Our learning objectives for the week were:
Explain why UX is important to users and businesses
Determine a 'good' user experience using the principles of UX
Describe the main phases of the design process
Describe an overview of the history of UX
The first week back and our new tutors wanted us to interact with each other, setting us a task to redesign each other's workspace. They also asked us to explain 'Why data is important to users and businesses', and describe the main phases of the design process.
Post 4: Introduction to UX
The topic for discussion this week was Introduction to UX. Our tutors described how the word 'design' could be interpreted as a noun and a verb, presenting quotes from the Co-founder of Mule Design, Mike Monterio.
They went on to describe the intentional and sometimes unintentional results the design process can have. Using Slack as an example of a company that built an internal communication tool for a game 'Glitch', but then pivoting the company to work on Slack instead.
Flickr is the earliest example I can remember where a feature of a product became the main offering. Flickr (Penenberg, 2012) started as a massive multiplayer online role-playing game, 'Neverending'. Users would travel around a digital map, interact with other users and buy, sell and build items. The game included a photo-sharing tool, which became so popular the company decided to leverage its popularity and pivot to Flickr.
Our tutors used the Slack example to remind us of the importance of user feedback. How, regardless of our best intentions, user behaviour will always determine the success of our product. This is true in some respect, but the user goals need to align with business priorities. It may be easy to pivot as a small company, but it is far more difficult for larger ones. Larger companies tend to adopt horizontal integration strategies such as acquiring the competition to meet the need. Consider Facebook and Oculus (Facebook Newsroom, 2014) or create new products or services to do the same, like Facebook Watch (Facebook Newsroom, 2017).
Companies like Facebook spend millions trying to meet the user's needs by building new features and products. Still, they also try to maintain the balance as not to disrupt the overarching business model, which made them successful in the first place.
For instance, Fab was a social media site for gay men called Fabulis(Shontell, 2015). Struggling to grow its core user base of 150,000 users, co-founders, Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer decided to pivot. The data collected from existing users indicated a gap in the market for a 'daily flash sales' product, and they rebranded as Fab.
Jason Goldberg at his desk in Fab's 330 W. 38th St. headquarters in Manhattan in 2011. Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
The pivot was an immediate success, growing its user base into the millions, and in 2011, the company was valued at over $1 billion and generating $200,000 per day. The pivot, while lucrative, did not suit consumer needs in the long-term. They tried to pivot again four months later, hoping for a similar boost to their business — this time, into a designer alternative to Amazon and IKEA home. But that pivot failed, and the product has now disappeared.
UX vs. CX
The next part of the lecture went on to talk about how user experience is essentially 'everything' that the user will experience (Norman and Nielsen, 2019). I have to disagree with this definition as it is one coined before the Internet of Things (Burgess, 2017). While this definition of User Experience (UX) is pulled from Nielsen Norman Group (highly reputable), it is incredibly outdated.
While NN/g has evolved the definition in other papers (Salazar, 2019), they have not updated the original definition, confusing newer practitioners and educators.
NN/g have over complicated the definition by creating three different levels:
The single-interaction level, which reflects the experience the person has using a single device to perform a specific task
The journey level, which captures the person's experience as she works to accomplish a goal (possibly using multiple interaction channels or devices to do so)
The relationship level, referring to all the interactions between the person and the company throughout the life of the customer relationship
Salazar, K. (2019). User Experience vs. Customer Experience: What’s the difference?
The basic definition I prefer to follow, with my teams, peers and the businesses I interact with is this.
UX is how someone completes tasks within an individual product. i.e. The individual experience of finding, selecting and purchasing a product with the Argos iOS app.
CX is how multiple experiences connect to complete tasks. i.e. The individual experience of finding, selecting and purchasing a product with the Argos iOS app and how the customer is treated when going to the physical store and interacting with a company to collect the item.
The combined 'Customer Experience (CX)' creating value for the business as an end-to-end experience. As philosopher Aristotle puts it, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".
"UX" and "CX" do not mean the same thing, so it is best to simplify it's articulation to the generation of designs that come after us. We must be aware that a UX practitioner's job is to think holistically about what we're designing and how the interactions 'fit' (without friction) into our users' lives.
Facebook Newsroom (2014). Facebook to Acquire Oculus. [online] Facebook Media. Available at: https://about.fb.com/news/2014/03/facebook-to-acquire-oculus/.
Facebook Newsroom (2017). Introducing Watch and Shows on Facebook. [online] Facebook Media. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/formedia/blog/introducing-watch-and-shows-on-facebook [Accessed 1 Mar. 2021].
Norman, D. and Nielsen, J. (2019). The Definition of User Experience (UX). [online] Nielsen Norman Group. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience/.
Penenberg, A.L. (2012). How Flickr Made It To The Next Level. [online] Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/1835525/how-flickr-made-it-next-level [Accessed 1 Mar. 2021].
Salazar, K. (2019). User Experience vs. Customer Experience: What’s the difference? [online] Nielsen Norman Group. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ux-vs-cx/.
Shontell, A. (2015). THE TECH “TITANIC”: How red-hot startup Fab raised $330 million and then went bust. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-billion-dollar-startup-fab-died-2015-2 [Accessed 1 Mar. 2021].
Post 3: Process
Photo: Marcelo Leal/Unsplash
Whenever I think about ‘process’, I always think about all the places I’ve worked and why I left. Usually, I’ve left because there’s been no agreed way of working, no formal briefing process or capable leadership.
The creative industries seem to have some of the worst practices. Long hours, rushed work, and at times its general chaos. We've all been there, the budget is too small, the timeline is too aggressive, and you have a cacophony of voices asking for unachievable deliverables. Too often, the root cause is terrible scoping and lack of process.
I know what some of you are thinking; creativity is not a linear process. Creative people want total freedom, the room to play, push boundaries and reject constrictive briefs. The truth is that creative people want boundaries. We're always asking for boundaries. Who are our customers? What are we delivering? What is the story we're trying to tell? What does this product do?
Boundaries allow us to focus on what is important to the user, create context, and build desirability into our products. But I’ll cover desirability in another post.
So what’s my process?
My process is distilled from years of professional practice. It’s efficient, repeatable, scalable and consistent. Consistency is what sets amateur and professional businesses apart. As Steven Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art (Pressfield, 2012, p.80), "The professional is acutely aware of the intangibles that go into inspiration. Out of respect for them, she lets them work. She grants them their sphere while she concentrates on hers." The creative process can seem a bit mystical, but you can aspire to perfection if you can ensure efficiency and consistency.
Over the years, I’ve picked up techniques from various client engagements, books, and trusted sources like 99u, A List Apart, Medium, Nielsen Norman Group and Interaction Design Foundation. It’s nothing new or unfamiliar, but it does allow me to work in any sector and take on any challenge presented to me.
Step 0 - Frame the problem.
Problems don't just exist; we actively choose the ones to tackle (Zhu, Yang and Hsee, 2018). The easiest way to validate a problem is a stakeholder interview with the project owner, the person that instigated the project.
Over the years, I found the most productive way to run a stakeholder interview is with an alignment canvas. An alignment canvas is divided into five columns. Each column is allocated five minutes, where we talk about the current challenges and ask questions around customers, problems, solutions, measurement, power and plans. This structure comes from the Value Selling Framework and works to ensure we're solving the right issue.
Founded in 1991, the Value Selling Framework focuses on leveraging consumer buying actions and creating a repeatable road map to support it. It nails the basics of qualifying an opportunity, mapping the opportunity to capabilities, asking the right questions and developing a workable closing plan. This approach is used by companies such as IBM, Xerox, Motorola, Siemens and Google.
So the project owner has told us a few things. Should we take their word for it? No. Monologues are not an ideal dataset for testing hypotheses. Most stakeholders frame problems with a level of cognitive bias (Nevicka et al., 2011) and may only articulate a narrow view of the issue.
For example, a telephone company’s project owner might want to reduce complaints by providing self-service channels online—this is one solution. However, after a set of user interviews, customers told us they were not informed of extra charges within their call plans at sign up and subsequently complained when the first bill arrived.
Providing a self-service channel online may reduce the cost of ‘handling’ complaints, but that doesn’t ‘reduce’ the total number of complaints. Better training for sales representatives and clear articulation of call plan charges at sign-up should reduce the number of complaints and fulfil the project owner’s goal—a better solution and one we can only get to by collecting evidence.
Step 1 - Collect evidence.
The most productive way to collect evidence for me is to create a high-level journey map of the route described by the stakeholder. The visualisation of the journey helps me to identify gaps and form a strategy to fill them.
Revealing typical tasks like Competitor analysis, Quantitative research, Qualitative research, and Content analyses.Using our previous example, that would mean:
conducting user interviews with the customers who complained
further stakeholder interviews with complaint handlers
subsequent interviews with the marketing and content teams
a competitor analysis and content audit.
For instance, our customers may have stated that call charges were clearly labelled on competitor websites, and ours did not. Indicating a weakness in our marketing material that we would need to address—requiring a content audit to give us the ability to fix it and connect the dots.
Step 2 - Connect the dots.
The magic happens when we overlay the data, and pull-out causal chains such as 'A led to B' which led to C'. With this evidence, I can usually form hypotheses and confidently devise a product strategy. Pulling together a list of user tasks (jobs to be done), user flows, and information architecture to support these flows. However, having a strategy doesn’t always mean shooting all the shots you get. You need to formulate a plan, which is the next stage in my process.
Step 3 - Formulate a plan.
There’s a difference between strategy and plan, and too often, the terms are used interchangeably. A strategy is an idea or group of concepts used to accomplish a specific goal. Usually, open to adaptation and changed when needed. A plan, on the other hand, serves a definite purpose. Very concrete and doesn’t allow for deviation—most UX teams fall-out with project teams at this stage.UX practitioners are often caught in a balancing act: MVP vs MDP.
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, commonly used by startups and product managers to describe what can be shipped on time and budget.
An MDP stands for Minimum Desirable Product, initially expressed in IDEO’s new product development took-kit (IDEO, n.d.). The idea is that all products ultimately come from an epic struggle between three perspectives: Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability.
Desirability: What makes sense to people and for people?
Feasibility: What is technically possible within the foreseeable future?
Viability: What is likely to become part of a sustainable business model?Often paraphrased in start-ups as:
Desirability, do customers want it?
Feasibility, can we technically build/provide it?
Viability, is it good for business and do we want to do it?
Most clients don't act this way, which is why UX practitioners fall-out at this stage. We’re focused on user needs (which is good), but some of us can’t see the bigger financial or broader business strategy.
For me, a way around this is to map the data gathered to business priorities and create a backlog of features. Prioritising them into a MoSCoW scale. Software development expert, Dai Clegg created the MoSCoW method during his tenure at Oracle. (Dai Clegg and Barker, 1994)
MoSCoW meaning Must Have, Should Have, Could Have and Won't Have.
Product managers and start-ups often use this technique to get buy-in from the whole team, and I found it works, so I pulled it into my process.
The reality of most projects is not everything that can be done at once, so tasks and features require prioritisation. MoSCoW is one approach that allows you to create a roadmap (plan) to deliver all the desired features. This process isn't confined to just one product either, you can make a bunch of products from this process.
Step 4 - Deliver (or translation)
Designers interpret and communicate between context. We now know what users want, what the business wants, and now, we need to translate those thoughts into a product design that meets the needs of both.
My approach here is to sketch out these ideas (wireframe), ensuring the content flow is correct. By content flow, I mean, does the order of information make sense to the user. Does X lead to Y, and did we ensure they get to Z?
Once we’re confident, we can go into visual design, interaction design and plan for development and testing.
Once I deliver a final build, I don't just wash my hands of the project. I suggest to most clients an optimisation and monitoring package that ensures support through the product’s lifecycle. What I’d do is set up a KPI monitoring system that tracks all critical metrics required to measure month-on-month, so incremental improvements can be made.
There are five main categories of marketing KPIs:
Website & traffic metrics
Social media tracking
I won’t go through each of these pieces as I’m not a marketeer, but we’ll use them to create our performance metrics dashboard.
We’d then track revenue generation, profitability, market fit, competitive positioning and end-user experiences. Jakob Nielsen describes a similar approach in an article on Conversion Rates (Nielsen, 2013).
Once we know what to track, we’ll set-up scenarios to see why they’re happening—using tools like Hotjar, Firebase and Google Analytics.
If we need social listening and market analysis, we set-up Hootsuite to track, analyse, and respond to conversations about us on social media. It’s a crucial component of audience research and plays an essential part in overall content strategy.
This phase is repeated until the product strategy changes.
In conclusion, my process is distilled from years of professional practice, and it works for me. It’s nothing new or unfamiliar, but it does allow me to work in any sector and take on any challenge presented to me. It's efficient, repeatable and scalable. I also found this approach allows me to structure my thoughts and define the work more clearly.
Increasing the chances of success, whether I do the work myself, instruct other people to do it or if I need to justify an approach to other teams. But on this occasion, I’ll use it to complete this module’s assignment work myself.
Step 0 - Frame the problem.
Step 1 - Collect evidence.
Step 2 - Connect the dots.
Step 3 - Formulate a plan.
Step 4 - Deliver (or Translation) and then optimise
Hubbard, D.W. 2014. How to measure anything workbook: finding the value of “intangibles” in business. Hoboken: Wiley.
Nielsen, J. 2013. Conversion Rate: Definition as used in UX and web analytics. [online] Nielsen Norman Group. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/conversion-rates/.
Pressfield, S. 2012. The war of art: break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. New York Black Irish Entertainment, p.80.
Zhu, M., Yang, Y. and Hsee, C.K. 2018. The Mere Urgency Effect. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(3), pp.673–690.
Post 2: Why UX is important to users and businesses
UX for a business can be the difference between staying open and shutting down for good.
I recently worked with Aston Barclay, one of the UK's leading auction houses, only rivalled by Manheim Auctions and British Car Auctions (BCA). Aston Barclay primarily remarkets end-of-lease vehicles through wholesale auctions.
Government restrictions forced Aston Barclay to close all brick and mortar locations, and like most businesses (in the first few weeks of lockdown), they looked at their online tools and realised they were not fit for purpose.
Their car sales went from 20,000 per week through physical sales to little under 500 a month through online sales, which meant the digital transformation project, once sitting at the bottom of the backlog, suddenly turned into a genuine, very urgent project.
In isolation, you could immediately jump to the conclusion that COVID-19 had more of an impact on the business than poor UX. In some ways, true, but poor UX highlighted the companies inability to sustain the levels of income inforced by lockdown conditions.
Because the experience was so poor, customers created workarounds. Workarounds like videocall remote car inspections. They would request that logbooks and reports be scanned and tried to cut deals that would be detrimental to Aston Barclay in the long run. Customers knew the business had no better way of operating and tried to take advantage of the situation. These observations forced the hand of the CEO and kick-started the project.
The scope of the work was to:
create a detailed journey map of their digital products
run a set of Qualitative interviews to identify pain-points, and
provide recommendations based on the results
This is a typical way I start most projects: I initially start by collecting evidence and then derive insights for the data.
I make a point about overcoming any cognitive flaws by using ideation techniques like opposite thinking, mind mapping, SCAMPER and Crazy eights.
I'd then make a rational plan and identify the fastest, most efficient path to implementation. Addressing problems and decisions from an analytical standpoint. I found this approach allows me to structure my thoughts and define the work more clearly.
Increasing the chances of success, whether I do the work myself, instruct other people to do it or if I need to justify an approach to other teams.
I spoke with five subject matter experts from within the business to gather feedback. I spent ten minutes talking about the current challenges as a business and asked questions around customers, problems, solutions, measurement, power and plans.
I then conducted a round of qualitative user experience tests with ten individuals. The testing pool consisted of five existing customers, three former customers and two independent testers.
Each user was tested against the same set of scenarios to identify consumer preferences and buying trends that could affect conversion.
The user tests confirmed that users didn't follow linear consumer journeys. That they took advice from friends and used digital tools to do the research independently.
Before lockdown, they would only use online tools like a digital brochure to quickly compare cars and place bids.
The overall tone was that users needed to feel in control, see the inherent value in making a transaction and required a general need to feel good about their decision. This couldn't be done online, and it showed in digital sales.
After conducting the stakeholder interviews, I created a high-level journey map of their digital products. I plotted the various anecdotal stakeholder accounts, customer statements and use cases on a massive chart. Connecting them to the supporting technology, touch-points, governance areas and departments.
Consumer digital maturity in this area was low, and they didn't trust the digital journey provided by Aston Barclay.
I created a research report that contained the following recommendations:
A redesign of the overarching buyer experience
Doing so would make the journey mechanic agnostic. Ultimately people are on the site could then easily buy cars at a fair price rather than engage in a specific way of buying - the design of the site should reflect this.
The creation of a campaign around their transparent return policy
We found an opportunity to stand out from the crowd with a bold plan to overcome the negative perception of online car auctions. A detailed plan would become a significant driver for buyers comparing platforms. Ultimately a lack of confidence prevented people from buying cars online. Bucking the trend would be very powerful, even if it meant a 'warts-and-all' approach to buyers. Suggesting a fair return policy would significantly impact buyer confidence. A 'no quibble' return on collection would obliterate much of the perception that online auctioneers can be quite 'slippery' and that it is hard to get out of a sale when a vehicle has been described inaccurately in the eyes of the buyer.
After we delivered the report, we laid plans on what to do after, such as wireframes, designs (Choudhury, 2020a), further studies or 'Design Sprints' (Choudhury, 2020b). Strongly advising the urgent fixes be addressed as they presented significant obstacles to buyers purchasing vehicles through the platform.
Users are fickle and show no loyalty. A study conducted by Yang, Chiang and Lin (2018), found that Customer Satisfaction has an intermediary effect between Service Quality and Customer Loyalty. The interference effect analysis found that the impact of "interaction" between service quality and customer satisfaction resonated. Similar to what I had discovered with Aston Barclay. For example, they will go to someone else unless you provide them with the ability to complete the tasks they wished—suggesting that UX for a business can be the difference between staying open and shutting down for good.
Yang, K.-F., Chiang, Y.-C. and Lin, Y.-S. (,2018). A Study on Service Quality, Customer Satisfaction, and Customer Loyalty. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on E-Society, E-Education and E-Technology - ICSET 2018. [online] Available at: https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3268808.3268819 [Accessed 6 Aug. 2020].
Post 1: Challenge Activity
In the first challenge activity, we were asked to try the first phase of the design thinking process – Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and redesign each other’s workspace.
This was an excellent little taster for those who hadn't had experience conducting qualitative user research before.
I was paired up with Stephanos Afrikanos, and we exchanged pictures before the chat to prepare some questions.
I’ve conducted thousands of Qualitative studies before and have developed a knack to ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are essential for User research since open-ended questions don’t limit the scope of the client’s answers to “yes” or “no” and allow subjects to convey more detail with their specific needs and objectives.
They also allow you to listen with intensity and make adjustments based on what the subject is saying. The questions I put forward were:
How do you tend to use this space?
Do you share the space with anyone else?
What's your chair like?
What are the benefits of X workspace compared to Y workspace?
What's preventing you from making changes in your house?
What's your vision of the solution (if I gave you five hundred pounds)?
We spoke for around 40 minutes and took turns in asking questions. My methodology is to record the conversation in Zoom, run it through transcription software Trint and then extract the subject’s specific needs when I rewatch the video.
Stephanos used his workspace for university and real work.
His workspace was in his bedroom, making it a private space, but he prefered to work around people.
There was better light in the kitchen, and he hated the light in his bedroom.
He is forced to use his bedroom as that's where his screens are, and he needs more screen space for design work.
Stephanos lacks the motivation to work in his room.
He'd love a standing desk as he thinks he fidgets a lot.
His chair is horrible and hurts his back.
He's worried about buying a standing desk listing as he's scared he'd end up not using it.
Connecting the dots and forming a hypothesis
The language Stephanos used implied mental barriers and some physical elements prevented him from using his desk optimally.
Physically, he needed to replace his chair and lift his screens, so there was less stress on his back.
The desk is in direct eyesight of his bed, meaning that there was a mental circle created. Get up, get to my desk, get back into bed, get up, get to my desk, get back into bed. This created a lack of motivation and feeling stuck in a monotonous cycle. So I wanted to move the desk away from the window to bring in more light and start the day off positively for Stephanos.
The new layout I would suggest would be something like this.
I also had an old chair that I was going to throw away, so I met up with Stephanos to hand it over to him! I also suggested that Stephanos keep his door open so his housemate could know when Stephanos was open for conversation and when he needed to focus.
I presented the points to Stephanos, who fed back the following:
Lifting the monitors has already made a big difference ergonomically, but also I get less distracted with what's going outside.
Initially, I didn't place the desk facing the wall (as you suggest) as I still wanted a view but lifting the screens and blocking the view proved less distracting, allowing me to focus more.
The increase in sunlight will help as well.
In conclusion, and after our talk, Stephano is considering moving the desk downstairs into the living room to gain more natural light, provide a more sociable location and help disconnect sleep and work.