Jesmond: We’re user-centered designers, so the first thing we thought about was our audience for our book. We considered the Smashing Magazine readership and aimed to address their needs. Neither of us is a professional writer, so thinking about writing as a dialogue with a colleague was a helpful starting point.
James: I tried to read a book about how to write before we began the book project. Pretty soon, I became bogged down in the rules, and it really got in the way of just getting everything down on paper. Our deadline meant that we just had to get on with it and rely on the editors to help us to pull it together at the end. Luckily, our writing styles worked well together, and the guys at Wiley did an amazing editorial job.
Erin: There are many subtle aspects of the book that I thoroughly enjoyed. One in particular was the inclusion of case studies. They provided a relatable aspect to readers. What gave you the idea to include real clients into your book?
Jesmond: We often advise our clients to “show don’t tell,” and case studies were an opportunity to do just that in Smashing UX. We wanted to bring our real-world experiences to life for readers, and we’re incredibly grateful to the clients who allowed us to write about their projects.
James: We are lucky in that we work on UX projects every day, with a team of people who have a really rich variety of experience and expertise. This allows us to ask quick questions that help to shape our projects. But, of course, not everyone has easy access to a bunch of UX professionals they can bounce ideas off of, and in those situations, pitching an idea or a process to a client without passing it by others first can be pretty daunting.
Case studies are a nice way of letting people learn from the work we have done and apply it to their own projects. Everyone talks about tools and techniques all the time, but they rarely discuss the subject of designing a project. Designing a process that results in a design or research solution is an art in its own right, and we hoped that, by including case studies, we would shed a bit of light upon how we go about doing things.
Erin: Your admitting that contextual research is a favorite approach made me smile. There are certain techniques that I enjoy more than others as well. Out of all the research and design tools you cover in Smashing UX Design, do you find there are any in particular that you use most often?
Jesmond: You can never beat a good usability test for teaching you something new. Plus, the activity that is my personal favorite is definitely sketching on a whiteboard with colleagues to solve interesting design problems.
James: I agree with Jesmond here, and this is probably a common theme among UX professionals: I love going out into the wild and discovering weird and wonderful behavior, then trying to come up with designs that support that behavior. I also really enjoy understanding how organizations work, then trying to juggle often conflicting user and business requirements. Design is definitely addictive, and we all find ourselves identifying things that are broken, then trying to fix them. I guess it’s just the way we are wired!
Erin: To borrow one of your own questions from the book, were “there any burning issues that [you] must address” within the book?
Jesmond: No real burning issues, but we felt we wanted to be honest, down to earth, and above all, practical. We wanted to ensure that this book would be useful to people. We’re passionate advocates of user-centered design, and we genuinely wanted to help others to put users at the heart of their projects. Activities like usability testing may sound difficult to those who have no training in usability, and we wanted to show that anyone can roll up their sleeves and get going with user experience.
James: I think Jesmond has really nailed this one. The book is all about sharing what we know and trying to help others who are also working in user experience. The practical aspect of the book was hugely important to me. If we have done our job properly, it will end up like a well-loved recipe book—dog-eared and covered in tea or wine, biscuit crumbs, scribblings, and highlighter ink. It’s ended up as a bit of a UX manual, so hopefully it will become what we originally envisioned: the UX expert on your bookshelf.
Erin: One topic we don’t often see covered is the nuts and bolts of time and budget allotment for UX. As you mention, it’s a common question that is quite difficult to answer because projects and clients vary so much. Aside from just learning through experience, what direction would you give a novice in the field to ease some of their uncertainty?
Jesmond: Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for experience. However, taking the time to break down a project into every activity you’ll need to cover is a good place to start when budgeting your time.
James: I used to use only one rule of thumb: 1 day per wireframe. But with the advent of responsive design, this has gone out the window. You need to come up with a plan and review it regularly. I often need to change course during a project, because things always seem to change. But as long as I communicate well with clients, this rarely causes problems. Scope creep is the enemy of successful projects. I’d advise novices to keep note of how long they thought something would take, and how long it actually took to do and why.
Erin: As often as we discuss how user experience is good for both users and businesses, I still find that there are misconceptions—and even, at times, a business-versus-user mentality. Unfortunately, in some cases, I’ve even seen a business-versus-developer type of environment. You not only go to great lengths to spell out the importance of addressing business and user needs, but also describe various workshops that can increase buy-in and common understanding across a project team. From your experience, has this helped you overcome the us-versus-them mindset?
Jesmond: We’re user-centered designers, but if we designed solely for users, we wouldn’t meet the business needs of the people who are paying us. As someone once said, “The most user-friendly online store possible wouldn’t need to take payment details: the goods would be free.” The interesting design challenges lie in getting the balance right between business and user needs in an elegant and efficient product.
On our projects, we usually have the luxury of working for clients who have already called in a user-centered design agency, so we have a head start on overcoming the business-versus-user mentality. However, sometimes we are there because one part of a business needs to provide evidence to another part of the need to change. Those projects can be tough, but are rewarding. We always find that projects go more smoothly when key stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process. If our clients understand the basis for our design decisions, they can build on our designs long after we’ve gone. All marketing, design, and development disciplines have a place in UX design, and we strive to involve them wherever possible.