Category Archives: Communication

It’s Users All The Way Down

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https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Sometimes in the process of defining your users, you’ll discover that, much like turtles, there are layers upon layers of them just waiting for their stories to be told.

Background

Joining a company late in 2014 as their new UX professional (and founding member of a growing team) has been an eye opening experience. Not only have I been able to finally practice what I’ve been preaching and learning the last few years, but I’ve been exposed to the healthcare industry – which is entirely new to me. Tons to learn = tons of fun.

Anyone in experience design must carefully consider their users’ goals, circumstances, capabilities and habits. This is one way for us to get out of our own heads and as far into our users’ heads as possible – avoiding the trap of designing for the users we’re most familiar with: ourselves.

Identify the users we’re serving is a great place to start. This sounds simple and it can be – but it can also be a complex puzzle (with all the edge pieces hiding and the corner pieces eaten by your dog.)

What my company does

At a high level, we provide a secure and efficient communication platform for the healthcare industry. The platform helps patients, practice staff and hospital staff efficiently contact physicians.

The problems we solve:

  1. handling the bazillion ways that physicians within a hospital or practice setting need to be contacted depending on situational context.
  2. sending information to a physician in a way that is secure and does not violate laws around the privacy of protected healthcare information (PHI).
  3. maintaining a fine balance between the needs for privacy and accessibility on the part of the physician.

Who are our users?

User (Turtle) #1: Our external users

This group includes doctors, nurses, acute care staff and hospital / practice management. They’re the obvious answer to the ‘who is our user’ question – the system was designed to meet their needs and everything revolves around maintaining and enhancing the capabilities that our platform extends to them.

If we push out a buggy feature or misjudge the utility of an enhancement and sacrifice something more vital, these are the people who feel it the most. We should be in close contact with representative members of this group, testing things out and gathering feedback constantly. This group will (and should!) receive the highest prioritization when it comes to evaluating features, to doing user research and to planning and executing usability testing. That said, don’t stop here!

User (Turtle) #2: Patients

Our healthcare professionals are themselves serving another group of users: their patients at member hospitals and practices across the country. These are the folks that our external users are under oath to care for, and who they went to school for a dozen years to serve.

This is the group who pays the price for inefficient communication practices. It’s the folks who have seen their premiums and deductibles climb year after year and who in too many cases don’t have insurance at all. They pay dearly for any healthcare they receive. This is you and me, when we visit our family doctor or when we land in the emergency room after falling off the roof in an ill-advised attempt to save money on chimney repair.

While we can’t prioritize designing for this group over the others, we should always consider the impact of our decisions on these people.

User (Turtle)#3: Internal Users

We have another group of users not immediately obvious to the naked eye: our internal users. These are the folks that use a suite of applications to onboard new external users and that support their needs on a 24/7 basis, 365 days a year.

They don’t use the exact same set of tools as our external customers, but they’re touching the same data and hitting the same systems. Their needs are also much more diverse since they service every type of external user and must become experts in the task flows for those users. This is no small feat, as the training required for these folks to become proficient runs from a full week to a staggering 3 months.

When considering the needs of this user group, striving to avoid introducing further complexity is a big priority. Beyond that, a large part of your backlog might revolve around taking steps to reduce that complexity even further (and therefore lighten the cognitive load of using the system).

If you’re in this situation, your company’s bottom line could be affected nearly as much by internal facing changes as it is by changes that affect your external users.

User (Turtle) #4: Executive Team

You’d think we had all the bases covered, but there’s actually one more group of users to touch on. Let’s call it the owner/executive team, made up of company ownership and senior leadership in both your external users’ companies and your own organization.

The goals and tasks of this group tend to be pretty straightforward, and sometimes seem pretty far removed from what the other three groups of users are concerned with. That said, while I don’t recommend placing too much weight on designing for this group, I do believe it’s a mistake not to consider their needs. Pulling off a win-win effort that enables this group to hit their goals tends to be a self-reinforcing success for a company.

Wrap Up

If you only take one thing from this article, know that accommodating anything less than every group of users in your designs is a Bad Thing.

Imagine that your executive team has seen the effect that your team’s UX design and development work has had on the bottom line – and so they foster a culture that values and encourages such efforts on an ongoing basis. This belief is folded into the company’s core values, and soon the sales, support and product development teams are all on the same page.

Your external users consistently see improvements, enjoy using your product and feel that their feedback is valued and acted upon. Inevitably these happy professionals pass those benefits on to their own customers . For our patients user group that manifested through cost savings, less time in the waiting room or waiting on a surgery date, and better quality of care.

Your internal users don’t have to jump through hoops to support the customers since the support tools they have been given are performant, intuitive and easy to use.

Wouldn’t that be a beautiful place to work? Are you ready to make it happen?

Design Constraints Are Awesome

While reading some material recently I was particularly struck by a correlation between the sentiment of “designing for monochrome first” (for color deficient users) and the design movement termed “Mobile First”.

In both cases, the designer aims to build their interface elements such that the largest % possible of users will have accessibility to the data, based on the real and perceived limitations of the environmental factors imposed. After baseline accessibility and usability you can worry about nuances and aesthetics.

Monochromatic vision strips the designer of color-based tools and techniques, forcing you to fallback to the use of shape, contour, contrast and pattern. The Mobile First design sensibility forces the designer to carefully prioritize what elements of the design are truly needed to accomplish the goal(s) of the product, framed within the limits imposed by a smaller display. You also have to consider the contextual differences in usage between a mobile device and a desktop computer, and within the vastly different feature sets of modern devices.

I often hear about project constraints in terms of drawbacks, of obstacles to building the perfect widget. It’s much more helpful to think of constraints as helpful wayfinding elements on the road to successful project definition. If you know what they are, you won’t waste time in rabbit holes and you’ll be able to focus your time and attention on crafting the best product possible – one that will meet the unique needs of your users, whether or not they can see colors and regardless of what they’re using to access your offerings.

Thoughts On Medical Decision Making

Original article by Jerome Groopman

We all fall victim to habitual behaviors, and more so when we are unable to focus sufficient attention on tasks at hand, believing (consciously or unconsciously) that we can accomplish some process or task without conscious thought, instead thinking about ‘more pressing’ matters.

What is more difficult to detect are those biases not based on habit, but instead on other factors. Groopman’s article on medical decision making explored this issue in the light of decisions made every day by physicians in practices and hospitals across the world.

Several types of errors were explored, including Representativeness error (thinking that is overly influenced by what is typically true), Availability error (the tendency to judge likelihood of an event by how easy relevant examples come to mind), confirmation bias error (cognitive cherry picking – confirming what you expect to find by selectively accepting or ignoring information) and affective error (making decisions based on what you wish to be true).

The stories he shared demonstrate how a very skilled and educated doctor can make incredibly dangerous mistakes, due in some cases to the fast-paced world of medicine but in other in reaction to common human urges such as the desire to be merciful and spare a patient embarrassment or further fatiguing tests.

At my workplace we are tasked with making medical industry communication more secure and much more efficient – resulting in better patient care and increased physician and clinician satisfaction. After reading this article and having learned a great deal about how complex the communication needs of a hospital or practice have become, I have to wonder how many mistakes are made due to the very real problems of workflow dissolution and workplace communication breakdowns. How many errors of the classes described by Groopman could be avoided or reduced in severity through more frequent and higher quality peer-to-peer interactions in the medical industry?

Notes from GiantConf 2014′s “Building a Whole Team UX Design Team” presentation by Phillip Hunter

In his presentation on day two of GiantConf 2014, Phillip Hunter talked to us about “Building a Whole Team UX Design Team”. Here are my notes from his talk.

Phillip Hunter – Building a Whole Team UX Design Team
@designoutloud
http://www.minotaurdesign.com/blog/wp-login.php

His belief is that in the UX community, team building is much like early days in baseball scouting.

The focus on stereotypes:
on rock Stars in the industry…….
(is that a person w/ diseases and who trashes hotel rooms? lol)

On Ninja’s….
(is that the person who kills people in the night? lol)
Focus on design mishmash – (beanie/knit cap and glasses, lol)

– Stereotypes don’t help us build better UX teams. Avoid them.

(slide of the major pieces of most companies) – All these people are ENABLING the user experience.
– most of us are in Product development team.
– so it’s silly to think of one small piece of the org as wholly responsible for the UX of a company

4 primary capabilities (as a grid):
– engineering leading technology
– maintaining strong teams
– running a successful business
– enabling great experiences

The practice of creating experience is a SERVICE – look to service design for cues

Strategy means defining and inspiring before hiring

Hiring a dev, designer, tester because you need to developer, design and test is premature.

Context + capability to help you know the best way to create that holistic UX mindset.

OAQH- Orient, Assess, Question, Hypothesize

Setting the team-building CONTEXT:
– what are our goals, values, constraints and principles as a corp?
– what do we need to get done?
– why?
– how much/how fast?

Setting capability requirements:
– What do we need to be god at?
– How good? How will we know?
– What are our priorities?
– Not who…. (yet)

Liz Bacon’s infographic on her definition of user experience design
– pie chart of sorts
– ranked herself within each facet

Building effective structures within the company:
– Complementary strengths vs homogeneous development
– Breadth and depth of skill across people
– Increase participation

Beyond hiring and skills:
Shape align and inform with biz goals
Aim for impact, scope, scale, diversity, resilience, sustainability

Crazy list of necessary skills (all of which mapped back to the grid of 4 above)

Atomic elements of necessary high level skills

Have the right project members been identified?
In what areas will augmentation be the best thing?
What kind and from where?

Building Your list of necessary Skills
Skill name
-skill 1, 2, etc becomes `> color, line, shape 2. Latent need identification, ebrand integration, prototyping, etc.

Gathering list items:
Ask your UX leaders and ICs, your UX enthusiasts, your Product owners, your Execs and sponsors.

(ranking 1-5 etc)
Skill name – Current Level – Desired Level – Priority
– – – –
– – – –

Perceived skill gap
– gap value on its own wasn’t that compelling/illuminating
– Gap value multiplied by Priority – this really surfaced the true GAP in context

Conversations that can come out of the above types of analysis?
Who does that already?
How can you get them involved?
What do your colleagues want to be good at?
X is how we need to craft our job description for HR!!!

sixboxes.com
framework for aligning people’s desires with their roles, and ultimately their ideal internal path that also benefits the company

– issue challenge to add UX to everyone’s job
– Let people find their point of contribution

HIRING (since sometimes you just have to…..)
– understanding and implementing the strategic framework from above
– involve the team to determine fit and talent
– Hire the inspired

Phillip’s slides (Thanks, Phillip!) – http://www.slideshare.net/philliphunter/building-a-whole-company-ux-team

Notes from GiantConf 2014′s “Embracing the Suck” presentation by Chris Harrison

In his presentation on day one of GiantConf 2014, Chris Harrison talked to us about “Embracing the Suck”. Here are my notes from his talk.

Chris Harrison – Embracing the Suck – 10:45a Thursday, June 12

@cdharrison
cdharrison.com

Embracing the Suck: Military phrase meaning to make the best of whatever situation you’re in..

Background:
– Weight loss – 529 to 377
– weight gain due to being depressed, hating what he did, etc.
– Making sites since 1996.
– Former fulltime freelancer
– now: frontend dev for Morris Communications (magazine division)

2013 state of the workplace
30% engaged and inspired
18% actively Disengaged – sabotage their coworkers (cost 450-550 million a year)
52% permanent case of the mondays – do just enough not to get fired

Sometimes you just gotta suck it up.
– Consider the alternative – it could be worse.

– dan willis, “great takes work”
– choose your battles and spend your energy wisely

Negativity is a cancer! (this could be a talk topic!)

Sometimes complaining takes more effort than just getting things done.

Don’t fear new. New = opportunity. (he was told he’d be doing all joomla and drupal work. This was not happy news)
– learn on the companie’s dime
– doubtful he could have learned this stuff as a freelancer (no time/money in it)

Everything you do is a learning process for everything.

– thomas edison’s quote about opportunity and how it looks like work.
– fabio at mailchimp, lead html email designer. was hired to do ui/ux, but they approached him to do HTML emails.
– we know as an industry that html emails suck.
– when he heard this, he embraced the challenge.
– 5 years later he’s an innovator in a field where it was thought there was no room for innovation left.

Opportunity opens doors…

Help your team…
– concept of jumping on hand grenades (someday you’ll need help from the person you help today)

Small wins are still wins. (make it something awesome despite the scope)

Make learning a priority
– learning about sass etc and givng talks about it.
– things suck less when you share what you know with your coworkers
– codeschool etc. as good options for continued learning.

“Sneak” new technology/techniques into projects, but strive to get buy-in from your coworkers (if not management)
– Demonstrate the benefits of incorporating these new techs into an existing workflow

Find creative outlets
– draw more.
– starting doing illustrator avatars for friends
– take pictures! (vader, ninja turtles)
– lilvaderadventures tubmler

Scratch your own itch – side projects rock
– itembrowser.com – his first responsive project
– learned media queries, etc.

Start using your powers for good
– jingle jam (10k) benefiting safeHOMES charity
– design + development + marketing
– someone could really use your talents!

Happiness depends on ourselves – aristotle
Even sucky work can make you happy. Give it a chance.

Reorgs: Rocky or Righteous (Designing the Experience of Company Transition)

As designers, we grapple every day with challenging projects. This of course is part of what keeps us coming back. Some challenges, although not directly related to project work, can still be looked at through a UX lens. In this case, I’m talking about a phenomenon you’re likely familiar with: company reorganization.

If you’ve been through a reorg (that’s ‘Reorganization’ in water cooler parlance)you’ve probably experienced your share of the whispers, closed-door meetings and mixed messages that seem to be par for the course when an organization goes through major changes in size, scope, staffing, or management.

I’ve been through a number of these shuffled decks myself, across several companies, and for a variety of reasons. It’s fair to claim that each one is different, but there’s enough overlap to identify patterns and form some baseline recommendations.

If you’re in a role with decision-making authority, then you’re ideally positioned to ensure that the reorg will be designed as an intentional experience with its actual user base in mind.

However, if you’re like the majority of us who aren’t in a position to make decisions about the reorg, you’re probably still reasonably close to the folks who are. Why not take the initiative and lay out some scenarios and recommendations for how the reorg can be designed for optimal reception and impact on your organization?

The users

Whether it’s planned or not, the scope of the reorg will have an audience far larger than the group of people seemingly affected on paper. The experience of these groups throughout the reorg should be purposefully designed by whomever is running the change management show.

Let’s take a look at who your users are.

  • The folks who are officially part of the reorg. Their status is changing in some way, be it their actual role, reporting structure, and the like.
  • Coworkers/teams who have direct or dotted-line dependencies with anyone or any team directly involved in the change.
  • Coworkers/teams whose only connection is physical or cultural proximity or who ultimately report to the same upper management.
  • Third party vendors who communicate with or provide services to reorg-affected parties.

Here’s what you need to realize: These groups will be getting bits and pieces of news about the reorg whether or not you craft that message explicitly.

With that in mind, you should ensure the messaging supports the business strategy, is accurate, and speaks to each party’s specific concerns.

This is the difference between an unplanned, unpredictable experience and an intentional, designed experience. It’s a golden opportunity to show your stakeholders they are a valued part of the organization, and you’ve got your arms firmly around managing the changes. If the right preparation goes into the reorg, you can nip in the bud any misinformation and unnecessary stress, building confidence in your team’s leadership and capability as a whole.

The alternative is to risk spending what trust currency you’ve accrued to date.

The message

Now that you know who you’re talking to, what do you say? It’s idealistic to think that you’ll know all the details when you begin planning the reorganization–but you do need to initiate your communications plan as close to the start of planning as you can.

Start by crafting general messaging that indicates the why–the logic being the necessity and desired benefits of the reorg. This should be high level until more details are known. If you know enough about the how to paint a low-res picture, do it.

A little bit of information that’s transparent and honest will go a long way–but take care not to make promises you can’t keep. Things can and will change, so own up to the reality that dates and other details are very much in flux to help you avoid having to take back your words when deadlines shift down the road.

As you approach major milestones in the reorg process and as the details solidify, provide appropriate communications to your audience groups–and do so again once the changes have been rolled out. This may seem like a lot of effort, but rest assured your people are asking questions. It’s up to you to address them proactively.

If a milestone date changes–and it will–the audience who’s been paying attention will still be looking to that date unless you update your wayfinding (in the form of project timeline communications). Without this careful attention to detail, you’re sharing bad information–perhaps more damaging than no information at all.

When the rubber meets the road

Inevitably, one question that will come up repeatedly throughout a reorg is “When does all this actually happen?” In other words, when do we start following the new processes, change how we route requests, start doing this and stop doing that?

For both logistical and psychological reasons, knowing how and when transitions will take place is vital. Often the difference between a stakeholder being stressed out

(perhaps becoming a vocal opponent of the changes) versus being calm and confident is the company’s honest commitment to consciously bridging the transition with trained, capable support.

This could be as simple as a window of time during which existing persons or processes can continue to be called upon for support or as complex as an official schedule that shows specifically how and when both the responsibilities AND expectations of the audience segments will change.

Usability research

It’s not like you can do A:B testing with a reorg. You can, however, do some polling when the initial reorg information is shared, then midstream, and again after the reorg is complete.

Why do this research? As with any project, from your first person perspective, reorg elements might seem obvious–or you may have overlooked some pretty big pieces. Talking with your ‘users’ can be illuminating and also sends the message that their input is desired and valued.

While some reorgs are expressly designed to reduce overhead/staff, reorgs are not always about cutting heads. Often-times it’s a shuffle of resources (people), and if the right discussions happen you can guide that process to a win win.

Using a handy list written by a gentleman you may know of, here are some dimensions co-opted for our use. Employ these as you see fit to generate interview material and discover how well your company reorg experience has been crafted.

Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?

We can ask our participants what they took away from the reorg communications they were sent. This includes actual group or 1:1 meetings, formal documents, emails, etc.

Find out if the materials conveyed the message so the transition was easy to understand. Did they grasp both the high-level view and the granular details? (In other words, overall strategy and the specific impact to them.)

Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?

If the folks you’re polling have been assigned specific assignments in the reorg, ask early on if they fully understand their instructions and if they could have added any insight that might have decreased task costs or durations. Midstream or late in the game you can follow up to see if those instructions turned out to be clear and accurate enough for the tasks to have been carried out efficiently.

Did task instructions have the most time-saving sequence? Were there steps left out of the tasking communications that had to be discovered and completed?

Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?

Remember the telephone game? Someone makes up a story and then each player passes the story on to the next by whispering. When the story makes it back to the author, the details have changed–it’s a different story.

When those involved in a reorg talk with others, they’ll pass along what they know. The simpler the story and the more they’ve understood it, the less you’ll lose in translation.

Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?

A successful reorg requires a lot of work and collaboration between groups. Mistakes tend to be costly and have a ripple effect, becoming harder to correct as time goes on. The critical path of these big projects is placed at risk due to missteps due in large part to (wait for it) learnability and memorability, or due to errors introduced by people who have been put off by the lack of efficiency of the reorg process and attempt to forge their own path.

Another source of error is in failing to communicate enough timely information about role changes to employees and contractors. Major change breeds anxiety, and in a job market where workers have the power and employers are constantly on the prowl for good (and hard to find) talent, it’s a mistake to risk wholesale attrition.

Avoid this error by honestly and accurately communicating dates and the likelihood of roles continuing as is or with changes. If roles are going away, be transparent about that too. Better to maintain trust and respect with clear messaging about terminations than to leave folks in doubt and unable to plan for their future.

Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

If the reorg does NOT leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and if the stated project goals have been met, you’re doing it right. Reorgs happen for a reason, typically because something’s suboptimal or simply broken. Ultimately, everyone should pull together and work towards a positive outcome resulting in better workflow, lowered cost of doing business, increased job satisfaction, and, of course, $$$.

Moving on

Regardless of your role in the company and the reorg, consider whether or not you can use your UX superpowers to make the entire process less painful, easier to understand, and more likely to succeed.


Note: Also published at Boxesandarrows.com

Midwest UX 2013 – Recap

I’m back in Tennessee after spending four days in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the MidwestUX 2013 conference was being held. I was turned on to the conference by an old friend whose advice I’ve sought out as I work towards moving back to design roles. I’m grateful Christian steered me to MidwestUX, and glad my family and my job were able to facilitate the time I needed to attend.

Despite having gone to Columbus College of Art in Ohio (and being born in Iowa), I don’t have a lot of ties to the Midwest any more. After witnessing the degree to which the brains behind the conference had their acts together, and having met so many clever, kind folks from all walks of life who joined me there – I have to say I was really impressed (and consider MidwestUX a new connection to the Midwest!)

Impressed with the city

Grand Rapids, huh? For those folks NOT from the region, this may conjure up vague associations with cold weather, lake effects, and proximity to our Canadian neighbors in the north. I was surprised to find instead a city whose downtown was quite a bit more developed than Knoxville, at least 25% more populous, and FULL OF DESIGN.

larger than life fortune cookie message

There’s an art school there: Kendall College of Art and Design. It’s pretty big, pretty modern, and housed in some pretty swanky digs.

There’s a lot of really good beer here, too. Also some whisky, burgers and arcade games. I can vouch for the first two bits there.

beer?

There’s also some really good coffee here. The first day, we hit Biggby’s Coffee. It wasn’t bad – better than average coffee, but nothing life changing. The second day I went to Madcap Coffee. If I could, I would teleport there and back every morning from now on. I would marry their machiatto, but polygamy isn’t legal in Michigan or Tennessee. I wasn’t the only one either – fellow drinkers would note the cups held by other attendees and simply raise them up and wordlessly acknowledge the religious experience we shared.

madcap mmm

Also a great art museum. More on that in a moment.

Impressed with the pre-conference work

Every point of contact I had with the conference was well designed, well managed and question-free. Seriously. I had no questions after reading the website. Signing up for the conference triggered confirmations, friendly advice about the city and venues, and timely reminders and new info via email and the website as it became available.

Impressed with the conference logistics

Again, no questions. No drama. No issues with instructions, with missing presenters, with spotty Wi-Fi, or unclear directions. There were volunteers stationed for maximum effect to direct foot traffic between buildings and events, signage up everywhere you could need it to be, and things ran on time across the board. It was almost spooky.

The food and beverages provided at certain points were fresh, plentiful, tasty, and served with 100% recyclable or compostable materials. There was next to no waste produced by this event.

The sessions and workshops themselves comprised a nice mix of disciplines and interests, though I had a couple hard decisions to make.

Session notes

Thursday
I missed a great workshop on drawing communication practices by MJ Broadbent, but enjoyed a workshop on design practice led by Matt Nish-Lipidus. Given the simple task of coming up with a clock that describes one’s relationship to time, there was a surprising variety in what our breakout teams came up with.

Since I covered all costs myself versus having the conference/travel paid for by my company, I opted to only do one workshop. After lunch I headed to the GRAM, or Grand Rapids Art Museum. There I enjoyed the permanent collections as well as a few remnants from the ArtPrize event they apparently have each year in Grand Rapids. There’s a very well put together art library within the museum as well.

GRAM reflecting poolGRAM stairway

Friday
Abby Covert’s keynote on “Making Sense of Place” did not disappoint. I’d heard a bit about her, and I can see how she’s got the reputation of being a smart, kind, and energetic designer and presenter. Her talk focused on relating IA (information architecture) specifically and UX as a whole to the theme of ‘place’, and place making. Aside from her amusingly caffeinated story, she presented a hierarchy of terms to make sense of a given design challenge, and how to zoom in and out of that hierarchical framework to gain insights. Ecosystem to Object – from a simple object like a button up to a complex collection of systems like a large pharmaceutical company.

Hierarchy - making sense of place

Dude, Who Stole My Community
Charles Erdman led an interesting session that focused on how our developing technology and our dependence/addiction to it has effected our sense of community. From I Forgot My Phone to stories of how technology helped keep communities in touch during the recent Colorado flooding, he made some good points for designers to consider carefully when using and building future products and systems.

After orientation: making room for a novice UX designer
Megan Schwartz had a lot of really sensible things to say about how organizations can better support (and learn from) novice designers. Some of it was common sense (though not necessarily practiced in the workplace very often) but her insights into the ways novices can turn the tables and really help a company out were interesting. As a manager myself I took away some notes I intend to put into practice. Good job, Megan!

Excursion
I joined a gaggle of folks and we soon arrived at GRID70, a coworking space shared by a number of non-competitive companies with roots in Grand Rapids. Here’s the description:

GRid70 is currently the world’s largest experiment in coworking which brings innovation and strategy teams from Steelcase, Amway, Wolverine Worldwide, and Meijer together in shared spaces. This Excursion focuses on ways space can be designed to create the “happy accidents” of collaboration essential to fostering new work structures and inter-industry collaboration. The participants will engage in a conversation about Grid70 – what it is, how it works, and the challenges it addresses. The Excursion will culminate with an exercise to expand the concepts discussed and deconstruct a proposed experience solution.

First we talked about the space itself, the groups working there, and the mindset that brought it all together. Then we toured the building, poked around the collaborative workspaces, and generally grew quite jealous of their marvelous workspace. Finally we got back together and tossed around ideas on how to achieve a sense of community in Amway’s international physical storefronts – designed to be a coworking space, a distribution point for merchandise and a support structure for the independent business owners. It was a fun outing to be sure.

a walkway - brought to you by Dr. Whostickies as far as the eye can see

Keynote #2 by Christina Wodtke
Another well-known figure in the UX community, Christina had some nifty insights to share about Place. For one, stop thinking purely in terms of how you as a builder are creating spaces. Stop and think about how places make you. Places, communities, heartlands.

Another insight was to consider carefully how a user’s speed of browsing should be consciously designed for… on a social site’s homepage when NOT logged in, you might design for high speed ingestion – users will likely only see the page for a brief moment and can scan a well designed page quickly to find what they need. Contrast this with a comments feed from friends – this highly dense information must be put together so that one’s low speed browsing experience is optimized. If the internet is our new third space (since bowling alleys are nearly extinct and not everyone likes Starbucks), what is the internet’s heartland?

Saturday

In the morning, Christina chaired a panel (you’ll see what I did there in a sec) with design leads from Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth. Each had brought a chair with them (and sat on it for the duration) that exemplified the design philosophy their company was known for. It was rather cool seeing three competitors on the stage at once, sharing some challenges and some lessons learned that they found they had in common. Everyone in the crowd wanted those chairs… badly.

Lunch was served, and some of us chose to take in some quick lightning sessions in a format called Pecha Kucha. I caught three of them, and resolved to take part the next time we have a Pecha Kucha night in Knoxville.

Pecha Kucha

After lunch, I took in a thought provoking session about the Essence of Experience (Design can be dangerous), and another on how “The Place You’re In Is More Than The Place You’re At” by Phillip Hunter.

A takeaway for me was Phillip’s comprehensive list of different continuums – a sliding scale indicating ‘more’ or ‘less’, ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ as related to user experience evaluations. This isn’t a list of good and bad, just a way to think about a product or service to ensure you’re designing with the right factors in mind. Stay tuned for tweaks to this – I think he said it was still in beta :)

photo 3

Finally, the closing keynote began, featuring Karl Fast. I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Karl and two other gentleman before the excursion to Grid70, and his insights into the state of UX education, MOOCs, and technology trends had me wishing we could have a longer lunch.

Karl’s talk led from physics to astronomy to electronics to biofeedback to data. BIG DATA is all well and good, but Karl exposed us to the idea that SMALL DATA is where we as designers can build experiences and leverage the growing sea of data to improve the lives of individuals, at a local scope, in real and measurable ways. He’s a great speaker and a very sharp fella.

The conference closed out with credit to volunteers, sponsors, organizers, and attendees. Lots of genuine applause and positive feedback – (I wasn’t the only one to feel like the logistics for MidwestUX were flawless.)

I had a blast. It felt so good to talk design and experience again with folks from all over engaged in all sorts of roles. Invigorating, exciting… like a Zest commercial with empathy and a sense of place.

On the way out of the city, I dropped by to say a sad goodbye to my new sweetheart: goodbye, MadCap. And goodbye, Grand Rapids! I hope to see you in Indy next year, MWUX!

Madcap latte

Getting back in the saddle

It’s been some time since I redesigned Minotaurdesign.com. (2006, to be precise.) It’s been my business site since I had a business (1999) and it has gone through intense periods of work with much love/attention being paid to it – alternating with periods of inactivity.

I’m now coming off several years of letting the website sit untouched. If it mattered, I could point the finger at a number of things: parenthood, juggling the duties of a part-time landlord with a full time job, and feeling a lack of creativity fueled by having roles that put increasingly less emphasis on DESIGNING vs MANAGING, to name a few. Regardless, regret at having let the site sit idle does no good – so onward and upward!

As I gear up for a substantial redesign and some strategic shifts in focus, I have to credit a number of factors when looking at what has moved me to action:

  1. Recruiters

    I know what you’re thinking… recruiters? aren’t they the underbelly of our working world, constantly pinging you when you have no interest and making statements and promises that simply demonstrate their lack of any real knowledge about your chosen field…? Well, that can be the case, certainly.

    In my case, being contacted by one of the most influential companies for me on both a personal and professional level was an eye opening experience. When Apple first pinged me (via a well known business social media platform) I thought it was spam. After a bit of research I found the inquiry to be legit, which led to a number of conversations with recruiters and hiring managers on the west coast. The long and short of it was that our discussions led to one recurring observation:

    They felt I wasn’t solely dedicated to the discipline of front end development, and that I (still) seemed to harbor interest in the design side of the web.

    After much reflection, I realized they were right. With a background in illustration & advertising design, with a large side of fine art – I had to admit to myself that despite a full time job with an incredible company, serving terrific family-friendly brands, and working with amazing people – in the end i could not say I was fulfilled by the roles I’d held in recent years.

  2. Old friends

    In the first few years of my professional career I was part of a rapidly growing company that built multimedia sales platforms for auto dealers and which eventually turned into doing websites for automotive OEMs and dealer groups. Our team was home to a group of truly talented, passionate folks – many of whom are still in contact today. 2013 brought some significant career changes to three of those very influential friends from the early days:

    • One fellow had been out of the loop so long he no longer felt able to get back up to speed and took a retail job to pay the bills. He despaired of every returning to the web industry. This was a gentleman to whom myself and other young folks had looked up as an early adopter, a pioneer – with many different skill sets and a daunting intellect.
    • Another close friend was a renowned expert in his field, and a published author several times over. He was a trusted source for guidance in many forums over a number of years, a born teacher, and a truly remarkable human being as well. This friend had been a full time freelance developer for more close to 10 years, but his chosen area of expertise began to lose relevancy and his work dried up. He had to take a corporate job, and he too felt the pinch of having let his skills in many areas fall out of practice – easy to do in a world where innovation and major shifts in accepted practices happen all the time. In conversations over the course of the year, I had to admit I was very much in danger of falling prey to the same kind of threat.
    • A third friend, who some would have voted ‘most likely to remain a no-good punk for life‘, instead went on to consistently make wise choices in the roles he took on and the contacts he made in the industry. He adopted an attitude of humility and eagerness to learn, and was rewarded by the well-earned regard of his employees, employers and peers. His path remained aligned with his core values, with the things he’d grown to value: open, clear communication, advocacy for the users of the products he touched, and the courage to call BS when necessary. This year brought an amazing opportunity for him and his family, and hearing the joy he found in continuing to pursue his chosen path was encouraging to say the least.

  3. Family

    My family has been supportive over the years – grateful for the extra income my work has brought in under the Minotaur Design banner and happy that I was content in my work. It’s been obvious in recent years that I was left somewhat incomplete by the roles I’ve held by day, and my family has urged me to indulge in creative outlets while remaining understanding when I didn’t feel I had the energy or will to do so. My wife and daughter are the subject in many portraits done over past years, and so too are they supportive of my desire to steer back towards more creative professional roles.

  4. Twitter

    I admit it…

    I didn’t really GET Twitter when it launched. In fact, I didn’t really get it for years. It didn’t help to have set my privacy settings to “Ostrich with head in sand” when I initially signed up.

    Not until somewhat recently did I awaken to the second-by-second stream-of-consciousness zeitgeist that Twitter had become. Taking part in active conversations with other designers, developers and assorted experts has been at once humbling and exhilarating. Keeping up to date via blog entries and published articles has gotten harder year by year, and I’m starting to see how much more accessible it is to use tools like Twitter to stay abreast of the always changing world of the wide, wide web.

There are so many more choices available today than when I last redesigned the site. It used to be you simply coded out your design from scratch, did some testing with friends, peers and prospective clients, and breathed a sigh of relief when it was done and you could get back to paying work.

These days there are a lot of factors to juggle:

  1. Goals: Are you building the site to get new business? To show off your chops in hopes of scoring a plumb day job? To demonstrate hard-won expertise and hawk your latest book, seminar or conference tour?
  2. Platforms: Are you building from scratch or Using a publishing platform like WordPress or Drupal and/or relying on a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation?
  3. Deployment methodologies: Are you pushing everything up to your server manually via FTP, or are you using advanced IDE software, employing enhanced workflows, and jumping through the hoops of Node.js, NPM and Gruntc?
  4. Stylesheets: Still writing your CSS the old fashioned way? Pull up a stool and skill up on dynamic stylesheets: LESS, SASS, mixins and varying levels of automation wired any which way.
  5. Speed: Do you have site performance in mind? Think it’s still enough to just watch the filesize of your jpeg files? Are you loading all your script and style assets for every page, or building things in a modular fashion and only loading what’s needed, ala Require.js, Yepnope, or LabJS?
  6. SEO: It’s not enough to have a nice website these days. You’ve got to have it set up so it’s searchable, relevant, semantic and well-liked (well-linked). You may even have to pay for some exposure – SEO isn’t enough, SEM to the rescue.
  7. Research: Operating on hunches about what your users are doing? No bueno. You’ve got to wire up your site to some analytics – get some real insight into traffic patterns, user behavior, and the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
  8. Marketing: What, you’re not doing much marketing? Too bad, you just lost the first round. Many FREE and PAID options abound, from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn, Tumblr, Quora, Pinterest and more. Seperating the signal from the noise is part of the challenge, as is learning to employ your research in focusing your marketing efforts.
  9. User Experience: Great, you’ve got users on the site. Now, CAN THEY USE IT? Usability was a concern back in the day, but now it’s become an increasingly important discipline to practice, and one that relies on many of the prior factors – research primary among them. Is your content organized well? Does the visual design enhance or obstruct your message? Can your users follow the desired courses of action you’ve laid out for them? Are your objectives served by each and every choice you’ve made along the way?

All of this is enough to induce a case of decision paralysis – but I’m powering on.

I’ve finally rediscovered the passion I felt in the early days of designing for the web, and I can’t wait to find out what comes next.