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January 2014 Issue

By Janet M. Six

Published: January 27, 2014

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

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss their views on the best approaches to conducting expert reviews.

Each month in my column Ask UXmatters, our UX experts provide answers our 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 Cory Lebson

Published: January 27, 2014

“A decision that many UX professionals must make is whether it makes more sense to work in house, focusing on the needs of one company, or to work across multiple companies as a consultant.”

For most of my career as a UX consultant, I have worked full time on some company’s payroll. A number of years back, one very large consulting organization hired me for a 6-month, full-time gig, working on site for a client. When, at the appointed time, the project concluded successfully, the consulting firm didn’t immediately have any other UX work for which I was suited. No problem. They were large, had deep pockets, and were optimistic. They told me they were putting me on the bench. What did that mean? It meant that I’d continue to be employed, but there was really nothing that needed doing. “Relax,” they said, “and stay nearby in case we need you on short notice.” So I went home and did just that. I went to the beach for a few days with the family and caught up on household chores.

At the time, this made me feel safe. Here was a company that cared about their consultants enough to pay me to do absolutely nothing when they couldn’t find any project to put me on. But now, when I look back on that time, I see things a little differently. Yes, they were certainly worthy of respect for keeping me on the payroll even when I was on the bench, but knowing what I know now about billing rates for companies like that, I figure that their profit from my working for them for six months was greater than my pay for one year. Certainly, my being on the bench for a month or so wasn’t all that big a deal for them financially. Read moreRead More>

By Baruch Sachs

Published: January 27, 2014

“Chances are that your clients and customers are reading the same UX articles you are. Since they will undoubtedly bombard you with questions about new trends, you’ll need to have a decent amount of knowledge about them so you’ll come off well informed.”

As we enter the beginning of 2014, it is almost impossible to avoid reading articles that discuss the trends we saw in the previous year—noting what trends have gone mainstream or failed gloriously. We’re also getting bombarded with UX predictions for what will be trends in the new year. This cycle repeats year after year, along with predictions that this year we’ll finally see—insert UX trend here—go mainstream.

From a professional perspective, this kind of stuff is fun. If you are passionate about user experience, there are bound to be some trends that really speak to your own personal design sense. And you can derive an abundance of amusement from reading about the really silly UX trends.

But predictions and trends can also be a source of pain when you work in the consulting world. As user experience—and let’s be honest, anything with the word experience in the title is trendy in and of itself—continues its well-deserved climb into the hearts and minds of regular folk, chances are that your clients and customers are reading the same UX articles you are. Since they will undoubtedly bombard you with questions about new trends, you’ll need to have a decent amount of knowledge about them so you’ll come off well informed. Read moreRead More>

By Laura Keller

Published: January 27, 2014

“Organizations and their employees may make short-sighted or even rash decisions in the spirit of becoming customer centric, and this can have devastating effects on the very experiences they are trying to improve.”

You may instinctively answer the question, Can organizations be too customer-focused?, with a resounding of course not! That’s certainly my instinct. How could there be any limit on how focused you can be on customers’ needs? Why would you ever want to discourage an organization from being customer focused?

But let me preface my question with an obvious caveat: If an organization were to be a potential target of an inquiry into its being too customer focused, it would likely have had good intentions in attempting to focus on the needs of its customers. It would likely be trying to improve its relationships with its customers by making their experiences with the organization good ones. It would also likely have historically received criticism from customers for creating bad experiences—a situation that they want to rectify. Read moreRead More>

By Simon White

Published: January 27, 2014

“I have to design for people who use their increasingly diverse digital devices in ways that I cannot predict and that do not match my usage patterns in the slightest.”

While I am reasonably aware of my own digital consumption, I have to design for people who use their increasingly diverse digital devices in ways that I cannot predict and that do not match my usage patterns in the slightest. Therefore, I consider it to be important to project scenarios of just how and why particular pages appear to the people who read them. What were they doing before they got there, and where are they trying to get next?

A while back, someone mentioned a simple anecdote to me about his typically having scores of tabs—perhaps over a hundred—open in his browser. In contrast, I am careful to keep the number of active tabs and windows that I have open at once low. I don’t like to keep too much in the background, just waiting, taking up space and memory. The performance of the computer on which the many-tabbed browser was running was definitely problematic, and the person referred to the annoying noise from the computer’s fan, whirring like a jet engine. Read moreRead More>

By Jim Ross

Published: January 13, 2014

“In the field of UX design research, we’ve borrowed and adapted many research methods from anthropology to enable us to better understand people and their needs. But we haven’t adopted one signature method of anthropology: participant observation.”

In the field of UX design research, we’ve borrowed and adapted many research methods from anthropology to enable us to better understand people and their needs. But we haven’t adopted one signature method of anthropology: participant observation. When we go into the field to observe people performing tasks, we remain outside observers, asking questions and taking notes, but not getting involved in their activities ourselves.

Anthropologists and sociologists often practice participant observation, in which they join a group as a participating member to get a first-hand perspective of the group and their activities. Instead of observing as an outsider, they play two roles at once—objective observer and subjective participant. Participating in the group gives them the ability to experience events in the same way other group members experience them. These are the types of studies that probably come to mind when you think about anthropology or sociology—for example, an anthropologist goes to live with a tribe in the Amazon rainforest or a sociologist moves into a housing project to learn about poverty. These are participant observation studies. Read moreRead More>

By Ronnie Battista

Published: January 13, 2014

“I set out to frame what I have been observing in the UX strategy industry and hearing in conversations with others in the field. My hope was to capture the core, essential elements of UX strategy….”

When considering my topic for the presentation that I gave at the UX STRAT conference in Atlanta, in October 2013—knowing that I would be speaking to an audience of respected peers and industry leaders in the emerging field of UX strategy—it was challenging to add something new or novel to the conversation. So I set out to frame what I have been observing in the UX strategy industry and hearing in conversations with others in the field. My hope was to capture the core, essential elements of UX strategy while, at the same time, not missing anything important. This article is based on that presentation.

My interest in this topic came from a few places, including the following:

  • The failed effort to create a UXPA International Certification program, which I undertook during my three years as Director of Certification for the UXPA. That was quite an eye-opening experience, given the strong and vocal opinions both for and against certification.
  • Emerging professional trends, both within and outside of user experience, that emphasize speed to market—for example Lean, agile, and “fail forward fast.”
  • The competitive challenges that we face teaching user experience at Rutgers—for example MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), programs like General Assembly, and the increasing number of 1- to 3-day UX intensive workshops. Is it me or are they multiplying like rabbits?
  • The continuing confusion over what user experience is and isn’t versus other UX-related disciplines that are not called user experience, such as customer experience (CX), information architecture (IA), service design (SD), and experience design (XD).
  • Getting a bit existential about what UX strategy means for us—and selfishly, for my next 20 plus working years—and for our future UX leaders.

Read moreRead More>

By Steven Hoober and Mudassir Azeemi

Published: January 13, 2014

“We like to distinguish between the environmental and situational contexts of people regardless of the device. … Interactions in all … contexts are important….”

In the days before the iPhone, when only a relatively few of us thought daily about mobile devices, mobile apps, and the mobile Web, we often heard the term context bandied about. Every design discussion revolved around the fact that mobile phones could go with us anywhere; therefore, anything we designed to work on them should work everywhere. The environmental context—whether indoors, outdoors, walking, or on a bus or train—mattered a lot.

Of course, all of this has changed now—and not because the context of mobile phones has stopped being ubiquitous. But we’ve moderated—though we’d hate to say forgotten—our perception of how important it is to consider the user’s environmental context. A few years ago, various industry luminaries began to say that context doesn’t matter. Their argument wasn’t quite that users don’t matter, but rather that, since people use their devices so heavily—and often so deliberately—we can often assume that people sit in chairs or lie on couches, focusing on their device. We no longer worry about the kinds of people who ride the bus to work. Read moreRead More>

By Amy Edwards

Published: January 13, 2014

“In 2013, the focus on all things user experience definitely stepped up a gear.”

Whether you work directly in the field of UX design or you just have a passing interest, it’s fair to say that, in 2013, the focus on all things user experience definitely stepped up a gear. Over the last 11 months at Bubble, the UK digital jobs board for whom I work, we’ve seen a huge increase in the demand for talented UX designers right across the UK—and not just from specialist niche agencies, but from major brands like comparethemarket.com, ITV, Sainsbury’s, and The Telegraph Media Group, too.

What’s the reason for this increased demand? It’s hard to say. Perhaps brands have now got more money to spend on their online offering, and it’s finally dawned on them that a great user experience really can make a difference to their bottom line and provide a healthy return on investment (ROI). Or perhaps it’s because brands are now more willing—and able!—to reallocate their existing budget from other digital areas like social media, where it can be difficult to quantify ROI and determine their strategy’s success. Either way, it’s great news for the user experience industry—both in the UK and the US—as more and more positions, especially senior-level positions, become available. Read moreRead More>