All posts tagged user experience

Embracing failure

A popular UX mantra encourages us to “embrace failure.” Sometimes I wonder if we’ve taken this too far and have ended up embracing all the wrong kinds of failure. For example:

  • The failure to take chances
  • The failure to try things
  • The failure to convince clients to pay for UX
  • The failure to do “real” UX
  • The failure to be empathetic
  • The failure to change things

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Are we giving away the right hours?

I’m fairly certain nobody who buys design is actually paying the true cost of design. Because nobody ever bills all their hours.

Be honest now—when was the last time you billed every single hour you spent on a project of any significance? It just doesn’t happen. We always give away hours. Here is a small selection of reasons why:

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Beware the sacred cows

Just like the trap of “real UX,” there’s another cognitive trap we UXers are prone to: unexamined sacred cows. I hold up before you—the pattern library.

I recently became convinced that we needed to build a pattern library and product style guide for our company. We have products sprouting like mushrooms all over the place and not nearly enough designers and product managers and developers to go around. I’m always getting asked for color and style guidance, and I don’t have much to give people. I can barely keep up with the design of the products I know about, never mind products that don’t yet exist.

A pattern library would help scale our limited UX resources, I thought, so we could have influence on products even if we don’t have time to actively work on them. It would help us catalog our ideas so we wouldn’t try to invent the same thing twice. It would help us work faster and be more consistent.

I got as far as poking around in a test install of Sharepoint our IT guys set up for me, but then—thank goodness!—while sitting in the tenth row at the LeanDayUX conference in New York, listening to Bill Scott talk about GitHub, I had an epiphany.

I was going about this for all the wrong reasons:
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There is no “real UX”


I’m all about hypotheses these days. Here’s one: The misguided concept of “real UX” holds us back from doing actual UX.

What’s “real UX,” you ask?

“Real UX” is the golden ideal of user experience design that everyone else is doing except me. It’s personas and user research and card sorting and customer interviews and usability testing—all the techniques and tools that we hear about at conferences and in articles and blog posts and books, that we never get to do ourselves because:

  • Our companies don’t think it’s important
  • Our clients don’t want to pay for it
  • There isn’t enough time
  • We’re not allowed to talk to customers
  • [Insert other excuse here]

If I’ve learned one thing in the past several years it’s this: No one is doing “real UX.” Continue Reading

Accessibility—not just for the disabled

Somehow, the other day I managed to cut my right index finger on a package of butter. Just a stupid paper cut, but you know how much they hurt. So I wrapped it up in a band-aid and headed to work.

Here’s what happened because of that band-aid:

  • I couldn’t feel the bump on the home key of my keyboard, so all day I was tu[ping emal;s wrpng.
  • I had to use my iPhone with my middle finger because my index finger was encased in rubber.
  • I’m extremely right-handed, and all day I was conscious of not being quite as dextrous as usual.

Luckily, this was just a temporary affliction. But it serves as an example of how quickly devices become difficult to use, even for the mildly or temporarily disabled.

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Switching careers to UX? Patience is your ally

Anyone who knows me well will tell you: patience is not my strong suit. I’ve learned to hide it reasonably well at the office, but as a general rule I hate waiting.

Back in early 2008, during Alan Cooper’s opening keynote at the first Interaction conference, I suddenly realized that I wanted—desperately—to be an interaction designer. At the time, I had been running my own design firm for almost 10 years, doing print and web design for associations, museums, and NGOs. Print work was becoming commoditized and I really couldn’t see myself doing graphic design into my middle age. When I discovered interaction design, I knew that this was it.

The only trouble was, I knew virtually nothing about the discipline and I had no idea how to get that kind of work.

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What does it mean to be a “team player”?

In addition to possessing “excellent written and oral communication skills,” every job applicant for professional work claims to be a “team player.” Probably because every job description demands that you be a team player.

Depending on who you talk to, however, the term “team player” means nothing—or everything.

There seem to be two ways to interpret the phrase. The popular, naïve definition seen on forums and blogs boils down to, “someone who gets along with others.” Business writers, on the other hand, define “team player” by listing dozens of skills and behaviors—from taking the initiative, to communicating effectively, to being reliable, a good listener, and a hard worker with a positive attitude. Given that definition, how is a team player different from an effective employee?

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That’s why they call them “use” cases

There aren’t too many rooms in the house that have more features and functionality than the bathroom. Which is why, rather than wing it, my husband and I decided to hire a design firm to help us plan a renovation. We’re particularly concerned about clearances between the tub and shower and figured we could use professional advice.

Almost the first thing the designer said when he walked into the bathroom was, “It’s too bad the toilet is the first thing you see when you open the door. There’s not much room in here, but we could probably put a frosted glass partition next to it.”

Somehow I managed to keep a straight face.

And this was after he’d already tried to tell us that a giant tile mural on one wall would give the bathroom that “wow factor.” (Dude. You want to wow me in the bathroom? Figure out how to make it self-cleaning.)

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Don’t be lazy—write that cover letter

I’m amazed that many people applying for high-paying professional jobs submit only their bare résumé with no accompanying cover letter. Yes, a cover letter is extra work—hello, that’s the point. Herewith, some tough love on why you need to write a great cover letter if you expect to get a great job.

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If design could speak

Everyone hates filling out timesheets, right? Well, why would you reinforce this prejudice with cramped, unfriendly design when with a small amount of effort and thoughtfulness, you could make the experience easy and pleasant?

Example 1: Unanet

Why does everything have to be so small? This design feels mean-spirited and stingy, and the interactions are equally stilted and user-unfriendly. If this design could speak, it would say, “Get back to work, you powerless cog!”

Unanet screenshot

"Get back to work, you powerless cog!"

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