What’s The Best Way To Train User Experience Professionals?

 

Woman standing in front of a blackboard with question marks

What’s the best way to get knowledge and skills to be a user experience professional? Can you learn it all on the job? Is there a role for education and classes? If there is, what kind of classes?

Should you try and get a college degree? (There are very few undergraduate schools, that actually have a degree in user experience. Some have some classes, and maybe a concentration, but few have a degree. Should you get an undergraduate degree in something else — anything related — and then get a master’s in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction).

What about short courses? Should you take a week or two of training from a vendor? Or take some online training classes?

I’ve been thinking about this question for many years. I’ve offered “industry training” (i.e., a week-long class), and I’ve offered mentoring programs. I recently taught a semester long class as an Adjunct Professor at University of Wisconsin. And the Weinschenk Institute has online video courses you can take to learn about user experience and user-centered-design topics.

So when my colleague Jim Jacoby (founder of Manifest Digital in Chicago) told me the other day that his new venture was The School for Digital Craftsmanship, I asked him to tell me more. And then after he told me about the user experience/user-centered design “school” he has started, I suggested we do a podcast interview about it.

Below you will find the 23 minute podcast interview.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link

Here are some of the topics we cover:

  • How a shortage of user experience/user-centered design professionals in his agency led him to start the School for Digital Craftsmanship
  • The idea of a “trade” school education for the field, that combines classroom study with practical experience
  • The first flagship courses that start this July (2013). They are 10 weeks long and meet a few nights a week, starting in Chicago and St. Louis.
  • What the application process is like, and what the experience will be like to attend.

As of this writing there are 12 spots still open for the classes starting in July, so if you are interested go to the School’s website: admci.org for more information.

What do you think? What’s the best way for people to get the education they need to do UX/UCD work?

 

 

Should Technology Follow Human-To-Human Communication Rules?

What do we expect when we communicate with technology? Do we expect that the technology will communicate with us following the same rules as when we communicate with other people? The answer is yes, and I explain the implication of this in this video excerpt from my Design For Engagement online video course.

Below the video is a summary of what I discuss in the video.

When people interact with each other they follow rules and guidelines for social interaction. Here’s an example: You are sitting in a café and your friend Mark comes into the café and sees you sitting by the window. Mark comes over to you and says, “Hi, how are you doing today?” Mark expects you to interact with him, and he expects that interaction to follow a certain protocol. He expect you to look at him, in fact to look him in the eye. If your previous interactions have been positive, then he expects you to smile a little bit. Next, you are supposed to respond to him by saying something like, “I’m fine. I’m sitting outside here to enjoy the beautiful weather.” Where the conversation goes next depends on how well you know each other. If you are just casual acquaintances, he might wind down the conversation, “Well, enjoy it while you can, bye!” If you are close friends, then he might pull up a chair and engage in a longer conversation.

You both have expectations of how the interaction will go, and if either of you violates the expectations, then you will get uncomfortable. For example, what if Mark starts the conversation as above, with “Hi,how are you doing today?” but you don’t respond. What if you ignore him? Or what if you won’t look at him? What if you say back, “My sister never liked the color blue”, and stare into space. Or perhaps you give him more personal information than your relationship warrants. Any of these scenarios would make him uncomfortable. He would probably try to end the conversation as soon as possible, and likely avoid interacting with you next time the opportunity arises.

Online Interactions Have the Same Rules — The same is true of online interactions. When you go to a website or use an online application, you have assumptions about how the website will respond to you and what the interaction will be like. And many of these expectations mirror the expectations that you have for person-to-person interactions. If the website is not responsive or takes too long to load, it is like the person you are speaking to not looking at you, or ignoring you. If the website asks for personal information too soon in the flow of the interaction, that is like the other person getting too personal. If the website does not save your information from session to session, that is like the other person not recognizing you or remembering that you know each other.

Designers tend to spend a lot of time on “macro” design — layout, color, grids, navigation, as well they should, since those are important. But it is often the “micro” interactions that determine whether or not a product or website is easy to use. Can you fill in the form quickly? Does the label make sense? Is the button in the right place? Did you just get an error message that is undecipherable? Sometimes the micro interaction design doesn’t get as much time or attention, and it is very possibly the micro interactions that are defining the user experience of the product or service.

Top 10 Best Usability, and UX Books You Should Read

Part of the work I do is to consult, mentor and teach how to design technology products so that they better fit how people work, think, and play. The teams I work with often ask me for my ideas on the best books to read in this field. So I thought I’d update my list of favorite usability and user experience books.

There are lots of great books these days, and I’m limiting the list here to 10, so chances are 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. 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. Usable Usability: Simple Steps For Making Stuff Better by Eric Reiss. Eric combines what usability is, why it’s important, and how you do it, in one easy to read book. Give this book to anyone who needs to understand an overview of usability concepts in an interesting and practical way. Written with wit and clarity.

 

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. Card Sorting by Donna Spencer. This is a little book and just about one topic, card sorting, but it’s a great book and worth reading and having on your bookshelf if you need to learn about the user research technique of card sorting. It also has lots of great information about user research in general.

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?

5 Ways A Task Analysis Results In Great Design

 

Picture of a task analysis flowchart

A task analysis is the one document that really spells out what the users’ experience is going to be before you design anything at all.

I think the process of task analysis ,and the document that comes out of the process, are some of the most interesting and useful things one does as a UX Designer or a usability specialist.

I also think that task analyses are underappreciated. It does takes time, energy and creative thought to come up with a useful task analysis and people are usually “chomping at the bit” to start design. They often don’t want to create a task analysis first.

So I decided to create a course on “How To Develop & Document A Task Analysis”. And then I put together this short video on 5 Ways a Task Analysis Results In Great Design:

 

 

Here’s a summary of the video.

5 Ways A Task Analysis Results In Great Design 

  1. Quickly & efficiently document how the users are going to get their task done — Before you start storyboarding, designing screens, or creating user requirements documents, try creating a task analysis first. When you do a task analysis before design you are deciding on the most important and critical tasks and detailing in a simple diagram how the user is going to accomplish each one. All the work you do after this will be much more efficient because you will have hashed through lots of alternatives early on.
  2. Use the task analysis document to communicate critical design decisions BEFORE design — Not only will the task analysis help you in your design, it will help you communicate with others — stakeholders, programmers, visual designers.
  3. Get design agreement on the user experience early & upfront — By working on a task analysis you are making design decisions before design. So your whole team is coming to agreement on what the design will be like early and before design begins.
  4. Save time & re-work — Because you have worked through a lot of design decisions in order to create the task analysis you can save a lot of time and rework later. Instead of starting on design and then having to change all your storyboards or prototypes, you can work through the issues and decisions about the user experience before design and save yourself a lot of rework.
  5. Ensure that the design is accepted by the team AND matches the way your users want to do a task — When you work together with your team on the task analysis you are making a series of decisions that everyone buys into as the task analysis document gets created. Not only that, because a task analysis is describing how the users are going to complete a task, you are ensuring that the users’ point of view and desired process is incorporated into the task analysis. So when you design from the task analysis you will be designing a user experience the way the users want to do it.
Task analysis — the unsung hero of a user centered design process!
What do you think? Do you develop task analyses documents before you design?

 

If you are interested in the new course check it out at Udemy.com. And if you decide to try it, use the code 0812 during August for a special discount.

 

4 Ways Personas & Scenarios Result In Great Design

 

Drawing of stick people connected by dotted lines

I find myself these days working on two streams: on the one hand I’m working on my next new project (which is another book called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”) and on the other hand I’m recording a series of online training videos that cover the basics of doing usable design. Sometimes I think we get all caught up in new stuff and new ideas (Pinterest! apps!) and forget about the great stuff we’ve all worked hard to figure out… like personas and scenarios!

Developing and documenting personas and scenarios as part of a design process is not new. It’s been around for at least 30 years, and maybe more. But I was recently reminded of how powerful they both are in ensuring you do great design.

So in case you have forgotten WHY using personas and scenarios on your project results in great design, or in case you never knew, or in case you know but sometimes have a hard time explaining it to others, you can use this blog post, and the short video that goes with it, to remind yourself and/or explain to others.

I took excerpts from my latest online video course, “How to Develop & Document Personas & Scenarios”. to make a short video on the 4 Ways Personas & Scenarios Result In Great Design:

 

Here’s a summary of the video.

4 Ways Personas & Scenarios Result in Great Design

 1. Bring assumptions into the open — When you do design there is always a moment (actually dozens or hundreds of moments) when you are deciding something. For example, should I put the button here? What should I call this? Should I separate this into 2 pages? Whether you are aware of it or not, at that moment you are making that decision, you have many assumptions operating about your audience, who they are, what they are trying to accomplish, etc. Some of those assumptions are based on your knowledge and facts, other assumptions are probably biased, as in, “I think this would be best” (implying your audience will think so too, but that might not be the case, since you are likely not your audience). When you take some time to develop personas and scenarios before design then you are bringing all these assumptions out in the open. You can see if your assumptions are the same as your other team members. You can see if your assumptions can be validated.

2. Ensure you are designing what your audience needs & wants — How can you design what your audience needs and wants if you don’t know what they need and want?! When you go through the process of creating personas and scenarios you are collecting data on what people really need and want, not just what you think they need and want.

3. Design for what is critical & important, not the exception — The process of creating personas and scenarios is the process of deciding “if we can’t design for everyone doing everything then let’s concentrate on the most important users doing the most important things.” You have to identify what’s important, what’s frequent, what’s critical, and what’s an exception. Then when you design you can be sure you are designing for what 80% of the people need/want to do 80% of the time, instead of being distracted too much by exceptions — things that rarely occur or aren’t that important.

4. Communicate clearly — How many times have you left a meeting sure that everyone is all in agreement about the audience and the scenarios for the product you are designing. But if you don’t document those decisions they are easily forgotten, or they change over time. When you create personas and scenarios you have documents that you can use throughout the project to communicate clearly to other team members, as well as stakeholders, what the decisions and design parameters are.

 

What do you think? How do you think personas and scenarios help create great design? Are they used in your organization?

For more on personas & scenarios, you can watch the first couple of lessons of the new course for free.

  

 

7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendation: #7

Picture of an open window and a blue sky beyondThis is the 7th post in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations.

Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations

Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”

Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report

Tip #4 was Use The Word “Because” And Give A Reason

Tip #5 was  Add research or statistics to bolster your recommendations

Tip #6 was Point out the consequences of the Status Quo

Now for the last Tip #7. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #7 — Tie your recommendations to the viewpoint of others. We all view the world from our own particular vantage point, or window. And we sometimes forget that other people are looking at the world from their own window. I know it sounds obvious to say that what you think is important might not be important to other people, but I think we often forget the differences among viewpoint.If you want people to act, then you are going to have to phrase your recommendations and requests in a way that resonates with their larger motivations and goals.

For example, let’s say that one of your recommendations you are making to the team is: “The visitors to the site don’t understand the information architecture  we are using in the navigation bar. We should change the categories of information and the labels so that it matches the visitors’ mental model.” You’ve interviewed and conducted usability studies with visitors to the site, and you know this is true. It seems obvious to you that the information architecture and navigation bar should be changed. But what is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to your team. You are thinking about the meetings you’ve had with the visitors, and you can see a better navigation bar and information architecture in your mind. Other people on the team see deadlines being missed, or a navigation bar that they designed and they think makes perfect sense.

Breakthrough the impasse by seeing out their window — In order to phrase your recommendation in a way that will be acted upon, you’ve got to see out their window and rephrase your recommendation and request. Perhaps the team leader is concerned about what his boss will think if he has to tell her that they are delaying the launch of the new website. In that case you might want to rephrase your recommendation to:  “We want to nail the information architecture before we release the new website. If we aren’t sure the architecture matches the visitors’ mental model, then we’ll have to change the navigation bar later, and that will take a lot of resources. I’ve done some user research and if we make some changes now, we’ll save xx hours of re-programming time later.”

Knowing others’ point of view isn’t easy:

a) you may not know their motivations and goals

b) you may think you know their motivations and goals, but you are likely to be incorrect

c) there are multiple people, and they may have different motivations and goals

d) the people involved may not even know their own motivations and goals

So how can you make sure you are tying your recommendations and requests in with their goals and motivations?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Take your time. Don’t rush into presenting your recommendations. Take some time to talk to team members so you get a feel of what is driving them.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Validate your assumptions about the team members goals and motivations.
  • Pick one influential person on the team and talk to them so you at least know what is important to that person.
  • Imagine you are that person and look through that window. Then reframe and rephrase your recommendations to speak to that point of view.

This concludes the 7 part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Let me know which ones you try and how it works out.

 

Do people have relationships with forms?: Podcast with author Caroline Jarrett

Photo of Caroline Jarrett
Caroline Jarrett

I met Caroline Jarrett in 2010 in Lisbon Portugal, where we were both speaking at a conference.  Caroline is a usability consultant in the UK, and she specializes in designing forms. She has a great book, Forms That Work. In this podcast Caroline and I have a fun conversation about designing usable forms.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link
In this podcast we talk about:

  • How to design usable forms
  • Why you should think about “relationship” and “conversation” when you are designing forms
  • The ubiquitous argument: do you put colons or not at the end of field labels?
  • and lots of other fun and interesting topics. It’s all about forms.

What do you think are some of the most interesting points Caroline makes in the interview?

Caroline’s twitter address is: @cjforms
And for more information about Caroline’s book:

7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #3

person holding a huge stack of reportsThis is the 3nd in a series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations. And Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”. Now for Tip #3. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #3: Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report. If you hand someone a printed report with your data and recommendations, or, send them an email with a document attached, it is very likely that your recommendations will not get implemented. A very well written report, being read by someone who wanted to make changes in the first place, MIGHT compel someone to action, but it is highly unlikely. Most of the time you are:

  • asking people to change their opinion and beliefs
  • asking people to take action
  • asking more than one person to change and act

This is a tall order for a word document or powerpoint “report” to accomplish just by sending a document and having people read it. Instead you want to present the recommendations. The most engaging and persuasive way to present your recommendation is in person. If you can’t do it in person then at least be on the phone. The critical elements are:

  • The team needs to be able to hear your voice, and preferably see your face. This is best in “real time” (i.e., not a video or audio recording).
  • You need to be able to see their reactions including facial expressions and body language so you can “read” the situation and know what to do next.
  • If you are in “real time” then you can clear up any misunderstandings. It’s very easy for people to misunderstand a recommendation they are reading in a report.
  • If you are in “real time” then you can discuss a particular recommendation, explain, show an example, and even negotiate.

How many times have you received a report, flipped through the first few pages, and then put it aside? If you want to be sure that people are really listening and considering your recommendations you have to present them.

Many of the recommendations you give will also need a report so that the recommendations are documented. But don’t confuse the report with your presentation. They are two different things. Here are some tips about creating a report:

  • Don’t give or send the report ahead of time. This will weaken your presentation. You can send it after your presentation as documentation.
  • Don’t even hand out the report as you start your presentation. Instead, give your presentation first, and then follow-up later with the written report. Otherwise people aren’t listening to you, they are just looking through the report. If there are things they need to look at while you are talking, examples, etc, then prepare a handout to go with your presentation, but don’t just hand them the report.
  • Finalize the report after the presentation, since things may change as you discuss your recommendations during the presentation.

What do you think? Is this the way you’ve been giving your recommendations?

The Only Two Things You Really Need To Know About Web Design

picture of a billboard advertising the lottery
Design like a billboard not a page
In his (great) book, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug has a chapter called “Billboard Design 101: Designing pages for scanning not reading.” The idea is that people  don’t read all the text at a website, they scan it. So you should think “billboard” when you are deciding what to put on the page, instead of “page that someone will actually read”.
What makes a terrible site? — I was thinking about this idea yesterday as I was looking at a terrible website. Website design has matured over the years, and it actually is rare to find designs that are as bad as this one. Someone asked me why I was so apalled by it (they honestly didn’t know), and I almost found myself at a loss for words. I eventually found my voice and started talking about fonts that are hard to read, too much text, no clear and persistent navigation, too many unique margins… But then I realized I was overwhelming the person I was talking to. He’s not a web designer, not a visual designer, not a programmer, and not a user experience professional.
The bigger picture — I decided I needed to go up a level and give him just one or two concepts that would encapsulate the “big picture”. I realized that it boiled down to these two things:
1) On every page, does the visitor know what he or she is supposed to do on that page? Is it clear why the page is there and what his or her next action should be?
2) On every page, has the website owner/business owner made it really clear how the visitor can take the one action that the owner really wants and hopes the visitor to take?
I think this might be a useful high level checklist. Can’t decide whether to include that photo? Does the photo help with #1 or #2 above? Can’t decide what needs to go above the fold? If it answers #1 or #2 above then put it above the fold. Can’t decide if you need more text explanation of a certain action? Will providing more text help with #1 or #2 above?
What do you think? Are these 2 questions the critical ones or do I simplify too much? What do you think are the one or two critical questions? Can we summarize at that high a level or is that not useful?

Losing Sleep Over Poor Design

picture of top of sony clock radio
How Do I Cancel The Alarm?

I’m writing this from the CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) conference in Vancouver, BC. I’d like to enjoy Vancouver, but I’m having a hard time doing so  because I have a Sony clock radio in my hotel that keeps waking me up. The alarm goes off at 5:50 am every day. I can’t figure out how to permanently turn off the alarm. I can turn the alarm off when it goes off (there is an OFF button), but how do I cancel the alarm set up? I can’t figure it out. So it’s a case of literally losing sleep over poor design.

You would think that the alarm clock in a hotel would be chosen/designed to be intuitive and easy to use, since it’s unlikely that people would want to have to read a manual each time they stay in a hotel! (Although at this point I’d like a manual).

In another interesting design challenge, here’s a picture of the faucet in the bathroom in my hotel room.

Picture of bathroom faucet
Which way to turn the handles to turn on the water?

How would you turn the handles in order to turn on the water? At least this one I could easily figure out through trial and error!

If any you readers have this SONY clock radio — the picture at the beginning of the post shows the top controls, and can tell me how to de-activate the alarm I’d be very grateful!