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January 08, 2018 Edition

Cascading UX Specifications

Mobile Matters

Designing for every screen

A column by Steven Hoober
January 8, 2018

A common complaint about bringing UX designers onto a project team is that they waste time creating design artifacts. This is purportedly antithetical to modern development methodologies that value code over process.

However, this is not my experience at all. I’m not arguing that creating design artifacts is all that design is about. I default to fairly light documentation myself—and not one in 100 project teams or clients wants as little design documentation as I would typically provide by default.

One of my more common jobs is to improve or replace the design for an existing product for a client. All too often, these projects have no historical documentation of any value, which frequently causes projects to take months or even years longer to build.

Good documentation allows consistency in design and execution and serves as institutional knowledge for organizations. It enables us to remember what we’ve built and why, to check reported bugs and new feature requests against the documentation, and to more quickly react to necessary changes or updates. Read More

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Satisfying Fundamental Human Needs

January 8, 2018

Many modern experiences that are supposed to satisfy our intrinsic needs often have the opposite effect. As the Time article “You Asked: Is Social Media Making Me Miserable?” described, users of the social-media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram experience depression and anxiety after perusing their feeds. And why not? Their feeds deliver a glut of images and videos that depict friends taking lavish vacations or doing other enviable things. The flashy highlight reels that bombard users provoke unfair comparisons—and, as human beings, we often internalize our shortcomings more readily than our blessings. This dulls our focus on things that should make us feel grateful.

But social-media platforms attempt to bolster the well-documented human need for acceptance often has the opposite effect. And this is just one of the needs that define what it means to be human. Our hyper-paced modern culture blunts and distorts other important human needs as well.

In this article, I’ll discuss four important human needs that product companies tend overlook and how UX professionals can help to nurture them rather than contribute to their suppression:

  • mastery
  • caution
  • discovery
  • resonance Read More

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Your Baby is Ugly

Practical Usability

Moving toward a more usable world

A column by Jim Ross
January 8, 2018

UX researchers must frequently deliver bad news to the creators of products and user interfaces. After we’ve conducted expert reviews, competitive analyses, usability testing, or user research, the end result is often telling our clients, stakeholders, designers, and other project team members about all the problems we’ve found in their product. Even though this is what they asked us to do—and what they expect—listening to a long list of their baby’s faults can be demoralizing.

Yes, we do try to balance our negative criticism by also highlighting some positive aspects, but most research findings tend to be negative. After all, the goal of research activities is not to confirm how great the user experience already is. The goal is to find problems and areas for improvement. Yet, despite the fact that we deliver bad news all the time, it often feels awkward and uncomfortable. Usually, the people in the room have created the problems your research has identified. While most people take it pretty well, some won’t like what they’re hearing and will blame the messenger.

People tend to become very attached to the fruits of their labors, so hearing criticism of their work really can feel very much like having someone say their baby is ugly. Read More

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Stakeholder Management

January 8, 2018

While we might not think of stakeholder management as a key UX skill, it is integral to our work. So much so that it occasionally surprises me that we don’t all approach stakeholder management with the same rigor that we do user-centered design. This becomes clearer when we consider the frequent headaches that are associated with poor stakeholder management—from having product-team members perceive User Experience as an impediment to delivering products to losing our UX budget and headcount.

In the course of my work as a UX designer, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and experimenting with how to provide the most transparency to my stakeholders, while also keeping the scope of my design work realistic and manageable. I’ve been able to consolidate my learnings from experience down to six major points that I’d like to share, in the interest of professional growth.

Before diving in, I need to say that, even though the putative subject of this article is the management of stakeholders, the intent of the techniques that I present here is neither to corral nor obstruct. When using these stakeholder-management techniques, think of your job as a servant stakeholder whose job is to create transparency, head off conflict, and maintain your own sanity as a UX-design professional. Let’s get started. Read More

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Designing Voice User Interfaces

January 8, 2018

Selected sections from Chapter 5 of Cathy Pearl’s new book Designing Voice User Interfaces: Principles of Conversational Experiences. 2017 O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Excerpts from Chapter 5: Advanced Voice User Interface Design

Designing Voice User Interfaces Cover

[This] Chapter [covers advanced] voice user interface (VUI) design [topics]. Here, we take a look at what will make [your VUIs] engaging, easy to use, and successful.

Siri and the Amazon Echo are both examples of popular VUIs. The Echo has recently received a lot of praise about its interface. Given that the two systems can do many similar things, why is the Echo often a better user experience? One reason is that the Echo was designed with voice in mind from the beginning—that’s its sole purpose. Siri, by comparison, is just one more way to interact with your iPhone. Read More

December 18, 2017 Edition

Connectedness: Virtual and Local

Smartware

The evolution of computing

December 18, 2017

As recently as 25 years ago, the physical reality in which we lived was an analog world that was becoming increasingly global. While globalization is still very much a factor today, our world is now decidedly connected and is becoming increasingly virtual. However, thanks to a combination of enabling technology and the possible impacts of global warming, some aspects of globalization are shifting back to being local. This connectedness—both virtual and local—is contributing to the emerging world of smartware.

As we detailed in “The Smartware Transformation,” smartware is a convergence of emerging technologies and science. Artificial intelligence (AI) is fueling its rise. The technologies that are enabling smartware include the Internet of Things (IoT), mixed-reality environments, and additive fabrication, or 3D printing, as are incredible advances in sciences such as genomics and neuroscience. Some or all of these advances are core to the emergence of incredible new products that are just over the horizon—products such as self-driving vehicles and neighborhood parts manufacturing. In “Smartware, AI, and Magical Products,” we took a look at the current darling of technology and entertainment media: artificial intelligence. We’ll continue that analysis in this installment, as we look at some other core smartware technologies, before covering the key sciences underlying smartware in our next column. Read More


Pros and Cons of Fixed-Price UX Design Services

Ask UXmatters

Get expert answers

A column by Janet M. Six
December 18, 2017

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss whether it is a good idea to offer fixed-price or fixed-duration UX design services. In exploring the pros and cons of such services, our expert panel suggests that designers consider how well they know their client and how familiar they are with the details of a project. Our expert panel also discusses whether designers should charge according to the value they provide or simply for their time. The panel discusses the risks of fixed-price services and cautions designers against commoditizing their services in the marketplace.

Our expert panel also considers offering some combination of hourly, fixed-price, and monthly retainer services and where each of these approaches is most appropriate. The panel explains some common pitfalls of offering fixed-price services and provides alternatives to offering fixed-price or fixed-duration services. Finally, the panel advises UX designers to create a Statement of Work that clearly defines the scope of a project and the terms of their agreement with a client. Read More


Lessons Learned in My First Year as a UX Researcher

December 18, 2017

UX research has become something of a passion for me over the past year—and the area in which I have personally seen my most noticeable career growth to date. While I enjoy creating and executing research plans for my clients, the most enjoyable part of my role as a user researcher is speaking with users, truly understanding their needs, and digging into the key issues they face—not just with my clients’ products and services, but in their day-to-day role.

I was first introduced to the world of UX research and design in 2015. The company I was working for was in the middle of a major digital transformation, was implementing agile—specifically, Scrum—across the business, and was undertaking a massive cultural shift for the organization as a whole. We had just begun employing UX designers on product teams. The aim was to catch up with and, hopefully, overtake the competition and diversify our current product offerings by putting users at the center of the design and development of our new products. Read More


The Future of Embedded Advertising

Evolution of XD Principles

Challenging XD conventions

A column by Dashiel Neimark
December 18, 2017

What does the future hold for advertising embedded in digital experiences? Making advertising part of your digital product’s or property’s business model has always been a challenging balancing act. Creators of digital experiences need to make money. Selling ad space within a product or Web site helps you to earn money—and, generally speaking, the more traffic you get, the more you can leverage advertising as a business model. (Although high-quality traffic can be more important than just the amount of traffic, depending on the advertising model you choose.)

Of course, on the flip side, users rarely want to see advertising—for several key reasons:

  • Advertising often lacks originality or creativity.
  • Advertising often lacks relevance.
  • Advertising takes up space that users would generally prefer be dedicated to content and clutters up the visible digital canvas. Read More


The Benefits of User Experience

December 18, 2017

User Experience is about solving problems in real people’s lives and helping people to attain their goals. UX professionals deal with users’ painpoints, investigate how to eliminate them, and design solutions for them.

Users, customers, agencies, and companies should be aware of the many important benefits of a user-centered approach to design. These benefits actually materialize only once people have used a product or service. They can extend broadly to other people and communities. The tools that people choose to use can impact many others. Thus, it is very important that experience outcomes engender positive feedback. Often, company slogans say, “We want to change the world,” but the products they create don’t reflect that idealism. The work UX professionals do and the value we contribute can help our companies to attain that goal. Read More