UX Resources: What’s on my bookshelf?

I like to read. I like to keep learning. I could waist, I mean spend, an entire day if not more just reading books or the millions of articles that are posted online daily regarding all things UX.

I’ll also admit; I’m also a sucker for that promotional email that says, for a limited time only download this new book at a price you can’t beat! Yep, that’s me, downloading away. I recently purchased A Practical Guide to Information Architecture, by Donna Spencer offered through UX Mastery for only $5.  I’ve already read through a bunch of it and though I know most the information already, it’s always good to refresh my memory.

The Must Haves

If call yourself a UX designer then you must have read and own the following:

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
– You will never look at the world around you the same. I keep this one as an e-book so I can re-read through it when ever I have a few minutes.

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity by Alan Cooper
– I work with a lot of complex B2B products, this book is essential to say the least.

Don’t Make Me Think: A common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
– I still have the original version. I’m realizing I should really go out and picking up the latest version based on the reviews.

Personal Favorites

Web Form Design: Filling in the blanks by Luke Wroblewski
– I’ve seen Luke speak at a couple different events, he’s always gives a good talk!

About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and David Cronin

Persona Lifecycle: Your Guide to Building and Using Personas by Tamara Adlin and Jon Pruitt

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People  by Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D.

Interaction Design

Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott & Theresa Neil (O’Reilly book)

Sketching User Experiences, getting the design right and the right design. by Bill Buxton

Designing the User Interface, Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interactions by Ben Shneiderman

Designing from both sides of the screen. How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology by Ellen Isaacs and Alan Walendowski

User Research:
Observing the User Experience, A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research by Elizabeth Goodman, Mike Kuniavsky and Andrea Moed

Institutionalization of Usability, A Step-By-Step Guide by Eric Schaffer

Paper Prototyping, The Fast and Easy Way to Design and refine user interfaces by Carolyn Snyder

Notes from: “What Designing For Kids Can Teach Us About User Experience”

The second I get just a little bit of free time I love attending or listening to all sorts of UX/UI webcasts and seminars. I recently stumbled across the fact that O’Reilly offered free live webcasts on a variety of subjects, yes FREE!! Previous webcasts are all archived and available as well, visit http://www.oreilly.com/webcasts/index.html for more information.

JustMakeitFun-Webcasts

One such webcast I found particularly interesting that I was able to attend live was Debra Gleman’s “Just Make it Fun, What Designing for Kids Can Teach Us About User Experience.” In it she talks about the five principles for designing for kid’s friction, response, investment, action and flow and goes on to go into each one in detail and how to use it effectively for grown ups.

For example, the right right amount of friction makes the interaction interesting but at the same time too much friction may hurt, especially when it comes to commerce. Users may like a fun way to add to cart, but make sure it’s fully tested.

When it comes to response it’s key to remember every action a user takes has a response. This is a great when doing repetitive tasks like form completion, nothing too in your face but something in a fun and interesting way.

She also mentioned using communication as a great way to get people invested. MailChimp is a great example of this and is one of my favorite online applications for this very reason. The error messages and fun sayings at the top make me smile whenever I was helping small businesses set up an online subscription service. It full fills the business requirements in a fun and interesting way.

When it comes to action or movements, she talks about how kids need movement but for adults it need to be very purposeful. Examples when movement on the screen would be appropriate are things like, first-time user, using action as a way to highlight what to do on the screen, contextual help or when browsing or discovering. It’s not for routine tasks as it can get in the way.

Lastly, is flow, users need to feel as though they are progressing through an experience. This is especially useful when tracking, searching or creating information.

One of the big take-a-ways from this webcast for something I know all too well from watching my kids play countless games on the iPad, was the idea of a Lagniappe. Many times it’s a simple badge or trophy that shows up on the screen after they complete a task. My kids eat this stuff up, and they can’t wait to get to the next level or the bigger trophy.

Now I can’t stop thinking all the different ways to translate that concept into the grownup world as well. Maybe take an upload complete pop up and add a colorful icon to it or some fun messaging?? It doesn’t need to be much, simple is good but there is no reason even corporate sites and applications can’t make one smile while using it.

Again, if you haven’t heard of the O’Reilly webcasts, be sure to check them out.

A Happy Path vs A Winning Path

There is often talk in the UX design to define the users “happy path,” meaning, what is their main goal when using the application and how will they best complete that goal.

When my eight-year-old son started another season of little league baseball this past spring, our main “Happy Path” for him was to have fun and hopefully improve his game along the way. Throughout the season he and the rest of his team did just that, they even won a few games in the process.

Entering into the play-offs, we hoped they would win at least one game but didn’t expect much more. It wasn’t until they won the third game in a row, by quite a bit I might add, that I suddenly realized; something more was going on. When it was all said and done, they came in first place and won the championship game!

I started to think, what was it that made a difference in the play-offs? While the boys had certainly improved their skills throughout the season, so had most the other boys on other teams.

Make it Simple.

The coach didn’t give the team instructions as a whole, instead, he gave each kid very specific instructions. For example, the 2nd baseman might be told to make sure to step on your bag, whereas the pitcher would be told to throw to 1st base. At the same time, the 3rd baseman was told to hold the ball. Each kid, before each batter was told exactly what to do. So, very simple!

No longer did they have to think about what they were going to do with the ball after they got it. Of course, this wasn’t 100 percent fool proof, but it helped so much. The coach knew the only way to end an inning is to make outs, and one by one, that’s just what the boys did.

I then immediately started to realize all the different ways this translates into product user experience.

Target The Content

Targeting content to specific users requires having very specific personas. You’ve got to know who your users really are and have instructions specific to the task they are trying to accomplish. For example, on an edit page generic instructional text that says, “here’s where you create and edit items” simply isn’t enough. Instead, tell them WHY they need to create such items and then specifically HOW to best use them.

Limit Choices

When working on a very technically complicated product recently, we were struggling with the user defaults and how they flow through some wizards. At first we thought they can make edits to all certain parts of the particular item. However, we started to realize, did we want the user to make all these various edits, could they break something if they did it wrong?

We then started to talk more about what the 80% of user would want to edit and set up the path for that use case. The advanced editable options were left in for those users who wanted more control but in a collapsed section that was not in the way of most-common use case. Just because you CAN edit something doesn’t mean you NEED to be able to edit it at all times.

Winning!

Parents and kids alike weren’t just happy with the season; we were ecstatic! I now try to think about this at the start of any project, the goal is to not just create a happy path for the user, but what is it going to take to hit it out of the ballpark and get that championship trophy!

Facilitate a Better Design Critique

Winding Road

The path to a great UX can be a little winding. Put engineers, product managers, designers and various stakeholders together in a room and everyone has their own agenda and is trying to have their say. Too often I’ve heard the conversation get halted before the real UX discussions can even begin.

Share Openly and Often

One of the many reason meetings can get halted and go of track is when someone new is in the room and has never seen the designs before. Avoid this as much as possible. Get any and all key stakeholders in the room or at least viewing the designs as often and as early as possible.

I realize this is impossible to avoid all the time, executives are busy or someone is new to the group. At times this isn’t all bad, new eyes can be the best source to uncovering unseen usability issues.

Set the Tone

The key to the most constructive design meetings is to have clear cut goals and understandings up front. Make sure everyone in the room is aware of the purpose of the design, what is it exactly you are trying to accomplish.

Then describe how you got there, your thoughts and process of why the design is like it is today. The more details the audience has on the background, the more informative their feedback can be.

Lastly, what kind of feedback are you looking for? What is on the table for discussion and what is not.

Capture and Table Side Ideas

That being said, I’m a huge component of throwing out any and all possibilities at any stage in the process. Finding the best possible experience for the users is always the main goal at hand.

Sadly, many times numerous people have already invested so much time and energy to the current design that any new ideas are immediately shut down. I prefer to hear things out, briefly, jot down it down, and then move on.

Change Doesn’t Mean Now

Maybe it’s a hard code change, maybe it’s easy but it affects a lot of screens, or it’s impossible to happen in the next release. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever happen.

The goal is let great ideas come to life, let the discussions flow and hopefully you’ll discover the best possible experience for the user. THEN figure out how to get it into the product at a later date.

At some point, mock it up, test it with real users and figure out a way to add it into the product in some future release, if it indeed works out to be a better UI.

Great ideas can come from anyone at any time, be open to them!

Do you really know who your users are?

 

Personas can be a huge asset to the when designing user experiences. They can help target your features and streamline the screens if used correctly. However, most persona’s I’ve seen are pretty generic, thirty-something year old woman, with a average name like Sally or a middle management guy named Bob, each with a few stats about how long they have worked for the company. It’s enough information to start but is that really enough to go on?

Lego People

I was once told the sales people where out in the field and they talked to the end users all the time. The products managers also talked to the customers, and gathered feedback. Management knew exactly who the end user was, and what they wanted.

The persona we were told to design for was particularly technically savvy. They had worked for these companies for a long time and were extremely comfortable with the latest technologies and online common best practices. This was after all, an internal only product.

So, off we would go and take our best guess at creating the user experience.

When is the last time you talked to an actual user?

The first time I was finally able to talk the end user directly, not a manager, not a director, but a person who’s sole job responsibility was to use the software we were creating, it was a huge eye opening experience.

Lets just call her Mabel. She looked like a Mabel. She was in her mid to late 50’s and yes, she had worked there for over 18 years but that doesn’t mean she knew what she was doing. We talked for just a bit about the way she currently does her job and what does she do when she can’t find the answer she needs with the current system. She kind of shrugged and admitted that happened often and she would ask the people around her for help, sometimes.

The best way to demo the new proposed product was to show her an Axure clickable prototype off a Mac. Mabel looked more then a little nervous, I don’t think she’s ever seen a Mac. Even though we encouraged her to click around, that nothing she did could be wrong, she hesitated at every click.

Simply put, Mabel reminded me of my Mom, who I love dearly, but at times has problems connecting to this thing we call “the internet”.

Get Specific!

Was Mabel the edge use case? I wish I had the answer to that. I often wondered how many other employees were much like Mable.

I would suggest to really get to know your users and find out everything you can about them, not just their age and their employment history but what their habits are out side of work and what their passion is. You can even use their actual LinkedIn profile as a starting point.

Given the chance I would have loved to set up a fun yet detailed poll to a large set of employees to find out exactly where their skill set lies and more about how they used the product and others to do their job.

Now What? The 80/20 rule

Products can get pretty complicated fairly quickly. I was always taught to design for 80 percent of your users while being aware of the other 20 percent and their needs.

And of course once you have an idea of what might work for the 80 percent, show it to them! Not a manager, not a director, but the actual people at the ground level using the product daily. Rinse and repeat!

My Internship with Milton Glaser

Some people wonder weather or not a you need a degree in design to be a good designer. Sure you can learn Photoshop and other design software but, I have to say, my degree in Graphic Design from The College of St. Rose in Albany, NY is worth it’s weight in gold. I can not imagine gaining that type of experience and knowledge on my own.

During my time at St. Rose, I had the very good fortune to land an internship in Manhattan with the legendary designer, Milton Glaser. Best known for his ‘I heart NY’ logo, which by the way he never made any money from, and his poster for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.

 

IheartNY-MGMG-BDylan

Starting Out

On my first day, I got lost coming out of Grand Central Station, it was raining and the brand new shoes I bought were cutting into my heals. By the time I got to the office of Walter Bernard Milton Glaser, also knows as WBMG, a half an hour late, I was bleeding and must have looked like a drowned rat. Thankfully, the kind folks there didn’t hold it against me. In fact I think they felt sorry for me and it was all up hill from there.

At the time I thought I knew what a big deal this was but the truth is, I really didn’t. One day I answered the phone and took a message for Walter Bernard and wrote down the name David Lauren, I was then informed I just talked to the son of the fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Yes, this was not going to be any ordinary internship.

What I did

I didn’t design much at all, I was mostly send on errands like, take this package down to Time Magazine offices, or go get a variety of soda’s and pastries for the meeting with Fortune Magazine. I was once sent to the library to research old styled fonts for the opening movie credits for the movie Michael, staring John Travolta.

There was one day, about half-way through the summer, that I will never forget.  I was on the computer cleaning up the table of contents layout for the redesign of Today’s HomeOwner Magazine in Quark x-press. Did I mention it was 1996? Milton and Walter Bernhard walked in and asked me to work the computer to their designs. So, there I was sitting in-between the two while one asked me to move this up a little, the other would say, okay now move this image down over here. They were trying to come up with a layout for an odd number of featured articles on the TOC, it wasn’t working.

After a bit I hesitate but I could see the answer. I finally spoke up and said “May I?”. The both looked at me like, go for it! I rearrange the images real quick, and looked at them like, “how about something like this?” I don’t remember what Milton said, something like “works for me”, and he got up and walked away. His job was done. Walter stayed for just a minute more to clarify what all needed to be done now.  Later in the day I over heard someone ask if that 7 feature layout got done, and I Walter said, “Yes, Tami came up with the design!”. Best.. day… ever!!!

What I learned

There is one other day that stand out, and that’s because there was a problem and Milton, was well, less than happy. Nothing was directed at me but in one open room with only 4-5 desks it’s hard not to take notice. I don’t remember the exact issue but basically the answer was to go old school, get some rubylith (remember that!) and do it by hand.

Milton saw the computer as just a tool and like any other tool designers use, if something wasn’t working with one tool, use a different tool. The beginning of every project and when ever I get stuck, I get out the sketch pad and pencil and remember, the computer is not the only tool around.

I loved those days spent learning how the office worked and helping out in any way I could. Leaving work at 5pm sharp and walking as fast as I could to catch the 5:14 train home, it was a 15 min walk. When I first moved to California just a few years later I was told again and again, “you walk to fast”. Yes, yes I do

Oh, and need proof.. Here I am, second row on the far right, Tami Briggs

Users Don’t Care About The Back End

Tree-Reflection

 

When I first started out in designing User Interfaces, way, way back when, I worked in-house for a high-tech B2B software company where all the buttons in the product were graphics. One of my many tedious jobs was to create images for any and all buttons that the product needed, and there were A LOT of buttons!

Numerous times I had an engineer come to me as ask for a new button with a generic label, something like “Request”. I would then step through the process of asking the million dollar questions… “What screens is this on?” “What is user is trying to accomplish?” and “Why do you think the button should have this name?” Inevitably the answer to that last question was always, “because that’s what it does on the back end, I’m making a request to the database”.

The user doesn’t care what the back end does or what technical term you use when coding. The user is simply trying to accomplish a task. The question is, what exactly is that task and how can we make that experience as straight forward and easy as possible.

Don’t Make Me Click.

Now, I could launch into a how to properly name your buttons and if this was say 3 years ago I probably would have. How the label should be a specific action item, think verbs followed by possible noun, and how you need to be consistent throughout the entire product and so on and so forth; however, now a days the interface should do what the user needs with out any buttons. Yes, you heard me, no button!

Okay, so maybe you need some buttons, Facebook has it’s Like button, right? However, when using Twitter and Pintrest you no longer need to click to “view more” it automatically loads when we scroll down. No more expand/collapse sections, just let me quickly scroll down this long page of content. I’m using Evernote right now to type up a draft of this post, there is no save button, it automatically saves it to the cloud as I’m typing, sweet!

I’m sure there are all sorts of things are going on in the back end that I, as an end user, are not aware of, and I love that! I was even thinking there is no confirmation that my Evernote is saved, but I just now saw the little “synchronizing” message that popup in the lower left corner. Yes, the lower, LEFT corner. You know, that place where no one ever puts anything but do look there every now and then.

As a user, I don’t want to make any choices. I do that enough through out my day. I simply want to use a product that makes the right choices for me and lets me get on with my day.