UX research: The future of good business

Something very dear to me, as I saw in my past experiences, that everytime you have the chance to perform some User Research, you bring home loads of new insights that can be translated into new requirements for product development.

“When user research is done well — i.e. thoroughly, and right at the beginning of the design process — the business impact is huge. It essentially means the difference between getting it right from the start or having to go back and fix your mistakes when you realise that, actually, the product you’ve designed doesn’t resonate with your audience.”

Read more here: The Rise of the UX Researcher

What do you look for in a Senior UX Designer?

I had a chat the other day about this topic, and that lead me to write down a few ideas I have about this topic. What to look for on a Senior UX Designer?… here’s a few things that pop up immediately:

  • Systems Thinking – understanding the how and why things work one way in society, organizations or technology is paramount to influence change on the right people at the right time
  • Change Management – Launching a new awesome app is just not enough if that’s not accompanied by proper communication and engaging strategies
  • Performing User Research and being a great observer, identifying patterns of behavior out of data and human observation.
  • Be able to establish analogies across different industries and apply best practices. “What have others figure out, that we haven’t?”
  • Practice evidence lead Design. Don’t follow assumptions, but instead validate them and change ideas/believes quickly about what he/she thinks is the best solution.
  • Visual Design or Art Direction, because in the end of the day the touchpoints of a system are mostly a visual interface.
  • Communication skills because presenting solutions to a problem must be compelling and simple to everyone to understand. While asking the right questions, to go deep into the origin of problems.

My thoughts about Google Inbox


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A friend of mine told me about Google’s new app, Inbox, and since I’m a designer, he would like to hear my opinion. This is my answer to him.

First thing I have to say, is that Google made a good decision by creating a separate product, instead of forcing a new set of features to the Gmail users.

After a few days using the app on my iPhone, here’s my initial thoughts:

  • It’s a mix of email inbox, a to-do list and a calendar, and I prefer to keep all those things separated. Because they are actually different things, I prefer to deal with them separately.
  • It’s an effort to try to put some order on the daily email clutter, assuming people don’t want to see all the emails (even if they are commercial messages, brand spam, etc). From time to time I like to give a look on the latest Groupon offers.
  • Creates bundles of emails by similar content, but so far I haven’t understood what is the criteria to do this. I would stick only to “subject”.
  • The iPhone app interface displays less messages on one screen, compared to the Gmail app for the same device. I prefer to see more messages on one glance.

Do I need another layer of “interpretation” of data between me and my mail box?

The best email interface innovation in the past years was introduced with the simple and genius grouping concept of email messages introduced on Gmail:

  • “important and unread”,
  • “starred”,
  • and “everything else”

This 3 groupings displayed in the same page, are more than enough for me and that’s about as far as I would go in terms of layers of interpretation of data between the user and the emails.

It’s always a challenge to “play” with people’s perceptions built over so many years, like the email. And the email concept comes from the actual physical mail that’s still around us, and will be for many years.

On the other hand I can understand that Google as a global giant in the internet services and with great teams of designers put together, has the pressure, the budget, the people and the media coverage to put new services outside. So, in that sense, bravo Google, for trying to re-imagine the future of internet services.

For now I’ll continue with Gmail, but paying attention to further developments.

In car touch interfaces

I must say that it scares me a bit to see the latest trends in car dashboards become dominated by big touch screens. Driving a car requires a great ammount of focus from the driver, one shouldn’t be able to perform other tasks on a touch screen, (e.g. to control car features as AC, air vents, etc.)

Physical buttons, nobs and switches are still the best way to interact with a car as it allows the driver to reach to the control with just a minor glance sometimes. And I hope that in the future the luxury will be to have “analog” interfaces.

Recently I came across a study performed by The Foundation for Traffic Safety in the US, about the levels of distraction of a driver on normal tasks in a car. What caught my attention?

  • A simple task like adjusting the radio produces the double of distraction as during normal driving.
  • And using Siri interface produces the highest distraction level on this comparison.

AAA2

I would like to better clarify this last point with the authors, as Siri is a voice interface I wouldn’t expect that level of distraction.

Anyway, imagine now these tasks done on an interface like the one on Tesla Model S:

I’m surprised I haven’t seen many news on car accidents because of Tesla’s big touch screen. I never drove a Tesla, but it would be interesting to have a deeper insight on the driving experience of this car. Maybe I’m wrong.

How can this problem be solved through technology?

For car manufacturers is less expensive to put all the car controls in a touch screen than mounting all in different nobs and switches. But as this solution created challenges for the users, technology can also solve it. How?

  1. Head-up displays and virtual windscreens (like the one from Jaguar on the video below)
    • The interfaces are better integrated in the overall driving experience, as they allow the user to keep his eyes on the road more easily
  2. Well designed touch interfaces, based on user research
  3. Through automated driving technologies, allowing the driver to safely abandon the steering wheel and assuming a more super visioning position.

1. Virtual windscreens and head-up displays

The Jaguar Virtual Windscreen concept seems a carefully designed interface with a bit of “gamification” as it is inspired by car video games and in line with the sporty soul of the brand. We still need to see the final execution of this interface, but if done seamlessly on the windscreen it might be interesting.

On the other hand, the BMW head up display is a type of solution that seems more intrusive to the driving experience, compared to the Jaguar interface, but still a good help to keep the drivers eyes on the road.

2. Better Touch screen UI’s

One of the biggest issues with a touch screen like Tesla’s, is the fact that the UI (although touch) still provides small buttons in a fixed position (why would I want that if I have a 17 inch touch screen, right?), this guy here made a concept that shows the path to solve that:

3. Automated Driving

Daimler AG just presented a few months ago, is automated driving concept for trucks. Watch the video, where the driver leaves the steering wheel and is able to perform other tasks while the truck drives itself.

So in conclusion, I think that touch interfaces that simply replicate the look and feel of normal buttons and switches, is a passing trend. It’s the result of a specific area of interaction design that doesn’t have enough research done. But it seems already very obvious that interfaces will need to be much better integrated (giving the driver just the essential info or allowing to explore more features, depending on the different moments of the driving experience) with the drivers life on board a car. And ultimately with the help of automated driving technologies, it will be much safer to use any kind of interfaces.

Grassroots Innovation products = a rich set of requirements

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with insomnia, and when that happens, the best you can do is to make that time productive (and spend the day after, drinking coffee), right?  … So, I wrote this post.

In UX there’s a fair amount of projects which goal is to redesign applications that were developed during years, (if not decades) by internal teams. The focus of these teams is on features and not on the User friendliness of the tool.

The end result after years of development is translated in to a set of unorganized interaction patterns. But the tool somehow works, because it was intended for a specific audience.

Grassroots Innovation

India is known for the jugaad kind of innovation, something developed in a very frugal way with cheap and easily accessible resources. I thank the Indians for giving us, their attitude of bending the rules with simple fixes and work-arounds, I simply love that.

The web is flooded with pictures of funny solutions (specially of transportations means) that “express a need to do what needs to be done, without regard to what is conventionally supposed to be possible”.

Make the tool accessible to bigger audiences

But what if one has to industrialize it for production, to be used by many people (besides the one who created it), to respect legislation and good practices? Some redesign has to be made, of course, the kind of redesign that I wrote above.

jugaad-innovation

When I’m invited to redesign a tool that is a result of this “Jugaad” attitude, there’s something really important to keep in mind: what you have in front of you is “only” a very good list of requirements, but is our goal as Designers to make that product accessible to a wider group of users:

  • by giving consistency through a set of known interaction patterns,
  • by making design decisions that are aligned with the development constrains and the business needs,
  • by respecting legislations.

So our job is, most of the times, “just” to bring order to users life’s.

Design Thinking in a nutshell

A few years ago I had the chance to have a training on Service Design with Arne from Design Thinkers, while I was still working for Novabase Consulting and based in Lisbon. Novabase was at that point starting to embrace these methodologies internaly to provide better advise to clients.

Just take 5 minutes of your time to hear some insights about how DT and Service Design methodologies can help create value for companies and customers.

“What do you Want?”

First rule about User Research: Never ask, “What do you Want?”; Second rule about User Research: Never ask, “What do you Want?; Third rule about User Research: … Well, you see where this goes, right?

I found this interesting article that puts this idea in a nutshell, and provides a good alternative. You better ask this in your next conversation with users:

  • What are you trying to get done? Why?
  • How do you currently do this?
  • What could be better about how you do this?

 

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Source: https://medium.com/user-research/never-ask-what-they-want-3-better-questions-to-ask-in-user-interviews-aeddd2a2101e

Doing the good, can hurt – Apple and UX good practices

Doing the good deed to users? or basic UX mistake from Apple?… “Don’t give me what I didn’t ask” some might say. And they are right.
Others where probably happy to have a small gift from Apple. It’s debatable.

Apple went too far on trying to please the clients, for me it’s fine, I’ll just delete the files if I don’t want them.
But in a time when digital surveillance is a hot topic, Apple should be carefull on how they enter on client’s personal cloud services.

If in doubt, always stick to proven good practices. And from a UX point of view, it would be a better decision not to do it in the first place, or do it in a different way like sending an email with a link to download the files. That way the user as the final choice.

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UX metaphor

Because I always find it difficult to explain to someone what I do, I found this picture to be a very good starting point of a conversation about the topic.
UX approach to solving design problems is one that goes top down from conceptual ideas (UX Strategy) to very specific design solutions (Interaction Design), in that sense our field needs powerfull memes like this one to help evangelize the field.

On the other hand when one is very much involved with IT development teams (like me for the past months) and the discussion is between “out of the box solutions” versus custom development, this image also helps explain the idea to developers and business.

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Contextual Inquiry

“The core premise of Contextual Inquiry is very
simple: go where the customer works, observe
the customer as he or she works, and talk to
the customer about the work. Do that, and you
can’t help but gain a better understanding of
your customer. ”

Beyer and Holtzblatt, Contextual Design, 1998

Why companies need to gather good requirements

Business-requirements
It’s common knowledge that companies throw small fortunes on IT development in the trash, without ever seeing a proper return on that investment. The numbers are public and speak for themselves.

This is one of the major concerns of decision makers who either buy software development externally or develop it internally. They are becoming aware of the need to implement a common framework for evaluating IT projects. This can be done by adopting common methodologies to gather requirements early in the projects. Keeping track of requirements from the source to the final output is the only way to control the money spent on IT.

But one thing is sure, integrating only Business and Technology requirements is not enough, if most of the time the requirements are based on assumptions and extrapolations. That’s where we, UX specialists, can help companies by also integrating requirements from the User perspective. Involving the users right from the start increases the chance of success for the IT development process:

  • Because the Business frequently has many misconceptions about what the user want;
  • Because this process brings final users on board, making them also “accountable” for the result;
  • And because some of the key users can become “evangelists” among their peers when it comes to adopting the new tool.

How can UX fit into Requirements Engineering?
Requirements gathering lead by Business Analysts often turns out to be a succession of (endless?) meetings with business teams. A group of people sit together during several hours and try to explain to analysts the way they work, what would they like to have in the future, and so on. What happens normally is that a lot of assumptions and extrapolations are made in these sessions. Assumptions about what final users want and how they really work. And this is a normal phenomenon as IT professionals working in house gain years of experience in their fields, they also lose some fresh perspective on their business and on their end users.

So, the work of the UX specialist is basically to “validate” all these assumptions (rather than “discover”) against real world scenarios. In the process you can be sure that many requirements will be dropped, others will be changed, and new ones will be uncovered.
Our aim, as UX specialists, is to design correct usable things, (rather than wrong usable things) and a big part of this is achieved by conducting correct user requirements gathering (commonly known as User Research) by applying the correct research tools to each project. These can include Contextual Inquiries, Field Studies, Cultural Probes, Focus Groups, etc, depending on time, budget, scope and availability of people. Different approaches require different resources.

In conclusion, the sooner a project is correctly aligned with the real user needs, and the requirements are traced from the beginning to the end of all projects, the higher the chances are of having a good return on the money invested in software development.

Is your value proposition easy to understand?

Frog design presents us with this nice short video that mixes two of my great passions: Experience Design and… Cars 🙂

So, they ask us a very simple question: Is your value proposition easy to understand to the client?

In a world of interconnected objects, ecosystems of products and so on, it’s hard for a common citizen to put in words what does he/she actually likes in an iPhone… But if you ask someone why does he/she likes to drive a vintage sports car… well, you might end up having a 3 hours chat on the subject.

So, the challenge for us, Designers, is to SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY services and objects.

The Swiss army knife metaphor

The ones who know me, have heard me use the Swiss Army knife metaphor several times… here’s why 🙂

“Metaphors are powerful because brains are visual, we learn by association, naturally chunk information, process visuals more quickly, understand through stories and find delight in the unexpected. Choose metaphors that are (mostly) timeless, universally recognised, and supporting the message. For inspiration, look at nature (e.g. roots, caterpillar), toys (e.g. lego bricks, puzzles) or familiar/nostalgic objects (swiss army knife, stool, hourglass).
Turning words into metaphors is challenging, but worth the effort. Good concept models need to be refined, and moved through different fidelities (from pen-and-paper sketch to digital diagram to graphically designed version).”

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Link: http://johnnyholland.org/2010/05/ux-london-report-day-3/