“Let your intentions create your methods, and not the other way around.” ~ Peter McWilliams
Now that you’ve been introduced to the idea of updating your website by Designing for Intention, you may be wondering what exactly is meant by the term “Customer Intention.” Further, you may be curious as to how you can get started bringing this type of thinking, and this methodology, into your business. One way to get the ball rolling is to start defining customer intentions for your website.
Before we talk about defining customer intentions, allow me to explain what I mean by the term “Customer Intention”. A Customer Intention is simply: a task a customer aims to complete when coming to a website. It may seem self-explanatory. In fact, it is. However, as you’ll see later on, the term can very often be misunderstood.
When going on to define customer intentions for your website, there is no way around it, you have to start by talking to your most loyal customers. This is truly the key to determining not only customer intentions, but many other facets of customer loyalty.
In regards to intentions, the key information from these conversations you’ll unearth include an understanding of how and when customers interact with your business (i.e. their touch points), and, more importantly, why they interact with each of these touch points. (For example, maybe you find out customers go online to gather research about your products, but they buy brick and mortar because of the customer service.)
After the conversations have concluded, you’ll need to gather and list out all of the website specific Whens, Hows and Whys. Once you’ve listed them, you’ll summarize the list into clear, mutually exclusive, bullet points which each finish the sentence “When a customer goes to the website they intend to…”.
It’s a simple list really. Here is an example we recently created for an e-commerce team redesigning their Dotcom site.
Customer Intentions for the Website
When a customer goes to website they intend to…
Buy an item
Stay up to date
Understand what makes
Understand what does
Find a retailer
Investigate / research a better solution
Return a product
Get questions answered
The list seems pretty straightforward, right? Of course this is what customers go to an e-commerce site for. But, be warned! Getting to the list above isn’t as easy as it may seem. Below is an example of what the list probably looked like before the team checked it against findings from conversations they had with loyal customers:
Customer Intentions for the Website — What Could Have Been
When a customer goes to website they intend to…
Buy an item
Sign up for the Newsletter
Visit the Blog
Update Account Information
Find a retailer
Investigate / research a better solution
Return a product
Get questions answered
Notice something different? Check out the bold items in the second list. Notice how subjective and feature specific they are.
It is highly likely you are going to try to put items like “Sign Up for the Newsletter” on your list. This is normal as often times business owners try to squeeze in feature specific items which represent the parts of the website they wish people were coming online to access, instead of being honest about why customers are really going to their site.
This is why it’s important to talk to your most loyal customers. There’s no disputing actually hearing these intentions first hand. Without this insight, your list will undoubtedly lean towards satisfying business goals, which means your website will be designed for business intention rather than customer intention. This means the odds of your website fostering customer loyalty go way, way down.
Knowing this, your final step is to review and edit your list with an eye toward, and an urge for, actual customer insights and extreme honesty. Your goal should be to keep your list of intentions as objective and non-feature specific as possible. How do you know you’ve done it right?
Ultimately, if your list of customer intentions reflects what you heard in your research, and, makes you a little (or a lot) uncomfortable, you know you’ve defined it well.
Once you have created an honest list of Customer Intentions, you’ve started the process of making your website a place that can assist in cultivating customer loyalty, instead of a place where you inundate customers with information you hope they pay attention to.
What’s next after you have the list defined? You can begin to design a user experience that meets, and hopefully exceeds, Customer Intentions, of course. And, you can be sure there is more information on doing so to come.
There’s something troubling that I’ve noticed happening with many people (not all, maybe not even you) in our industry over the past few years. It’s something that I want to bring to light in hopes that A. I can be enlightened to the necessity or trivialness of this thing, or B. I can help others to enlighten themselves and stop the thing’s progress. So what is the thing? Simply… that we are stuck in our ways, and if we don’t start moving, our industry will never change. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Newton didn’t lie…
Our World, Today
The current state of where we are is not really a revelation to many of us. We are working doing design or architecture or web “stuff”. Some of us call what we do UX. Some of us claim UX doesn’t exist. Some of us wireframe. Some of us claim we don’t. None of this will be addressed in this piece, for this is what it is, and the arguments will rage on. Instead, I want to point out the bigger issue that I have seen. That is that many of us, no matter what side of the fence we are on in these arguments, HATE where our industry is. We hate our clients (“Two weeks for a complete overhaul of documentation that took us months to put together. #ClientsGottaLoveEm”). We hate our co-workers (“When can you get the UX wireframes done for this project? #UXIsntWireframes”). We hate our careers (“Hired as a UX Strategist, but they just asked me to make a screen ‘better’. #WhatsThePoint”). In short, we hate our state of being, and this causes us so many problems.
What’s the big deal?
First off, in many ways, we aren’t progressing as an industry. What does that mean? It means we spend so much time focusing on the negatives of doing what we do, that we don’t save brain space to focus on how to change the negatives into positives, and, therefore, change ain’t coming.
Secondly, all this negative energy actually zaps our ability to see that WE ARE THE TALENT THAT EVERY BUSINESS NEEDS TO SUCCEED. Obviously, we can’t do it alone, but come on guys, this is our TIME! Everyone wants to be the next Apple. Everyone talks about how facilitating great user experiences will make the business more successful. WE really are in control. But we have beaten the idea of our profession down so much that we believe that we can’t change our environments. We talk to our clients in words that mean nothing to them, and wonder why they don’t “get it”. We take jobs because they show us a glimpse of hope at being the real deal, instead of asking the hard questions that prove we’ll be doing the work we want, and turning down the gig if it’s not the work we want. We blame our lives, our clients, our coworkers, our cities, our companies for holding us back. And, we do this, simply because, we don’t have the energy and courage needed to do something about it.
Third, and perhaps worst of all, we isolate ourselves from other disciplines and industries. This is the gravest problem of all because it means we don’t educate ourselves about what information or context these other disciplines and industries need to really understand where we can be of use. We don’t learn about business (yuck, suits), and then wonder why we get screwed in negotiations. We don’t learn about company process, then wonder why our ideas are labeled as being outside of the process. I can go on.
Four, this all means we perpetuate our cycle (wait did I go back to number one again? That’s meta.) The crappy jobs keep getting resourced with talent (us) that is too good for the jobs. The crappy companies keep getting resources (us) that are too talented and smart to work with people that don’t want to hear how we can help. Then we blame the company, the clients, the co workers for the crappy jobs existing… and the cycle persists. We continue to hate the work that we are supposed to love, and live in misery complaining to each other how bad we have it.
But fear not dear reader, there is hope! And to inspire this hope we turn to none other than Sir Isaac Newton (you may have heard of him). As many of us may remember, Newton was a famous physicist who is known for proving three laws of motion. For our troubles to be cleared, I’d like for us to remember Newton’s first law of motion:
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
Put more simply. Things won’t change unless you act, unless you exert some kind of force. Try this… an object at rest (let’s say the environment we work in, our industry, your clients or your co-workers) will remain as it is unless acted on by an outside/unbalanced force. Here’s the secret… you have to be the force in order for your luck to change.
Now, you may be thinking, “But, wait, what if I don’t WANT to change.” Or “But I have to take these crappy jobs I have a family to support.” Or “I’m not you, Lis, I don’t have the people skills to do it.” Or whatever other argument you can think of. But, I’m here to tell you that all of these are invalid, yes even the family one. Why? Because the definition of the force is flexible. Doing any one of these things can change the environment:
Ask more questions during interviews to discern if the job meets your goals. Things like “How often do you do usability testing and why?”, “What does user centered design mean here and how is it implemented?”, “Does, and how does, my role help bring a user centered focus to the company?” will help you know if they are for real.
Network more with people like you to let people know that you are an awesome person. Go to industry and non-industry events that spark your interest. Talk to people about what it is you want to be doing with your knowledge and skills even if you aren’t doing them “for real” at your current job.
Choose to interview or work for companies whose mission you believe in, and whom believe in a user centered mission. If those companies aren’t in your area, at least start to follow companies whose mission you believe in and try to meet others who work at them when at the next conference or event. Ask these other employees, designer or not, how they got the gig, or get advice on how to manifest your career in the same way.
Choose co-workers who are awesome like you. Obviously we can’t choose who we work with, but we can choose who we cooperate with and provide favors or extra help to, etc. Prop up those co-workers that you see as awesome.
Choose to believe you have a choice in your career, because we are all free beings, and we always have a choice.
Insert any other type of force here.
Further, if you are thinking about how you have already exerted force and created change, but it hasn’t worked… then I would argue that you need to exert a different type of force in order to manifest change in a different way. I’m by no means assuming that none of us are acting, but instead hoping to give you ideas on how to exert force, or act, if you currently are not exerting force, and if you are exerting force and it’s not working, giving you ideas on how to exert force differently.
The main point I want to make is, it’s not all about completely throwing away every part of your career and starting fresh. Instead, it’s simply about using whatever amount of force you can use to affect change in your environment. Even a little force will create some change (it’s a law of physics, remember?!). Of course, Newton’s second law says that the greater the force the greater the change, and that is to be expected. But, the happy news is, the laws of the universe tell us that as long as we are exerting a force, no matter how small, there will be a change in return. Anyone can assess the level of force they are able to exert and then start manifesting change, no matter what your situation is. Newton said so!
It Keeps Getting Better
And, guess what? The more we see the change, the more energy and ideas we’ll have to exert more and better force. It’s a cycle that gets better and better. Then the more force we exert, the more change will come. We’ll venture out and learn more about other disciplines and industries and become better integrated into cultures we like. We’ll stop with the cycle of taking crappy work, complaining about that work, leaving that work only to find more crappy work. We’ll instead force better jobs, ones where we can actually use our talents, to be created. We’ll force jobs that have a better understanding of the help we can provide, thereby using our talents to the fullest. Best of all, with all of us exerting force, our industry gets better. We don’t do it alone! By all of us exerting even a little, itty-bitty bit of force, we are all, in culmination, exerting a lot of force. And, that means, we’ll all see a lot of change and reap a lot of benefits. It means we can finally help in the ways we’ve always known we can.
In the end, it really is about taking responsibility of our fate, and then taking action to change that fate if we are unhappy with where the object is at rest. It really is just about not being the object at rest, if we don’t want to be, but instead being the force that moves that object in the right direction. And once the object is moving, it can’t be stopped… unless, of course, another force is exerted on it :-).
As I pour through my spreadsheet of blog ideas, I keep happening upon (probably not by accident) ideas that I have had over the years around the term UX Designer and, more specifically, whether or not the term makes sense (I.e. means something). Now, I realize that the title UX Designer DOES in fact “mean something” to many people. I think what has sparked this flow of ideas for me, however, is that the title means so many different things to so many different people. This space between the meanings is where I’m finding both internal and external conflict around the title’s purpose. Today, I want to dive into this even further, and, hopefully, get your thoughts and feedback as well (Yes, I’m adding another log to this fire. So, all you old school UXers can stop rolling your eyes now.).
This topic is nothing new. Most of the known digital technology industry walks around having a firm belief in the validity of the term UX Designer. Many people think things like “User Experience is, of course, the most important part of the product AND you need to have a UX Designer to have a ‘good UX’”. Or, other people think things like “UX Designers. Those are the people that make sure the product’s UX (but really they mean interface) is great!”. Or, they may think “UX Designers. Those are the people that are glorified visual designers.”. Whatever anyone thinks, it’s obvious that the title UX Designer is something that exists in a myriad of ways. In the digital design community, many times it’s a lauded profession; one that you acquire after knowing everything there is to know about “the UX” including interaction design, information architecture, visual design, and more. For this last point I can admit that I have also thought that UX Designer was a lauded profession. I bought into this concept… hell, I built a business around this concept! But today, I wonder, is the title UX Designer really all I, and many others (those that think it’s the *ish title), have made it out to be?
Why Lis, Why?
Why am I even pondering beating this dead horse? Well, as I was pouring through said blog idea spreadsheet, I found an idea I had back in early 2013. Seems I was scouring the web (read wasting time) and I found this quote, and I realized I needed to get this thought out of my head.
Although this quote was not targeted at the field of UX Design, it still stopped me in my tracks and caused me to reflect on the profession. Why? Because it brought to the surface, again (at least for me), the question of whether or not an experience can be designed. Of course, this quote that I found is not based on scientific or academic research (although if you have some to share I’d love to see it!), but the meaning of it felt true to me. So I’m going to move forward in this post assuming it is true (this, dear reader, is what is called fair warning).
The debate on whether or not an experience can be designed has been raging on since, what feels like, the beginning of the field. The following are just a few of the many pieces out there on the topic:
The way that I see it, is that each side is looking at the User’s Experience as one of two things. Those that agree with the idea that an experience can be designed often conceive the user experience as an input into a product or service. It is something that happens before the product or service is created and a user uses it, i.e. something they “do” to make a product or service better – “I do UX!”. On the other hand, those that say that experience can’t be designed, but can be designed for, see that the user experience as an output of the product and service, i.e. something that happens because of using a product or service – “How can you do something that happens later?”.
I’ve somehow found myself a part of this debate, and, have recently realized that I firmly agree with the latter, UX is an output NOT an input. Meaning I believe that the user’s experience exists when a user uses a product or service; i.e when they undergo it. I don’t think it can be argued that, to an extent, we can predict when a user will have a better experience if everything and everyone shown here has been accounted for in the creation of that product or service the user is using. However, I no longer believe that User Experience is something we inject into the creation of said product or service.
Given this new realization, I asked myself: If UX is an output and not an input… can the title UX Designer make sense? Can there be someone whose job it is to design the user’s experience IF the user’s experience it not something that goes into the product or service, but something that comes out of it.
I would argue that No, this title does not make sense (I.e. mean something) given this point. And, to be honest with you, I don’t have much more to say on what my new viewpoint means (so I suppose my good friend Donna Lichaw might say that this piece is a cliffhanger).
And Now It’s Your Turn
Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions in the battle that never ends. Do you think the UX is an input or an output? Given your opinion does the title UX Designer still make sense to you and why?
Whew ok folks there you have it. Another piece of wood added to this fire. Let the flames rage on!
I keep a list of ideas, buried deep in Google Drive, of blog posts that I mean to write. This is a great way to ensure that I never lose a spark of inspiration. However, this list only works if one takes the time to go back and look at it (which I rarely ever do). But, today I did take the time to go back to that list and I found an idea from almost two years ago that happened to catch my eye. And, even though I have written about this topic before, it has been etched into my brain so deeply, that I decided to write about it again today. What is that idea? That Information Architecture is, and always has been, about creating for the user’s experience.
This idea may not be new to many of you (I hope). UX has been the new IA for some time now, and all of us who started out by calling what we did Information Architecture knew that it involved the user’s experience. Problem was, at least for me, we just didn’t know how to describe it very well, or did we?
Is it IA, or is it UX?
Like what happens to most everyone, when I meet new people they often ask me what I do. For a long time I told them I practiced Information Architecture. Then, as the UX tide came in, I started to surf as a User Experience practitioner. But, more and more I have found myself back riding the Information Architecture wave. I tell you this not to show you what a flake I am, but to show that it’s obvious, and has been obvious, that something was missing in IA before, that enabled one to confidently say “I do Information Architecture which means I model user experiences.”.
And so, two years ago, I think I found that missing statement. I logged it in the back of my mind, as well as in my ideas for blog posts to write, and it has been festering ever since. And, although what I’m sharing with you today about Information Architecture is not all together new, I did want to share the link with you, to hopefully implant the idea of what Information Architecture is in your brains so that it festers and grows.
Of course, all of the material is interesting, but the line that stuck out to me, and that began my road back to IA was this:
“Information architecture relates to science as its models draw on insights and theories of cognition. And its models relate to art as they aim to create a meaningful experience.”
Whoa. There it was, again, in black and white. Information Architecture models aim to create a meaningful experience. Duh! How could I have forgotten this in my aim to describe what I did while saying I practiced Information Architecture? You see, those practicing Information Architecture create models which aim to create a meaningful experience for the users of those models. Brilliant!
Thus, all those years ago, when User Experience came on the scene and sounded so much easier to describe than Information Architecture, I abandoned my IA post for the promised land of UX. However, I realize that the words I was looking for to describe my value were right in front of me all along.
I share these thoughts with you today, dear reader, in the hopes that you begin to understand this:
The User Experience is not an input or a discipline, but is, instead, the result of modeling information in such a way that creates meaning in an experience.
AND, That modeling of information… that’s the job of someone who is practicing Information Architecture.
Last week I had the esteemed privilege of co-presenting at the first ever UX Strat Conference, a conference dedicated to the practice of User Experience Strategy. I was lucky enough to co-present a case study on an experiment that fellow UXer Paul McAleer and I conducted earlier this year. The main component of that experiment was showcasing, to UXers and non-UXers alike, a new method of mapping user experience activity to business value, and boy did we learn alot! But before I get into our learnings, let me tell you why we conducted this experiment in the first place.
The Current State
It’s no surprise to the UX community that our profession is not always valued to the extent that we think it should be. Often times, UX and especially strategic UX is seen as a luxury or a quick add-on to projects. Frequently, we are brought on to teams solely to make it “pop” or to make it work “like Pinterest”. In these situations UXers are seen as quick fixers who have some magic fairy dust that makes even the most useless idea “go viral”. Obviously, this is not the case, nor is it the nature of what we desire our profession to be.
To be fair to all the Non-UXers out there that have this perception of User Experience Design, we, as UX professionals, have not done a good job of claiming our value otherwise (see Want to Sell UX? Stop Talking UX! For more).
Thus UX is sitting in a current state where our value is not recognized by others, in large part because we don’t do a good job of showcasing that value in a meaningful way.
To UX professionals, the problems that occur because of this current state are obviously. For those non-UXers reading this, they may not be. Thus let me explain the main point. Perhaps, the biggest problem that we all face when we don’t value User Experience in a meaningful, non-interface-only way is the fact that, when not seen as a high business value, UX cannot be used to bring all the immense business value that it should be bringing. Simply put, our businesses and users suffer, because they UX experience is used solely for interface updates, and jazzing things up, as opposed to doing things like better matching product needs to user needs to ensure more purchases and more happy users. Focusing on UX’s value as a quick fix, therefore, wastes a whole lot of money.
Thus, Paul and I put together a 3 hour workshop to conduct our experiment in a better way to explain the value of UX to Non-UXers. Our intent was to show a graph that mapped different levels of business value to the different UX activities. The hope was that those outside of UX would visually see proof that having more UX activities in the company, outside of interface design, would bring the business exponentially more business value. How could they not love that, right?
The workshop was split up with the first 1/3 being a 101-102 level introduction to the totality of what User Experience is, and the last 2/3 being a workshop where we walked the attendees through an exercise of showing business value in regards to UX activity.
In our audience were people from across the company including people from: Engineering, User Experience, Quality Assurance, Brand, Product, Project Management, Business and more. This was a huge positive for us because Paul and I felt that we could affect and educate those that we really needed to reach.
Unfortunately, our outcomes did not match our hypothesis. We found that many people, even with proof that more strategic UX meant more business value, really didn’t care what we had to say. They simply weren’t interested. Instead, they were interested on how all this wonderful ware we were selling would affect their job. How did this fit into Agile? What about lean? How do I keep my project on schedule and budget and add all this glorious UX stuff in?… these were only a few of the questions we heard.
What we found was that, by not starting with the effect, we were unable to capture our audience at all. Further, people in this company didn’t see the gaps that we were claiming to fill with UX. “Isn’t product already doing all of this?”, was but one point we heard.
We realized that, although our message is sound, in order to spread it we needed to show a great deal more empathy for the audience that we were trying to report into.
In the upcoming months, I’ll be writing more about the mapping method, as I believe it is extremely useful in building a case for more UX. However, I will conclude this piece by reminding us UXers that, only we see the gaps. What is that I say? I’m saying that only UX sees the need for UX education, and only UX sees the real business value of UX. Until we have empathy for our business and company partners, we will never be able to expose the gaps that we see to them in a meaningful way, and then be able to fill those gaps with the knowledge we have.
Keep this in mind as you go forth to bring the message that is User Experience. That is, explain why there is a problem, and THEN show them how UX solves it. Oh, and don’t forget to let your partners know how it will affect their jobs too :-).
Thanks to Paul for being an amazing co-presenter, and I look forward to seeing all of you at the next UX Strat Conference.
Here are the slides from our talk. Simple, but the main point slide drives the idea home:
I have to start this post with a full confession. I was a recruiter. Right before I switched to UX it was my job to get designers work. First, I worked with industrial designers and then more and more UX designers. In fact, working in placement helped me get closer to the design field in a more meaningful way, and it helped me to get some insight into the industry as a whole. But now as I start my UX career the shoe is on the other foot. It’s me who has to put together a portfolio and reach out to companies and recruiters in hopes of landing a job. And with as much knowledge and experience as I have in recruitment, applying for jobs still makes me nervous. So how do I make sure hiring managers and recruiters see value in my profile? How do I convey not only the things I am able to do, but also the things I want to learn? How do I work with recruiters who will actually care about me as a candidate? Basically – How do I Keep it Real in the UX job search?!
Here are some helpful steps that I’ve found that may also work for you.
#1 Know what you want to do
As a recruiter one of the most frustrating things was dealing with candidates who didn’t really know what they wanted. Junior candidates, especially, were unsure what they could provide or over shot, and perhaps, over expected what they could deliver. So, desperate for a job they say they can do everything. But the reality is very different. Study the field, speak to other professionals and get a good understanding of where your skills can be of most use. Being a wireframe machine isn’t always the best but it’s a door in. If a hiring manager can trust you to do that they will trust you to do other things.
#2 Know who you want to work for but stay open and flexible
Almost as important as knowing what you want to do, is knowing who you want to work for. Though, that’s not always obvious from the beginning. As a recruiter, one of the questions I would always ask candidates is: who were their dream companies? I didn’t ask this because I could always get them a job there at those companies. In fact, nine times out of ten I couldn’t. But it did give me a good sense of the kinds of things they were open to. Know if you’re looking to go in house or be a freelancer. Agency vs Corporate. A fast paced team with little projects or one working on a more long-term basis. For more UX specific roles it’s knowing whether you want to be involved in an agile process or more waterfall, more research focused or closer to UI and execution. Knowing what you want should help you get to where you want to work. These two go hand in hand.
#3 Portfolio Portfolio Portfolio
The portfolio becomes the critical piece in the puzzle. As a recruiter, I would easily look at a portfolio before reading a resume and cover letter. You want to see the skills of the candidate, understand their thinking and see if their aesthetic is a match for the the hiring managers you’re working with. The two biggest questions candidates have to answer when they are creating portfolios are:
1) What is the core message you’re trying to get across?
2) Who’s this portfolio targeted at?
The work in your portfolio should adequately answer these two questions and give a good impression of your thinking and skills. Try and point out the development of a project from start to finish and highlight the process. Wireframes are nice and some recruiters may only focus on that, but stay true to UX as a process and reflect the whole thing. Hiring managers will appreciate seeing the totality of your thinking and insight even if sometimes recruiters miss out.
#4 Screen your recruiters
When working with recruiters make sure you’re screening them too. You want to know that this person will represent you to the fullest, and that they have a good understanding of your skills and some respect for what you’re offering. I try and listen to how the recruiter I’m talking to is responding to my profile. Are they asking questions about my history? Are they noticing my skill-set when they comment on my portfolio? Do I feel like I can trust this person? Those are some of the questions I want answered at the end of our conversation.
Truth be told recruiters go through a lot of candidates and portfolios. Sometimes it’s easy to get jaded but they usually know what they’re doing and know what their hiring managers want. So be upfront with them as to your skills as well as shortcomings. Know that they aren’t miracle workers. They can only try to present you in the best light, so try and give them as much information as possible, without overwhelming them. That way, they can get a full idea of who you are. Also, if they give you some advice: listen! Take it if it makes you look better to hiring managers or aligns with your overall strategy.
#5 Stay Humble and Work hard
For this I will use an example from when I was in engineering. One of the best jobs I had was at a research hospital in Chicago. I had just moved back to the states from Belgium and was looking for a job after the first dotcom bubble burst. I applied for a job in a research lab and was told that they liked my background, but they had already filled the position. But, they did offer me a chance to be in the lab a couple of days a week to help out here and there. I jumped at the chance and accepted, pro bono. For 2 months I was there practically everyday. Helping out where I could, going to meetings, just enjoying being in the environment of learning and doing. After those 2 months a grant they had submitted on the day I arrived was approved and they decided they would give me the researcher position attached to the grant. I was rewarded for my enthusiasm and hard work.
I’m not telling you to take a job with no money, because in this environment, we also don’t want to cheapen the value of UX. However, sometimes you may need to take a risk in exchange for what you can learn and how it augments what you offer as a candidate. You never know where chances could lead.
The good thing about UX right now is that there are a lot of jobs out there. The need for UX grows greater and greater, so it’s a good time to be coming into the field. However, there’s still a lot to navigate. Some companies view UX as only wireframing, others have an evolved process, but may move slower than you want. You also have to try and understand the environment that will help you thrive and grow to be the best UX’er you can be, and that means more than making the choice between an agency or corporate environment. So start by keeping it real with yourself about what you want and what you can do, then demand that others keep it real with you. That’s the way to maximize your job search and craft a great career.
Tell me about your job search adventures and what advice you’d give to someone looking for a job in UX.
Tweet me @K_ID_X
Author Greg Anderson said “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
As I sit back in my Brooklyn abode and reflect on my last 3 months at The Starter League (TSL), an independent “school” that teaches entrepreneurs and enthusiasts the technical skills to venture forth with their own ideas or for some like me make a change in their career, it’s this quote that comes to mind.
In my last post I was adapting to Learning UX in a lean environment. Today I will wrap up my experiences and learnings in my final 6-7 weeks as I tried to maximize my learning while building my own application.
Here’s what I learned:
#1 – Always make time for others! This is the most important thing that I learned. While battling it out over the last few weeks I hit a few roadblocks both as an individual and also within the confines of the team. Help always came from one of 2 colleagues in the web development class and UX classes. One of them was basically at TSL to build his business back in his native country and had little time for deviation, the other was still working remotely and had other deadlines besides his 3x a week class. Both were technically advanced and really understood backend development as well as front end design. They would spend the time to review concepts or explain html and it was humbling. So take the time to help. You will benefit from the learning and camaraderie that develops.
#2 – User Stories are key. User stories are quick ways to put features into sentence form. Each sentence places the feature in context with the user. At TSL there were a few conversations where developers were dismissive of the need for UX in the development of an idea. Many didn’t see the need. Yet they were still dependent on a UX tool in order to develop their ideas. Developers were taught the value of user stories and the development of good user stories in order to know what to build both for a Minimal Viable Product, as well as, for the whole system. It was refreshing to hear the developers I was working with demand User stories and want to work through the research and process to refine them even more. Demonstrating the value of UX to developers in such a simple term as the User Story is a good way to bridge the gap between front end backend.
#3 – Understand all your technical limitations from the beginning. When I decided to build my application I was fortunate enough to find 2 very competent developers who wanted to be part of the process. They understood the value of UX, and, as I said in the paragraph above, were even involved in the process of defining the MVP and user stories from the beginning. Yet all was not smooth sailing. Having defined the MVP and even going through a wireframing session with them on whiteboard, my other UX/HTML teammate and I began to build the frontend from scratch using our own html and css that we had defined. Yet when it came time to integrate front end with backend (or so we thought) actually doing so was not as simple. Our ground up html didn’t mesh with their template based system and it would take too long to integrate. So in the end we had to rebuild our html to make it easier for the devs to integrate the product which,with the time left, meant we didn’t “finish” the MVP by the end of the program. Still 3 of 4 of us are committed to continuing on the project and it feels like an exciting beginning.
Finally, the biggest lesson I learned from the whole program is that UX is NOT, I repeat, NOT a lean process. It takes time. Everyone wants to move fast and iterate quickly, but we still need to reference good solid research. The best ideas address a witnessed or experienced user need. A properly researched and wisely applied strategy will uncover the breadth of your user needs. It will also reveal other exploitable areas. This requires time spent with the users and the data to produce the right insights. The UX process can be used to inject momentum into a multi-stage agile development process and when done so can be very beneficial. But an agile UX process seems to be self defeating and limits the strength and power of the output from UX work. Can the UX process be aligned with a good research strategy to support a lean and agile development? I would say yes. But, can an agile process replace a good research strategy, I would say no.
Like all journeys my time at TSL was not as straightforward as I would have liked but in the end I will say the experience was definitely more than worthwhile and I would recommend the Starter League to anyone who wants to dedicate the time to learn in a welcoming, active environment. I’ve been given the feeling that I know and understand UX much better, but I still have a lot more learning to do. Thankfully I now have the confidence to go learn anything whether it be HTML and CSS, visual design or even J-Query. And that has, more than anything, been the greatest value of this experience.
Last Spring, I came across an article entitled Better Revenue Through UX out on Adaptive Path’s site. After spending the months before giving my Learn The Business Behind the IA Business talk, I realized running into this piece was fate. The article features a video of Melissa Matross’s MX Conference talk, and I highly recommend watching. But today’s piece is not just about promoting a great speaker and their great content. You see, once I saw this post I had even more evidence for many of the claims I make in the Learn the Business talk. And that is what I hope to share with you today. But first, allow me to back up a bit.
Lack of UX leadership in an organization is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, epidemic to plague the User Experience community. Even though the role of Chief Experience Officier has been popping up in companies more than ever, many UX practitioners are still seeing the consequences of this lack of UX leadership plague. All we UXers want is representation at an executive level, but it seems that will never happen. In fact, sometimes it can feel like we’ll never really “get a seat the table”.
Further, the problems we see with a lack of UX leadership, even though well voiced, are still very much alive. First, because we don’t usually see someone with a solid UX background sitting “at the table” it is impossible for UX thinking to flow through the rest of the organization. Thus, there is no one with a big enough budget, or with enough power, advocating for real UX, and this literally stifles all movement towards creating a company that extends a great user experience to its users.
Second, without a real UX leader who knows how to grow a solid user experience, organizations try to stop the bleeding with process changes and new trends. They thing that shortening the UX process, putting UX into Agile, or making UX deliverables less formal (and anything else you can think of that is a quick fix), without making an organizational change at the same time, will guarantee a solid user experience for their users. These organizations only see the face of UX (I.e. The interface) as the experience, and, once they’ve created that “experience” more quickly than before, they assume that a great user experience can be achieved. With no one there, in power, to disprove these claims, the Wireframe Machine rages on.
But dear reader, do not fear, for there is hope. There is a way that we can begin to get that seat at the table, and stop our organizations from seeing UX as just a pretty face. That way? We Learn the Business Behind Our Business, and once we do that, we use our knowledge and UX expertise to not only affect our businesses, but to prove that effect. And, in her talk, Melissa shows us how she did just that (Read the article and view the video here).
Melissa knew her business, she knew her data, and she knew both so well that she was able to use creativity and UX know how to couple business need and user need into a new way to generate revenue for the company. Without having a in-depth knowledge of her data and business, she would not have been about to do this. And, THIS… this is what User Experience really is to me. It’s not just about the users, it is creating a partnership between users, business and technology. But, Melissa didn’t just stop there. Once she saw her ideas make real business value, she talked about it! She spread the word and made sure every knew that UX was at the center of this success
Once we start to do the same, we’ll see changes in leaps and bounds. Our organizations will WANT user experience in a leadership role, becuase doing so will just be better for business. Having more UX leadership will help us to extend great UX throughout our companies, and even more to our users.
Sir Issac Newton’s First Law of Motion (also known as the Law of Inertia) states “An object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by a force. An object in motion remains in motion, and at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.”. My advice to you today is to be that outside force. Be the one that changes your organizations trajectory and speed. Learn the Business Behind your business, and then use your new knowledge to create real UX change in your organization. Lastly, be sure to publicize that change and provide UX the credit it deserves.
Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about how a lack of service design got under my skin. In the article, I talked about a trip I had to a popular beauty brand’s store. A couple of months later, I found this article which details how Sephora updated their website experience to better accommodate online shoppers. But I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘what are they doing to help their in store experience?’. Enter service design.
As I mentioned in my previous article, I’m still on the fence regarding whether service design should be separate from user experience design. I think the main issue with it being this way is that user experience design gets construed as ‘designing for the mobile or web interface only’ by both UX practitioners and those that hire us. Thus, UXers begin to leave out the service part of their solution, either because they are oblivious that it is their responsibility or because their boss tells them that the service part of the solution is for the service designer to figure out. Because of this a gap in the product forms between the web and any other channel experiences. In the case of Sephora, this could be ringing true.
I would say that the solution to this problem is to stop separating service design from user experience design, but that opportunity has already passed. The title user experience designer has fallen flat, and has been misconstrued so many times that many people don’t even want it anymore. Service design provides an out in this way, and allows people to work on different types of projects besides just the interface ones. However, I do think that one solution to this problem is for all of us in this profession who design for a user’s experience with a product or service to go back to basics and really understand the pillars that this profession stands on. To me, these are the pillars of Information Architecture: users, content, context. Understanding that we design for the intersection of these three things covers most any situation one can imagine, and brings us back to our discipline’s center.
The outcome of us going back to these pillars, is that we, as service providers, become aware of what our job really is. It is to facilitate, as best as possible, a user’s experience with a product or service. No matter what we call ourselves, that will never change. And, the sooner we all become aware of this, the sooner we can stop creating and arguing about new disciplines, and just sit down and get to work.
I’m about to expose a deep, dark secret about experience strategy, and it ain’t going to be pretty. Some of you may already be aware of it, some of you may not, but either way today is the day that I am going to get the truth out there. I hope you are ready to hear it.
You see I wasn’t always completely aware of this truth either. It just so happens that some time ago I came across this post/presentation from Zachary Paradis (PS I highly recommend that you listen to the entire presentation.). In it, he dispels 3 myths of customer experience, however, those myths are not the secret that I want to expose today. The secret that I want to expose happens around minute 10 of the presentation, and boy what a minute it is.
It’s at this point in the presentation that Zachary breaks down for us what Experience Strategy really is. He defines it as Business Strategy combined with Experience Modeling, and I think this is a great way to define the term. But the secret is this (queue suspenseful music): Experience Strategy comes directly from Business Strategy. Oh the horror! Yes, what we do is modeled directly after what those pesky business strategists do. The thing that sets experience strategy apart from business strategy is, of course, our ability to model user experiences in cooperation with knowing and attempting to couple them with the business strategy.
But wait… what does this all mean? Lis, what do you mean that experience strategy is based off of the business? How can that be? Isn’t what we do really based off of our empathy for our users as well as our ability to be the opposite of the “business-only” focused people in the room? Isn’t that where our creative and empathetic value comes into play? Well, that is only partly correct. What this means is that not only is this stuff we call experience strategy not new, and therefore we are not the first ones doing it, but it also means that in order for an experience strategy to be successful it has to include and help to progress the business needs and goals. This means that at the heart of what we do lies a business strategy that drives us forward, and that it is our job as experience strategists and designers to be very familiar with that business strategy.
Thus, in order for us to truly add value with our experience strategy work and thereby attain more of it (as opposed to the wireframing we are so well known for), we have to learn about our business’s strategies, as well as continue to learn about our user needs and goals. It is then that we apply experience modeling to those strategies and needs in order to create holistic and valuable solutions. By doing so, we create a competitive advantage for our products like few others ever seen; one based off both business need and user goals. The products and services that we wish we were designing have this competitive advantage, and it’s what makes them so attractive to both us and to our users. So I implore you UX, learn the business, model the experiences from it, and then, I promise you, you will create some of the best experiences of your career. And, how can that not make the world a better place?