Archive for the ‘Digital’ 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 »

“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

Digital DashboardI just read Changing change management shared by David Stallsmith. No doubt digital (interactive media) and the software powering it can be incredibly useful for delivering and managing change within organizations. The descriptive and prescriptive digital examples discussed in the article seem to verify that digital is both positive and transformative when done right. And digital design is bringing enjoyment and enrichment into our work. Even during change it can be useful. But is “it” that transformative? Or, is it the people behind digital and the strategy for using it that is truly transformative? My bet is on people and strategy. Read the rest of this post »

CX and software – consumers lead the experience (part 2)

Part 1 see: “Is software eating the world? Or, is it really customers?”

Software eating our world

In the earlier post I mentioned that more companies are focusing on the opportunities software offers to create customer value through the customer experience (CX). This rising development is a result of the rise in popularity of software, and it is spawning the age of the consumer − consumers are now leading the experience they want to have (i.e., Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, buyer power). I give credit for a chunk of this leverage to software sites such as Twitter, Yelp, Kudzu, TripAdvisor and the like for enabling consumers to socialize their experiences rapidly and easily, and providing leverage to the individual buyer. In our hyper-competitive markets this is putting pressure on companies to look across all customer touch points and evaluate how they measure up, not just looking at their customer satisfaction ratings (the good minus the bad ones) but on the total customer experience and the reasons WHY.

This era of transparency and perfect information is not all bad for businesses. It’s offering them an unprecedented opportunity to learn what attracts customers in the first place and how to satisfy them in the long term, and even retain them for life (i.e., lifetime value of a customer). But where do we start? Read the rest of this post »

Is software eating the world? Or, is it really customers?

Part 1 of 2 

Software eating our world

Are software companies poised to “take over large swathes of the economy?” Apparently Marc Andreessen thought so in an article from 2011. I think he is right. Let’s take a quick mental inventory of a few of the major firms running on software and delivered as online services – eBay, Amazon, Pandora, Shutterfly, LinkedIn and Netflix. Each one of these organizations, within their respective industries, has used software (digital services) to gain control over, or seize, sizable market share; and in some cases they’ve pushed top competing firms out of business. Anyone remember Borders or Kodak? Personally, there was a time I thought Monster would always be the juggernaut of recruiting and placing job seekers. Well, I had to smile when recently in an article in Forbes the writer compared Monster to “a 2001 Dodge Neon – a resume repository.” And how is LinkedIn doing? The firm just got an upgrade from Barclays so things seem to be going well for them. I think some of its success stems from robust features for sharing, joining groups, and as a research tool. It’s attracting the best candidates and in turn attracting the best recruiters.

It’s clear that the things we want to do are, more and more, being serviced and provided through software. We have become dependent on software to connect us with our friends and family, to educate us, and for games and shopping. So more companies are focusing on software to deliver customer value through the customer experience. Now this gets interesting. Software is spawning an emerging tension between CIOs and CMOs to tango over spending to reach customers. A prediction from one Gartner analyst (Laura McLellan) is that by 2017 chief marketing officers (CMOs) will out spend CIOs on IT. This spending is on digital marketing along with software. That is the great news. On the flip side – “ehm” – do we (meaning those of us in software) have a solid idea of how this disruption is affecting our customers in the markets we serve? Jeffrey Bussgang of the Harvard Business School says, “…Marketing leaders and agencies now carry the burden of understanding technology’s impact on their business, the entire customer experience…to win market share.”  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 »

5 ways learning to code can improve your life


Image of scripting codeMy first crack at writing computer code came when computers were sofa-sized and the term “web” applied mainly to spiders. At my high school, programming was the alternative elective to woodworking and home economics. It wasn’t popular; throughout my four years there, I could count on my fingers and toes the total number of students who took the course.

Today, my grade-school-age nieces and nephews can field coding questions that eluded me until well past college, and each year the starting age of coders keeps sliding lower.

This is the new normal. Children who barely know how to tie their shoes are acquiring the literacy demanded by our increasingly digital world. Before this decade ends, a whole generation of educated Americans will pass from kindergarten through college without ever touching a pen or pencil, or a piece of paper.

Meanwhile, adults who raise these savvy students still lag in this key area of digital literacy two decades after the Internet dawned. Most are clueless about the code that shapes their world. This cluelessness is bracketed by reluctance and intimidation – at first glance, coding does not look easy, so obviously it isn’t easy, right?

On the contrary. Websites such as Codeacademy, Khan Academy, and W3Schools remove much of the guesswork with step-by-step tutorials and workspaces that show what the code displays as it’s typed. Apps including Hopscotch, Lightbot, and Udacity’s series of Android and iOS training tools cross age groups and knowledge levels and are designed to match the comfort level of each.

These user-friendly tools are making code approachable, even fun – much more fun than slogging through those disturbingly dense manuals that were the primary coding assets in my youth.

With that fun comes something else: an education that extends well beyond the scope of coding’s intent. Learning to code also promotes:

Literacy Software has become a linchpin in our lives. Many daily tasks – from watching TV to making toast to turning on a water faucet – rely on devices that in turn rely on software. While it’s not necessary for each of us to know exactly how coding operates any of these things, an appreciation for the analytical process that went into the software programming opens our minds to the way digital devices “think,” thus raising a broader digital awareness that enables us to make software more responsive.

Problem solving That analytical process derives from computational thinking, an approach to solving large problems by breaking them down into smaller ones. We’re introduced to this kind of thinking early in school to solve basic math problems and expand upon it later to tackle business, engineering, science, music, project management – anything that deals in abstractions. Learning code hones that thinking because it requires a systematic approach essential to problem solving.

Personal growth At first, my interest in learning to code was blunted by fear of failure (Everyone starts out writing bad code; it’s unavoidable). I dreaded the prospect of typing line after line of code only to see the wrong result – or worse, no result. This prompted me to code with care and check my work at each step. Of course, I still failed with predictable regularity, but I was slowly steeling myself against disappointment knowing the amount of care I exercised. Today’s code-training tools mitigate that kind of fear by showing results in real time. They don’t, however, mitigate the failure chronic to solution-based code writing; that comes from the exacting task of writing and rewriting the code until it’s correct.

Community Nobody I know who can code well learned by themselves. Sure, they sifted through manuals and guides at some point in their education. But the lasting lessons and best solutions to problems came through asking questions, working in groups, and studying others’ successes and failures. Despite the stereotypical image of the solitary coder hunched over a dusty keyboard, illuminated only by the screen’s glow, coding is a communal effort shared across a room or across a continent. So, it’s safe to say the best programs are developed with precise amounts of code and liberal amounts of collegiality. As content strategist Anthony Wing Kosner said, “Once you write something as code, others who can read code can evaluate it and see if you indeed have a unique idea that can generate value.”

Change – Digital awareness, critical and computational thinking, unwavering determination, and a willingness to reach out to others – these are qualities that effect change in an office, a business, an industry. The more we know about our digital world, the more likely we can make it more responsive, and more responsible. As with anything else, big changes start with the little details – such as learning how to write computer code.

Lessons Learned from an Accessibility Summit

AccessU Summit

Last week I participated in AccessU Summit, a daylong online conference sponsored by Knowbility and Environments for Humans. I have ‘sketched out’ some of the key ideas I took from each session, and I’ve grouped them into sections to steer you in the direction of the material that interests you the most. In addition to these, there are 3 more sessions that I will post next week. Also, I will share recordings from the sessions when they are available. My raw notes are on the Research SharePoint site.

“Developer” Sessions…

Web Accessibility Essentials Using WAI-ARIA and HTML5

Eric Eggert, Member of W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative / slides:

Eric previewed many codes samples (see slides) and then showed code working in Chrome.  As he ran this demo, Eric pointed out that people using assistive readers are used to hearing prompts such as “new menu item 1 of 3.” Eric showed several W3C tutorials, and highlighted the “why it’s important” justifications. Eric stated the obvious, it’s more effort to design to these standards, and yet it’s a standard to design to. Also, Eric uses Chromebox, as a screen-reader testing environment He said, “It’s not perfect but mostly works okay.”

Getting Ahead of the Curve: Scalable, Accessible, Enterprise-class Video on the Web  

John Foliot, Co-chair of W3C Accessibility of HTML5 Media Elements / slides:

I took from John’s talk that the future of video will be more extended dialogues (i.e., windows) with extended descriptions that a user can access by pausing and viewing the details. Also, he said that “clean audio” is coming, an option users can take to mute unnecessary background sounds. John provided some great resources for how to handle captioning. More vendors are offering this service so it’s driving down costs. There is video captioning software (DIY approach), and John recommended going with a service because using software is more laborious than a service, but less expensive. Video description software is out there and John recommended it to save time. Read the rest of this post »

Designing for accessibility does no one any favors


For some time now I have contemplated, as a design practitioner, is my perception of design for users inclusive, empathic and universal? This has been nagging at me for some time. Actually it’s been calling my name, Psst. Lisa, you’re behind the curve in your understanding of designing the user experience for people that are, well, disabled.” Let me be more candid; my own perception of disabled people hasn’t been accurate, empathic or inclusive of the various impaired users attempting to access and benefit from the online world. My thinking on this topic needed a significant update, a DIY project in the making.

To start, I didn’t have an accurate definition of disabled people, nor of impairment. To my credit I had read the important book Design meets disability about two years ago. The author, Graham Pullin, raised my awareness of several issues and possibilities when designing for disabled people. For one, he helped me understand that disabled people is an appropriate expression “in the context of an environment or society that takes little or no account of impairment.” This is a troubling thought – “people disabled by the society they live in” due to the “designed” barriers and restrictions that limit participation in hmmm…life.  Read the rest of this post »