Posts by this author: RSS

Wish your users Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is about celebrating people we care about. It seems like a good holiday to focus on increasing our empathy and compassion for our customers and our users. Here are a few perspectives on why empathy is good for innovation and success as well as thoughts on cultivating compassion. (more…)

Empathy fail: Mistakes UX designers make

In “The top mistakes UX designers make: the writeup,” Scott Berkun shares common errors about culture and attitude that designers and user researchers make. Sadly, most of the mistakes seemed to result when we fail to have empathy for our colleagues. The following summarizes just a few of Berkun’s points that I found particularly interesting and distressingly familiar: (more…)

Musings on 2012 design and tech predictions

This past month, I’ve been reading many of the prognostications for technology and design that proliferate in the technosphere at the beginning of each new year. As I have read various lists, I thought about how the success of these predictions is likely to involve integrating ideas from both areas. I consider a couple of themes and some underlying ideas that emerged from a number of predictions for technology and design in 2012. (more…)

Planning design projects to avoid opinion wars

Jared Spool shares good advice for design teams in his recent post “Putting An End To An Opinion War”. He observes that “Opinion wars kill design projects.” He shares two key ways to end an opinion war:

  • using data to take decisions out of the realm of opinion
  • appointing a final arbitrator

These valuable tools are best when agreed upon from the beginning. User research is most effective when planned to be part of a project from the outset. A final arbitrator should be assigned with the authority and responsibility from the start as well. Otherwise, each of these approaches can be wielded defensively and poorly when they are simply reactions when a problem occurs.

One challenge to establishing an arbitrator is having at least three designers on a team. That isn’t always feasible. One alternative approach is to establish a practice of critique. Encouraging open sharing of comments and questions on how a particular design does or does not serve the actual problem focuses discussions on the real outcome of serving users, not winning opinion wars. (more…)

Cultivating empathy with your users

User experience, at its best, is about empathy with the people who use the products and services we design. However, not all organizations start a user experience practice with empathy as a goal. Of the many options to cultivate empathy in your organization, consider how you talk about the practice of user experience design. This is not an academic exercise in semantics. Words frame how we understand and relate to things around us. The following are words and phrases that I’ve found important to building empathy in a user experience practice and with the teams I work with.

Usability testing, not user testing. “System testing” can be rephrased “testing the system,” showing that system as the subject of the testing. When considering the testing activity in a user experience practice, the phrase “usability testing” accurately describes what is being tested, the usability of the design. Users are not being tested, so “user testing” indicates the wrong test subject. Users are more correctly testers, much as they are in user acceptance testing. Of course, they are rarely referred to as testers, which leads to my next word…

Dictionary page showing definition of human

Hemera Technologies/

Participant, not subject.  Some people refer to users who participate in a usability test as “subjects.” This term derives from the behavioral research roots of usability testing. The techniques of such research, not humans as the object of the test, inform usability testing. A better term is “participant.”

Miscues, not errors. Because the subject of a usability test is the product design not the user, reporting the results should reflect that distinction. Many experience usability testers record the errors made in usability testing, understanding that this means the errors in design. To err is human, as the saying goes, so the term “error” can suggest that the participant made mistakes, making it easier to avoid recognizing a flawed design. When you refer to problems in terms of “miscues,” however, the connotation is that the design failed to correctly guide a user at best or, at worst, completely misleads test participants off the happy path (a good related phrase, don’t you think?) of the test and the intention for task completion.


#IdeaNotebook: National Novel Writing Month

Image of the participant badge for NaNoWriMo 2011November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. This annual event is “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” Started in 1999 by Chris Baty, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words, the equivalent of the average-sized novel, in 30 days. Sounds crazy? Baty acknowledges this in the first line of his book No Plot? No problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days:  “The era, in retrospect, was very kind to dumb ideas.”

Success has been more than just kindness, though, as this dumb idea clearly resonated with a lot of people. NaNoWriMo participation has grown from the original 21 participants in the San Francisco area to over 200,000 worldwide in 2010. In 2006, Baty founded the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light to run NaNoWriMo, sister event Script Frenzy in April, and the NaNoWriMo Young Writer Programs, which “provides kids and teens with a month-long creative experience that improves self-esteem, teaches perseverance, and radically alters their relationships with writing and literature.” Now in its 13th year, NaNoWriMo is a global, multi-channel, social event that has grown as much because of its passionate community as the organizers’ hard work and dedication.

Participation in NaNoWriMo, like most online social communities, is free. All you have to do is sign up on the NaNoWriMo website where you can connect with fellow writers, track your progress, and get pep talks from organizers and famous authors, among other amusements. Unlike most social communities, however, this event has been refining this experience since before the words “social networking” buzzed into our social consciousness.

The history of NaNoWriMo provides an interesting perspective on how the online user experience of NaNoWriMo evolved in conjunction with and sometimes anticipated the emerging technologies. (more…)

MMOs: Creating a compelling user experience over time

Last weekend, I virtually attended BlizzCon 2011, a conference hosted by Blizzard Entertainment, the game developer behind Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo. A major focus of this annual conference is to provide insights and generate excitement about upcoming content planned for each franchise, but it is also a celebration of gamers, by gamers, and for gamers. Tournaments give us a chance to see the best of our fellow players compete against each other for major prizes (for example, the champion World of Warcraft arena team split a USD75,000 first prize) and glory. Interviews and panels by the game designers and developers provide insight into the work, thought, and passion that fuels the continuing evolution of these games.

It’s these last types of sessions that I’m especially drawn to and from which I gain user experience design insights. Although the focus of the conference is notably different from the UX-focused conferences I’ve written about previously, this conference offers a unique perspective into what goes into creating some of the richest user experiences around. (more…)

Beware the slash: Distinguishing between UI and UX

Graphic showing an angry cat growling defiance at a monstrous / punctuation.A colleague and I were discussing challenges in explaining what we do as user experience practitioners. He mentioned a shared pet peeve, the slashing together of UI/UX. I see this most often in job postings, but it appears in technology news, blogs, and even how some people describe their work. The concern that my colleague and I share is that UI and UX are not the same thing. Treating them as synonymous concepts risks diluting the contributions offered by each.

UI and UX are closely related terms, so I understand the temptation to simply consider them as a whole. A discussion on UX.stackexchange considers the distinction between UI and UX. Many good points are made about the roles UI and UX fill when considering design and development. The diversity of comments as well as the long duration in which comments were gathered, however, suggests even professionals in these fields struggle to draw a fixed and firm line between the two concepts.

One way to distinguish between UI and UX is to consider what each brings to their relationship. The UI is a deliverable of the UX and development processes, but it is also the foundation from which user experience, from a psychological perspective, emerges. That is, the user interface is the primary and tangible means by which the user experience of a product occurs. (more…)

Customizing Widget Tables in Axure

In UI design communication: General approaches and tips for Axure, I discussed the kind of content to include in a UI design specification and showed how to customize the information you annotate in Axure. This post discusses customizing the final specification. While this post describes using Axure to create a specification, the underlying organizational principles can be used in any context since easier to read and better organized specifications will benefit every team.

Because it would take a very long post to discuss each customization Axure supports, I’m focusing specifically on customizing the widget tables, which contain the bulk of the content in a generated specification.  If you are creating content for multiple audiences, and therefore, likely to be generating several documents from Axure, custom widget tables are essential. (more…)

UX and Design Insights from Barcamp Tampa Bay 2011

Logo for Barcamp Tampa Bay 2011

I attended Barcamp Tampa Bay 2011 this past Saturday. Among many excellent sessions, two on user experience and design generated great interest. Justin Davis presented “5 User Experience Basics Everyone Should Know” to an overflowing room:

  1. People expect online interactions to follow social rules. Successful interactions provide appropriate feedback and engagement with a appropriately conversational tone.  (A fantastic resource for how to build a conversation with users is Ginny Redish’s Letting Go of the Words. It discusses websites, but the advice provided applies equally to application design.)
  2. People care about goals, not tools. Justin asked the important question, “If we take this tool away, can someone still complete this task from their point of view?” If the answer is yes, the tool is probably not needed. Don’t force users to focus on the tools more than on their task goals.
  3. People prefer fewer choices. While many choices may draw attention, fewer choices may result in greater success. Sheena Iyengar’s jam study demonstrated how too many choices resulted in fewer sales despite higher apparent interest when many choices are offered. Successful user experience comes from providing the right choices and features, not necessarily many of them.
  4. Ten minutes of sketching will save you ten hours of development. Justin suggested that one of the most useful and productive things a team could do was shut off the computer and just brainstorm with paper and pencil. I agree. Sketching is an essential tool for creativity. (more…)