Top 10 Skills and Knowledge Set Every User Experience (UX) Professional Needs

Top 10The user experience (UX) of your products is only as good as the knowledge and skills of your UX staff.

​As organizations realize how important the user experience is to the success of their products, UX teams are expanding. People come to role of UX from more and more diverse backgrounds. Some UX staff used to be web designers. Others used to be visual designers. Others used to be usability testers. The plus side of this is that you may find yourself with a team that has a wide variety of skills. That sounds like an advantage, and it is. But it has a down side too. As the diversity of your team increases, it’s possible that particular individuals may have gaps in their skill-set. And the team loses a sense that there is a core set of skills and knowledge that everyone possesses.

So I’ve put together my “Top 10 List” of skills and knowledge that I think UX professionals should know and be able to do.

I’m aware that publishing a list of the “Top 10 Skills and Knowledge Set Every User Experience (UX) Professional Needs,” could be controversial. Your top 10 list, therefore, may not be exactly the same as this one, but let’s see how many you agree with:

Note:

  • The list is not in any particular order.
  • I have not included “soft” skills, such as communicating clearly, making powerful team presentations, or effectively managing projects. These are critical to success, but not as specific to UX, so I’ll cover them in another blog post.

So here’s my list:

  1. Psychology – including cognitive, social, perceptual, and the new work on unconscious mental processing
  2. User Testing – basic user testing planning and conducting
  3. User Research – more than user testing, including interviews, task flow analysis, personas, scenarios, wants and needs
  4. Principles of Usability – how to make a product easy to learn and use
  5. Principles of Engagement  – how to make a product engaging and persuasive
  6. Lean UX Design – lean start-up methods for doing UX
  7. Conceptual Modeling – making transparent all the macro decisions you make before you even start sketches pages and screens, such as information architecture, navigation design, object/action decisions
  8. Iterative Design – how to design collaboratively with others, including storyboards, sketches, wireframes, and prototypes
  9. Interaction Design  – how to make the best decisions about micro-level interaction design
  10. Current Trends – knowing what the current trends are – Parallex scrolling?  Flat design?

If you’d like more details on each of the 10 items, then check out the whitepaper: Top 10 Skills and Knowledge Set Every UX Professional Needs.

What do you think? Do you agree? What would you add or take away from the list?

 

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Why Re-Designs Fail

Sign that says FAILYour product (website, software, app, device) is seriously under-performing and it’s time to fix it. You’ve lined up the resources, and freed up the budget. You’re about to spend a HUGE amount of time, money, and resources. It’s going to fix all the problems, right? And the new product will bring you the business/conversions/numbers you are looking for, right? It better, because it’s going to take a monumental effort and cash to tackle this.

What if it doesn’t live up to expectations. What if the new product doesn’t fix the old problems. What if the new product creates new problems. These are headaches you don’t want.

So how can you prevent spending time and money? How can you be sure that the new product will get you the returns you are looking for? Here are the top 5 reasons I’ve seen that cause product re-designs to fail.

  1. Your re-design is based on opinion not fact – You’ve made a lot of assumptions about your target audience and what they want/need to do with your product, but they are assumptions and they haven’t been tested or verified.
  2. Your re-design is based on data, but wrong conclusions – You didn’t just work from assumptions, you actually did collect data, but your interpretation of the data was in-accurate and so your re-design decisions lead you astray.
  3. Not enough collaboration – Your re-design decisions are based on accurate data, and your interpretation of the data is sound, but you didn’t involve your stakeholders and your development team in the design. When it’s time to implement the design you get a lot of pushback, and your design changes don’t see the light of day.
  4. Designs are implemented without testing – Your re-design decisions are based on data, and you implemented them, but you didn’t test the re-design. If you had prototyped and tested the re-designed product you could have tested all of your assumptions and design decisions, and corrected the ones that didn’t work out as expected before finalizing the new product.
  5. Technology takes over – You are doing so well. You gather data, design based on the data, prototype, test, and iterate. But after the iteration of the prototype the implementation team swoops in, and the technology decisions take over the design decisions.

If you can avoid these 5 problems then your re-design will get you the conversions you are looking forward. Watch out, though, because if you can’t avoid these problems then you are likely throwing your time and money down the drain.

What do you think? Have you encountered these problems in any of your re-designs? Do you think these are the most important 5?

If you’d like more detail on these 5 problems and what to do about them, then download the whitepaper Why Re-Designs Fail.

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Are You Addicted To Texting?

One of my early blog posts was about dopamine, and since then our smartphones have become even more capable of triggering a “dopamine loop.” So I thought I would re-visit the topic. Especially because I just did an animated video on the topic for the Brain Signal youtube channel:

It’s all about dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is found all through our body. In our brains dopamine is involved in a lot of our behavior, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward.

Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. Researchers used to think that dopamine was the “pleasure” chemical. But Kent Berridge’s work at the University of Michigan distinguishes between dopamine, the “wanting” system, and the opioid system as the “liking” system. The wanting system propels us to action and the liking system makes us feel satisfied, so we pause our seeking. The wanting system is stronger than the liking system. We seek more than we are satisfied.

Dopamine induces a loop — it starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. Which is what I think happens when we respond to texts, or emails. The result is that we can’t stop looking at email, texting, or checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

The theoroy of classical conditioning in psychology tells us that we can become conditioned to respond to auditory or visual cues that a reward has, or is going to, arrive. Our smartphones beep and flash and show little icons when we have messages or texts, all adding to the addictive effect. Between classical conditioning and dopamine it can feel like you are addicted!

What do you think? Do you have a hard time not checking your phone when you hear that special tone?

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Posted in brain, social media

Apply For A Free Engagement Audit And Re-Design

Starting in a few weeks I will  (again) be  teaching a semester course at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, on “Designing for Engagement” in the Web and Digital Media Development department. In the class we use “real life” case studies as the students learn how to evaluate a product for usability and engagement, and then do a re-design.

The students are mainly juniors and seniors. They are quite talented, and they work really hard.

If you have a project/product that you would like evaluated or re-designed to be more usable and more engaging, you can apply for us to use your product as a case study. There is no fee. It’s all FREE.

Here is what we are looking for:

A product/project that is a website, app, or other digital product

It has to e an existing product or at least a prototype. We aren’t able to design from scratch.

The product has to be something that is relatively easy for the students and I to learn about. In other words, your app that programs pacemakers in the operating room is probably not going to work.

You or a member of your team, have to be available in the October/November/Early December time frame via email and conference call so that the students can communicate with you about the project. Typically there are a few emails at the start, perhaps one conference call, and then the end result is your re-design and a video explaining it.

If you are interested, here’s what you need to submit to me via email (send to susan@theteamw.com:

Your Name:

Your Contact Info:

Brief Description of the product/website/app etc:

Brief Description of your usability and engagement challenges:

Instructions of how we can access the product

Who the product is for/users/visitors/intended audience:

What the users/visitors/intended audience want to do with the product:

What YOU want them to do with the product:

 

Let me know if you have questions, and thanks in advance for submitting your product for a possible evaluation and design

 

 

 

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Posted in design

Ten User Testing Bad Habits

User testing is a great way to get feedback from actual users/customers about your product. Whether you are new to user testing, or a seasoned testing professional, you want to get the most out of your user testing research. It’s easy to fall into some bad habits though, that will either make your testing time consuming, ineffective, or expensive. So here are 10 bad habits to watch out for when you are doing user testing:

#10 Skip the pilot
A pilot test is a user test you run before you run your “real” test. You run a pilot test so that you can try out your prototype and your instructions – it’s a trial run for everything. Then you can make any changes necessary before you run your “real” test. Sometimes your pilots go without a hitch and then it can be easy to say the next time, “Oh, maybe I’ll skip the pilot”. Don’t skip the pilot! Otherwise you may have to redo the whole test. Pilots are fast and inexpensive and worth it to do.

#9 Draw conclusions from early and insufficient data
People get excited when results start coming in, but don’t start changing things after 1 or 2 participants. You’ve got to wait to see what everyone does or doesn’t do before you start making decisions. And watch out for the confirmation bias – deciding that you know what’s going on after 2 participants and then ignoring other data that comes in later.

#8 Test too many people
If you are used to quantitative measures you might be used to running studies with large numbers of people. But user testing is often qualitative rather than quantitative (there are exceptions). If you aren’t running statistical analyses, so you don’t need lots of people. 7 to 10 people (per cell, see #7 below) will get you the data you need most of the time.

#7 Too many cells
A cell is the smallest unit of categorization for a user test. Let’s say that you want to run your test on men and women, and you want to be able to draw conclusions about differences in men and women. That means you have 2 cells – one for men and one for women and you need to run 7 people per cell. Now you already have 14 people. Next you decide to add young people versus older people, so now you have 4 cells of 7 each. Then you add people who are current customers vs. not current customers…. You can see that this is headed to too many people. The mistake here is a misunderstanding between cells and variation. I can have just one cell of 10 people, and within that cell I can make sure that I have some men, some women, some older people, some younger people – they only have to be a separate cell if I am going to draw conclusions about the variables. If I just want variation, but don’t need conclusions about the variability, then I don’t need all these cells.

#6 Do a data dump
When you conduct a user testing study you are familiar with everything, the instructions, the tasks, the results, and you may not realize that if you just hand the data and the video recordings to someone else they may be overwhelmed. You need to summarize the results, draw conclusions, and present a cohesive summary to your team and stakeholders, not just hand them a lot of data.

#5 Too much stock in after-test surveys
People have bad memories, and they also tend to over-inflate ratings on a survey. Watch out for putting too much stock in a survey that you give them after the task portion of the test.

#4 Test too late
Don’t wait till the product is designed to test. You can test wireframes, prototypes, and even sketches.

#3 Skip over surprises
Some of the best data from user testing comes not from the tasks themselves, but the places that people wander off, or the off-hand comments they make about something you weren’t even officially testing. Don’t ignore these surprises. They can be extremely valuable.

#2 Draw conclusions not supported by the data
You have to interpret the data, but watch out for drawing conclusions (usually with your pet theories) that really aren’t supported from the data.

#1 Skip the highlights video
A picture is worth 1000 words and a video is worth even more. These days highlight videos (made up of video clips) are easy to assemble using tools (for example usertesting.com). Highlight videos are much more persuasive than you just saying what happened. Make a habit of creating video clips the first time you watch the videos. Then you don’t have to go through them again to create a highlights video.

What do you think? Do you have any bad habits to add to the list?

————

If you are interested in learning more about user testing consider these two courses:

User Testing: The What Why and How as an in-person workshop I’m teaching it in San Francisco on July 31, 2014

and

an online video course on User Testing.

 

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How To Be A Great Presenter

We’re bringing our How To Be A Great Presenter class to Chicago on October 21, 2014. Want to know if this course is right for you or someone you know? Here’s a short video that gives you a sneak peek at the course.

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How Do You Design Something So It Is Engaging?

We’re bringing our Design For Engagement class to San Francisco on July 30, 2014, and to Chicago on October 22, 2014. If you’re not sure what Design For Engagement is all about, here’s a short video that explains what it means to design for engagement, why care about engagement, and gives you a sneak peek at the course.

Bring your whole team! Some seats are still available.

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Posted in courses, design, user experience

User Testing In The Spotlight

With Lean UX all the rage (deservedly in my opinion — see my recent slideshare on Lean UX), user testing (an important part of the Lean UX process) is getting even more popular. If you need to convince someone(s) in your organization that user testing is important — well, not just important but CRITICAL — try this video below.  It’s an introduction video to my User Testing course. And if you are interested in the course I’ll be teaching it in San Francisco on July 31, 2014. Bring the whole team! If you are already convinced about how important usability testing is, then stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on Bad Usability Testing Habits To Avoid.

 

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Posted in courses, usability testing, user testing

5 Myths of Lean UX

Today I gave a webinar on the topic of 5 Myths of Lean UX. I’ve created a slideshare from the webinar. If you are interested in what Lean UX is and isn’t, then you might want to check out the slideshare.

 

 

If you’d like more information on Lean UX check out our Lean UX one day workshop.

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Top 10 Favorite UX And Usability Books

It’s been over a year since I wrote my last Top 10 book list for Usability and UX, so I decided it’s time to update the list.

Since I’m limiting the list here to 10, chances are high you have a favorite that I’ve not included. Let me know what your favorites are in the comments.

I have an Amazon affiliate account, so I’ve linked to the books on Amazon if you are interested in purchasing, or even just getting more info.

The list below is in no particular order:

1. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. This is a newer edition of the book. Steve is such a great writer (and an all round great guy!). He has a way of cutting through all the chatter and clutter and bringing out the essence of a topic. If you are going to get one book for your team to introduce them to human-centered design thinking, then this should be the book.

2. Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug is the other necessary book if you are doing usability testing. And you ARE doing usability testing, right? This book will teach you everything you need to know about how to plan and conduct a user test of your product.

3. Forms That Work by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney. If you are designing anything that has a form: a web page, web app, software application, mobile app, or even a paper form, you must read this book. It’s practical and also conceptual — my favorite book on form design.

4. The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley. I don’t agree with this title. Because this is a great book even if you are a UX team of 10! This is the best book I’ve found that walks you through processes, deliverables, and what you need to do in a very clear and readable way. Not ponderous. A really hands-on book.

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5. Communicating the User Experience: A Practical Guide for Creating Useful UX Documentation by Richard Caddick and Steve Cable. In an era where many are calling for “lean UX”, and the end of the formal deliverable, I am going to be so bold as to say that there are many times and situations when you should create deliverables for communicating your user experience work, and luckily this book will show you how to do that. It’s practical and innovative at the same time. A must-read for practitioners who have to create deliverables for their projects.

6. Smashing UX Design: Foundations for designing online user experiences by Jesmond Allen and James Chudley. This book has everything. It will walk you through the idea of user centered design, teach you the details of how to do everything (stakeholder research, user research, wireframing, prototyping, user test, etc etc,) and then will show you how they did it with case studies. A great book for the UX practitioner, whether new or experienced.

7. Client Centric Web Design by Paul Boag. Have you ever had your design or UX project blow up? Misunderstandings with clients? Then you need to read this book. Paul takes the point of view of the client, not just the user. This book has critical advice for anyone who works on web design/UX design projects for clients. Unless you are only designing your own personal website, you need to read this book. It’s not available on Amazon, just through his site.

8. Measuring the User Experience by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert. Need metrics? Need numbers to back up your impressions? This is the go to book for everything measurable about the user experience. Really thorough and detailed.

9. Quantifying the User Experience: Practical statistics for user research by Jeff Sauro and James Lewis. The word “statistics” scares a lot of people. I love statistics, but I understand that many others don’t. Whether you love ‘em or not, you should read this book. If you are friends with stats then you’ll enjoy the book. And if you’re not you really NEED to read it! Don’t be afraid. Jeff Sauro is a master at getting people to understand the why and how of stats for user experience.

10. Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. I have a lot to say about Lean UX. I’m a fan, but I also think there are misconceptions about what it means, where it comes from, how it’s different from “not lean” UX. I’ll leave you find out all my opinions in my Lean UX Workshop course! Let’s just say you should know about Lean UX.

and one more bonus book: I hope you forgive me, but I’m going to recommend my own book: 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

Which makes 11!

(You might also be interested in my top 10 Psychology books to read.)

What are your favorites?

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Welcome to The Brain Lady Blog

I'm a Ph.D. psychologist and I write and videoblog about how to apply psychology and brain science research to understand how people think, work, and behave. For more information about me and about the Weinschenk Institute, check out the the Team W website.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
The "Brain Lady"

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