Several Nerds will enjoy what’s become a traditional Memorial Day weekend at Soundset this Sunday, but for the first time there’s an app for that fine festival – and that’s because we built it for our friends at Rhymesayers. Continue reading Long-time listeners, first-time Soundset mobile App makers
The beginning of The Nerdery’s UX process can feel strange and unfamiliar to clients who have previously engaged in projects with similar vendors. Why? Because we ask a lot of questions. Questions that dig into the roots of the company; operations, reasons behind decisions, internal systems and tools, long-term goals. Although, these topics may seem unrelated to the project at hand, they are the foundation and initial step in applying our holistic approach to a design project. Afterall, design is about everything. The Nerdery UX department has validated over time that its success is based on understanding its partners’ business (and their users). It is essential to develop this understanding because project success is reliant on taking into account the whole of the business.
Using UX tools to serve all your users. Yip, even the plush aliens.
By Emily Schmittler and Christopher Stephan, Senior UX Designers
As UX designers, we always want people to understand, benefit from and even enjoy the designed interfaces and experiences we’ve shaped for them. The clients and companies we work with feel the same way; however, where we often differ in approach is in how we do the work to get there. To many UX professionals the appropriate process involves engaging with and talking to members of the target-user population. Many companies assume the UX professionals they hire have built-in knowledge about their audience and don’t think spending time with users is necessary.
Have you watched the show Bar Rescue? It resonated with me since I was a former bartender and now user experience designer. There are so many comparisons to be drawn when creating customer experiences in a bar and digital user experiences.
Bar Rescue features the boisterous and successful bar consultant Jon Taffer and his team of top chefs, mixologists, interior designers and other experts. The premise of the show is to renovate and transform failing bars into successful bars. They do this by diagnosing problems and using methods and tactics similar to the user experience process.
In this article, we will cover these similarities in three phases—Discovery, Definition and Design.
There is a fundamental relationship between user experience designers and quality assurance engineers, and I think it’s time to take that relationship to the next level. User Experience (UX) Designers and Quality Assurance (QA) Engineers are both deeply concerned about the user, and everyone wins when they talk to each other early and often.
My QA counterparts and I both want the websites we deliver to be usable. We want choices to be relevant. We want things to work. We want apps to make sense. We don’t want modal windows to prevent completion of integral tasks. In short, UX and QA both want to deliver a product that won’t leave the user cursing the heavens, having to force herself into a Zen-like contemplation of kittens in Christmas sweaters in order to quell the slow-burning rage that threatens to destroy her as she tries to perform simple tasks like transferring money to a savings account, buying tickets to a ballgame, or monitoring a sick parent’s medication schedule. UX designers are the experience architects and QA engineers are the building inspectors of the development lifecycle. UX figures out who we’re building for and why, analyzes user and business requirements, and incorporates it all with stakeholder vision and known constraints. We then strive to design an experience that does no more and no less than what it needs to be. QA ensures that I, as a UX Designer, don’t make stupid blunders that will undermine my stakeholders’ goals and interfere with my users’ experience when all is said and done. Do developers help with this, too? Of course. And perhaps unsurprisingly, I also advocate for early and regular consultation between UX and development. But the type of value that QA can bring to a project when consulted early on goes beyond the type of specialized guidance and knowledge that even developers bring to the table.
To illustrate — if I’m designing a deck for my next-door neighbor who just moved his aging parents in, a QA engineer is the inspector that can inform me (before I’ve poured my footings) that even though I wouldn’t know by looking at it, the soil in my area is actually classified as a mixture of clay and sand, which means that diameter of my footings needs to be wider than it would in normal soil. This inspector might also point out that if my neighbor’s aging parents currently use power wheelchairs, or if they might need them in the future, it would be in my best interests to increase the diameter of the footings even further to accommodate the extra weight. And the inspector might lastly point out that with wheelchairs on the deck, I’ll need a ramp, and that the ramp ought to have a slope no greater than 9.5 degrees.
The most obvious software development analogue to that example is accessibility. Call it ADA compliance, 508 compliance or what have you; the point is that there are standards that you’re almost certainly not aware of for making sure that your application or website is usable for those with disabilities. But a good QA team has engineers that are steeped in those standards, and they know how those standards relate to every device you’ve targeted. Making changes to accommodate accessibility late in the game – or after your site is done – can be very costly, so why not have the conversation early on? Ditto that argument for data and application security. And ditto that argument for just plain old usability. Bring QA in for a quick consultation on your wireframes, and chances are you’re likely to save yourself some revisions.
As a designer, is it my job to think through use cases? Yes. Am I good at it? Yes. Am I able to consider every contingency of every scenario my project entails and implies? No. This is why a strong relationship between UX and QA is indispensable. UX Designers and QA Engineers have a similar mandate, but they fulfill it with different toolkits and from different perspectives. As one of my friends in QA puts it, “UX creates and QA destroys.” But we both do it for the same reason — we respect and love the user. QA engineers bring their extensive experience with devices, platforms, browsers, protocols and standards to bear on every project they touch. They are the brilliant generalists that throw our researched, prototyped, revised, and user-tested designs into the fiery furnace of the real world to see what burns and what doesn’t. Loop them in earlier, and you can avoid putting out fires later. So what does this collaboration look like? Here at The Nerdery we offer Embedded QA, in which QA is along for the entire ride on a project. We’ve seen tremendous success with this approach, but it carries some additional cost. The type of collaboration I’m talking about can be much leaner. It can be a conversation, or maybe two hours with an accessibility expert before you get into visual design to make sure your navigation scheme and color palette won’t set off red flags down the road. Build strong relationships up front with the folks that are responsible for signing off on your project down the road, and you’re guaranteed to save yourself time and headaches.
Every year, articles appear in the blogosphere touting new UX trends or technologies. Some trends have merit and value. Here at The Nerdery we love to constantly push boundaries. However, sometimes when companies implement a trend, they put the cart before the horse. No matter what tactics you choose to employ, it’s always best to start with defining the problem you need to solve for the opportunity at hand.
Many of these trends appear engaging and beautiful on the surface. Designers and stakeholders may have the best of intentions when implementing the latest trends. However, blindly implementing trends can also fail miserably without a sound strategy.
Here are examples of trends or tactics that may have their downsides:
Parallax scrolling is a technique used where background imagery moves at a slower speed than images in the foreground, creating the illusion of depth. It can be very successful in the right situations and when implemented well.
User Experience Design considerations:
• If users need to find content quickly, scrolling through large volumes of content may deter impatient users. The Crate and Barrel parallax site requires users spend about 15 seconds browsing Christmas tree ornaments.
• If there is a large volume of content, it may be difficult to find hidden content and it may be difficult to search the site.
• If users are unsavvy, they may also be confused by the moving parts and animation.
• Content may take longer to load, if developed on one page.
• Depending on the way it’s built, parallax sites may limit search engine optimization.
• Parallax sites add a level of complexity for responsive design.
When Parallax works:
Parallax sites can be effective if you are providing users with linear experiences like stories or walking through a process. It’s also important to include sticky navigation to allow users to skip ahead to topics of greater interest, if applicable.
I love games and appreciate how they can be used to engage users. However, Gamification is not as simple as slapping on badges, leaderboards, points and “gamifying” your website with rewards. Some big brands have failed using gamification and companies continue to waste money while providing poorer user experiences.
Audiences and customers vary in their contexts, motivations, interests and desires. People are complex. Without user research and a sound strategy, you may be designing a product that users will not find valuable or impactful.
Oftentimes, games are built with the goal to increase user engagement. But engagement can be achieved in a variety of ways. Games are just a means to an end. We must first justify the means.
Think about the Harry Potter books. There are no badges, leaderboards, nor even pictures, yet children and adults spend countless hours of engaged reading. It’s due to the story, relatable characters, themes and other content that conjures emotions. Engagement can come in many forms.
It’s critical to understand what drives people. What are the things they need to learn and do? How are they motivated? What drives their behaviors? After a thorough discovery process we can better determine if a gamified system is actually the best tactic to achieve your goals.
Strategy Before Tactics
In general, any tactic without a sound strategy has a greater potential to fail. It doesn’t matter if it’s mega menus, blogs, social media tools, or infographics – it’s best to begin a project with a discovery process and user research to help align business goals with user goals.
At The Nerdery, we create strategies that help identify and prioritize business goals and user goals. Our discovery process may include workshops, stakeholder interviews, analytics evaluation, user research, surveys, contextual inquiry, personas, and many other methods to create a laser-focused strategy for your business or organization.
Design for People First
It’s certainly important to understand what new technologies and trends are being implemented. However, instead of designing with the tactics and technology first, we should first consider the people and their motivations and goals. Ultimately, we are designing for people—people who happen to use technology. If we begin with a solid foundation and target goals, we have a higher likelihood of achieving those goals.
The web is full of beautiful websites that have a pixel perfect design, great usability, and cutting edge features. There are lots of examples of how to do web development right out there, but there are also some amazing examples of what not to do.
Below are a dozen websites that are so unique that you can’t help but ogle at them. Some haven’t been updated since the 90s while others are updated daily and their retro design is either intentional or good enough for them.
If you haven’t been to Ling’s cars then you’re in for a treat. Ling has arguably the best website on the internet if you’re going for that shock and awe factor. Ling’s Cars is over the top but it works for Ling.
The last time I wrote about UX apprenticeship on this blog, it was still just an idea. Okay at that point it was more of a plan. But now, we’ve graduated our first cohort of apprentices to the role of Associate UX Designer! The past 12 weeks have been the most professionally rewarding of my career and in them I have learned a ton about what worked well and not so well about the program, and this article spills all the details. And I mean all of them. It gets so detailed that I am handling this like any other research report; I’m kicking it off with an executive summary (aka tl;dr).
- 3 of 4 apprentices hired into the Associate role
- The fourth has a job waiting for her once she graduates from college
- Cohort 2 was approved and four more apprentices start 9/9
- The basic model was successful, but some elements needed to be tweaked or dropped along the way
- Upcoming changes for Cohort 2 should make the program even more successful
Establishing Business Value
The program achieved its business goals, although it was more of an upfront investment than we originally intended. It proved difficult to enable it to pay for itself through apprentice billings, but hiring three new ready-to-go designers allows us to earn our investment back quickly. We’re now planning to integrate apprenticeship into the structure of all UX projects to reduce this difficulty in the future. If a project is structured to accommodate an apprentice from the beginning, assigning apprentices to projects in a billable capacity will become much easier than it is now. Continue reading UX Apprenticeship Results – Cohort 1
As we look back over the many sessions attended the week, the biggest takeaway by far is that iOS 7 is a design overhaul. With iOS 7, Apple is removing superfluous UI (goodbye skeuomorphism!) and refocusing on the user’s content. A preview on some of the new iOS 7 designs can be seen on their website.
In one session, Apple said they started over with a blank slate for each built-in app, with the goal to determine the focus of each app. As painful as it will be, this is something app designers and owners will want to do as well.
iOS 7 tells us that that the focus needs to shift back to the user’s content — the UI should be “unobtrusive and deferential”.
- Do you have too many buttons?
- Multiple ways to do the same thing?
- Features that aren’t commonly used?
- UI that distracts?
Everybody. It’s happening. The world of technology is becoming more user-centered, and as user-experience designers we do our part to enable that transformation whenever we can. For us, this means every UX project starts with some element of user research. To design the right thing, we need to learn about the actual people whose lives will be impacted by what we’re designing. Clear cut.
This simple, quixotic idea serves as the basis for much of what we do as UX Designers, and it quickly becomes rife with complication when applied in the wild of actual projects. These complications come in many flavors but ultimately relate to one or more of these themes: