Category Archives: Design

Tools Not Included

While working on my presentation for Mobile Camp Chicago 2013, I’ve talked to fellow user experience pros about mobile user research. After multiple stories that involved everyone doing their best MacGyver impression to capture usability feedback, I got fed up. Why aren’t usability testing tools part of operating systems? Think about it. We know that the best solutions are created when the people who create them watch real people trying to use what they are building. OS creators have a vested interest in providing the best platform that delivers the best experience. So give the people who build the things people use on your machines the tools to do this easily.

Microsoft, Apple, Google, everybody listen up. Here’s my feature request: An integrated, standardized tool to screencast, with audio while recording.While you’re at it, please capture clicks and gestures. Throw in the ability to capture the user’s face with the camera at the same time. And make it a part of the operating system. For every device.

The world of UX will write you love letters and you will have the best, most usable software for your customers. It seems so obvious. Let’s do this.




Woman with megaphone

Digital Ignorance is Not Bliss

Time to get real. The web is no longer a teenager. We live in the digital age. If you have a job building the digital world, it’s past time you learn how a web site works and how it is made. The time when a marketing strategist could get by saying “I’m a print guy. I don’t get that web stuff.” is beyond over. Web, mobile, print, TV, they all work together creating seamless experiences. Or at least that’s what your audience expects of your brand. Throwing up your hands in ignorance of one channel does not amplify your brilliance in those you claim to understand.

Woman with megaphone


At the risk of breaking into a rant I’ll speak plainly. I get it that you are a gifted graphic designer. Really, your shit is beautiful. Photoshop is an extension of your physical being. The problem is Photoshop is not your medium. Designing for digital means that screens, pixels, browsers and apps are your media. If you want to design awesomeness, you need to learn how to best exploit their attributes like a painter understands paint and canvas.

Myopically focusing on your pixels handicaps the teams who build what you imagine. You are limiting your own pool of ideas; limiting your usefulness in a world of collaborators. You are the lab partner that no one wants because you don’t do your share of the work. Pleading ignorance of the web is no longer acceptable for those designing for it. It is merely and indication of your lack of dedication to your craft. Don’t be that guy.

The web grew primarily through the spirit of those building on each others shared work (open source). Networks of self-motivated individuals figuring out what we can make this internet thing do. Self teaching is still the primary method of education among digital professionals. No one gets to stand off to the side refusing to learn and keeps a seat at the table. Everyone around you is learning as fast as they can. You need put on your big girl pants and step up.

You don’t need to become an expert developer. You DO need to understand the foundation of how the internet works. Understand HTML5, how data gets in and out of a web page, and how all of those computers talk to each other.

I’ll up the stakes just a bit more. If you have anything to do with strategy, marketing or user experience please for-the-love-of-Pete start participating in social networks. This is a major part of how brands are connecting with people. You need to understand how Facebook, Twitter, etc. fits into the collective experience. If you can’t empathize with those users, if you don’t understand it, how can you design for it?

Thanks for listening. Now go learn something.

End of rant.

photo credit: hebedesign via photopin cc


Revising UX: Learning from the Lean Startup Movement

As a consultant, I’m always interested in new ways to win interesting engagements. By interesting, I mean the opportunity to do research based design, measure the ROI and perhaps even have a publishable case study. UX designers are consistently plagued with situations that shut the door on research and KPIs. “We can only afford the time and budget for wireframes.” and “If only we would have brought you in at the beginning of the project you could have had more impact.” Are frequently heard when I to dig into a new project. I love Leisa Reichelt’s  great presentation Strategic User Experience at UX Cambridge 2011 discusses the state of typical UX engagements.

Brick Wall

User Experience projects consistently face the same barriers to delivering value.

User Experience has had considerable time to mature as a discipline. Heck, we even have a cryptic acronym with an ‘X’! It’s surprising that we haven’t broken through the roadblocks that we were fighting a decade ago. At the same time, iterative, user centered methodologies like Lean Startup are gaining significant momentum. The message is the same; make informed decisions about your product based on empirical information. From this we can see that the value proposition is not what businesses don’t embrace. It’s the packaging and delivery of that value. The way that UX presents itself to the market is in need of a pivot.

Stephanie Sansoucie and I have been discussing the shared ideals of UX and Lean Startup. Eric Ries doesn’t make much of a mention to user experience even though UX strategy is the core of what he is presenting. Stephanie and I have concluded that it’s time for User Experience to heed its own message and become more accessible to those we work with and serve. How do we do that?

User Experience has centered itself around design activities, always hoping to get the budget and time to do research first. What would happen if our defacto deliverable was research, and design was what got done with copious time and budget? Think about it. The UX resource focuses on doing the research necessary to develop a UX strategy to fulfill the product vision. He ensures that the project team is exposed to the information they need about users in order for the team to make informed interface and workflow choices. What would happen if our primary role was providing that information and we left the bulk of the designing to those with their hands in the code? I have a theory that the world would become more user friendly.

Which produces the better experience? A skilled designer making assumptions about what will work for users based on experience and no data, or developers making design decisions armed with ample information about their users? We have a world full of digital products produced using the former process. I’d like to see us try a new way rather than banging our heads against the same brick walls. I think it will be the first step to finally gaining wide adoption and having a better way to deliver on the promise of UX.