Save money: Don’t do any research

Posted in research, UCD, usability, User Experience, User-Centred Design, UXD on September 12th, 2015 by The Long Dog

Image from BBC television's Sherlock“The client wanted to save money, so we’ve cut the research and are going straight into design and build”, said too many people too often.

When The Important Person has an idea, they usually want to get going and see it fly free. Problem is, not all ideas are necessarily ‘good’.

What they are is a starting place, but without defining the audience, what they want and need, and tying this back to tangible business benefits it’s still just an idea, and money saved at the start may be lost in making repairs later.

Whenever I’ve not been allowed to do research (or at least not had existing research available to me), the project is guided only by The Important Person’s enthusiasm, and often sprawls, drags on, peters out or, when A More Important Person gets to see it, crumbles under their scrutiny.

Research provides the guide toward success and allows you to make informed decisions.

Without it, despite respectable existing business knowledge, you still can’t know they best ways to do things, or even if what you THINK is right, actually is.

1. Clients, project owners and project managers sit down together and plan out peoples’ time without consultation and are shocked, after the plan is communicated, when the people actually doing that work have a different opinion.

2. People ask awkward questions about ‘where’s the brief?’ or wanting to know what the scope is, or ‘how do we know if we’ve succeeded?’

3. Other classic symptoms are projects where the KPIs are delivery-based rather than actual business objectives (e.g. software releases or launches vs. customer acquisition targets for example). Delivery milestones are perfect for measuring progress, but they are not measures of success.

Causes: Even nice people (colleagues or clients) have egos and can mistake good ideas for robust objectives. When “I think we should have a spinny world in the header to show how international we are” becomes the objective rather than “How do we improve repeat visits to our site or customer retention?”

It can also be a simple case of people not understanding the business value of research. It’s easy for those without experience to confuse good research with achingly prolonged survey design, unending customer interviews and ‘analysis paralysis’. All work should be tied to ‘adding value’. All research projects I’ve conducted have either validated existing assumptions and given the green light or, more importantly, unearthed fundamental differences, anomalies, dissatisfaction or highlighted new ways audiences wanted to interact with organisations.

Cure: Sometimes it’s just too late. The plan’s been agreed (not necessarily with your agreement), the budget or timings signed off and you’re told to JFDI. If you can’t get the guidance at the beginning of the project, try and get it at the end (and hopefully as you go along): Test.

Remind people that it’s cheaper to fail in design than in the market place. If they want to make more money (the usual reason) and avoid an embarrassing public failure and expensive re-redesigns, make sure what’s changing or being created is going to work, BEFORE it’s launched.

If it’s not too late, use your experience and, hopefully, previous work to highlight where you changed the thinking on a project for the better by understand what the audience actually wants or needs. Argue your case (nicely).

Prevention: It’s all about risk and failure.

If you can’t understand what the end punter is really trying to do, you risk failure, either by losing competitive advantage or simply in wasted time and money. It’s very unlikely that the ideas you’ve been given to create are so new it’s impossible to get any feedback on them.

So, get involved with the early planning (if you can), why not do some quick-n-dirty research of your own to whip out at a moment’s notice and impress people with your knowledge and guidance?

Building proper research (ANY research) into a project will only make for a better outcome.

If none of this is available you’ve got two choices:

  1. Walk away
  2. JFDI … but please, PLEASE, make sure your concerns are documented and reach the people who need to understand about risks and costs and failure
Tags: , , , , ,

How many wireframes will you produce?

Posted in UCD, usability, User Experience, User-Centred Design, UXD, web on September 9th, 2015 by The Long Dog

This is one of the most heart-droppingly depressing questions that I’m asked – as an individual, or of a team I’m managing – and it STILL happens.

Following my loathing rant, I present what I’ve observed to be the symptoms, cause, cure and prevention of this pointless question.

I loathe it for two main reasons:

1. It’s impossible to answer, like the ‘How long is a piece of string?’ riddle. You can only know the precise answer to this once all the work is finished and the solution built. As you work, new features emerge, scope changes, visual designers come up with better executions, tech teams want more detail and quite simply, you find out what needs to be done as it emerges from the interaction design.

2. It shows a lack of understanding of the role of User Experience / Customer Experience / Service Design (*delete as appropriate), reducing all research, insight and striving to achieve ‘customer-centric business goals’ to boxes and arrows. If you wanted someone to do just this, get a developer who’s got a head for usability. Experience design is about understanding the big picture and balancing customers’ needs with business objectives. Wireframes are just one output form this, the ‘Interaction Design’ part, so resource appropriately.


Symptom: Typically I’ve found it’s Project Managers who ask this one, occasionally Technical Architects, and at any point in a project. They’ve usually at least heard of wireframes, even if they don’t know what good or bad looks like and understand it’s a solid deliverable that will enable other disciplines and that they can wave at the project’s owner to show progress.

Cause: People who have oversight of a project’s timings and costs want to have visibility and control. It’s a very natural desire and required for reporting, planning and onward design and build. However, it’s impossible to answer and meaningless as it doesn’t give any understanding of impact or complexity. One wireframe may describe an incredibly complex tool, page, function or series of functions, whereas multiple wireframes may describe some pretty simple things that just need to be articulated clearly.

Cure: Understand the project’s deadlines, communicate early with technical and graphic design teams and work out different options for what can be produced. You have to think less in terms of pages of deliverables and more in terms of solving design challenges, articulating functions or features and work within those blocks, estimated by complexity, designing: ‘The basket’, ‘The sign up and account pages’, ‘The application process’ and so on.

Prevention: You can do this one of two ways.

1. Understand what the project is expected to achieve within existing timelines and estimate your work to fit that

2. Work in a REAL agile system where REAL iterative design / build / test processes shape the requirements of your work.

For either of these, you’ll need to make sure you have a full understanding of what you’re going to be wireframing with business requirements, customer requirements, scope, knowledge of competitors, innovations, what the project owner’s got in their head and what those teams receiving your interactions designs need in terms of output, format or annotation. In short: A proper brief and some research.

Oh, you want to know how long a piece of string is? Twice half its length.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Intranets are not the same as dinner parties

Posted in Communications, intranet, UCD, User-Centred Design on November 3rd, 2011 by The Long Dog

Several years on I still see and I still hear intranet managers asking…

  • What is a good thing to make my intranet’s homepage sticky?
  • How can I keep people’s attention after launch?
  • Can anyone tell me what’s a good navigation for my intranet?

If I go to a dinner party I want it to be relaxing and entertaining and even if it’s not I’ll smile nicely and say nice things to the hosts when I leave. This is because I’m English and too embarrassed to be anything other than polite and would prefer to die rather than publicly embarrass someone.

But intranets are not like dinner parties. The truth is, employees don’t care about intranets unless they are of direct benefit in their day-to-day work. Everything else is just distraction. Intranets can be great work tools, just make them useful and usable. Put the content and tools that people need and make it easy to find the things they want. Simples.

So let’s deal with those big questions again:

What is a good thing to make my intranet’s homepage sticky?
Why do you want people to come to your intranet’s homepage? This is often a communication manager’s desire to get people to read news, announcements and other top down communications. Unless your raising or firing, you have to think about the ‘why should I bother reading that?’ question.

If you must publish news in an online newspaper metaphor make sure people can respond, comment, feedback or at least know why and how this affects them.

Otherwise just give them quick ways to get to what they want deeper in, instead of building up libraries of shortcuts. Become a curator of content rather than a publisher of internal comms spam.

How can I keep people’s attention after launch?
If you have to keep up momentum at a dinner party you’ve failed. Wrong combination of guests, bad ambience, worse food or not enough booze. If you feel you need to try to work to maintain attention and usage of your intranet after launch then you might have failed before you started. People might have smiled and dutifully clicked the link on the email to visit the new site, but if there’s nothing of use why, when their boss is asking how their work’s getting on, should they take time out to browse news about the new Head of Paperclips in the Chicago office.

Start by engaging the site’s audience – the employees. Survey them, scour the intranet search logs to see what they’re looking for, ask IT for stats of the most popular pages, run some quick and dirty workshops, shadow them to see what they do – and what they can’t currently do – on the intranet as it stands. When you know what’s useful, add new stuff they’ve never thought of that’ll add value to their day job and this is the stuff that’ll bring them back – because it’s useful … they NEED it.

Can anyone tell me what’s a good navigation for my intranet?
Why don’t food shops sell a standard dinner party recipe kit? Because, as Monty Python said “We’re all individuals! …”. Your navigation has to suit your particular audience of employees. Arrange the information architecture so that the most useful and desirable things are easiest to get to, use words employees understand for labelling and group information together that makes sense to your employees. Remember, ‘you are not the audience’. Do your research – do some post-it note exercises to find out how people naturally want to group information and do it with a mix of people from across the organisation.

When it comes down to it, to make a dinner party work, you need a good mix of guests, an environment conducive to relaxation and conversation and some great food, but most importantly, it’s up to you, the host, to work out the best mix of everything to suit your guests and lay it on.

For your intranet find nice way to point out to the CEO that their desires, when put against the needs of the other 99.999% of the organisation are not actually significant. Design and craft content for your audience of employees, answer their needs and then show your CEO how you’re enabling a more efficient and productive workforce.

Now. Who’s for coffee?

The Long Dog.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Client-centred design

Posted in Communications, UCD, usability, User-Centred Design, UXD, web, web 2.0 on August 3rd, 2011 by The Long Dog

Client-centred design.As good and diligent professionals we should all be creating products and services, designed to meet the needs and motivations of our customers – some of us call this user-centred design. But how often do we think about the needs, capabilities and motivations of the people who are paying us to do this work? What about client-centred design?

We understand that not creating with our intended audience in mind means our work can be confusing, inaccessible or simply ignored. The same thing happens with clients – external companies engaging us, or simply our bosses, colleagues and stakeholders. Regardless of the actual work we’re producing there are some things we need to consider when communicating or delivering our finished work or work in progress.

People’s heads are set up differently. While some love to read clear and detailed reports and not bother with all that ‘fluffy stuff’, some engage in creative narrative processes and can’t be bothered with all that ‘guff in reports’. Get a broad understanding of your client audience with some simple personality profiling so you and your colleagues can communicate with them in ways they understand and you’re halfway there.

I have some advice on how to do this in my post “Star Wars and Jungle Book personality profiling”.

Knowledge level
What does your client know about what you’re doing – everything or nothing? If they know everything get straight to the point. If they know nothing use a way of communicating that builds up their knowledge while telling why and how you’ve done things. Metaphor, story telling and other narratives are excellent ways to build up incremental complexity while cashing in on millennia of evolved communication tools.

Agree on certain areas and avoid later confusion or those buttock-clenching and often expensive moments that someone starts with “It’s not quite what I was expecting…”

1. Language and terminology. Make sure you all understand each other’s intent and terminology. You can capture assumptions and share them for approval in scope documents, glossaries, flash cards with pictorial examples (wireframes, site maps, personas etc) and present portfolios or previous work as examples.

2. Goals and objectives. If someone hasn’t done this already, please, please, PLEASE make sure you get a clear understanding of what you’re supposed to be doing. I’ve worked on nightmare projects where the best the account manager would allow was that the client “doesn’t know what he wants, but he says he’ll know when he sees it”. Not having a clear understanding of what you’re trying to achieve means it’s difficult to know when you’ve finished and how well you’ve succeeded.

Use scope documents, statements of work, PIDs (project initiation documents) and good old briefs to define your work and then you can agree (again) on what you’re doing. Create metrics to see how you’re doing and how well you’ve done overall. At the end you and your deliriously happy clients can all see that you’ve done what you’ve agreed to or understood why things haven’t gone to plan.

3. Communication style. There are as many different deliverables and communication styles as there are people. When you planning your work approach also plan for how you’ll deliver this work. Remember the reports vs. story telling? If your client doesn’t understand (or like) your deliverables or communication style, it doesn’t matter how good your work is.

Know thyself
In the spirit of my previous post “Presentation is a skill, not a human right”, play to your strengths and let someone else do the things you’re not so good at. If you’re not good at presenting or creating visuals get someone else to show off your work to its best.

The most important…
GET IN FRONT OF THE CLIENT! It’s not just about taking the credit for good work, it’s about being there to understand who the client is, what they’re like, what they want and build that working relationship. When you’re presenting work it’s about being present as the author to fully explain your approach, thinking and output and defend it if necessary. Nobody knows your work like you do, so step up don’t choose the hilarious but offensive t-shirt (today) and go and tell them how it is. I’ve had project managers make empty promises on my behalf and account managers forward PDFs of complex wireframes with no explanation and wondered at the confused ramblings in reply. So make sure you get in front of the client.

It’s simple. Work with your clients, agree on what you’re both saying and doing and tailor your deliverables to their needs, in the same way you’d tailor your output for your audience. Oh – and make sure you get in front of them and you’ll have a much easier time all round.

Go on then, what are you waiting for. Off you pop and take over the world (nicely).

The Long Dog

PS – I originally presented on client skills at UX Bristol in July 2011. The original slides which I’ve roughly transcribed here are available on slideshare as “People, stories and scribbles – Client Facing Skills for the UX professional”.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 reasons why I and my UX was wrong … apparently.

Posted in UCD, usability, User-Centred Design, UXD on March 15th, 2011 by The Long Dog
Why pay the specialist to give an expert an opinion, when you’ve already decided what they should do? A sample of comments I and chums have heard from our esteemed clients and colleagues.
  1. “Can we have some more flare?”
    How much ‘flare’ they wanted exactly wanted wasn’t clear.
  2. “It’s all about making a good user experience. It’s all about the users” … <time passes> … “We haven’t got time to get the users involved … or do the research.”
    The danger of not starting with clear requirements … or briefing … or an understanding of what the project is trying to achieve, for that matter.
  3. “We need more features” (thanks to Harry Harold for this)
    Great – let’s get a bag of features and poor them in.
  4. “It’s all got to be instantly accessible from the home page” … <time passes> … “we need to move this off the home page.”
    The danger of too many amends, leading you away from the initial aims of the project.
  5. “These wireframes … can we have some colour … and the logo … and some pictures …(etc)”
    No. Never. Your desire for visual impact will instantly lead the conversation away from “Does this work?” to “Are you sure that’s our corporate blue?”
  6. (After a site was launched which was known to be confusing and broken) “The users are frustrated and complaining. But hey, now we’re working on the second version they feel involved!” (Thanks Simona)
    Let’s just not tell them, eh?
  7. “I don’t care what your research says … THIS is how it should be laid out.”
    Engineering Quality Manager deciding that HIS placing of the search box was right, despite everybody else’s being in the opposite and same place.
  8. “But I’ve already shown it to the Directors and they liked all the clocks.”
  9. Client Director: “Why have you done THIS!?!” Me: “Because you didn’t like what I’d done and told me do THIS instead”. Client Director: “We can’t show THIS to the client!!!” Me: “Hmmm.”
  10. Developer: “You can earn your day rate doing your little wireframes but we’ll do what we want anyway” (thanks to Fielding for this).
    Glad to see teams working together in a spirit of collaboration and understanding.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Egypt: Kill the tech but the content lives on.

Posted in Communications, Mobile, social media, web on February 2nd, 2011 by The Long Dog

Egypt’s response to the popular uprising has been like trying to blend a sponge.

In the wake of the Tunisian civil revolution, the Egyptian population took to the streets to show that face-to-face communication is most direct and effective. The government’s attempts to strangle electronic communications internally and to the world outside also failed to quell the uprising.

twitter-horusWhen social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter dropped off the radar the government claimed it had nothing to do with it and supported free speech. The world knew this was a porky of massive proportions, but any pretence was abandoned when the country took the unprecedented step of closing off all internet access. Did this hide the country’s affairs from the world? Did the protestors dissipate and their organisations crumble? No.

If you get a sponge, a real marine sponge, not a synthetically manufactured washing aid, but a real marine sponge, put it in a blender (‘Will it blend?’ Yes)  and even pass the resulting mush through a sieve and dump it back in sea water, something amazing happens. Rather than killing the sponge one of two things occur – sometimes both: The microscopic pieces near enough to each other rejoin and start reconstructing a new sponge, while disparate pieces float away and start new little sponges by themselves.

Twitter’s users are renowned for their vocal, viral and nationally ambiguous responses to what they see as outrage, unfairness and in need of the universe’s attention. The political activity in Iraq in 2009 first prompted worldwide Tweetrage, with users changing their avatars to the green of the opposition party and citing themselves as located in Tehran to confuse the clamp down by the Iranian government on Iranian Twitter users. How much impact this had on world affairs is a moot point, but it is undeniable that within hours a cause and the reaction of hundreds of thousands was brought to the attention of the world … and the world took notice of these strange people expressing their verdant support and messages (no longer than 140 characters).

Twitter users and Facebook sites supporting political action in Egypt, allegedly coordinating protests, were technically neutered, albeit clumsily at first, leaving mobile internet and dial up access working, in an attempt to silence and fragment the ring leaders and paper over popular opinion.

The problem the Egyptian government had is twofold: Firstly, if you’re going to suppress people during an uprising, it’s all sabre charge massacres or nothing in terms of using military force to get people off the streets. Secondly, while the government may regulate online communications, their control of it is illusory – especially when trying to act at such speed. People own some technology, but more importantly, they own all the content and it’s potency and influence. The internet is like the sponge: constantly reforming, clumping and sporing. Whenever an authority thinks it’s blended and sieved a potential problem, the content just reforms or starts again somewhere else. Whether content is good or evil is a matter for philosophers, but the tangible impact is obvious across the world, from international terrorism to saving whales.

Thankfully foreign journalists have not been expelled and the country’s leadership, at time of writing, has been in dialogue with other world leadership, so there’s hope yet, that the sabres won’t come out.

But the lesson here is that skilled control of communication is needed and not force. How far will Egypt bend before it breaks? I don’t know, but what I do know is that the English barrister I met in 1998 who sneered at my suggestion that courts would use internet technologies and a guy I met in a pub last year who proudly told me he’d never ‘been on the internet’ and that is was all a fad anyway both underestimate the power that people can exercise in the use of online communications and how the world is increasingly seeing internet access as a human right and not a luxury. Kill the tech but the content lives on.

So next time a dictator drops me a Linked In request and wants my professional advice on online communications during times of crisis my reply will be that the Tweet is mightier than the sword.

They should also check out my sponge theory.

The Long Dog.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Briefing freelancers: Not rocket science

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14th, 2010 by The Long Dog

A successful brief makes the difference between getting the most from your freelancers or throwing money away and souring relationships with clients and freelancers alike. This sagely advice from the battlefield that is the digital freelance world is for those who brief and those who are briefed, to make projects happier and more successful.

This year I’ve had some corkingly bad briefs (underwear hilarity not intended). Sometimes I’ve managed to turn the situation around and sometimes when you bang your head against a brick wall all you get is a headache. So here you go. Not a definitive list, but some top tips from me, and the cock-ups that inspired them.

What do you want to have happened at the end of the project?

The Long Dog: “So, at the end of the three months, what is it you’d like me to have delivered?”
Account Director: “Concepts.”
The Long Dog: “Ok, and what do you mean by concepts here?”
Account Director: “Concepts. You know … concepts! I don’t really know how to be any clearer – that’s what we’re paying YOU for.”

…and three months later, including watching said Account Director and her minion brainstorm these concepts for me the night before the big presentation I, instead, delivered my interpretation of … ‘concepts’. The client was happy, so maybe that’s the main thing, but it was like pulling teeth.

  • Make sure you know what’s expected of a freelancer and make sure you all understand each other’s terminology: ‘Concept’ may mean something to you and something very different to someone else.
  • Be precise about deliverables and don’t start until there is a common agreement.

Prepare your briefing
“Here’s the brief”, said the young Account Manager, handing me an 11 page wish list. Just a questionnaire filled in by the client who had, understandably, selected all options in “Tick what things you’d like to see on your site”, including password sign in, webinars, Flash and … “downloads”. So I suggested I mark the document with questions he could take back to the client.  This backwards/forwards intermediated clarification was repeated over a few days. Which would have been fine if they hadn’t decided not to pay me for my time awaiting their feedback and actual instructions. Hmmm … lesson learned.

  • Do you understand the objectives of the project and what the client imagines is a successful result? If you don’t, sure as eggs is eggs, your freelancer won’t.
  • Even if there’s no formal briefing document, make sure it’s possible to express the project in clear terms.

Make sure you have all the information
Five days and a different requirements document each day: “I know it would have been ideal if we’d been able to sort this out before you came”, said the Producer. I’d say more of a necessity. Thankfully, they conceded that by the time I was receiving clear instructions at lunchtime of my last day, my considered recommendation “you don’t need wireframes, you need a strategy and content plan first” was good advice and went away and thought about things.

However, I did do a short gig at a well known London agency, where I was met by a Producer who took me to my desk and told me “Here’s your email password – the brief’s in your inbox, so let’s meet in an hour to catch up and see what you think, ok?”. Bang on.

  • Make sure you’re ready for your resource. If you employ a freelancer, they may be off somewhere else at the end your booking, so make sure you have everything ready and don’t expect an open ended commitment. Remember, their time is your money.

Consult your freelancer
Probably the most important and a combination of the preceding points. The thing to remember about employing a freelancer is that they’re providing expertise that you don’t have, so use that expertise. I once had an interview where a Producer had already decided I was right for the job, but wanted to see if I thought the project she had was feasible in the time frame, if not, what I could recommend. I’ve had some great times and very successful projects, where I’ve helped shape the brief.

  • Try and get your freelancer in on the creation of the brief: They can offer insight into outputs and timings (how did that guy come up with “4.5 days wireframing” before the project was even scoped?)
  • If your freelancer knows what they’re doing from your brief you all know how the project is going to move forward (you can’t check progress against ambiguities)
  • If your freelancer is uncomfortable with the brief, find out why: The expectations might be wrong, or they simply haven’t been articulated for the freelancer in way they need to understand (different companies and agencies use different terms for the same things)
  • If you’ve got an experienced freelancer, it’s ok, to say “We’ve got some ideas, but we’re not sure how to make them happen”.
  • If you need expertise you don’t have, don’t then presume that expertise – don’t have a dog and bark yourself (especially when that dog is charging by the day and writing blog posts about your incompetence).

Your brief is your benchmark for success
Lastly, if everyone’s agreed on the brief and feels they know what they’re doing then you can tell if things have gone well or not. Has expectation A resulted in deliverable A? If the freelancer has agreed to the brief and the client’s signed the brief off, you all know what to expect and when.

There. Job done. Everyone’s a winner. Now back to work.

The Long Dog.

Any fool can wireframe…

Posted in employment, research, UCD, UXD, web on September 6th, 2010 by The Long Dog

Any fool can wireframe … getting it right is the trick.

Pongo-pongo pictor vulgaris - the common wireframe monkeyA while back I wrote WTF is UXD in an attempt to explain what user experience design is, as response to bewildered looks from clients, colleagues and most of my friends and family. There’s still ambiguity around job titles, blurring the edges of user experienced designer, interaction designer, information architect and web designers (or to make it doubly-Dutch confusing UXDs, IXDs, IAs and web designers) and, in line with Ryan Carson’s “‘UX Professional’ isn’t a Real Job” there are a lot of charlatans peddling half-baked wireframes and someone else’s personas as website panaceas. However, against Ryan’s tech-heavy list of UX capabilities (I don’t have even a passing knowledge of JavaScript, but I’ve been making / saving companies A LOT OF MONEY over the past decade), Jared ‘UIE’ Spool lists the ‘Five Indispensable Skills for UX Mastery’ as:

But there are some core attributes that set aside the common wireframe monkey from real, proper, actual user experience professionals and these are very very simple, yet very very potent and to be frank, not everyone has them:

Adding value: If you’re not understanding where to add value or remove waste it really is just boxes and arrows. This is the biggy. If you’re not focussing on this, you really are charging money for old rope. You’re just pongo-pongo pictor vulgaris*. Stop reading and go and start adding value – you disgust me.

Relationship management: Including the areas of presenting and facilitation, any UX worth their salt must be able to articulate, demonstrate and even defend, in necessary, their work and approach with clients, suppliers, co-workers and even recruiters. Trouble is, clients come in all shapes, moods, capabilities and prejudices, so in the morning you could be shining the bright light of enthusiasm onto the hitherto ignored facilities team for your intranet project, and spending the afternoon convincing The Board that you’re right, because you’ve done the research and the testing and they’re just making it up on the spot while answering someone else’s emails on their Blackberries.

Experience: Sorry kids, this is one you can’t buy, qualify in or (unless you’re unusually talented and which case you have no need of my sagely wisdom) bluff. I’ve sometimes thought that interaction designers grow up to be user experience designers, widening their scope from the page to the big picture, but this again is just terminology (death threats or outrage to the usual address please). But experience is essential. While trying to help a friend get into the digital biz, a recruiter once said to me “there’s no such things as a junior user experience role”. When someone asks “how” and you answer, you’d better have a “because” to back it up. If you haven’t put the years in, experience can be borrowed from the knowledge of others, so keep learning. You may start, but not stop at “Don’t make think”, so keep creaming blogs, books, podcasts and blagging your way into conferences.

Enquiry: While experience gives you oven ready parboiled solutions ready to finish off in workshops, you will NEVER know as much your users, your clients, their employees – the subject matter experts. Your job is to be as good as you can get as being a UXD. I’ve worked with clients in engineering, banking, pharmaceuticals, gardening blah blah blah .. the point is, I never understood as much my clients about their businesses, but I knew how to get them to tell me what I needed to know.

Get it right: Don’t be precious about getting negative feedback. Take it on the chin and change or defend. Do the research. Build up the experience. If it’s not right, you’re not worth your money.

And lastly, adding value. Again.

You DON’T need working technical knowledge of layout languages or computer scripts. You simply need to be able to understand your objectives from your clients and colleagues and find the right solutions. Whether that be some wireframes and a site map, or the education of entire team and the overseen production of working prototypes and stakeholder engagement workshops – who knows. Well, frankly, you – that’s your job. Forge relationships, enquire into the organisational goals and audience’s needs and produce remarkable products, processes and services, whatever they may be and however they may suit each individual project.

Be bold, be bloody, and be bloody bold while you’re at it.

Add value. That is all.

The Long Dog.
*Pongo-pongo pictor vulgaris: The common wireframe monkey.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Are you working or social networking?

Posted in Communications, social media, web 2.0 on August 9th, 2010 by The Long Dog

I heard on the radio this morning that “billions have been lost over the last year through people updating their statuses rather than working”. I’ve heard similar things before and frankly I don’t agree.

A couple of years ago I was asked by Melcrum Publishing to write something about the use social networking sites by employees and I suspect this debate will carry on for years. The simple and credible sounding argument is this: If people are spending time on social networks instead of working, the business is not getting any value from that employee for that time.

Strictly … empirically … it’s true. But it ignores the bigger picture of getting more long term value from your employees by creating more engaging working environments. The fact that jobs and even departments for employee engagement exist is testament to the need for engaging employees. Research shows that money doesn’t motivate in the long term. Being an engaged employee in an agreeable working environment does. Some years ago, studies showed that allowing access to evil employee-time-stealing sites like Hotmail and Yahoo! actually lead to a small increase in productivity in some areas. It was found that, on the understanding that access was only allowed during breaks, people did exactly that – and while they remained at their desks, checking on their evil productivity-leaching webmail, they actually continued to do more work.

Ok, maybe not scientific, but I think the real issue is a management issue: If your employees are spending too much time networking then either you should see their work suffer and this can be addressed, or they just haven’t got enough work.

I once worked at <a global brand that shall remain nameless> that had had all the DVD drives removed from the desktops that staff were issued with. When I asked to borrow the department’s DVD player (oh yes), it was explained to me that this was a security issue (even if staff were using USB sticks to take work home with them), but more importantly to prevent people watching films when they should be working. You’d think you’d notice someone spending two hours staring at their screen, earphones in, and smirking at the funny bits and generally not doing any work, but apparently not. It only made me wonder why my bag wasn’t checked for books in case I might be reading novels at my desk instead of working.

There are reasons (apart from basic human rights) why we no longer work in Dickensian penury, silently seated at desks, fearing the fines and corporal punishment meted out by our employees. Allow people their email, their quick bit of networking, their texts (that’s phones as well as books), their chats over the photocopier and expect them to do the work that needs to be done. If they’re wasting time sort them out or make sure they’ve got enough work to do.

If you employee adults, treat them like adults and you’ll get a grown up attitude to work.

The Long Dog.

PS – This doesn’t count as social networking … this is work.

Tags: , , , , ,

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water – animated homepages

Posted in UCD, usability, User-Centred Design, UXD, web on May 14th, 2010 by The Long Dog

In which the Long Dog praises the extinction of animated webpages, only to find there are still monsters in the deep.

In the beginning there was black courier on a grey screen. Then came JavaScript and Flash and the grey wastes of the internet burst into moving colourful landscapes. Unusable, inaccessible and frankly downright irritating landscapes, but nonetheless the animated interface was born.

Before people were thinking about why they creating websites, back in my early days they mostly thought about how cool their site could be. Somewhere back in the late 90s I had this conversation:

Long Dog: So, tell me about this new customer extranet your manager has asked me to design for you…?

Marketeer: Well, if we could have these three triangles, like in the new logo, sort of spinning out of infinity towards you, out of the screen, sort of vwoosh! and be there for people to click on, yeah?

Long Dog: I’m sure we can do that, but let’s talk about the guts of the site first: What’s this product and why are customers logging in to an extranet?

Marketeer: If they could, like, spin in – the triangles – and sort of hover, then people could click on them to get into the site.

Long Dog: Ok … yes … but let’s think about the content and the structure – what’s this site ‘for’?

Marketeer: [pause] Can we do the triangles…?

Sound FX: Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! [sound of reloading] Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!…

Fade to black. End scene.

To be fair, I sent him back to his manager with a list of questions and never saw him again. But ‘the triangles’ are burnt into my memory.

Anyway … with the .com bubble bursting and businesses asking awkward questions about ROI for websites, suddenly people got interested in usability and even user experience. Now, it’s nice to think that the internet’s design dark age is a comically naive part of the industry’s necessary evolution, but I’m both horrified and masochistically pleased to say that there are still plenty of animated interfaces and home pages out there – and their owners still haven’t got the joke.

Here’s three favourite baddies and then one actual goodie that breaks all the usability rules and gets away with it.

Just Like Sugar screenshotMy all time favourite. Oh yes. Now, this product may be a perfectly good artificial sweetener, but what has happened here? Apart from the seemingly unending and inescapable flashing, moving, zooming art-vomit that is repeatedly hurled at the screen, there’s fuzzy audio, hidden ‘skip intro’ links and well … just check it out for yourself. Really – it needs to be seen to be believed. And then try the ‘real’ homepage – really … you’ve got to see this (thanks to @AnalitycsGirl for sending this in).

WARNING: Contains loud audio and flashing imagery.
Tip(1): You may need to refresh the page up to four times to get it to load in its true majesty
Tip(2): ‘Skip intro’ is in the footer links, below the fold on most browsers, should you wish to move foolishly attempt to escape the onslaught.

Leo Burnett screenshotYes it’s beautiful. Yes it’s a clever piece of animation and interaction, but come on Leo Burnett, shouldn’t you know better? The fixed navigation at the bottom of the screen feels like an apology for the whizzy stuff, unable to show the site’s navigation choices all on the screen at the same time – something that should have hinted that if it needs propping up, it doesn’t work. Maybe that’s why this agency were recruiting digital consultants a couple of years back to train up their offices in user experience. While this is a masterpiece of design, making it difficult for people to click on links through to your content and laying an automatically playing voiceover is going to get your site back buttoned quicker than a poultry farmer accidentally landing on a site that isn’t about the same sort of large male chickens he expected.

Tip: Be quick with your clicks, as the navigation actively drifts away from your mouse pointer. Go figure.

Hema screenshotSeeing the Dutch homewares company’s home page first off I was really impressed. Fun, brilliantly executed and what a great way to get people to see your wide range of products. But then I tried to click through to a product to find out what happened next. Ah. You’d have thought that for the money they must have spent, they could forked out a few extra Euros to make the products clickable? Apparently not. So Hema – what are you selling, flash movies or homewares? A quick check shows me that the navigation and other links aren’t clickable either and the site takes away your control of what part of the screen you’re looking at. Um…? Beautiful, but for a site that describes itself as an “online winkelen” (“online shop / store”) it fails to deliver actual value to the user or, ultimately, the business (thanks to Simona Ecker-Zach for sending this in).

Tip: Let the site load and don’t touch anything – just wait a little and watch the pretty things happen.

Poisson Rouge screenshotNow this is lovely. Remove all labelling, text navigation, add automatic audio, provide no clues as to what’s clickable and what’s not and you’d normally get a dog’s dinner of an impenetrable, unusable, inaccessible visual mugging. But follow these rules for a entertaining, educational site for early and pre-school kids and you get a masterpiece of exploration, rich interaction and fun, multilingual learning. There are no rules here. Just go, play and figure out what you’ve got to do. Who knows, you might improve your mental arithmetic, shape recognition, or even learn a few words in French, Greek or even Chinese. They reinforce Jared Spools usability mantra “it depends” and come up with something really good.

Tip: Just play.

Animations are great to show actual movement or to provide visual cues, or just for plain entertainment, but please, please … PLEASE … fit animation form to function, as eye candy doesn’t increase profit.

The Long Dog

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,