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Experience Design is an Understanding – Help Me With Mine

About this version:

Goals

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.

People
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.

Technology
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.

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.

Audience
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.

Medium
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.

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

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

Story
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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5 Ways to Make 2010 Better

2009 was not a great year for many. Around the world, economies are in trouble and there are pockets of war and poverty that never seem to get better.

That said, 2009 has turned out to be pretty great to me professionally and to my family. I feel fortunate and hopeful. 2010 is queued up to be a better year and I hope that will mean great things for you.  Or, at the very least, different.

But, to truly enjoy the opportunity that a new year brings, we should change the way we should do enter it with a fresh perspective. Here are some ways to do that.

1. Question

I grew up in an environment where questioning what was true and real (vs. superstition, religion, custom) was encouraged and it’s a big part of my life. In my work life, I’ve often found an answer I like and never asked the question again.  Understanding the limits of certain technologies is important, but so is reexamining what is possible. What couldn’t be done in 1999 is commonplace in 2009. To be innovators, we have to question our assumptions and our limits constantly.

And when you ask questions, make sure you listen to the answers. Pay attention to the people who try to shut you down quickly without really considering possibilities. You’ll have to work on these people. But, if you’re lucky enough to have people around you who delight in debate and inquiry, you have an environment ripe for innovation and great work. Work with what you have, but make sure you’re bringing and open mind.

2. Adjust

Adjusting your media filters can be a great way to change your perspective. One of the things I plan to do differently is how I consume news. For instance, I’m typically an MSNBC viewer. I find it is where I get the news that is most relevant to people like me. Lately, I’ve been watching CNBC in the morning instead. I don’t consider it to be made for me, but it’s so interesting to see the kind of news that people in the finance industry and big business get. It’s almost like a cultural exchange program. The agency I work for has many clients in the financial industry so it has the added benefit of teaching me more about their customers and business challenges. So, shake it up a little.

3. Write

I started this blog in 2009 and it reaffirmed my belief that the process of writing is important to thinking. Having to synthesize ideas and communicate them in a way others can understand forces you to think harder and find the core of the idea. I often start writing a sentence expecting to say one thing and find I need to pause, think a while longer, and then edit my original idea. Writing for an audience is a great way to not only capture your best ideas, but to have others challenge them.  A post I wrote this year about healthcare turned into an interesting debate on facebook and my understanding of the issue is different as a result.

If you don’t have a blog and aren’t in the market to start one, there are other ways. You can start an idea log or journal. You can write letters to the editors of magazines or newspapers. You can comment on the blogs of others (ahem!). And, if you’re employer has a blog or newsletter, maybe you can contribute to it.

4. Play

Yesterday, someone told me I shouldn’t hold back on being silly. If he knew me better, he probably wouldn’t have said that. I am often very silly. But playing around with new ideas isn’t silly, it’s actually a great way to brainstorm. You’re silliest idea may not be a winner, but who knows where it might lead?

And don’t just play with ideas. Play with things. Have you been to a toy store lately? How about a big electronics store or sporting goods store? There are so many fun, innovative things to try. Play with them and then think about what goes into designing and marketing them. When I do, the world seems like a happier place where good ideas can lead to good things.

5. Move

You need to move to another country. I know that’s probably not an option for most people, but if you get the opportunity, go! Living in a foreign country as a child and then again as working adult has been one of the great privileges of my life. The differences in culture can be astonishing, but the similarities in the human spirit are uplifting. The world would be a better, more peaceful place if we could imagine it from the perspective of others .

So, if you aren’t going to pick up  and move, what can you do? You can visit. Being a tourist in a foreign country is the same as living there, but is still a great experience. But, if traveling isn’t something you’re able to do, you can start by just being aware of what’s happening in other countries.

As an American, I know it’s easy to think about our country as the center of the news universe. Do you think people in other countries feel that way about America? Probably not. Things are happening all over the world and we only seem to notice when they’re bad. Let’s be open to the idea that we’re all connected and understanding how is knowledge worth having.

User Experiences I’m Thankful For

I’ve been thinking about the experiences I have as a user (not a designer) and the ones make my life simpler or better in some way. The trend for me seems to be less separation between my online and offline experiences and that trend seems to be hot right now (hello, augmented reality).  They aren’t perfect, but here are the user experiences I’ve benefited from this year.

 

1. Facebook

I’m connected to old friends and far flung family members on a daily basis. It’s wonderful to share pictures, thoughts, and links with people I know without having to actually make time for it. Picking up the phone (or writing letters) feels impossible most days and I’m so thankful I can check in when it’s convenient.

2. iPhone

Having my e-mail, the web, and my favorite apps with me wherever I go has given me an amazing freedom. In 2008, i I was waiting for an important e-mail, I had to sit at my desk. In 2009, I can be anywhere — the grocery store, the park, the car (not while driving, of course.) I feel much more productive and in control.

3. Runkeeper.com and the RunKeeper Pro App

Running is a new-found joy of mine and Runkeeper puts so much information at my fingertips. During a run, I know how fast I’m running, how far I’ve gone, and get audio cues reminding me to speed up or slow down. After a run, I get a map of where I ran, a calories burned estimate, my splits, elevation and more. And having a single place to see all my runs over time helps me to see my progress and motivates me to keep going.

4. Active.com

This website has its flaws and usability issues, but it seems to be the best way for fitness-based events to collect registration and payment information. All 5 of the 5Ks I’ve signed up for this year have used Active.com. I’m thankful for the convenience of searching for events on their site and the ease with which I can sign up. If each organization used a different platform, the experience would be much more difficult for them and for me.

5. Twitter

My favorite part off Twitter is the sharing of news and information. I follow a variety of new sources, bloggers, and other media people. As a result,  I rarely visit Google Reader anymore. I like the combination of selective filtering (choosing who to follow) and currency (based on what time I am looking at my stream). To me, consuming information this way feels much less overwhelming that RSS feeds.

6. Freshbooks.com

For the first time in my career, I’ve needed to create and send invoices this year. I was a little overwhelmed about how best to do this and went to Google in search of some templates. What I found was a great, free site that makes invoicing so simple. It’s easy to get started and the customer service is great.

Old New Media Still Matters

Last week, I was looking at some social media stats and was struck by how low on the list “use a social networking site” was on the list of online activities. They’ve clearly made rapid gains in the last two years, but still, e-mail, search, e-commerce, e-government– the old new media– are clearly running the show.  I admit, I’ve been drunk with excitement over the business applications of things like Twitter and Facebook, but the data is sobering.

I’m certainly not saying that you should stop focusing on social media. Depending on your audience, social networking may be much higher on the list. And understanding the new opportunities to engage with your audience is important. I just don’t want the excitement of social networking to mean that the best user experience people are drawn away from the key experiences most people are having online.

For instance, I’ve had quite a bit of experience with traditional .com and .gov websites. Lately, I’ve felt like that was sort of a negative. I’ve had much less experience with social networking sites than some of my peers and I’ve been afraid I’d be left behind. But, looking at these statistics helps me to understand how important traditional websites still are. They should and will evolve, but they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

And marketers should think about these numbers too. Clearly search optimization is still one of the most important things you should be doing online. Depending on your target, display advertising on news, weather, and e-mail portals can’t be forgotten. So, while you’re listening and engaging with your audience on Twitter, don’t forget they are a small (albeit engaged) portion of your audience.

Twitter is powerful and has become the way I find and consume a lot of information. It may just be who I choose to follow, but it seems like Twitter users love the service and love to share posts about how great it is. So, if you’re a Twitter user, it feels like everything and everyone that matters online is using it and getting fantastic results. Inversely, anyone not using it (particularly businesses) is missing out on the best thing ever.

Maybe one day, but not yet.

 

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.

New Media Atlanta Organizers: It’s Not Too Late

I’ve been thinking about the situation the organizers of the New Media Atlanta conference are in today. They held an event last Friday that was well run, but criticized broadly for it’s misses in content and format. The use of tool called BackNoise and it’s value, or lack thereof, has been the star of the conversations.

I’m sure the organizers worked hard to put the event together and should be proud of themselves for pulling it off. I’ve never tried to organize something that large and respect those who are up to the challenge. They’ve continued to be engaged in the post-conference twitter stream and I’m glad they are. But what should they do now? What lessons should they learn?

I think companies get into these kinds of situations a lot. A product launch is good but not what you hoped. Or, you’ve made a change to a service that some like and others don’t. How do you energize your fans while admitting you could have done things better? Is it wise to defend yourself against unfair criticism and lies or do you just fuel the fire? Should you care most about your loudest critic, your biggest fan, or everyone in the middle? (A panel weighing in on issues like this would have made New Media Atlanta better.)

I’d love the organizers of New Media Atlanta to continue to show they are listening. I think they need to stay engaged with the conference’s fans and mentioners on Twitter to reinforce the good and build a following for next year’s conference. I’m not sure they should try to answer their critics now. I’d love to debate it, but I feel like the risk of sounding petty or whining isn’t worth it since your biggest critics are going to have a longer, more involved conversion path. So, I think they should wait until the negativity dies down and then do the unexpected– re-open the “In what ways did we suck? ” discussion. Only this time they’d own it.

I think they need to sit down and write a lessons learned whitepaper and offer it for free to the social media community. They should find their biggest critics and interview them. They should look at the various channels (Twitter, BackNoise, blogs, flickr, twitpic, etc.) to see what information was most shared to find out what they did right. There should be success metrics like, “65% of social media mentions during the conference were quotes from speakers” and “BackNoise was used 30% more during Brogran’s talk which 75% of people enjoyed.” Oh, and, “Speakers who used PowerPoint were 600% less popular than those who didn’t.”

They should talk about how their business sees a need to gauge audience preferences ahead of time and use social media to fine tune during next year’s conference. The title could be, “Social Media: Never be Blind-sighted.” It would be awesome and I’d definitely be back next year to see what they learned. Otherwise, I’ll probably pass.

What do you think?