software. I applied, the recruiter called and said that my profile was selected and explained me that there would be three phases : 1. Phone interview 2. Design Task (Which is given a time frame of 3 days) 3. Onsite interview with the hiring manager where I had to present the task and talk about design and UX decisions I took.
- Phone interview: Was good and the manager informed me that I have to focus on explaining more of a psychological approach. The recruiter got back to me saying that I had passed the first round of the interview.
- Design Task (To be performed at home) : As you can see in the document the task was given to me and was informed that I can work on the task for 3 days and send the links to the recruiter/manager via email. I did the task and got a reply from the hiring manager that I have unfortunately failed in the task.”
misaif20 was only asking for feedback on what was wrong with his design (shown here, for what it’s worth). From what I could tell, he did a solid job working with limited information to come up with a valid response.
This post, however, is not about his design or response. It’s about the fundamental flaws in this type of interview process.
To put it blatantly, take-home interview challenges for UX designers suck.
To understand why, we need to have a good understanding of what makes a UX designer truly good at what they do. To be an effective UX professional, one needs a very particular set of base skills:
The truth about take-home design challenges is that, apart from perhaps evaluating a candidate’s position to work on a deadline, these challenges do absolutely nothing to evaluate a candidate’s relevant skill set.
In a worst-case scenario, for the employer, what’s to stop someone from farming out the work to someone else and landing a job they are wholly unprepared for, on the basis of someone else’s work? In a best case scenario, the work is a reflection of the candidate’s ability to work in the dark, with poorly-defined business requirements, unable to ask clarifying questions and unable to work with stakeholders to provide the best-guess solution possible to compete with other candidates and the interviewer’s own biases.
Unless your business is wholly dysfunctional, this is a completely useless test of skills.
Furthermore, as the wonderful @HAWK pointed out, putting a candidate through this rigorous process and then simply replying with a “Sorry, you weren’t selected” is completely unfair to someone who spent three days working on-spec. Each candidate that invests that much time deserves the respect to be given feedback about their strengths and weaknesses of their designs.
From the perspective of the growth of the UX industry as a whole, it would be great if feedback happened. In reality, it never does, unless a candidate asks for it, and sometimes not even then.
I’m not against design challenges, per-se, but in my opinion they need to conform to a specific set of rules to give useful results:
This helps the interviewers gain real perspective into a candidate’s interpersonal interactions and communication skills. It also helps interviewers visualize how a candidates synthesizes information from different sources to gain specific design direction.
There’s too much bias built in for candidates to be truly successful on the existing product, and it’s patently unethical to ask candidates to complete work for free on the basis of the possibility of employment. Additionally, could you honestly say that you wouldn’t use an awesome design by a candidate that you decided not to hire on the basis of personality or fit? You’d have to be a stronger man than me, and personally that’s an ethical temptation that I would never want.
A lot has been said about whiteboard interviews, both good and bad. Certainly it has its drawbacks, but they do allow for clear communication and invite collaboration. Additionally, the ability to effectively whiteboard ideas with stakeholders is paramount to the success of any UX designer. Now’s the time to find out just how good they are at it.
Apart from evaluating their ability to work on a deadline, setting a time limit helps to ensure that the candidate doesn’t get tied up too much in nitty-gritty details and focuses on achieving their goal. It also helps move things along in the event of multiple interviews being scheduled on the same day.
This helps avoid biases against specific design solutions and focuses the interview on how candidates think and interact with business stakeholders.
The candidate should be able to ask clarifying questions across business units. This helps evaluate the candidate’s ability to ask appropriate questions, to work across business lines, and build a consensus before diving into a project.
This helps evaluate how candidates react to a changing design environment, an important aspect of their overall ability as designers.
Dealing with feedback is an important part of being an effective designer. Receiving and synthesizing feedback into improved designs and self-improvement is imperative.
What’s more, anyone who’s spent significant time doing design work for you deserves your honest assessment. It helps them grow, it helps the industry grow, and it helps your team grow.
For what it’s worth, you can find a wealth of simple UX challenges all over the internet, but some of my favorites are here.
As designers, we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; to be evaluated for our relevant skills when applying for a job; and to be placed on a level playing field. Take-home design challenges don’t deliver on these basic privileges.
That’s why homework sucks.
One question I see discussed on many UX forums is one that new professionals have a hard time understanding– what, exactly, is a baseline UX process? Regardless of what you’re working on, what are the steps that every UX professional should, as a general rule, take to ensure that they are touching all of their bases to ensure a quality final product?
The problem is that everyone has a different take on this process. Although I’m not any different, but I do have my own process that has worked well for me for some time. My ideal process has six basic steps to it.
Look a lot like a basic design process? That’s because it really is. Almost by definition, the job of a UX Engineer is to provide the right kind of support to the development/QA/leadership teams at different steps along the way. Here’s a quick rundown of how I approach each of these steps.
Nothing’s better than a little brainstorming. I always try to spend a few hours in the morning gathering ideas from different sources, even if they’re ideas for something that isn’t a current project or doesn’t yet exist within our ecosystem. I’ll cruise Twitter, read UI/UX blogs, check out Dribbble, and spend a little bit of time doodling ideas on my whiteboard. Very often I’ll find myself dragging in a developer, manager, marketeer, or some other team member into my cube to give me feedback or thoughts on a piece I’ve frankensteined on my whiteboard. Often I’m creating a steaming load of poo that can’t be used, but every now and then we come up with an idea good enough with which to move forward.
This is in addition to being the one who’s dragged into different meetings to provide my two cents. Very often the life of a UX Engineer revolves around giving spot opinions on topics with little or no notice. This is a skill to hone, but one you’ll get better at as time goes on.
Also key in this process is getting an idea of the business needs behind a particular project. Speaking with business owners about the business needs behind projects in the works really helps me get an understanding of what a particular project is supposed to accomplish.
All sorts of other things could go on here. Building user personas. Gathering/examining analytics to determine pain points or deadends. Direct interaction with users, feedback forms, scripted user testing. All of these methods could help me get an idea of what needs to be done next in our product.
Once I’ve been drawn into a particular project, I’ll begin the design process.
The first step is always to build a Low-Fidelity (LoFi) design that can be easily changed or adjusted as new feedback comes in. This can be doing anything from more whiteboarding sessions to sitting down with graph paper and hand drawing something out. As more information comes in, changing these types of designs is easy and inexpensive from a manpower perspective.
Once I feel confident that I have all of the business requirements figured out and have a good working LoFi prototype, I’ll continue on by firing up Photoshop or a prototyper tool like JustInMind to do something more in-depth (known as a HiFi Design).
My goal is usually to have a very solid, interactive design ready for my developers by the time we get to anything approaching backlog grooming (or similar ritual in non-Kanban environemtns). Not only does this ensure that I’ve given my developers a great chance at success as they can visualize a design that may otherwise be a bit more abstract, but it also puts to rest a lot of the design bickering that often happens among the development team.
It’s important to note that I also prefer to do a fair bit of user testing at this point. I’ll bring in business partners to review designs, bring in clients to do A/B testing or provide feedback on mocked up screens, and if I’m able to get a really good mockup created, maybe even do some scripted user testing to ensure that my designs are intuitive.
In reality, probably 95% of my active work is done by the time I’m handing this piece off to my developers. My role shifts drastically from design to support and testing in the last three steps.
During the development process, I should ideally be supporting our developers by answering questions and providing clarity on my designs. This is far less of a hands-on approach than in steps 1 and 2.
I also like to have a demo presented for me by the developers so I can confirm that look, feel, and functionality mirror my designs and business requirements before the project is handed off to a quality assurance team as any changes made post-handoff are much more expensive to make.
As development comes to a close and the project is handed off to QA, support remains my main objective. I also prefer to get one final demo prior to deployment to ensure all is ready-to-go.
Post-implementation, I’ll usually help by checking to ensure that the deployed design looks, feels, and functions correctly on a basic level. I’ll also do user testing as soon as possible after deployment to get good feedback and lead…
6. Back to step 1.
In an iterative world, creation is, quite literally, the alpha and the omega. Nothing is ever truly “finished.” As soon as a feature is rolled out, I’ll begin collecting and analyzing data to see how we can make it better. I’ll cruise Twitter, read UI/UX blogs, check out Dribbble, and spend a little bit of time doodling ideas on my whiteboard.
Inevitably, there’s always something to do.
I’m sure my process is very different from others, especially considering my industry and team. Ask 10 different UX professionals, and you’ll get 10 different answers on this question.
What is your baseline UX process?
I hang out (probably more than I should) on UX Mastery’s great forums. It’s a great way to network with different professionals in the world, and to try and help anyone who might need a hand on anything from real-world UX issues to help getting into the industry.
Today, one user in particular posed a few questions about leadership and mentoring within the UX world that I found particularly interesting.
That got me thinking about my role in the UX universe as a whole. Admittedly, my influence is minimal compared to the titans of the industry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play a part in any way. How would I answer these questions?
After a bit of thought, I decided to chime in and give the best response I could.
@HAWK is right– true leaders prefer to be acknowledged by their peers rather than self-declared. That said, I’ll do what I can to answer your questions.
1) My thoughts:
i.) The web design industry, as a whole, does not have a good understanding of the difference and value propositions focusing on both user interface and user experience. While the two are often related, they are also often confused. Muddying the waters is the fact that many professionals in our industry are asked to perform a variety of functions that, ideally, would either be performed by both a UI and a UX professional. The crossover is negating some of the gains of having two separate teams focusing on different elements of each. To get a feel for the difference and why it’s important, please feel free to check out my blog post on the subject. Educating young professionals and corporate leadership on the difference is one way I work to negate the impact of this issue.
ii.) Many professionals come to the UX industry from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. In truth, you don’t have to be a good technology professional to be a good UX’er– you need to have a passion for solving problems, a drive for improvement, and the ability and empathy to see things from your users’ perspectives. As a result, UX professionals come from a variety of backgrounds. Here on UX Mastery, we have architects, engineers, journalists, and a variety of other professionals.
This is both a strength of the industry, as it means we have a wide variety of valuable and interesting skill sets to draw from, but it’s also a detriment in that many look to get into the UX industry without having a common skill set. Furthermore, the skill set employers ask for is often at odds with the value of the skills of a potential employee could offer.
Defining that skill set and working to create a common conception of what basic skills a UX’er should possess before getting into different areas of the business is one of the reasons I’m here on UX Mastery. I personally had careers as a sports journalist, freelance web developer, digital sign developer, restaurant server, retail manager, call center phone jockey, and corporate trainer before I finally settled into this career. Each job taught me something valuable to my UX career, and I feel that I have a lot to offer the community at large. I’m here on UX Mastery offering my experience and thoughts in every way possible to try and lessen the impact of gaps in knowledge or experience within the community.
iii.) The wide variety of technology requiring UX focus, along with the variety of different roles a UX’er might pursue, make finding a niche difficult for many people. Simply put, there’s a lot of opportunities out there in the UX world at the moment. Different people might be more well-suited to different careers at different points in time.
As an example, I’m currently mentoring a really great young professional who’s trying to get his foot into the UX world. His background is in the financial world, where he interacts with customers and provides technical support on a daily basis. Due to his relative newness to the industry, his affinity for statistics, and his excellent people skills, I’m guiding him towards exploring a career as a UX Researcher, a career very different from a UX Designer or Engineer role.
By providing online and in-person mentoring, I’m doing what I can to help new professionals build their skills and find their niche. My hope is this will, in some small way, help to eliminate this barrier to entry for many who would be well-suited to the UX world.
2.) Being successful and being a leader are two very different things. Some of the most successful people I know are people who merely follow orders to a T, providing excellent execution of the ideas and thoughts of others. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. I merely use it as an example of how the two aren’t necessarily correlated.
To be successful, I’d recommend anyone looking to get into the world of UX do three things– build the basic skills required of every UX professional, find a niche within the industry to focus on, and to find ways to get practical, real-world experience.
I talk a bit about the first two points in my answer to your first question, but when it comes to building real-world experience it can often be difficult to find opportunities to which you can contribute. @seyonwind, perhaps, can provide some insight into some ways to get some good experience ahead of trying to enter the industry full-time as his work ethic and diligence in volunteering for UX-related projects and causes is apparent to all who know him, online or not. My advice is to work on your own projects, to volunteer for open source projects, or offer your skills to charity (catchafire.org/ is a great place to start.)
To be a leader, it’s imperative that you seek to serve the industry in any way you can. For different people, that means different things. For me, it means hanging out in places like this and answering questions for the interested and inquisitive individuals like you. For others, it takes the shape of volunteering their services to nonprofits, blogging on the subject of UX, and providing mentoring services for young professionals.
3.) Who knows where UX growth will come from in the next 3-5 years? One of my favorite areas that hasn’t had much discussion, but will need a lot of UX attention, will be in self-driving cars and related applications. Tesla right now is leading the world in this area, but major and minor players alike will create quite a bit of competition as they enter the industry. That means more specific UX jobs for the industry.
4.) In general, corporate leadership will need the ability to better understand the value proposition of investing in user experience. At the moment, it feels like a bit of a reaction to buzzwords rather than true understanding of the UX professional and their value that’s driving the UX industry.
I hope that helps! Apologies for any typos– I’m hammering this out before a meeting and not giving it my usual once-over before I post as said meeting starts in just a minute or two. Let me know if I can clarify anything or provide any additional context
What do you think the challenges that UX as a whole will face in the coming years?
On the web, everyone is equal.
This is a problem, especially for those of us engaged in the business of writing user personas.
It should be no secret by this point that the how-to of creating user personas is still up in the air. There is a modicum of agreement that personas should be based around the analytics gathered on the website in question. How treat data in comparison and contrasts with your target audience, and how to synthesize that comparison into user personas, is still widely up for debate.
So where do we start when it comes to building user personas?
One of the most helpful resources I point newcomers to is usability.gov, which has a list of some great user persona standards. Among other things, they suggest you provide a persona with an age and gender.
This is a tricky bit, however. There are many who want to treat everyone in all walks of life with equality, including some industry leaders that believe in removing age and gender from personas. The argument they provide is that these facets of a user don’t provide relevant context, and only add biased, unproven assumptions to the equations. Personas, they state, should be based on story archs, and not on aspects of the user that provide useless context to that story.
On a certain level, that makes sense. We all make assumptions about people of different gender and ages based on our own experiences and the influence of the different people and institutions in our lives. We’ve probably all heard that women are terrible drivers, or that teenagers don’t care about the world around them. In general, we’re fighting a battle against the stereotypes we as individuals and as a culture use to label these groups.
This extension of ethnocentrism is the antitheses of what the world wide web is all about– providing the same opportunities to explore, learn, and consume to individuals the world over.
— Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman) July 26, 2016
There are others (myself included) that believe the usefulness of a persona is at least two-fold. A persona allows you to synthesize data captured from analytics into usable format, true. They also allow for designers to design for actual human beings rather than the generalized “user” that is so often discussed around the conference table.
By putting a face and name with a set of requirements, you’re suddenly working to make Susie Shopper’s experience better, not some nameless, faceless, un-relatable “user.” Your work is more personal. You feel like you’re connecting with and solving the problems of actual customers.
Removing aspects such as age and gender only serve to de-personify the persona, which seems a bit of a contradiction of terms. So long as we’re aware of our own presuppositions and actively seek to counter them, there’s no problem with keeping age and gender as part of our user personas.
But that’s not the only issue I have with this approach.
The difficulty we run into here is the age old “ideal vs reality” conundrum.
I absolutely agree that men and women should be treated as equals. Everyone, regardless of age, should have the same fair treatment when it comes to their web experiences.
However, the fact of the matter is that there is a good deal of difference to how men, women, and different age groups consume user interfaces and experiences.
According to a study conducted by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, women notice and use different aspects of a UI than men. Women, for instance, are more prone to notice people and faces, whereas men are more drawn to dynamic color choices. There’s also empirical evidence that things such as font choice may have a large effect on how men and women consume user interfaces.
Additionally, the age range of your demographic should affect your UX design, especially if you’re designing for older audiences. There’s a significant amount of research and knowledge behind understanding how older adults interact with the web. Things like font choice and size, which you might expect has a larger impact for older audiences, actually have negligible effects on usability for older adults, while persistent and consistent navigation have a huge benefit.
While it may be politically correct to have the concept that “women are no different from men,” and that “age doesn’t matter,” the reality of the situation, when it comes to UX at least, is that there’s a distinct difference between the groups. How this difference is applied will vary depending on you site’s demographics and target audience.
If your site is age and gender agnostic, then by all means, go ahead and strip out this information. If not, ensure that your user persona, as well as your assumptions about that user, are based on a solid scientific grounding, and not your stereotypical presuppositions.
As UX professionals, it’s our duty to provide everyone an equally effective and awesome experience, tailored to our users’ collective needs and wants.
Afer all, on the web, everyone is equal.