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April 2012 Issue

By Jim Nieters, Amit Pande, and Uday M. Shankar

Published: April 24, 2012

With this article, we’re introducing our new column—Breakthrough Application Design—Designing game-changing experiences. In this column, we’ll discuss innovative approaches to application design that are based on our personal experience in the trenches.

“One of the reasons for poor design execution is that UX teams need to own more than just design. We need to own front-end development.”

How can it be that so many digital products fail deliver any inspiration when so many technology and digital media companies spend millions of dollars on design and user experience? Merely following user-centered design (UCD) practices by the book is not sufficient to create truly transformative digital products. In fact, despite UX teams’ following UCD processes, the digital product industry confronts this alarming paradox: More and more UX teams claim to follow user-centered processes, yet most digital products are mediocre or even substandard. And things won’t get easier. As interactions progress from clicks to taps and other gestures, traditional UCD processes will face even greater challenges. In this installment of our column, we suggest that one of the reasons for poor design execution is that UX teams need to own more than just design. We need to own front-end development. In fact, we argue that front-end development has always been more strongly aligned with design than with development. Read moreRead More>

By Frank Guo

Published: April 24, 2012

“UX professionals use the term user experience much more broadly, to cover everything ranging from ease of use to user engagement to visual appeal. User experience better captures all of the psychological and behavioral aspects of users’ interactions with products.”

Some people mistakenly use the terms user experience and usability almost interchangeably. However, usability is increasingly being used to refer specifically to the ease with which users can complete their intended tasks, and is closely associated with usability testing. Therefore, many perceive usability to be a rather tactical aspect of product design. In contrast, UX professionals use the term user experience much more broadly, to cover everything ranging from ease of use to user engagement to visual appeal. User experience better captures all of the psychological and behavioral aspects of users’ interactions with products.

To help define the objectives and scope of user experience efforts, as well as enable their meaningful measurement, I would like to propose a conceptual framework that describes four distinct elements of user experience, as shown in Figure 1, and how they interact with one another in driving better product designs. Read moreRead More>

By Janet M. Six

Published: April 24, 2012

Send your questions to Ask UXmatters and get answers from our experts—some of the top professionals in UX.

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss the gaps between the agile development model and user experience design. Agile UX is a hot topic right now, so we’re revisiting a discussion that we began in a previous edition of Ask UXmatters, “Integrating UX into Agile Development.”

Ask UXmatters is a monthly column in which our panel of UX experts answers readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: ask.uxmatters@uxmatters.com. Read moreRead More>

By Peter Hornsby

Published: April 24, 2012

“The release cycle of products has changed: systems … now have vast, permanently connected user bases. Users are now learning to accept change as the norm….”

In my spare time, I’m a keen gamer—particularly a player of Battlefield 3 on the PS3. Recently, the game developers DICE applied an update to the online multiplayer game that tweaked a number of its weapons. As often happens, this triggered a vigorous debate online. Gamers will appreciate that this is a euphemism for “lots of anger, expressed with varying degrees of coherence and literary merit.” I’m sure DICE had conducted alpha and beta testing of the changes, listened to feedback, and made further refinements based on it; just as I’m sure they made the changes in response to feedback from users on the forums. But this whole update process demonstrates how the release cycle of products has changed: systems, including games, now have vast, permanently connected user bases. Users are now learning to accept change as the norm—whether producer-driven or user-driven change—or typically, both. Read moreRead More>

By Baruch Sachs

Published: April 24, 2012

“One of the true dangers to user experience is when the people practicing the craft get jaded.”

There has been a lot of talk lately about the so-called death of user experience. Through having been an active UX professional for the past 13 years, I have found that one of the true dangers to user experience is when the people practicing the craft get jaded.

I recently read an article from Forrester Research that discussed their results from conducting 1500 Web site usability reviews. After reading through the findings, I found myself chuckling a bit in disbelief. It took 1500 reviews to find out things any quality UX professional knows after mere months on the job? The article highlighted a few of the findings, including one with which every UX professional is familiar: they found the same problems over and over throughout those 1500 reviews. That kind of news could be depressing for any UX professional. We all like to believe that we are making a difference with what we do. Read moreRead More>

By Jim Ross

Published: April 2, 2012

“Trying to simultaneously record all of that information in only handwritten notes, without introducing any delays in the sessions, would be an extreme challenge.”

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose with a straw, with another smaller straw inside it.” That’s how a colleague who was not allowed to record participants in user research sessions described doing contextual inquiries for a very complex financial application. He was trying to prepare me for my own contextual inquiries with the same client, who didn’t allow any recording devices: No video. No audio. No pictures. Handwritten notes only.

As a consequence, working in an unfamiliar domain, we would be observing very complicated work involving many different applications, documents, and interactions with other employees. Simply trying to observe and understand what was going on would be difficult enough. But trying to simultaneously record all of that information in only handwritten notes, without introducing any delays in the sessions, would be an extreme challenge. Read moreRead More>

By Scott Plewes

Published: April 2, 2012

“Companies that have successful software products often know that their user interfaces need improvement, but they may be concerned that any sort of major change might upset their user base.”

Companies that have successful software products often know that their user interfaces need improvement, but they may be concerned that any sort of major change might upset their user base.

Facebook, for example, caused quite a stir in September 2011 when it made dramatic changes to its user interface that spawned an initial backlash from users. But for every example of a UX redesign that has gone wrong—like Facebook’s—there is a success story of a company that has blasted ahead of its competitors by reinventing its product design. Salesforce.com’s dominance in the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) market, for example, is largely attributable to its innovative design updates.

The risks that are associated with not updating your user interface outweigh those of releasing a software update. But, to avoid a user revolt, you absolutely need to take the right approach to product management and UX design, evolving your product carefully to ensure that it meets users’ needs. Read moreRead More>

By Catalina Naranjo-Bock

Published: April 2, 2012

“Many of my most rewarding and insightful research experiences have included children as co-designers in a product development process.”

I’ve dedicated a significant portion of my career to conducting user experience research using participatory design methods. Throughout my years as a UX professional, this research practice has taken many forms. in both industrial and academic settings. Certainly, many of my most rewarding and insightful research experiences have included children as co-designers in a product development process.

Children are naturals for co-designing. In the right context with the right tools, kids have no problem unleashing their wildest ideas and dreams to create previously unimagined product concepts.

But conducting co-design sessions with children is no easy task, and a good amount of preparation and knowledge must go into such sessions. To learn how to do co-design with children, you must first understand both what co-designing with children in a product development context means and the theory behind this approach to design. Read moreRead More>

By Patrick Neeman

Published: April 2, 2012

“A great organizational culture is a necessity if we are to create great products.”

Being a UX professional—whether a UX designer, a user researcher, or a UX leader—can sometimes be challenging. We often find ourselves in the midst of organizational challenges—sometimes bringing more to light than we actually solve. Because our work is customer facing, User Experience is an important part of the product development equation. We reflect our organizational cultures because we are so integral to the product development process.

In many organizations, there is a very high turnover rate for Directors of User Experience—just because an organization’s culture is broken. We recognize early on that many product problems are a direct reflection of cultural difficulties, but sometimes there is no way to change them.

A great organizational culture is a necessity if we are to create great products. In this article, I’ll discuss some ways in which organizations fail because of their cultures. Read moreRead More>

By Steven Hoober

Published: April 2, 2012

“We should not just trust our gut, but always seek to understand how things really work with real people—and why.”

Far too often, perceptions of what is cool and useful drive interactive design trends. We use our gut instinct and intuitive sense to identify design solutions. But whenever I think about this, I remember what a college professor taught my class about a complex concept in aerodynamics. As a few of us nodded our understanding, he proclaimed, “If you think that makes sense, you are wrong. It’s counterintuitive, so just make sure to memorize it the right way.”

Our intuition is not always correct, and not all systems bear internal analysis. User experience and interaction design are structured, evidence-based practices. We should not just trust our gut, but always seek to understand how things really work with real people—and why. Read moreRead More>