Building a Good User Experience for Your Staff

As UX managers, we work hard to create great experiences for the end-user, but do we do the same for our own staff?

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Having been blessed with an opportunity to have spent time working at Amazon, I was very impressed at how well the company was able to create a work environment that allowed for better collaboration among team members, open air work spaces, patios with plenty of green space and team seating areas, break rooms with massage seats, plenty of natural and fresh air, and the list goes on. Clearly Amazon created and built these brand new offices and did their best to create a great environment for their staff members. The big players have the budget and funds available, just look at Google.

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Flip the switch and go anywhere within a one mile radius and we have our small digital agencies sprawled all throughout the great city of Seattle, with exceptionally creative environments, with ping pong tables, arcades, white boards, the whole nine yards.

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Having been blessed with an opportunity to have spent time working at Amazon, I was very impressed at how well the company was able to create a work environment that allowed for better collaboration among team members, open air work spaces, patios with plenty of green space and team seating areas, break rooms with massage seats, plenty of natural and fresh air, and the list goes on. Clearly Amazon created and built these brand new offices and did their best to create a great environment for their staff members. The big players have the budget and funds available, just look at Google.

Flip the switch and go anywhere within a one mile radius and we have our small digital agencies sprawled all throughout the great city of Seattle, with exceptionally creative environments, with ping pong tables, arcades, white boards, the whole nine yards.

The picture above is a random shot I found on Google, whether it is a design agency from Seattle is unknown, but you get the idea.

So what happens when you are at a company that has a very small design team and you are the very first employee to enter the doors with any form of UX title? Enter in my current officespace. Here I was given an opportunity to give birth to a UX team in an environment where every office area looked like an office depot catalog with the tight cubicles, smiles on everyone’s faces, everyone socializing and collaborating with one another, except in reality, we have employees in their cubicle fortresses with headphones on living in their own designer world, with a straight expression painted on their faces. You could hear a pin drop.

First things first, as a manager, I wanted to do whatever I could to create a better work environment that encouraged collaboration, fun, and a sense of pride. Martin Oliver quoted, “Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work”. So with that said, what’s the first step? Make a visit to the Director of HR of course. Had a great conversation and was essentially told that my desires were encouraged but resources were low…very low, and that there were building restrictions and codes that needed to be honored as tenants by building property managers. Ok, I can accept that, but remember, we as UX and design professionals need to be creative, and think of the end-user, which in this case was my staff.

Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work
— Martin Oliver

My team members were all different individuals, so a brainstorm meeting was necessary for all of us to get an opportunity to throw our individual ideas on the table. Great time to use some UX practices to collect valuable feedback to implement when determining what the final designs of the office space were going to be. It’s always difficult to match everyones schedules together, but making sure everyone was there for the kickoff meeting was absolutely necessary, after all, we are one team.

When the time came for the team members to speak, boy did everyone come prepared with their hates/wants/wishful ideas. One of the chief, if not biggest, complaints were that the set up of the cubicles made it difficult to collaborate and share with one another. Everyone felt like they were on their own island. Now of course you have individuals who prefer this, but surprisingly with this team, everyone was open to the idea of changing the seating arrangements to create a more open workspace. What do we do now? Confirm with HR that moving the cubicle setup would be ok. But unfortunately for my team members and myself, it required a good amount of work disassembling and restructuring the whole setup, but we got some muscles in our group so we were able to complete the rearrangement project. So right away, we have created a buzz within the company as co-workers from different levels of the building would come upstairs to our workspace area just to hear what all the fuss was about, and the compliments kept rolling in.

Now it was time for us design and decorate the space. Let me tell you, those white hospital walls that surrounded us didn’t exactly inspire or encourage thinking outside the “box”. The only decorations we had in our office were brand colored pictures of product, and although I do believe branding and company culture pride is a huge piece of the office, I did not want anyone on our team to feel tunnel-visioned into a brand when creating products and designs. I always love to encourage thinking outsidethe box. So we all met again and came up with creative ideas to enhance the decor of the office:

 chalkboard Painted framed wall for competitive/inspirational printouts

chalkboard Painted framed wall for competitive/inspirational printouts

 Mugshot collage wall with all team members

Mugshot collage wall with all team members

 The obligatory imitation moose head

The obligatory imitation moose head

 Lounge area with white painted palette table  

Lounge area with white painted palette table
 

 and of course, the infamous ux wall fully accessorized, made it's rounds on the Twitter universe.

and of course, the infamous ux wall fully accessorized, made it's rounds on the Twitter universe.

Now this was starting to look like an office fit for UX and design professionals!

Our UX wall stands as a beautiful piece showcasing the city of Seattle’s skyline in the background along with a big UX to proudly represent the team space. Quotes by very well known and respected UX professionals, such as Don Norman, Jared Spool, Jesse James Garrett’s, and others sit in the foreground as an inspiration to the team. We also were blessed to receive a TV from the technology department that had no need for it, and place it on the wall for design reviews and presentations. So instead of having to meet in a meeting room, we were able to have meetings in our area with the TV and collaborate in our own work space. It was amazing how a simple wall mural created by our team, keep in mind with a very small budget, can make such an impact for UX awareness within our company culture.

we as UX managers need to remember that although we may be doing a great job at creating amazing and fun experiences for our consumers, we need to also be doing the same for our other end-users, our staff

Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look like the offices of Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc, but it is an office designed by our team, with heart and pride, and sits there in our offices as we look at it everyday and are reminded of where we work and how much we enjoy working with one another. We tried our best at doing whatever we can to create a better “user experience” for our staff members making their work experience more enjoyable and not overly-stale and boring. Now of course, bigger factors play a role in an employees happiness and self-value at a company, but we as UX managers need to remember that although we may be doing a great job at creating amazing and fun experiences for our consumers, we need to also be doing the same for our other end-users, our staff. I am convinced that a happy office environment fosters a team that is happy to do work. As Katka Lapelosa said in an articleregarding office design and how it effects the way you work, “It will be interesting to see in the coming years how the workplace environment evolves, especially when technology makes it easy to telecommute, and be more efficient.”

What is User Centered Design?

WHAT IS USER CENTERED DESIGN?

According to UXPA, User-centered design (UCD) is an approach to design that grounds the process in information about the people who will use the product. UCD processes focus on users through the planning, design and development of a product. There is an international standard that is the basis for many UCD methodologies. This standard (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process) defines a general process for including human-centered activities throughout a development life-cycle, but does not specify exact methods. UCD makes it so that all design and development proceed with the user being the main focus.

The UCD process is an iterative process, where design and evaluation steps are built in from the first stage of projects, through implementation

User-Centered Design (UCD) is a user interface design process that focuses on usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks, and workflow in the design of an interface. UCD follows a series of well-defined methods and techniques for analysis, design, and evaluation of mainstream hardware, software, and web interfaces. The UCD process is an iterative process, where design and evaluation steps are built in from the first stage of projects, through implementation.” – Shawn Lawton Henry and Mary Martinson, Accessibility in User-Centered Design

The ultimate goal of UCD is to create a product that has the highest level of usability possible. Jeffrey Rubin describes usability objectives as:

  • Usefulness – product enables user to achieve their goals – the tasks that it was designed to carry out and/or wants needs of user.
  • Effectiveness (ease of use) – quantitatively measured by speed of performance or error rate and is tied to a percentage of users.
  • Learnability – user’s ability to operate the system to some defined level of competence after some predetermined period of training. Also, refers to ability for infrequent users to relearn the system.
  • Attitude (likeability) – user’s perceptions, feelings and opinions of the product, usually captured through both written and oral communication.

Currently being in a company that is unfamiliar with what the UX team does and what the UCD process is, I was challenged to create a document that helped breakdown the UX process I was looking to implement with my team and the importance of each step and the methodologies to accomplish each step.

ANALYSIS + RESEARCH

Designers love to get there Adobe creative suites started and ready to go the minute they are put on a project, but as a UX professional, one must remember to first know the task and goals at hand and what the team is getting into in order to be able to prepare and understand the situation before being stuck in a situation you cannot get out of. Just like my sports playing days, any sports coach will tell you, it is absolutely necessary to analyze and study the opponent in order to prepare for the game. Ill prepared individuals find that the confidence and drive they think they can rely on, runs very short and does not last the full duration of the game. In the same way, designers find themselves stuck in a traditional way of jumping into a design without fully studying the ins and outs of the project at hand.

...it is absolutely necessary to analyze and study the opponent in order to prepare for the game.

The analysis and research phase is  the time when you and your team can really dive into the project to get the background and data you’ll need to make the best design decisions later on in the project. This is when you will do your best to learn as much about your client’s business, objectives, users and competitors as possible.

IDEATION + DESIGN

Now we get the team together, and with all our findings and research, begin to brainstorm different design concepts and ideas, walk through the design, establish user flows and navigation models, sketch out ideas, create low-fi wireframes work together, and a whole lot more. We can start getting creative with different concepts, and make sure to use all the findings and data from the Analysis phase to help us in making the right design decisions.

PROTOTYPING + USER TESTING

Once we have a good direction in regards to design concepts, now we can make our static wireframes and comps into functional prototypes. By creating prototypes, we can now test our design assumptions with our users. Looking at a static image is a good visual representation of the UI, but to have the ability to interact with a working prototype is what helps us understand the user interaction and be able to test our assumptions and designs. Despite Design being in the phase above, it never really ends as we continue to design improvements and create multiple iterations as we continue to receive feedback from user testing and data that help us determine what changes need to be made, and what seems to be working with our users. This way, we are able to design the best UI based on qualitative and quantitative data. Both phases will help define its scope, its features and functionality and how the product will behave.

EVALUATION

Do we believe that this product is ready to implement and launch? With all the iterations of design and prototyping, with all the user testing data, it is time for us to look back on the overall project and evaluate the work. Heuristic evaluations help us determine how the UI works with best design usability practices and principles. Testing and design iterations do not stop until the product is approved and ready.

IMPLEMENT + LAUNCH

The final product is finished and ready for production launch. We can now measure the final product and see the results on production.

Now keep in mind, the UCD process is very effective and needs to be thought out carefully before implementing to a project Implementing UCD into a project process can be difficult at times, as some companies may prioritize deadlines and completion of said projects over making sure the best product is being created for the user, which can add additional time to a projects scope due to research, analysis and testing. But the question arises, what happens if we save the time and sacrifice the UCD methodologies and launch a product that fails to help the user accomplish the task? We find ourselves going back to square one and rushing to get another iteration of a product out, when in reality had we implemented the UCD methods within the process, a better understanding of the user would have helped build a better product catered to helping the user accomplish the desired tasks. So in the end, we end up actually using more time, resources and essentially spending a good amount more then originally projected on the project on trying to hire more staff, and trying to get whatever we can get out there on production as quickly as possible. Planning UX projects is a balancing act of getting the right amount of user input/data within the constraints and hard timelines of your project.

Photo credit to: https://www.mobomo.com/2017/01/user-centered-design/

Agile Methodology

It's 2:30pm and I'm plowing away on a competitive analysis presentation, and here comes the creative director.

“Dan, can you to do a presentation educating the creative services department on what Agile Methodology is at our meeting later this afternoon. I’m not too familiar with it. Thanks man! Oh and by the way, the meeting starts at 3pm. I know man, I’m sorry, I owe you a BIG ONE!”

Sweet. And for the record, my CD and I are very good friends and partners in crime, UX + Promotions Design, you get the picture. I couldn’t say no, besides, I genuinely did want to help with whatever I could. Now as the UX professional, I struggle with whether I should go into detail about Agile UX, but decided with the short timeframe I had for preparation, I decided to do a simple overview of Agile and the Scrum process we primarily use at our company. I did not attach the keynote presentation mainly due to embarrassment, and how limited it was in presenting the information without me giving context.

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WATERFALL METHOD

Ah yes, the waterfall method. The traditional process of design + development teams. Complete onephase before moving onto the next phase. It sounds like it should work, why not right? Let’s finish one phase so we don’t have to go back to it. If only it were that simple. Some of the issues of this process are:

  • You rarely aim to re-visit a ‘phase’ once it is completed which essentially means, you better get whatever you’re working on right the first time.
  • Requires end-to-end requirements for the entire project at the Requirement analysis phase.\
  • You don’t realize any value until the end of the project.
  • The requirements get too long, causing misunderstandings and missed requirements
  • You leave the testing until the end.
  • Very high risk, often more costly, less efficient.

AGILE METHOD

The Agile method is a type of Incremental model. Software is developed in incremental, rapid cycles. This results in small incremental releases with each release building on previous functionality. Each release is thoroughly tested to ensure software quality is maintained. It is about individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan.

  • Methods based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.
  • Promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
  • It is a conceptual framework that promotes foreseen tight interactions throughout the development cycle.

SCRUM

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Scrum being an agile process tool we frequent at my company, I had to make sure I touched on it as well. Because we were already running small, cross functional teams within our company, explaining scrum was fairly easy and didn’t require a lot of additional information. Scrum is a lightweight agile process tool used by many teams. The method is to split your company into smaller cross-functional teams that include (in our case), a scrum master/PM, design, development, QA, product owner. The work then is split into a list of small, concrete deliverables. The list is then organized by priority and estimates are made by the team to understand approximately how much of an effort will be needed to finish each item.

The method is to split your company into smaller cross-functional teams that include (in our case), a scrum master/PM, design, development, QA, product owner.

The method is split into short fixed length iterations/sprints, for us is 2 weeks, with potential ship ready code demonstrated at each iteration for review. After each process, a retrospective is held with the whole team to go over what went well, what went wrong, and what areas can be improved.

So in summary, this process helps because now instead of a large group trying to collaborate and building a big feature, we have smaller teams working together on smaller tasks. And the benefit of these teams, they are cross-functional, so every department that is needed can be included throughout the entire process. The smaller teams will also integrate regularly as a whole group to go over what each team has completed.

So that is a very brief overview of what I went over in the presentation, and of course with speech I was able to touch on some other finer points of the agile and scrum process. The feedback from the team showed they were given a good overview of agile methodology and they could all say they had a better understanding of it. Yeah, it wasn’t a thorough course of Agile, but at least I was able to do my job and help the creative services team.

Photo credit to WDL

Infographic | How to become a User Experience Designer

So as always, my Facebook and Twitter feeds get bombarded with UX related postings (my own fault I guess for following and liking so many UX people and organizations), and I’ve become very good at being able to cruise through my news feeds rather quickly during my morning commute, but as I love to do on my blog, I have to post the ones that stick out to me, ESPECIALLY infographics. It’s been nice to have a space to be able to share my thoughts and archive postings, infographics, etc that really stick out to me. So this particular morning, I came across a tweet from Schools.com, who I usually find myself skipping over, and saw something that had to do with UX Design. It said:

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Now of course my news feeds are disgustingly cluttered with the keywords: USER EXPERIENCE, but I guess the fact that I don’t often ever see those keywords next to the awesomely red logo of Schools.com on my feed, is what made it stand out to me. Also, the word “infographic” is something that always stands out to me, so I had to click it. Landed on an article from Jon Fartenbury, and let me say, it is always encouraging to see UX becoming increasingly popular across all fields, not just design + development.

The accompanying article also did a great job introducing what UX designers do and providing tools and resources for available schooling for courses, degrees and certificates. Here is the paragraph for what a UX designer does: Many aren’t even familiar with what UX designers do. In short, UX designers take a product or a system — such as a website, for example — and design it in a way that’s appealing and functional for users. This requires developing a prototype (to bring the idea from a concept to an actuality) and then combining the visuals with the information in a way that makes the experience for consumers enjoyable and not overly-complex and frustrating. Think of it like a happiness assurance agent. Your job, if you become a UX designer, is to make users happy, with a clean, visually stimulating product.

…combining the visuals with the information in a way that makes the experience for consumers enjoyable and not overly-complex and frustrating.

Very short and to the point. Love how concise it is and yes, it clearly doesn’t cover the world of being a UX designer, but still a good introduction for an individual who is new to this awesome crazy world of UX. The infographic is below the article and I scrolled through the entire vertically mile long graphic and loved the way the different facets of UX were broken down. Once again, me being a UX nut, I felt it could’ve touched on some more areas, but knowing the audience this graphic is intended for, it was very well presented. And yes, I know there are a ridiculous amount of infographics for UX all over the interweb, but this one stood out to me from the rest, mainly because of how I stumbled across it. Kudos to Schools.com. I have attached the inforgraphic below, enjoy!

Schools.com article: http://www.schools.com/visuals/how-to-become-a-ux-designer.html

UCD Strategies Going Forward

Strategies going forward in creating a project that applies a thorough user-centered focus and follows a methodical process.

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So as one of my first undertakings as a lead, I was asked to lead the UX design team in the complete transformation of a 2,000+ page website from 950-fixed to Responsive. Whoa. Just a tad bit overwhelming, but as for the full story of the project, I’m sure I will write a case study about it one of these days, but there were a lot of learnings I came across, and different process and methodologies I learned as well. There were definitely some ups and downs, but here are just a few strategies I found on the interweb I would consider going forward.

DESIGN ITERATIONS PRIOR TO DETAILED DESIGN

  • “Just doing wireframes and comps” because that was what was required.
  • No analysis phase, no user research, no design iterations (cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process).
  • UCD compliments ROI.

USE CASES

  • Make sure the use cases don’t explicitly direct the design direction
  • In most cases, use cases are usually focused more on business rules and logic and less on what the optimal experience should be for users. You need both, and blind adherence to use cases can result in the creation of a solution that may not align with what users want and need.

USER TESTING

  • User testing is cut because of budgetary constraints
  • As good as your team is, design testing is far cheaper than designing in a bubble and then investing huge amount of money and time deploying an untested direction.

HIGH LEVEL DESIGN

  • Must have a direction that all the designers can align with and follow. It can be a set of best practices, a declaration of principles, or a conceptual model of usage, but SOMETHING has to exist to ensure consistent and successful work.

DESIGN COLLABORATION

  • If you really want to fail, put designers on separate features and don’t let them talk to one another. One major project started out doing exactly that, and the designers were also under tight deadlines. The result was a Frankenstein’s Monster of a design that was inconsistent and impossible to implement.

DETERMINING CLEARLY DEFINED ROLES

  • RASI Chart – Responsible/Approval/Support/Inform
  • Roles not clearly defined, everyone’s opinion will count leading to design-by-committee

MEETINGS WITH AGENDAS AND EXPECTED OUTCOMES

  • A meeting without a purpose is a waste of time and money that can be better spent creating good designs.

Photo Credit to: Fund Chat

Design Funnels

A process that loads all of the ideation into the early stages to the project, quickly narrowing multiple concepts down to what's perceived to be the most viable one. Each ensuing stage concentrates on refining the initially selected design.


Buxton’s variation based on the conventional design funnel is a simple concept: alternate between concept generation and controlled convergence. Unlike a traditional funnel, which encourages ideation only in the earliest phases of a project, this model embraces exploration during each stage. Concept convergence also occurs in each stage, whereby ideas are filtered down by measuring against explicitly defined design goals and principles. Controlling ideation with structured critique moves the design discussion towards actionable, productive feedback. This approach is healthy because it allows a greater number of ideas to be “suggested, proposed, and questioned.” The concept that no idea is sacred and that alternative, potentially better ideas may be introduced later int he process can only lead to a stronger product.

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Because the assembly-line processes that result in a traditional design funnel have to kill so many ideas before they can be explored, there is a danger that they’ll come back to haunt you later. A stakeholder who is soured by the feeling that their idea wasn’t given due consideration might resist alternatives or seek to work in their idea at a later stage. Buxton’s variation, on the other hand, is more accommodating and fits well in a more iterative workflow.

We need to be able to make critical decisions about how an application behaves in the appropriate context, at different time throughout the project.

So, what does all this talk about assembly lines and funnels have to do with designing for mobile? Simple: I don’t believe we front-load all of the necessary design decisions at the beginning of a project for any platform, least of all for mobile. This approach is an unfortunate remnant of industrial-era thinking, when products could be sequentially manufactured. We need to guide our clients to a shift in thinking about how we design and build software systems. We need to be able to make critical design and build software systems. We need to be able to make critical decisions about how an application behaves in the appropriate context, at different time throughout the project.

Photo credit: http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/concerning-fidelity-and-design/