Tag Archives: ux

Evil Tricks at Work

Evil_Tricks_at_Work.001

First off, I don’t really mean evil. I generally enjoy both my work and coworkers (and clients back in the day), but I find that sometimes it gets monotonous. Every project is different, but after almost 15 years in the business, I find many of my opportunities to improve lie in preventing, managing, and resolving conflict as efficiently as possible. I call these solutions my evil tricks because thy make things so easy that it feels a bit evil.

I decided to share a few, not to show you that I’m some two-faced, devious hack, but because they actually help me enjoy work and perform at my highest level. I’d love to hear your thoughts and tricks.

1. Always Take Time to Plan

Everyone, everywhere is being asked to do a lot. I admit that I used to feel a little martyred by the amount that I was doing and often just reacted to new requests without a lot of though. Jumping right into a deliverable is never the right solution. Never. The likelihood that you’ll do it right is close to zero and you’ll end up wasting an incredible amount of time re-doing and re-thinking. After a few years of being shown this lesson again and again, I finally got it.

This doesn’t mean you have to do several weeks of research before cracking open Keynote for a short presentation. But taking the time to put together an outline in email and checking it with your manager or a team member will get you across the finish line with the fewest stumbles. I can’t stress this enough: Rework sucks! Wasting your time is terrible. And wasting the time of your team (or client, manager, etc.) is unacceptable. Don’t be “that person.”

Part of planning is constraining the scope of your deliverable to the boundaries of the available time and budget. But a common practice of people who are natural planners is to use every available minute working on the deliverable. If it’s due on Friday at noon, planning to work on it until 11:00am leaves out some important steps. Leave time for an internal review, proof reading, and whatever else is necessary in your organization.

For instance, I know my manager is busy and asking him to review my work at the last minute puts him in a tough situation. He certainly wants to make sure his team puts out strong work, but he’s got competing priorities. And it’s not good for me either. I need to make sure that he has enough time to review and that I have enough time to make any adjustments he suggests, discuss anything I don’t agree with, and send it back to him so he has the final copy before delivery.

You’re situation could be different, but having a well-communicated plan for the work that has to happen once you finish your draft is essential to effective, efficient delivery.

2. Create an Estimation Formula

A pet peeve of mine is when I ask someone how long something with take and they have either no idea or say that it will take much less time than I expect. My success and yours is based on how well people trust us to be accountable to the things we say we’ll do. If I tell a coworker that I have no idea how long something will take, how can they possibly plan their work that depends on it? And if I tell them a timeframe that’s too short for me to possibly deliver on (or is based on only the best possible scenario), they are likely to be disappointed. Even if my work is great, it’s late and no one trusts me to delivery.

And it goes beyond you as an individual contributor. Your manager makes promises based on the promises you make her. If you give a bad estimate, you make her look bad and that is something she’ll remember. If you’re a manager, your job to is help your team make better estimates and ask questions if something seems off. But if you’re an individual contributor looking to move up, you need to be self-sufficient when it comes to estimating.

The solutions is certainly not “padding” estimates with extra hours, days, and weeks to simply give yourself breathing room. If it feels like lying, it is lying. You need a formula and to create a great one, you need some data. If you happen to be in an organization that tracks time, the data should be easy to get and you can figure out the average number of hours different size projects take. Breaking that down into the smallest increments possible, say “it takes 8 hours to produce a single wireframe page of average complexity,” really makes your estimates reliable and bolsters your trustworthiness.

You may think that estimate for a wireframe is really high. You can make a wireframe of average complexity in 2 hours, right? Sure, but in that 8 hours are the alternative versions you’ll have to do to show error placement or dynamic states, review meetings, and revision passes. Knowing that and having a formula that includes it takes you from sufficient to sophisticated.

3. Distribute Meeting Notes

As a woman I try to keep from doing things that make me feel like a secretary. I want to be the person driving decisions in a meeting, not passively taking note of what others say. For a long time, I never took notes. My memory was so good that I didn’t need them. And when I started needing notes, I made them only for myself. Terrible strategy.

My training in usability testing helps me understand what people really mean and not just want they say. My recollection of a meeting is generally something like, “we talked about a plan, most of us seemed to agree, there were some minor and major points of contention that were vaguely articulated and left unresolved, and then we ran out of time.” I find when I ask others about they meeting they are never on that same middle ground as me. The people in support of the plan believe the plan is going forward. And the people with the issues believe the plan is not agreed to. And then we spend weeks in the same meeting until we finally get a breakthrough which is likely due more to exhaustion that agreement.

I’m not sure if most meeting attendees only hear what they want to hear, are bullying others into submission, being passive aggressive, or simply not paying attention. Probably all of the above at one point or another. All I know is that I seem to have a better than average grasp on the the unresolved issues. And rather than just sitting back and waiting for someone else to take responsibility for the issues, I try to document my take on the meeting and distribute it to attendees.

I’m not some selflessly perfect employee. I care about the success of my projects, but I try to take my emotion off the table (see 10.) My reasons for doing this are actually quite self-serving. I hate deja-vu meetings where everyone is finally coming to a realization I had weeks ago. I hate the back-channeling that has to happen between meetings to get everyone’s version of events into the light of date. I just hate all the inefficiency.

And no one assigned me the task or even gave me permission. I use the implied permission of being invited to the meeting to send out a quick recap. I list issues, decisions, and actions and send those out as immediately after the meeting as possible. I’m sure they aren’t always read, but my version of the meeting is at least on the official record and I can point people to them to start resolving issues and getting things done. It also helps me pay close attention instead of reading email… also an important benefit.

4. Assume a “Yes” in Emails

I think I read this in an article someone posted on LinkedIn. Unlike 1-3 which I saw modeled for me by one of my best bosses ever, this was something I never noticed anyone around me doing (though they probably were.) The idea is to assume that the recipient wants to do what you want them to do. You state your request. Take a breath. Imagine they said yes. State the next step. And thank them.

Seem presumptuous? Maybe. But that can always write back and tell you no, but they probably won’t. They’ll probably appreciate your clear, short, positive communication style and silently thank you for not wasting their time with a back and fourth email chain.

So in practice it’s: 

Sally, 
We’d love to have your feedback on our documentation. Jane is going to start copying you on drafts and incorporating your feedback into her deliverables. 

Thanks!
Emily

Instead of:

Sally, 
I’m hoping you can help us out with some of our documentation reviews. Do you think it would be possible for you to comment on Jane’s drafts? If so, I’ll ask her to copy you. We’d really appreciate your feedback and Jane could really benefit from your strong eye for detail.

Thanks!
Emily

And:

Emily, 
I’d really like to help, but I have a lot going on at the moment. For starters, I receive nearly 100 emails a day that I have to read and respond to. Please ask Jane to copy me, but I made need to ask Bob to help out as well. 

Thanks, 
Sally

And of course:

Sally, 
That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for your flexibility. Why don’t I set up a meeting with the four of us to discuss the project timing and needs so we’re all on the same page. 

Thanks, 
Emily

There are some caveats. First, never make it seem like a command. In my first made up example, Jane could always reply that she’s too busy and I try to leave room for that. The fact that she’d have to type that in an email and send it to me is the same whether I assume yes or not, it just saves her (and me) the follow up emails. Second, don’t be a bully. If you don’t think the recipient will want to the thing you’re asking, you’ve got to sell your request a bit more. What’s in it for them? Why are they your only hope? How will you make it up to them? Etc. Third, if it’s a big request and/or you know the person will want to do what you’re asking, maybe you shouldn’t ask over email. Just think through the objections and have a call or face to face instead.

5. Say “No” Sometimes

So, in the last section I said that Sally could just say no, right? But Sally, unlike you or, ahem, me, has a problem saying no. In fact, she thinks she’s saying no, but other people don’t take no for an answer. She feels like things are always piling up and she can’t ever focus on long-term goals. Sound familiar? Of course not.

Sally has two choices: live in hell forever or figure out why other people get to say no and she doesn’t. It’s a long road full of introspection, successes, and failures, but it is worth the trip. Everyone has to do things they don’t want to do, but no one should resign themselves to living that way all the time.

What helped me with this was having lots of recruiters email me about jobs. They weren’t necessarily jobs I wanted, but they were routine enough for me to feel more fearless. We’ve lived through rough economic times and getting fired is horrible even in the best economy. Fear of being seen as “not a team player” held me back for a long time. So, with the fear removed, I started practicing saying no.

It’s hard. You can’t just say you’re busy — everyone is busy. You can’t ask your boss to pick your priorities for you (unless you want to be where you are forever), but you do have to prioritize. And you simply cannot waffle between yes and no or you’ll lose credibility. Saying no is an evil trick that relies on you having a lot of the other tricks mastered.

To say no, people have to trust you. You have to be delivering on your commitments routinely so no one questions your commitment or work ethic.

You also need to be able to show what your priorities are where you are in terms of your currently planned work. After you clearly say no, state the tradeoffs. The no has to benefit the organization more than saying yes and you have to communicate that.

And if your no never works, think about leaving. Even if you don’t take a job right away, the feeling of being valued and desirable by another organization might help you feel more confident. And that can be magic.

6. Put Meetings on the Calendar

Whining about your calendar is so over. I’ve been a fairly booked up person for as long as I can remember and you just have to find the Zen in it. But just like confidence might be the magic ingredient for successfully saying no, control over meeting times helps with the whole Zen calendar thing.

Most of the meetings on my calendar are things I put there. Whether they are holding spots for me to do actual sit-down-and-focus work or conversations with other people, I am generally the person to blame. This helps me on so many levels.

First, I don’t feel trapped by others. The minute someone starts talking about getting together, I offer to set up the appointment. This puts me in control of the time, location, and allows me to factor in any time I need to prep or move things around to accommodate it. No one is going to take my needs into consideration more than me.

Second, I can’t add other people, reschedule, or cancel without having to ask someone else. Sure it means I get the “can you please add Sally” or “can we do 3pm instead of 4” emails, but I’d much rather deal with those than have to ask and wait for someone else. Control freak? You bet.

Third, I’m proactive about getting things on the calendar. Since I don’t want someone else to do it, I make a point of getting things scheduled quickly. I hate it when I ask for a status on someone and I’m told, “well, Sally said she’d set up a meeting but I haven’t seen the invite yet, I’ll ping her and see what’s up.” So much inefficiency. Why wait for Sally? Why let her inefficiency make you look inefficient? Just put the damn meeting on the schedule.

Last, I get to have time for “real work.” Back at UPS, they used to have management classes all about using a day planner. That was out by my time, but the behavior that stuck was using the calendar to create time for work. So, I often schedule an hour or two a day that allows me to get a big block of work done.  Sometimes I have to move it, but again, I’m in control of what that trade off is and can plan around it.

7. Choose One Person a Day to be Extra Nice To

This is not a “how to win friends and influence people,” kind of thing. It’s self-serving, but not because I want other people to owe me one. It’s really just a way I’ve tried to incorporate my philosophy in life to my work life. That is, “Life is tough and people should be nicer.”

And I don’t necessarily get this done every day, but I do look for opportunities. Sometimes, it means listening to a coworker about a problem I can’t solve, but can just empathize about. Sometimes, it’s sending a nice note to someone thanking them for their work. Sometimes, it’s actually doing some unplanned work to help someone else with theirs. Whatever it is, I make an effort to be nice.

It can feel forced at first, but the more you do it, the more normal it becomes. I know doing these things doesn’t mean I great person, but I do hope every one in a while someone else’s day is made a little brighter.

8. Provide Status Updates Before You’re Asked

If you’re a project manager, you have routine status reports and know the value of this. What you want is to be showing progress and preventing countless questions from countless stakeholders all trying to get a handle on what’s going on. You also want to make sure that you know where you stand at regular intervals.

There rest of us have a lot to learn from project managers. The very worst thing in the world is to be asked the status of something and not know. It happens, of course, because you’re busy working and not tracking your work to your plan everyday. But the message it sends is that you don’t understand the larger organizational picture and how you fit into it.

When we get a status request from our boss, we generally grumble and stop what we’re working on to get it done. The general feeling of people is, “I can’t possibly get all my work done and do all these status reports.” (So factor that into your estimate.) Your boss is probably asking because someone is asking her or she thinks someone might ask her soon and doesn’t want to have no answer.

Why wait for that? If your organization doesn’t mandate a format, choose one that’s low effort (like exporting a To Do list from a productivity app) and commit (on your calendar) to doing to at regular intervals. At the very least, if you’ve recently crossed a major milestone, send out a communication about it so you don’t get lots and lots of emails asking for a status.

Unless you have to, don’t commit to a schedule that’s too frequent for you to comfortably keep up. Simply try to anticipate the needs of your manager and colleagues and address them without them asking.

9. Remove Your Emotion From Your Communication

I used to be a product/project manager (surprise, surprise!) in addition to an interaction designer. While I loved the control it gave me, it’s also a job filled with stress, broken promises, and having to take the fall for other peoples’ failings. From the outside observer, I appeared good at it, but I will admit that I was a mess of anger and anxiety.

Despite my love – hate relationship with the job itself, I knew it was a great learning opportunity. And the primary lesson was that my feelings came out in my communications with others – even email – and if they were negative, they negatively impacted my team.

And, of course, this one still bites me from time to time. We’re emotional animals and sometimes we get fired up. The big picture of your emotional state is what really affects people. Some thing to avoid are:

  • Getting so wrapped up in an issue or project emotionally that you can’t focus on anything else (and are visibly distracted in meetings, etc.)
  • Sending long, scrawling emails at the wee hours of the morning showing that you aren’t able to relax and let it go — even at home.
  • Replying all in an email thread in order to call attention to someone’s shortcomings instead of addressing and individual directly.
  • Running around like your hair’s on fire and snapping at others who aren’t as emotionally infected in the issue.
  • Repeatedly pointing out that people are going to need to be more committed or work more hours to meet your expectations instead of motivating them to do so on their own.
  • Telling people how busy you are all.the.time.

Being too cool and calm all the time is not good either. You shouldn’t seem impervious to the problems that naturally arise at work, but you should be able to rise above them. Or at the very least, appear to do so.

10. Use Your Superpower in Negotiations

I’ve seen good negotiators and I’ve seen bad negotiators. But mainly, I’ve seen really bad negotiators who think they’re good. And those people have typically been the ones to offer me advice over the years. I’ve taken their input with a whole shaker of salt, but I’ve also done my best to learn along the way.

I took a few management and organizational theory and communication classes back in school, so I’ve always known the basic tenet that a successful negotiation means both sides win. But, in real life, I find that most people go into a negotiation unwilling to give up anything and expecting the other side to cave. If that works for you, congratulations, you’re an asshole. And no matter how successful you get, that will always be true.

My discipline requires that I’m able to understand and address people’s needs using a variety of research methods. One of my favorite is the one-on-one interview. And often I get people to tell me things they shouldn’t and later don’t even remember telling me. I’m not doing it maliciously, but I am able to get people talking.

So, when I realized that I needed to be a better negotiator, I  naturally used that skill. Not to dig up dirt, but to truly understand what the issues and concerns of the other party are. This doesn’t necessarily work with complete strangers (or car dealers), but with people I already have a working relationship with, I find this to be the best strategy.

Once I understand the other side, I share mine. I try to make it as unemotional as possible, but I do try to explain what I need to walk away with meet my objectives. After a few, “What if we tried,” or “Could we move a few dates,” I can usually find the common ground.

This honest approach doesn’t always make my manager happy. Generally, I think people above me want me to be a bit more ruthless and force my point of view onto others. I have no problem selling an idea I believe in and engaging in arguments of fact in order to get change someone’s mind. But I won’t ignore the other side completely.

I could never be happy doing that, so I’ve adapted a negotiating style that’s successful without compromising my values.

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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.