Tag Archives: ia

Experience Design is an Understanding – Help Me With Mine

About this version:


1. Explain what Experience Design is.
2. Describe who is involved in designing experiences.

I don’t think User Experience people own Experience Design — developers, graphic artists, clients create the space we work in and are more than stakeholders.

Getting to knowing the minds of others is classic UX space, but this sort of empathy is also practiced by designers, marketing professionals, and developers. But, simply knowing people and their needs does not create an experience.

How the experience will be built from design phase deliverables to final experience is just as important as People. Of course, the decisions about what technologies to use are complex and rely on an understanding of who the experience will reach and what it’s trying to accomplish for the business.

At the most basic level, without someone to pay the bills, you can’t do much of anything. Whether it’s brand awareness or lead conversion, creation of an experience implies that there is a goal in mind that relates back to that investment.

Where a technology and people interface, you have an audience. If you choose a technology that few use, your audience is smaller. And if you pick a technology that lots of people use, you audience is larger, but perhaps the interactions you’ll be able to design for will be limited.

Where technology and business overlap you have a medium (or maybe a channel). The kind of technology selected for an experience has to suit the audience and the business. The technology that might provide the best experience may be too expensive for the business to invest in. We have to find the balance.

I mean this in it’s largest sense. It could be e-commerce transactions, but discussion is commerce in a social experience.

This is where the technology, people, and business come together for an audience engaging in commerce within a medium. Yes?

The definition of experience seems very cold and unemotional– almost like an e-commerce site’s checkout app. Story warms it up by adding the business’s story (brand), the people’s story (culture) and technology’s story (interaction.)

I feel like I’m getting closer, but please comment away!

Please Note: I put my previous post and versions of the model after the break to try and clean this post up a little for people who might be coming for the first time.  I’d create a new post, but the comments on this one have been so tremendously helpful and insightful that I don’t want to separate them from the updated model.


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What Do We Call Ourselves?

I’ve had 3 titles over the years: information architect, interaction designer, and customer experience architect. Despite the title, I’ve been doing basically the same things: creating siteflows/sitemaps, wireframing, conduction usability evaluations, providing user experience strategy, and communicating with clients and internal teams. There just doesn’t seem to be a great, all encompassing term for this work that doesn’t step on or get confused with the work of others.

Here’s a breakdown of the issues:

Information Architect

First of all, it’s a simile. What we do with information is sort of like creating blueprints for a building. That’s troubling for some and it’s also limiting in that it doesn’t take into account the things like usability evaluation and rich transaction/interaction based elements of the job. Worse, there are also people on the development site of software and web projects with the title Architect. I know this is a problem from needing to hire IAs and getting techical architect resumes.

Verdict: I no longer consider this title to be a good fit for what I do. I think this title is best used by those who are working primarily with large amounts of content that needs to be organized, named, and tagged.

Interaction Designer

I like this one because it does take into account the richer interactions we’re now documenting in our wireframes and siteflows. I’m not just organizing content into pages, I’m creating experiences. But again, this one gets us into trouble because graphic designers don’t consider user experience people to be designers and there is a particular sensitivity to the overlap between interaction designers and interactive designers (those who create the actual interface elements that will be visible to users). It’s getting more and more common, so maybe that will help with some of the resistance from the graphic design community, but again, what about the usability evaluation, heuristic analysis, and other research focused aspects of the job?

Verdict: Unless there is a separate group doing the research portion, you are probably and interaction designer plus a usability analyst.

Customer Experience Architect

I like this because it has the customer/user right up front. And rather than limiting me to the information or interaction design, it expresses looking at the entire experience. Putting customer and experience before architect seems to do a better job explaining what we do — information is such a vague term on its own. One criticism is that you don’t always have “customers” particularly if you’re a government agency or non profit, but to that I’d say that we all have internal and external customers of our work.

Verdict: This seems to capture more of what I do and overlaps with fewer, more established development team roles. I’d like to see it used more.

At the end of the day, it’s the work we do and the value we provide to projects and teams that keeps us all employed. What we call ourselves isn’t as important as ensuring that our deliverables are standard enough to be recognizable and understandable, but are also innovative enough to capture details of projects using the newest technologies. From what I’ve seen, that appears to be happening (or have happened). Now is really the time to think about how we want to brand the profession and what qualities we want to make our central focus.

Giving Feedback: UX Deliverables

I was talking with another experience architect yesterday about how often we get feedback on our deliverables that contradicts either other items in the same feedback document or feedback we received earlier. Sometimes, feedback is so cryptic that we aren’t sure what’s even being requested. It’s frustrating because we want our clients to feel like we’re listening to and acting on their feedback.

Thinking back to previous projects, we found that some processes work better than others. Here are some tips for helping your client (or yourself) give good feedback on UX deliverables.

Use a Feedback Template

What seems to work the best is provide your client with a feedback template. We’ve done this in Excel with success, but don’t always remember to set up the process ahead of time. The idea is to have each page of the wireframes (or section of the sitemap, feature of the prototype, etc.) listed with columns for the requested change, the change requester (so important), priority of the change, and an area for the person receiving the feedback to respond. What’s great is that over the course of the project, you have a full picture of changes that have been made. That way, when someone who has been involved sporadically on a project says, “Why’d you change x?”, you can say, “That change was requested by y on this date.” It also helps to be able to say that feedback you’re getting in a round 2 review contradicts feedback in round 1. You’ll probably still end up making the change, but it helps to show your clients them these instances. Maybe next time they’ll be sure to hear from a senior manager in round 1 instead of waiting. One can dream.

Don’t Tie Feedback to Page Numbers

This happens so many times that you’d think I’d never forget to mention it to clients. Unfortunately, I do. I receive a lot of e-mails that request a change or two on a page referenced only by it’s page number. What makes this problematic is that often you end up re-order, adding, and deleting pages over the course of a project and it can be unclear which page actually needs the change. If you don’t want to spend your time digging up older versions and trying to figure our what pages were numbered before, use a unique reference for each page (or item in a feature and functions list) and never, ever change it. Never.

Consolidate Feedback Before Making Changes

Let’s say you get some feedback in person at a review session and will then be wating a few days before you get your feedback spreadsheet back from the client. Should you make the changes you’re sure about? If you get feedback from some stakeholders ahead of the deadline, should you start revising? Deadlines always make us do crazy things, but the answer should be no. I find that unless something is just so obviously wrong that it must be changed, this leads to a lot of rework. For instance, you might hear that some wording needs to change, so you make a first attempt at changing it. Then, you get one stakeholder telling your it should be something else and then another suggestion for the change. You could end up making the same change 3 times when what you really needed to do was ask the client to look at the two suggestions they gave, look at your recommendation, and tell you their preference. In the long run, time is saved.

Be Explicit About What Kind of Feedback Will Be Implemented and When

I worked with a team within a company I worked for on some translations for an international marketing website. Round after round, we would get more and more changes on text that had previously been reviewed an approved. Unable to read the text myself, I wasn’t sure if the translations were wrong or if the reviewers just didn’t like it. As we got closer to launch, I had to draw a line in the sand. I told them that each requested changed needed to me marked as inaccurate translation or preferred wording. We’d make the translation changes before launch and do a preferred wording fix post launch. This gave reviewers more time to think about exactly what they wanted to say and let us launch on time. In other situations, I’ve had to ask specific reviewers to focus only on items which they are responsible for so that a developer isn’t wasting time commenting on marketing copy that has already been approved by a subject matter expert.

Help the PM Help You

If you are fortunate enough to be working with a PM on a project, let them know how they can help you collect and clarify feedback. You might ask them to take a first pass at consolidating feedback and finding any contradictions. They can also help you push back when the requested change is out of scope or, because it will be the 3rd time you’ve changed the same thing, needs a change order. I find that PMs often aren’t sure how to support UX work, so let them know how you see the process working and where they can help the most. For me, feedback that starts with, “We need to find out, ” or “Is the system able to support…” is clearly for the PM. When you’re on a tight deadline and need to make lots of changes, let the PM get the answers and focus on the things you can do now. Otherwise you might be dragged down a rabbit hole and end up very frustrated at 3 a.m. making mistakes you normally wouldn’t.

Living the Dream: Freelance UX

Hi again. I know it’s been a while since I posted, but some things have changed. I started blogging during a brief period of un-employedness and was able to devote a couple hours each day to reading and writing. It was great. It’s difficult to make time for blogging when you’re working, but I’m going to try harder.

So, what am I doing with the time I used to spend blogging? I’ve started doing freelance/contract user experience work. This is the end of week 2 of 8 on my current contract and so far so good. I work in the office two days a week and from home the other 3. It’s a really good balance for me.

On my work from home days, I get to spend the time I would be commuting and getting ready for work walking and playing in the park with William. My mom watches William during the day (best daycare ever!) and when I’m done I don’t have to face traffic. I just come downstairs, play some more, and then cook dinner. The days I go into the office are a little harder, but it’s good to see the people you work with and get things done in person.

I’ve always wanted to freelance, but never had the courage to set out on my own. A little kick in the butt in the form of being laid off is a good substitute for courage. The Internet made it easier. I posted a status update to Twitter and Facebook and got some great leads right away. I kept an eye out for local opportunities and when I saw a Tweet from a friend about opportunities in her company, I pounced. I’m going to start attending more industry events (I’m a lapsed “joiner”), so I hope to see some of you at Chi-A, IxDA, etc.

I’m cooking up a post about the Real Simple website. I’ll try to get it up soon, but if I don’t do it before Saturday, happy Independence Day!