Peachpit did a podcast interview with Carolyn Chandler and myself a couple of weeks ago, and I was fortunate enough to be able to transcribe my parts it. Below are my answers to the questions that were asked of us.
You can also listen to this online, or download a copy of the interview from Peachpit Author Talk.
What is user experience design?
In the book we define it broadly as “The creation and synchronization of the elements that affect users’ experience with a particular company (or product), with the intent of influencing their perceptions and behavior”.
That’s true–but I think that most people today tend to focus on the more digital aspects of user experience design; websites, software applications. But really, it gets down to considering all the pieces of the whole. That includes business goals and objectives, user expectations, desires and needs–oh, and what can be done within technical, time and budget constraints. All of this wrapped in the context in which the users would be interacting with it.
That’s not to say that we’re making trade-offs, per se, but that there’s rarely an environment without some degree of friction that presents you from doing what you’d do in a “perfect world”. It’s not just boxes and arrows, mind you. There’s a lot of thinking in the work that user experience designers do.
It’s almost never a perfect situation, but then again, that’s what makes it interesting!
What are some of the problems that arise when considering UX design? What challenges might other team members present?
The biggest problem that I see is when aspects of UX design aren’t considered necessary. In many cases, clients want an “expert on user experience design” to make all the decisions for them, and when they don’t agree with the proposed solutions, they sometimes may strongly suggest that a design behave a certain way–against the advice of the UX Designer. Good UX Designers know what opinions are like, so they’ll recommend that designs should be tested with users–and that step may get overlooked, resulting in a design that is either ill- or uninformed.
As far as other team members, the most frequent challenge that I’ve seen and hear of is lack of collaboration. User experience design doesn’t end when a designer is handed a wireframe, a developer is handed a functional spec and design files–it evolves. User experience designers know this, and they need to be engaged throughout the rest of the phases of the project–we’re flexible and we’re working toward the best end result, not laying down the law in document format. Collaboration helps us improve the experience and presents opportunities for us all to continue to learn from each other.
Who do you think really “gets” user experience design? Who is doing it right?
At the risk of seeming like a fanboy, I’d say that Jesse James Garret and Jared Spool really “get it”. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to both of them over the course of the past year or so, and if nothing else, they really help me understand how far I have to go.
Jesse and Jared both have spent a lot of time observing and sharing information outward–if not pushing it to us–to pay attention beyond what’s directly in front of us. If you’ve been fortunate enough to see presentations from either of them, not only will it blow your mind, but you’ll find your way of approaching problems a bit different. Jesse and Adaptive Path have put together some pretty fantastic, well-thought and forward-thinking prototypes of web browsers and medical products and Jared has shared the findings of years of research to help us understand “real” behaviors, and the real value of research in the user experience design process.
For good measure, I have to throw in Stephen Anderson, who has given some pretty fantastic presentations around the influence and persuasion of design. He’s also a speaker at the IDEA Conference in Toronto in September this year.
You know who else? Dr. Temple Grandin. She’s written a few books that deal with her experience with Autism, but also how she puts into practice her visual thinking in order to be able to “test run” anything she’s designed. She has a great ability to put empathy into practice, and that’s something user experience designers should all strive to emulate.
Finally, Paul Arden, author of “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be“–it’s a quick and easy read and has so many tenants that are so simple and that just sort of smack you upside the head.
What is one of the most common errors people make when designing for user experience?
There are a couple of things here–for me, when I first started out, I spent a lot more time opening a tool and getting started and then revising the heck out of the product. Now, I’m notorious for walking around with pencils and paper–I sketch everything, several times, prior to even opening up a digital tool and getting to work. And, even then, I find that I make enhancements from my sketching when I’m transferring to digital.
I also think that we tend to forget that our work isn’t about US, but it’s about the work–that is, we should not be taking offense at criticism, but taking feedback that drives us to better designs for our users. I’ve been saying it a bit more lately, and Peter Merholz mentioned it a few years back: The crit–being very critical of our designs, beating them up, taking no prisoners and attacking them, these are the things that will make our designs better in the end. We also get to be the gatekeepers of what we do with the critiques, but there’s a lot of value in even the most negative of comments. We’ve got to be able to face those head-on, and get to the point to where we request, if not require, the feedback prior to putting anything in front of a user or a client.
What advice would you offer others who are just beginning to tackle user experience design?
I believe that all user experience designers are “rotten with imperfection”–every time we get something we lust for, we choose something else to want. User experience design is similar; it does NOT end–once you’ve turned over a great finished product… well, it’s not finished. It’s time to evaluate, update and repeat, because users are pretty “rotten with imperfection”, themselves.
Embrace the rotten-ness. Don’t look forward to the end of a project, look forward to the next opportunity to improve.
Tackle the things you’ve not done before–Robert Hoekman, Jr. asked me what I think “we” are, and I said, “adaptable”. User experience designers need to be just that–it’s a young field. There’s always going to be something you’ve not tried before. Dive in. Fail, fail well, and hopefully fail in the right direction, but don’t stop asking questions and don’t stop learning from your mistakes.
Oh, and get involved in the user experience design community–the Information Architecture Institute, Interaction Design Association, UX Net, Usability Professionals Association and a whole slew of UX Book Clubs are all great organization and are all continually looking for volunteers to support their efforts. Volunteering is a great way to get experience and work with some of the top minds in the field. I can assure you I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, and I doubt I would have found my way to writing a book without being involved.