Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Part 2 – What to do about “the too familiar persona?”

Read part 1: The too familiar persona

The all too familiar persona

I imagine we’ve all used Cooper’s personas to routinely “engage the empathy of the design and development toward the human target of the design.” Nothing wrong in using goal directed personas, however one user profile model isn’t the best fit for every brand or its users’ motivations and unmet needs. So if we are going to hinge a design’s behavior on a handful of personas they better be the ‘right’ ones. As Dr. Lene Nielsen suggests we need to create a vivid and realistic description of fictitious people and treat personas as more than stereotypes. This is the greatest challenge I’ve encountered – to keep personas relevant, fleshed out, authentic, and alive to team members; another challenge, to not see them as an exercise that must be completed to move on with design.

By no coincidence I stumbled upon an article by Laura Klein that shares a similar sentiment. “We can do better. Frankly, most teams can improve their process for creating personas in a lot of ways, but there’s one problem that’s inherent in even decently researched and constructed personas: even the best personas tend to be descriptive, but not predictive.” Klein makes a good point. To recap in my words, I’ve conducted user interviews and constructed some form of a persona, could be proto-personas or goal directed personas, sometimes user profiles. In one case I created a narrative of a user who makes a perfect stand-in for a group of users. I did this for a transportation client and had a blast talking with the young and hip “bus queen.” I’m not making this up; it’s what her NYC friends call her. These are reliable research models, but I wanted to go further so I researched other methods to extend persona’s shelf life and include them in the entire design process. Read the rest of this post »

The too familiar persona

Too familiar persona

Design personas are user research models employed in various fields of design. Software design teams have been embracing personas in their work since roughly 1999, following Alan Cooper’s published work on goal-directed personas in his “Asylum” and “About Face” texts. They’ve become a user research staple, and the must-do-method for most of the products and services we design. We love personas and so do our clients; these handy models are visual and enticing, and useful at kick starting conversations between clients and design teams. And, unlike other forms of design research I find we encounter minimal to no resistance including them as a research deliverable. With all that is positive about personas my growing impression is that – dare I say – traditional personas are now a bit overfamiliar through overuse, and this familiarity has certainly clouded my perspective.

This familiarity is problematic.

Clients have trailed behind in understanding personas and how best to use them. At times the meaning and intent of design personas are lost in translation as other parts of organizations use them to represent such things as market segments. You may have encountered this at one time, “We’ve created personas. Let me check if marketing can send them over.” As a result development teams miss out on much needed behavioral insights. Along with this Dr. David Travis recently noted in his blog that by bringing personas to life we inadvertently turned them into parodies,” enlarged and printed on posters then cemented into a brand’s identity. Also, project constraints such as time and budget limit going beyond “good enough for now” to employ personas in a more meaningful way. Perhaps my experiences with personas are singular, but I must say I have had few opportunities to refresh a brand’s personas once the research phase was completed and signed off. Read the rest of this post »

89,000 employees and “one curious culture”

I was really intrigued when I heard Eric Quint introduce the scale and scope of his job on a Web Conversation by to an audience from 40 countries. We were there to hear the 3M Company’s Chief Design Officer talk about change management. For those who are not familiar with 3M, their products are found in our offices and homes: Post-it notes, Scotch tapes and Filtrete home air filters to name just a few. The #73 firm in the FT Global 500 (June ’15) has 89,000 employees, 5 business groups, 27 divisions, 46 technologies and “one curious culture” according to Quint.

Quint’s job is vast – building and managing 3M’s global multi-disciplinary design teams in innovation and branding. His background before 3M included leading and managing award-winning teams. So when Quint joined 3M in April 2013 he came prepared and ready to introduce change into a giant corporation with design pedigree, highly recognized brands and a culture of successful innovation through design. The heart of his talk was on just that – being a “catalyst of change” in a well-established organization.

The first steps to changing a design culture – “define a direction”

To get started, Quint’s first initiative was to clearly define a direction. Because he came in “with a fresh view” he started making introductions with top executives across the five business groupCuriouss (“BGs”). He learned what he could about the company and culture to create synergy with colleagues as the new head of design. It also demonstrated he had good intent and it started the process of working together with the heads of the five BGs.  Read the rest of this post »

My Thoughts on the First Enterprise UX Conference

I recently attended the first annual Enterprise UX conference. UX professionals of varied backgrounds and areas of specialization, developers, designers, business analysts, content managers, project managers, IT and marketing managers, program managers and more, all gathered to learn how to plan and manage large application development projects. I enjoyed two days of speakers, a full day interactive workshop and a great time of discussion and sharing with colleagues in the enterprise UX space.

The conference presentations were good, especially Kelly Goto’s “Emotion Economy: Ethnography as Corporate Strategy.” She talked about “humanizing technology”, and the importance of balancing data and emotion to inform strategy and design, encouraging us as practitioners to embrace the move from “I think” to “I know”.

Because the area of enterprise UX is relatively new, and this was the first year of the conference, there weren’t we didn’t have many examples shared of successful enterprise projects. Most of the examples shared were consumer projects and only a few case studies were presented that involved enterprise UX. The rest were consumer examples that we were encouraged to consider and adapt to our environments. That was a slight disappointment, because in talking to other attendees, we were really eager to learn vetted methods and processes.

For the first conference though, we got good insights. Most we knew and understood, but it was good to hear others share their experiences, from the smooth to the painful, both successes and failures. Here are my key takeaways:

1. We’re all learning. Many of us left very excited to try new methods as well as perfect the processes we have been working on to find an effective way to manage the UX side our enterprise projects.
2. Creating a shared understanding is key. Enterprise projects can be executed more smoothly when the entire team, from stakeholders to developers, are meaningfully engaged and consistently informed, providing input and insight or clarifying goals and needs at each stage of the project from discovery to development.
3. Design and development team collaboration during a project can save time and build confidence. Waiting to engage key players can minimize a project’s success. Once the work starts, researchers, designers and developers should work together when/if possible. When a designer receives a report from a researcher or a developer receives a “blind” handoff from a designer and they haven’t been involved in the project prior, it takes time to ramp them up and context may be lost, results or designs may be misinterpreted or reworked because of lack of understanding.
4. Failure is expected but keep trying. Presenters and attendees shared stories of failed projects and the not-so-great moments of their enterprise projects. It was helpful to have presenters analyze failures and show how they could have adjusted and improved for a more favorable outcome.

Enterprise UX is emerging. No one has mastered the process. But with conferences like Enterprise UX 2015, we can come together, share information and learn and grow together. That’s exciting.

Posted in Design, Musings, UX

What Does This Icon Mean? The Answer

On Monday I showed you an single icon from NPR One’s website, and I asked you ponder what you might expect to happen if you clicked on that icon, then to post the name you would give the icon in the comments.

It’s friday. So, I’ll make good on my promise to reveal the true meaning of the icon in question.

Read the rest of this post »

What Does This Icon Mean?

In his blog What Happens When You Push the Broccoli Button? Brian Flanagan brought up a great point about iconography.  A few hours later after reading it, I misinterpreted the meaning of an icon on a website. I showed the icon to Claire, a co-worker, who guessed something completely different would happen upon clicking the icon than I did, yet we were both wrong. Inspired by this coincidence, I’d like to know what you think the icon means.

Read the rest of this post »

Design for Users with Limited Literacy Skills (UXPA 2015)

mobileI was surprised to know that designing for people with various forms of literacy issues would benefit literate users. In one study presented in a session I am now attending, I learned it does! Another surprise, about 50% of U.S. citizens report some type of literacy problem. As a result, when we think about digital transformation and designing for multi-channel usage (especially mobile), there are some things we need to know to help our clients understand the wide range of users who are using their digital products, for example…

– Literacy issues are often merely a result of “situational literacy.” For example, health data is very domain specific and people are often more overwhelmed trying to understand a diagnosis, to sort through health plan coverage or to follow directions for how to take and submit a lab sample. Read the rest of this post »

Decoding the UI Architecture

With the increasing advent in SOA and RESTful based applications, all the business logic today is being pushed to the client. With numerable paradigms being present for the UI to consumes these services and create dynamic content, there becomes a need to define the presentation, structure and behavior of the User Interface.

While working with Brian Flanagan on a recent project, we came up with an architecture presentation to address this need, with an intent to help the business, customer, stakeholders and development team understand the architecture of UI/Front end development. 

UI Architecture

Presentation Layer

The Presentation Layer is mainly composed of CSS components, based out of an atomic design or BEM methodology. The CSS is typically written in either SASS or LESS (today’s most popular CSS pre-processors) and compiled to provide modular, scalable components, which is used to create the structural layer.

Structural Layer

Here, we create the html components/pages for the application, by making use of the structure today’s most popular frameworks provide – bootstrap, foundation and others, depending on the organization needs. The required user interactions are enhanced by making use of a JavaScript library, typically, jQuery. These HTML pages are then thoroughly tested for responsiveness, browser compatibility and accessibility. 

Behavioral Layer

The behavioral layer introduces the business logic for our UI by consuming the RESTful services and creating dynamic content. This could typically include two-way data binding, ajax, MVC and Single Page Applications, all rendered on the client.  There is an increasing number of frameworks to help us work with the business logic and the most popular one’s are Angular, Ember, Backbone, ReactJS among others. Note that selecting an appropriate framework is a very important task as each framework has its own pros and cons catering to different needs. 

Production Layer

Finally, we have a bunch of fantastic build tools that takes care of all the routine tasks involved in development such as compiling, minifying, compressing, package management, among others. The build tools keep a track of changes in all of the above 3 layers and eventually provides us production ready HTML, CSS and JavaScript assets which can now be integrated with any backend application.

I hope this article explains the UI architecture and the underlying processes. Is this something similar you have seen implemented in your project/organization ? Are things being done differently or do you have another perspective on this ? Do let us know below.

What happens when you push the broccoli button?

As I was getting ready for work the other day, my 3-year-old son decided he wanted to help me iron my shirt. First he wanted to touch the iron, but clearly that was not an option, so instead he settled on pushing the spray button and soaking my entire shirt in the process. Well that was exciting enough for him, until he noticed another big button on the iron. That’s when he asked, “What happens when you push the broccoli button?”


No, I do not have a Veg-O-Matic 2000 that shoots out fresh steamed broccoli with the push of a button. It’s simply that from my son’s perspective, the symbol for steam looks a lot like broccoli. Now don’t be fooled, the kid never actually eats broccoli. Actually I’m surprised that he didn’t think it was cotton candy. But regardless, it demonstrates that iconography really is up to the interpretation of the user.

So how do you ensure that the icons you create will be clearly understood by your intended audience? It’s not always an easy process, especially when you’re dealing with abstract concepts, but the key is to closely define the relationship between the signifiers and the concepts they represent. There are two primary types of signifiers, iconic and symbolic. Iconic signifiers are visually representative of an object or a function. For example, a clock represents time or a calculator represents a mathematical function. Symbolic signifiers on the other hand, represent a concept in a more abstract way, such as downward arrow representing a download function.

Typically iconic signifiers perform better on speed of recognition and overall comprehension as users tend to interpret an unknown icon as having the functionality they think it resembles. However for that to be successful, the visual identifiers must be strong enough that the icon is not confused with another object, such as broccoli. In order to design effective iconography, you must understand your audience. Age, gender, culture and language are all key factors that influence comprehension.

For some concepts you may need to utilize a combination of iconic and symbolic signifiers. A good example of this is the “revisions” Revisions icon in WordPress. It consists of a clock, an iconic signifier which represents time and a backwards arrow, a symbolic signifier which represents stepping back in a process. This combination does a good job of communicating an abstract concept and providing clues about the underlying function of the icon.

When creating icons, it’s also important to think about the overall design system. Each icon should be clearly distinguishable from the others, while still working together as a whole. Keep in mind simplicity and recognition and always make sure you validate the concepts with your target audience. They are the ones that will tell you if the icon is successful or not.

Interesting Insights from HOW Design Conference 2015


The HOW Design Conference in Chicago this year really had me thinking about how I approach my daily work and even some aspects of my personal life. The talks were overall very informative, and also quite inspiring! Our group had a great time in Chicago. During our free time, we walked around town and took in a few sights and the beautiful architecture.

Here are five design focused ideas that I’m going to try over the next few weeks and beyond:

  1. Focus on Innovation. During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the focus for designers was to make something look good. In the 80s, 90s and 00s, the focus shifted to the person, and it became all about the customer. Designers started to understand people and do research; it was a different approach. Now we need to put an emphasis on knowledge. We need people who know things; the knowledge we have as designers is more valuable than ever before. We need to keep learning, and sharing our knowledge with each other.

    “Innovation is found in the extremes. Defy designing for the average. Averages are useless.” – Dan Formosa

  2. Apply design thinking to solve social issues. What can you do as a designer to help others who are less fortunate or in need? One way is to design something that improves or helps someone else. People in impoverished areas in Brazil can now access TVs because flat screens are becoming less expensive and more accessible. They are able to discover things about the world, which may have never been possible before. They see how others live and work, and its inspiring them to want to do the same as well as learning about other cultures!

    How to save the world with design: “Do a little something here or there that helps improve someone’s life.” – Michael Bierut

  3. Always be making things and follow that instinct to move forward. Connect with people, even just one person, to collaborate with on your ideas. Carve out time for side projects on the weekends and free time to allow your creativity to run wild. Be yourself, be who you are in your personal AND professional life.

    “Say yes to the ideas in your head, free fall in to the unknown and create your own parachute.” – Ted Vadakan & Angie Myung

  4. Think huge but work small. Envision the bigger picture, but take smaller steps to achieve it. These smaller steps will be easier to tackle than getting bogged down with all the overarching details. Aim to be 10 times higher, and work to improve your process everyday and you will grow!

    “Exceeding expectations is a minimum requirement.” – Dan Formosa, Ph.D.

  5. Put people first. Cultivate relationships and build confidence in others. Leadership is a journey that requires a friend. If you’re struggling, help someone else. Give attention and care to others.

    “Leadership is like exercise… Do it everyday, the results take time but you will see them. It’s the little things.” – Simon Sinek

I enjoyed hearing all the different talks about design and the some of the keynote speakers were also very compelling! A few of my favorite keynote speakers were Simon Sinek, Dr. Brené Brown, and Michael Bierut. Simon Sinek focuses on harnessing leadership in others. He has a great TED Talk out on the web called How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Dr. Brené Brown aims to help others look internally to find their creative spirit and learn about themselves. She concentrates on humanity, communication and culture. Her TED Talk is called The Power of Vulnerability. Michael Bierut is a partner with Pentagram and has worked on some great design projects. He runs a podcast called The Design Observer.

If you ever get the chance to go to HOW Design Conference for design inspiration and growth, I recommend it! Have you been to any great conferences or training workshops lately?