New Year, New Books

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As the holidays come to a close you may find yourself with a small stack of gift cards burning a hole in your pocket. Maybe you wound up with a wad of cash that you just can’t figure out how to use.  It’s just sitting there on your dresser, taunting you, begging to be spent and spent quickly.  Whatever the case may be, there are plenty of new books that are queued up or have recently been printed and they are demanding your gift card/cash bounty in exchange for making you a better designer.

Below are 5 books (in no particular order) that have either been recently printed or are scheduled for release in the coming year that I am looking forward to flipping through.  I have not had the chance to read any of them yet so these blurbs are not reviews.

 

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1)  Doorbells, Danger and Dead Batteries – User Research War Stories

by Steve Portigal

Published December 2016 by Rosenfeld Media.  Pick up the book here.

“User research war stories are personal accounts of the challenges researchers encounter out in the field, where mishaps are inevitable, yet incredibly instructive. Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries is a diverse compilation of war stories that range from comically bizarre to astonishingly tragic, tied together with valuable lessons from expert user researcher Steve Portigal.” – Rosenfeld Media synopsis 

Being able to read horror stories from the front lines of the User Experience design process will, I hope, allow me to better prepare for interviews while learning it the easy way and not the hard way.  While the methods of User Research may change over time, the practice itself will always remain a cornerstone of the UX design process.  Anything that you can do, read or listen to that will help you handle the potential curve balls should be deemed essential.

 

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2)  Designing Voice User Interfaces – Principles of Conversational Experiences

by Cathy Pearl

Published December 2016 by O’Reilly.  Pick up the book here.

“Voice user interfaces (VUIs) are becoming all the rage today. But how do you build one that people can actually converse with? Whether you’re designing a mobile app, a toy, or a device such as a home assistant, this practical book guides you through basic VUI design principles, helps you choose the right speech recognition engine, and shows you how to measure your VUI’s performance and improve upon it.”  – O’Reilly synopsis

Smart Devices and AI personal assistants got bigger and bigger as 2016 rolled on.  In 2017 they are going to play an even bigger role in everyday life.  As with all new technologies, adoption depends on several key factors but having bad scores on usability undercut any potential benefit to the user right out of the gate.  Learning the intricacies of a growing sector of the design field is a good move, especially for all of you “futurists” out there.  I’m still not sold on the idea that yelling ‘ALEXA!’ in an empty room is a great experience but I digress…

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3)  Atomic Design

by Brad Frost

Published December 2016 by… Brad Frost!  Pick up the book here.

“Atomic Design details all that goes into creating and maintaining robust design systems, allowing you to roll out higher quality, more consistent UIs faster than ever before. This book introduces a methodology for thinking of our UIs as thoughtful hierarchies, discusses the qualities of effective pattern libraries, and showcases techniques to transform your team’s design and development workflow.” – synopsis

My new-ish gig has me working on a massive, sprawling enterprise web app and maintaining / updating out design system is something that I am having to deal with every minute of the day.  For me, this is a very personal selection, it has nothing to do with trends or new technologies, I just really want to read it!

Backing up, do you not know what a design system is?  Danelle Bailey has a really great primer on her site breaking down her approach to read through while you wait for your copy of Atomic Design to show up.

 

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4) Design For Understanding

by Stephen Anderson & Karl Fast

To be published in 2017 by Rosenfeld Media

“Design for Understanding will look at various ways you can help people make sense of confusing information. Bridging theory from cognitive sciences with dozens of practical examples, you’ll learn how to design rich, visual interactions that encourage people to play with and explore difficult concepts.” – Rosenfeld Media synopsis 

Regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, we can all agree that the language associated with Healthcare plans is the worst plain and simple.  The plans were written in a looping zig zag fashion by lawyers who have a sole purpose of minimizing payouts.  At no point in time has that language be translated to anything remotely close to English, Spanish, German, etc etc.

IF we as designers can design a method of delivery or an experience that makes mind-numbingly complex concepts understandable, then we will be helping all of society and not just the specific users of a specific product.

Also, maybe we can come up with a way to educate and inform about all of our different caucuses, primaries, colleges and cabinets so that everyone understands them.  Just an idea.  Just a really really great idea.

 

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5)  Designing Across Senses – A Multimodal Approach To User Experience Design

by Christine W. Park & John Alderman

To be published May 2017 by O’Reilly.  Early release Ebook available here.

“Since we experience the world through our senses, it’s time to start designing for them. This practical guide shows you how new technologies can enable devices to encompass a fuller range of human experience through a new approach: multimodal design. This approach takes advantage of how we use our senses to understand information and interact with the world.

With this book, you’ll explore the technologies that can be used to enable interactions for different senses, like gesture, voice recognition, and haptic feedback. You’ll learn how we use sets of senses for different activities and how to design experiences that support them.”  – O’Reilly synopsis

Similarly to ‘Designing Voice User Interfaces’, we’re increasingly having to consider interactions and experiences outside the confines of a computer screen.  Wearables, autonomous smart cars, AI, AR, VR… we’ve only tapped the surface of the potential that these devices and platforms hold.  2017 may not be the year that they take off, but they’ll definitely go further than any time before.

This book is coming out in May but you can purchase the early release ebook from O’Reilly.  What is an early release ebook?  “With Early Release ebooks, you get books in their earliest form—the author’s raw and unedited content as he or she writes—so you can take advantage of these technologies long before the official release of these titles. You’ll also receive updates when significant changes are made, new chapters are available, and the final ebook bundle is released.”

 

SO, what did I miss?  I know I missed a bunch and it wasn’t intentional.  Let me know what you’re looking forward to checking out in the coming year or let me know what you though of the books mentioned that have already been released!

 

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So You Want To Be A UX Designer…

User Experience Design (or UX Design) is very popular.  Many people want to be UX Designers and everybody wants their products to have a great user experience – which means the field is growing rapidly in many ways.  To top it all off, the thinking of what makes great and successful UX Design continues to evolve as technology and our interactions with the world around us does the same.

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With the struggle to clearly define the term ‘UX Design’ comes the additional struggle of determining how to best to educate and bring along the next wave of designers.  There are a multitude of educational options available, all with their respective pros and cons.  You can get a degree in Human-Computer Interaction from various colleges and universities.  You can take courses of varying lengths at schools like General Assembly or Center Centre.  There are also shorter online ‘teach yourself’ options like Springboard, Udemy or even Lynda.com if you’re trying to take on the career change challenge in your free time.  Some hiring managers will prefer one method over the other but at the end of the day, you’re the one putting in the time and money so you need to do what works best for you.

I believe that even before you make a decision regarding your choice of education, there are things you can be doing to set yourself up for success.  As someone who has recently made the transition in to the field of UX Design, I would like to offer some general advice and guidance to others looking to make the same change.  Below are some key points that I believe helped me make the transition while keeping ‘Imposter Syndrome‘ as far away as possible.

1)  TAKE IT ALL IN.

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Depending upon what field you’re coming from, you’ve either got a lot of catching up to do or a really decent amount of catching up to do.  Before going all in on pursuing a UX career, I spent lots of time watching presentations and reading books to help clarify my understanding of what UX was.  That way, when I did commit to a choice of school, I was able to focus on the details and not feel like I was drowning in a sea of new terminology and ideology.

Simon Pan of Uber has an amazing reading list, aptly named The Only UX Reading List Ever, that will provide you with more than enough material to get started on.

Adaptive Path hosts a conference in San Francisco every year called UX Week that is filled with great speakers.  The best part is, they record them all and post them here so that everyone can watch them.  One of my favorite talks from the 2016 edition was from Jamie Levy called ‘What the Hell is UX Strategy?!’.

Stuck in traffic or just want to give your eyes some much needed rest?  Listen to great podcasts like UX Podcast, The UX BlogUX Pod or pick one off this list of 16 from UserTesting.com.  And like I have said before, you can also use Twitter to reach out to other designers, authors, podcasters, etc.

2)  BE HUMBLE, OPEN AND CONFIDENT.

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UX Design is an expansive and multifaceted field based on empathy and collaboration.  The infinite amount of human interaction that this work requires could be seen as a stumbling block for people accustomed to a more isolated working situation, but here are some ways to navigate it all.

When interviewing people as part of your research, observing individuals testing your prototypes or dealing with team members and stakeholders – humility is key.  A Wilding once said “You know nothing” and she was spot on.  Assumptions and arrogance are lethal to the UX process!  Being able to get out of your own head and in to the shoes of the people you’re designing for is directly tied to how successful your designs will be.

On a related note – being open to new ideas, feedback and criticism and outright failure is essential to finding the right solutions and keeping your team together to design another day.  Designers who are unable to truly listen to users or who become too attached to their precious and flawless ideas, end up not designing for very long.

Lastly, be confident!  If you’re putting in the work, feel good about it!  Sure, there is always going to be someone with more knowledge or more experience but you’re still a valid person with thoughts and feelings.  The truly beautiful thing about this field is that everyone is still learning and growing as a designer.  The UX design community is so supportive that anyone who is humble and open will be met with open arms and all the help they could ever need.

3)  TALK IT OUT.

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I was super excited to make the leap in to UX Design.  I thought that it was all of the things that I loved about the work that I had done in the past but in one convenient place.  I had found my calling.  It wasn’t until my first day of class that I realized “oh shit, I have to get up and speak about my work!”  I had watched presentations at conferences and gone to events with speakers but that wasn’t representative of the everyday gig of a UX designer, right?  WRONG.

Being able to talk about the work that you’ve done and presenting it to clients is everything.  Being able to talk to clients about what you do, what you can offer them and why they need to hire you is literally what stands between you and paying your bills.  I am a fairly introverted person, I don’t like networking and public speaking has never been a desire of mine.  If you’re like me, then this part of the equation is also going to take some work.

My advice to you is to find your local UX MeetUp(s) and talk to the people around you.  Ask questions or talk about that blog post you just read.  Some of the biggest advancements in my personal development came from Peer Review themed MeetUps (which I can not recommend enough if you have access to them).  Whether it was being unexpectedly called on first to present in-progress work or even just asking questions / offering feedback from my seat in the audience, it all played a huge role in helping me find my voice.

SO…

There is no blueprint for becoming a UX Designer but these are a few things that you can do that will set you up for success.  Embrace whatever your previous experiences are, no matter how irrelevant that may seem, they will help make you a designer with a new/unique perspective and those are needed on every team.  Ask a million questions and never stop learning.  Remember:  You’ll be fine, we’re all here to help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

User Persona Tool Review

Project Introduction  (persona tool review below)

I have finally started working on a personal project that I have been kicking around for a couple of years now called Club Before Country.  It is, in it’s purest form, a quick and easy reference tool for soccer fans to locate the club that plays nearest to them.  The idea was triggered during the 2014 World Cup as I watched co-workers who had casually mocked me for my love of the sport, get very invested in the United States Mens National Team.

With this project I am running it through the full UX process but I am also going to be test driving new tools along the way.  These tools are either new to me or they are new to the marketplace, either way I will be posting quick reviews based off of the work I am putting in to this project.  So, first things first: User Research.

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This concept is fairly straight forward.  I am looking to create a mobile / responsive website that can be quickly shared amongst fans and friends to help encourage further involvement with the game of soccer at the club level.  I had assumptions about the interactions of fans and non fans with the game and I wanted to survey the crowd to either confirm or rebuke those assumptions.  There are many survey tools on the market but I was not about to try and re-survey 3-5 times just to try them out.  I went with Google Forms for this stage of the process.  It is a straight forward tool that makes it easy to create a survey featuring a variety of question / answer options in a matter of minutes.  On the back end it visualizes the data and provides a spreadsheet you can sort through as well.Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.28.53 PM

User Persona Tool Review

Once the research had been done and analyzed, I moved on to creating personas for my key users.  Now, for those new to the field of UX I would highly recommend reading this article from the Nielsen Norman Group about what a user persona is and how they benefit UX / Product teams to get a better understanding of what we’re going to be looking at going forward.

In the past I have always created my personas in Keynote, Photoshop or Sketch.  They all give me the freedom to arrange content in a way that allows me to make generally interesting pieces of documentation for the team.  I truthfully hadn’t even heard of any User Persona creation tools and I found that not many other people had either.  I found two that looked like they would be worth trying out and so below are my reviews for Xtensio and UserForge.

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XTENSIO

Xtensio is from the people at Fake Crow in LA and actually features a wide array of products or in their words “An interactive toolbox for startups, consultancies and marketing agencies.”  Of the two tools this is easily my favorite but it took it’s time growing on me.

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This tool allows for the most information to be displayed in a variety of interesting and engaging ways.  The scales adjust quickly with a click and the ability to add images for the user, brand identity or whatever else you need allow for maximum customization.  This tool is not the most intuitive.  I am going to be honest, the ability to change the color scheme did not reveal itself until I started writing this.  I kept thinking “How do I do it, I’ve seen the other colors!” so I went back in and clicked on everything that could be clicked until I found it.

My complaints lessened the more I used the tool but I still ran in to formatting issues.  When you open the blank document there is strong, bold, placeholder text at the top that reads ‘Full Name’.  When you click in to that field to add a name, all of that formatting is removed.  The text is now small and even after bumping the size back up, clicking the bold option doesn’t work.  Not the end of the world, just odd and frustrating.  The formatting options are also fairly far removed from the canvas and are not always visible.

Overall, this is a great product.  Obviously if you’re looking to put in a lot of personality or product/brand specific detailing then you’re going to want to go the old fashion route.  The only hiccup is the pricing and what you’re able to do with this persona when you’re done.  You’re able to create this persona and share the hosting link with your team for FREE but to export the file as a PNG / PDF you’re going to have to pay $14 a month ($10/mo when you buy a one year plan).

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USERFORGE

UserForge comes to us thanks to Matt Farley and Alvin Engler.  It is a beautiful tool but it doesn’t allow me to include everything thing that I would like to include with my personas.  I have read that UserForge 2.0 is on the horizon and I am very curious to know what is included in the new version.

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Pictured above is really the extent of what you’re able to create which leaves a bit to be desired.  As far as a photo is concerned you’re only able to select, randomly, from a list of provided photos.  The same is true for the background photo (which I just found out changes arbitrarily when you go back in to the persona some time later).  As far as additional information, you’re only given 3 options for new sections below the main header: Quote, Paragraph and List.

The quote is great, all personas are going to need that quote or tagline.  The list allows you to display user goals / needs as well as their pain points / frustrations.  The paragraph is going to let you write out a short biography or possibly include a user scenario.  Beyond that, you’re kind of out of luck when trying to showcase the other aspects of what makes your user unique and relevant to your project.

UserForge allows you to collaborate with team members just as Xtensio does but again, there really isn’t that much to collaborate on.  I am very curious to see what UserForge 2.0 looks like because right now I think there is a ton of potential for a easy to use user persona creation tool, I just wish there was more.  UserForge is FREE and according to them it always will be.

Give these tools a try if you haven’t already and let me know what you think.  Have you already used these tools and have something to add?  Comment below and let me know!

 

Twitter: An Essential UX Resource

Access to information continues to alter the ways that we live, learn, share and connect with the world around us. The cost of higher education continues to rise but so does the speed with which the courses are becoming outdated. You can take a 2-4 year course in Human Computer Interactions (HCI), you can join an increasingly popular short-term immersive UX program or you can take a series of online courses at the pace that works best for you.  Whatever path you choose, you’ll need to supplement your own education outside of course parameters.

Which brings me to Twitter. For me, nothing has been able to embrace speed and content quite like the little blue bird.  I’ve been on Twitter for many years, ranting, raving, etc. but when I began dabbling in UX I created a new account related just to the field and it has been insanely helpful in my growth. I don’t have a sea of followers (119 at the time of posting) and I don’t spend all day on it interacting with others but I would like to highlight 3 reasons why I think Twitter is essential for those getting started in the field of User Experience.

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1.  SPEED

As I make this career shift I continue to tell people I meet that the great thing about the tech industry right now is that it is moving so fast, you just have to learn the new new and jump in.  Now you don’t need to know the very second that an idea was conceived (you might) but you DO need to know about it before the 3rd edition of the ‘For Dummies’ is pressed.  Books are great but can become outdated quickly and some of us don’t have time to sit and devour these tomes the way that we’d like. Blogs (hello!) are great for getting you all of the details on the newest trends or technological advancement, but what if you could know faster??

With Twitter you have access to a never-ending stream of insights, complaints, ideas and general every day thoughts from industry leaders!  Today’s off-the-cuff tweet is next month’s blog which is next year’s book.  It might sound crazy but in an industry built on progress, the faster you can solve the next problem the better.

2. CONNECTION

Continuing this line of thinking extends directly to my second point, connection. Let’s say you did have time to sit down and read that new UX book and you loved it, now what? Well you can take to Google and start looking for the most recent think pieces. Or you can hop on Twitter and connect to the author directly.  You can ask the author questions you had about the book or you can read conversations about the material that other readers have initiated with them.

On the flip side, you can find other people from all over the world that are also new to the field and build a support network of information sharing and encouraging messages.  It’s great to be able to observe other people as they progress and learn.  All along the way you can ask questions and take notes about what has and hasn’t worked for them.  I have also crossed paths with more established professionals that have reached out with support or answered general questions that I had pushed out in to the universe.  These interactions can be one time things are extended professional relationships but they all help you move forward.

3. CONTENT 

Everyone processes information differently and there is definitely an endless supply of information out in the world related to User Experience.  It can be overwhelming at times with all of the sources of information that becomes classified as required reading.  Twitter not only allows you to access this information quickly, but it allows you to determine its relevance too!  It’s a real “if a blog gets posted in the woods, does anyone actually read it” type of thing.  I think.

There are many great articles, blogs and keynotes out there and there are even more in the queue right now waiting to be published.  Once they’re out there though, how do you know which ones are worth your valuable time.  By following people who inspire you, that drive and inform you – you have access to the people who inspire, drive and inform them!  Your network of intellectual resources increases and now you have a curated list of things deemed important to the people you deem important.

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When it comes to how Twitter and User Experience relate, it’s about education not fame.  Sure, you’re able to connect professionally but the true end game is to stay informed in the face of constant change.  The great thing about this medium is that taking an active or passive stance on Twitter can still be beneficial to a career.  Whether you sit back and read articles that people recommend or you engage with the local or global community, you’re more informed than before.

Hello

Hey, I’m Dan.  I am a UX Designer from Los Angeles, CA.  I don’t think that anything works as well as it could or should, and I’d really like to help fix that.

This is a blog that I am creating to help facilitate my own continued education in the field of User Experience but I would also love if it helped you and I start a conversation.  Please feel free to leave a comment, send an email, a tweet, whatever!

Let’s see where this goes.

DR