03 February 2014
There even seems to be renewed interest in our book: http://www.amazon.com/Effective-Prototyping-Excel-Interactive-Technologies-ebook/dp/B003FK5PWA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1391438838&sr=8-3&keywords=excel+prototyping. Unlike the book link on the left this one will make me no money via Amazon, which is only fair since the book is dated and no plans are made to update it.
The problem with this renewed interest in our book is our web site has died a slow painful death. The web site is where we made our prototype templates available.
So to facilitate a place to get these templates, I am posting them right here, enjoy:
If you have any problems downloading post a message here, but please be polite.
Lastly, I am using Google Drive so if you have a problem with the way Google Drive works that's not an issue I can solve.
22 January 2014
Agile and the Emperor’s New Clothes
- Sprint 1: “Designer, just do something, anything, right now so we can get some feedback—we can always change it later.”
- Sprint 2: “Designer, sorry, we can’t make changes anymore—that would affect the back end.”
- Sprint 3: “Oh, we can’t do that because of lack of resources. You have to stick with your current design. Of course, you can always tack on a new visual design.”
What About RITE?
The RIDE Alternative
- respecting the best practices of UCD/HCI/design; and
- encouraging the development and evaluation of multiple design concepts at each stage.
- Understanding the product context
- UX Planning—establishing cross-disciplinary collaboration
- Defining UX goals
- Rapidly generating and evaluating multiple design concepts
- Holistic iteration.
Understanding product context
Defining UX goals.
Rapidly generating and evaluating multiple design concepts.
22 March 2010
Prototypes have many more important characteristics than just content and fidelity. Knowing what these characteristics are will also help you plan and execute the prototype to the right level of effort. Too numerous to name them all here, here are just a few examples:
Longevity -- what is the lifecycle of the prototype. Is it something to be presented and thrown away, or is it part of an evolutionary prototyping design cycle? How long a prototype will continue to haunt you, should effect how much effort you are willing to put into it.
Stage -- what stage of development is the product? Usually, the more mature the more detailed the prototype should be.
Speed -- how much time do you have? If you have one week, it probably isn’t enough time to make as thorough a prototype as you would like, you may have to adjust your content-fidelity ambitions based on how fast you must work.
Style -- will the prototype be narrative (e.g. demo’d) or interactive (e.g. used). Interactive prototypes are more difficult and time consuming than narrative ones.
Medium -- will the prototype be in a digital media or physical, if digital will it be on the web, mobile or a desktop application, etc.
Being aware of the characteristics of a prototype, empower you to make much more professional judgement as to what kind of prototype you can make.
Defined audience (s)
Audience -- who is the the prototype for? Unlike the end product which is meant for an end user a prototype is meant for certain stakeholders, which may or may not include end users. The prototype should be designed to communicate clearly with the stakeholders. For example, this usually means that a prototype meant for the CEO of the company, will probably look different than a prototype meant for a domain expert
Prototyping tools are like tools of the trade, the more you know the better. Likewise for many the simplest software tools suffice for most purposes.
There is no one single prototyping tool that can do everything. Prototyping tools are as varied as there are types of prototypes. Prototypes can just as easily be made in Excel, Powerpoint, Visio, even Word as they can be made in Axure, Dreamweaver, Visual Studio etc.
The point is to match 2 things: First, match the prototyping characteristics with the right toolset. Secondly, of those tools, use the tools you know best. Chances are, your talents in software you know well will outstrip the added functionality of other software tools.
Personally, I no longer use a single tool, but quickly jump between Graphics editors, html editors, scripting tools, layout tools, and yes the occasional prototyping tool.
...but having said that there are some types of tools
- dedicated prototyping tools
- Programming tools with prototyping capabilities
- graphical tools
- layout tools
- presentation tools
Dedicated prototyping tools, tools that are only for the creation of prototypes not working software or any other purpose. Examples:
Programming tools with prototyping capabilities -- tools that can create full functioning software, but due to their efficient interfaces can allow users to also create prototypes. The theory, or rather myth is if a designer uses one of these tools, a programmer can take over the design and implement it without recreating it. This is rarely true as the html code, or programming code used by a designer (focusing on visualizing something) is completely different in nature to that of a programmer (focusing on implementing something). Examples:
- Visual studio
Graphical tools -- tools that help you create the visuals of an interface, ideal for wireframes. Sometimes these tools can also mimic interaction making them suitable for a variety of prototypes. Examples:
- Paintshop pro
Layout tools -- tools that help you layout content. Sometimes these tools include interactivity such as hyperlinks or programming scripts that help create a variety of prototypes.
Presentation tools -- tools that have some built in narrative capabilities that make it particularly (though not exclusively) suited for narrative prototypes.
Prototyping is much more than just wireframes or a ‘dumbed down’ version of real software. The Methods are many, and in addition to the methods below, there are all sorts of hybrid methods which combine features of other methods. Just to give you a flavor here are some examples of some of my favorite methods:
- Wireframe Prototyping -- A wireframe is a narrative prototype, usually created in the beginning of the design process. This prototype shows high-level sketches, visualizing conceptual assumptions about the product structure and general interaction.
- Storyboard Prototyping -- A storyboard is a narrative prototype, usually created in the early stages of the software-making process to articulate business and marketing requirements in the form of a usage scenario or story. These stories narrate the user actions needed to perform tasks as specified by marketplace, customer, and user requirements.
- Paper Prototyping -- A paper prototype is an interactive prototype that consists of a paper mockup of the user interface. The interface is usually fully functional, even if all the functionality is mocked up on paper. Paper prototypes allow you to test a design with many different stakeholders, including end users.
- Digital Prototyping -- A digital prototype is an interactive prototype that consists of a digital mockup of the user interface. The interface is usually partially functional, even if the functionality is implemented by hyperlinking, screen switching and other methods of mocking up actual interaction. Digital prototypes like paper prototypes allow you to test a design with many different stakeholders, including end users. Unlike paper prototypes, digital prototypes can be tested remotely.
- Blank Model Prototyping -- Blank models are low-fidelity prototypes produced quickly by user study participants using readily available arts and crafts materials to represent their notions about what an intended hardware/software design could be like. This method is used in the early stages of product design to elicit user perceptions and mental models about hardware form factors and interaction controls in conjunction with a software user interface.
And with the prototyping methods that covers the definition of a prototype. Now was that so painful? Now you understand at least to some degree the richness of prototyping. Instead of being victimized by these dimensions you should be wielding them like a weapon. So hopefully know you can understand the basic concepts of effective prototyping: that a prototype is:
- content fidelity
- requirements and assumption
- prototyping characteristics
- defined audience (s)
If any of these concepts are still not clear, I can discuss them in subsequent postings. Next week I will discuss the so-called benefits of prototyping, which probably could better be labelled: the myths of prototyping.
16 March 2010
A prototype is deservedly complex since it is by definition the coming together of many different disciplines. Whether you like it or not every prototype has an either implied or explicit:
- visual design
- interaction design
- technical implementation
- information design
- editorial content
- and my personal favorite: a reason to exist
But those are all vague terms and do not really help you get control of your prototype. And getting control is the point of the definition of a prototype that I want to discuss. This definition will provide you with everything you need to control your prototype, so it does not control you. Likewise, for you non-prototypers, this will also give you enough information to fight what I call the razzle-dazzle effect: a prototyper who over-delivers a slick prototype and uses the wow factor to cover up a paucity of good ideas.
To begin, we need a prototype definition that covers what are the parts that make up a prototype and not what a prototype does (that was covered in the last post).
The Effective Prototyping definition of a prototype
A prototype is a model of a design that is:
- utilized for a specific planned purpose
- illustrating specific content and fidelity
- articulating defined requirements and assumption
- specified with prototyping characteristics
- customized for a specific audience(s)
- created with a specific tool
- performed in a specific method
Here is a less verbose but more specific version of the same definition:
A prototype is a model of a design with:
- content fidelity
- requirements and assumption
- prototyping characteristics
- defined audience (s)
Below we will discuss them briefly, for more thorough details, you can always consult the full book, Effective Prototyping for Software Makers .
A prototype will be created for a specific purpose. Whether it is a proof of concept, or a demonstration of a product’s interaction or a visual direction, it is important to know what the purpose(s) is (are).
Based on what the purpose of the prototype is, you will want to prioritize the content in the prototype.
A prototype consists chiefly of 4 different types of content:
- Interaction -- how a user will interact with it
- Visual design -- how the prototype will visually appear
- Editorial content -- what information will be on the prototype
- Information Design/Architecture -- what will be the structure of the information
Generally, only in late stages do you want the content all at a high fidelity. Consequently, a prototyper will strategically set the fidelity of any given content higher or lower depending on what they want the prototype to focus on. The higher the fidelity, the more prominent the content. The lower the fidelity, the more the content will fade into the background.
Setting the wrong level of fidelity is the most common error. It results in discussions getting bogged down on visual design, when in fact the interaction design was the only intended goal of the prototype.
Contrary to what most prototyping texts state you can play with fidelity within a content type. For example you can raise the fidelity on the visual design for the chrome of an application and lower the fidelity of the content in order to discuss the visual structure of a given. You can also de-emphasize a content type completely, for example by showing all text in greeked text format you for your audience to concentrate on the visuals or interactions instead of trying to read editorial content which usually grabs their attention.
However, the issue is more nuanced than it appears. For example, let’s say you want to test the interaction design. Then, if you set the visual design level to lowest and editorial content to lowest fidelity, it will be impossible to really test the interaction: you need just enough editorial and visual design content to test the interaction. Likewise, say for example, the visual design is already finished and agreed on by stakeholders, then there is no real reason not to use a high fidelity visual design.
In general, the rule is, lower the fidelity of the content you are both less sure of and do not want to evaluate. At any rate a professional prototyper should be able to justify their choices.
requirements and assumption
The whole point of a prototype, when used as part of a digital product or service creation process is to validate requirements, or rather separate the requirements from the assumptions. Requirements are some function or feature that is necessary for the success of the product or service. An assumption is something that is presupposed to be a requirement, but has never actually been proven or tested. A prototype usually consists of proven requirements, requirements to be validated in the current iteration and assumptions. In general, the higher the assumptions the more risky a prototype is. Whether something is a requirement or an assumption will help prioritize content and set its fidelity.
I see know the post is over 1,000 words, so let’s stop here and resume with prototyping characteristics next week.
07 March 2010
In the 4 years since our book on prototyping first came on the scene there was precious little written about the professional way to prototype. Today prototyping seems to be the hot topic, unfortunately most of the current stuff available on the internet only give an isolated tip or trick. What is especially harmful is that most of these articles rush into how to prototype without really understanding what it is. These works are rife with unquestioned assumptions and and uncritical approach to prototyping.
- What does a prototype do
- What is a prototype
- Raising the bar in prototyping
A prototype is “The use of simplified and incomplete models of a design to explore ideas, elaborate requirements, refine specifications, and test functionality.”For ease of discussion, I will break this definition down into its components. First, I will throw out the models business because that goes into what a prototype is, which will be the subject of the next post. That leaves us with the following uses of a prototype:
- to explore ideas
- to elaborate requirements
- to refine specifications
- to test functionality
Explores ideasHere the accent is on if the idea is desirable. Prototypes are at their best when they explore abstract concepts or ideas and makes them concrete. It is easy enough for a group of technocrats to discuss their new idea for a killer document registration, yet being able to both rapidly and interactively visualize with a prototype makes the idea come alive and often inspires and informs the whole ideation process. Any software idea can be visualized with a prototype. But here are just a few examples (a fuller list comes in a future post discussing prototyping content):
- Interactions design
- Application functionality
- Visual design
- Information design/architecture
- Rough concepts and ideas
- a single prototyper visualizes the idea
- a group prototypes through participatory design practices
- members of a group each sketch out their ideas as a group
- a group brainstorms a prototype with a designer as facilitator
Elaborates requirementsHere the accent is on, whether the prototype is possible. A prototype elaborates requirements by often illustrating what is necessary to actually put an idea into action. For example, and idea of having a running total in web interface when illustrated will make a developer realizes they need Web 2.0 technology. Or it could make the business analyst realize that discounts or other items that effect the total also need to be known upfront or somehow communicated to the end user. Once an idea is explored, software makers often look at a prototype differently. Among the types of requirements that are elaborated by a prototype include:
- End user
Refines specificationsHere the accent is on, whether the prototype is feasible and if so how. One the idea is desirable and deemed possible, then the detailed design comes in. A prototype is often a superior form of specification than a large paper document with lots of verbiage where the requirements are difficult to ascertain let alone visualize. Furthermore, the prototype speaks in the visual language of the product itself and cross cultural and language concerns are not so big an issue with today’s global development teams.
A prototype can be stand alone documentation if it is a totally complete model. Otherwise, often some form of annotation or some lightweight document is needed to accompany it.
Tests functionalityHere the accent is on evaluattion, for example whether the prototyped design is usable for the end user.
A working prototype (paper, digital or whatever form) can be shown to stakeholders and they can test it to see if they can work with it. If it works the way it should or they way it needs to. This way corrections to the design will cost no redevelopment costs.
SummarySo in a nutshell, this covers what a prototype does. In essence it communicates four things:
- to explore ideas -- is it desirable?
- to elaborate requirements -- is it possible?
- to refine specifications -- how do we do it?
- to test functionality -- does it work?
02 March 2010
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one profession (UXD) to dissolve the bonds which have connected them with another profession (Software Engineering), and to assume their own powers, separate and equal from other professions to which the Laws of Nature entitle them. A decent respect to the opinions of software engineering requires that User Experience should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all products are endowed by their creators with user experiences with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are usability, satisfaction, and business feasibility. Furthermore the user has a right to a user experience which is derived from the entire company/organization not just what is technically feasible at a given moment.
That to secure these rights, User Experience professionals are engaged by companies and businesses. These professionals derive their just powers from a professional integrity that must not be compromised, otherwise the User Experience design loses whatever rights they have to exist.
Software Engineering as a process has had a tyrannical effect on the User Experience professional, forcing them to shorter and shorter deadlines with less and less available resources that the point is reached that UX Professionals often find themselves going through motions rather than truly designing professional products the way they are truly capable of creating them.
The history of Software Engineering processes are a history of repeated injuries and usurpations of UX terrain, all having in direct effect the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over this profession. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:
- Development methods are continually shortening their design process and their delivery deadlines
- This makes it impossible to do a thorough and adequate design process, forcing us to take all kinds of irresponsible and inappropriate short cuts.
- Specifically, Agile development processes attempt to preclude any upfront design or research as good UX processes demand
- Development do not use UX metrics as a measure for their success
- Consequently there is no business case for following UX best practices
- Development keeps the UX bar purposefully low so that UX accountability is
- non-existent -- even when it is clear that products are failing because of their poor user experiences
- an afterthought -- the product is a success or failure and after the fact UX is blamed or ignored
- an anecdote -- the arbitrary story or urban legend of use becomes definitional for the user experience
- unprofessional -- as long as the bar is low, poor UX design will yield equal results making the establishment of UX best practices very difficult
- Development’s near fetish-like fascination with a release puts artificial blinders on the UX processes, resulting in:
- assuring structurally sub-optimal results
- cutting corners when it really is not necessary
- giving undue credence to an artificial argument against UX additional processes
- obscuring the value of user experience design by forcing it into the release focus of software engineering.
- UX quality is now reliant on the kindness of strangers, that will say the extent to which a Software Engineering team is or is not enlightened to the value and processes of User Experience Design.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united User Experience Designers hold that instead of working under the hegemony of engineering, User Experience activities should work in coordination, not in tandem with Software Engineering.
Among the ongoing process which User Experience should be working on independent of Software Engineering include (partial list for the longer list of UX processes see the previous post in this blog):
- User Research
- Design Research
- Requirements gathering (SE’s are needed for technical requirements but that is only one part of the whole requirements picture
- Product design
- Conceptual design which may cover multiple products/channels and multiple releases.
Places where software engineers and user experience should closely together is
- translating a conceptual design to a specific product release cycle
- product definition
- product detailed design
- product design reviews and iterations
- mentoring developers through a product release
- evaluating software engineer work for fidelity to UX concept using appropriate UX metrics
- release planning
Software engineering in turn should act as mentors in the UX processes assuring technical feasibility for short and medium term are tracked and noted. In this way Software Engineering, Product Management and User Experience are truly equal partners in the creation of great products and product experiences.
Signed 2 March 2010
16 February 2010
Just to review from my previous presentation (see post below): this diagram is a way of anchoring the design process to key strategic activities thereby assuring both a true design process as well as a strategic execution of this User Experience design process. The alternatives that are in vogue now are either
- seeing the User Experience as a bolt-on to engineering processes
- 'Bolt-on' being American for: just embedding a UX process in to a software engineering process
- A software engineering process which is already cumbersome and unpredictable
- In general adding design process to software engineering process is like forcing the square peg into a round hole.
- or at best its own independent process that mimics a software engineering process
Where the UX process eventually turns into something that looks like some variation of
- a waterfall
- incremental design
- Some other variation of the straightest line between two points approach
The above points coupled with my belief that software engineering process is a contradiction in terms pleads for the necessity of this new diagram.
Figure 1: the UX STrategy Iteration Diagram
In general terms you can think of the diagram as a planning tool one can talk over with a program manager or client or even all key stakeholders during a workshop. You can also think of it like a hula hoop, somewhere, anywhere in the hoop you can cut it flatten out and make a project manager or software engineer happy to see a simplified overview of what activities you are going to do for the current cycle.
These diagrams can be stacked on top of each other and connected at key points to plan multiple user experiences among different channels, products or services. This would allow planning and illustrating hos a mobile product project can inform a web application project. Likewise a strategy iteration can inform a tactical one, etc.
The strategy diagram and the planned activities should be revisited after each activity and see if it assumptions are still valid or if it is time to iterate the activities. In this way the very strategy is iterative just as the User Experience. But before going into too much details, I want to discuss two points here:
- What is the diagram
- Who is the diagram for
What is this diagram
This diagram is an attempt to create a model for User Experience Strategy and in so doing create also an instrument for both:
- understanding User Experience Strategy
- planning an User Experience project for your
- company organization
- or heaven forbid for a client if you are one of those charlatan UX consultants like me.
The diagram consists of the following (names are provisional):
The circles represent iteration cycles. But iterations are centered on an element or two or more, but they have iterative effects also on its neighboring elements and then even ripple effects through the entire UX element landscape (see below). Even when an iteration confirms an already existing UX element it still strengthens that element and thereby changing it. The circles show the interdependent nature of the User Experience as an expression of a series of elements.
The elements are a major area of the User Experience, usually with one or more associated deliverables. In order to qualify as a major element in the User experience it must meet the following criteria”
- Plays an essential role in UX products, services, and other expressions (brochures, ads, etc.).
- Major risk to the resulting product and/or organization if this element is not ready.
With this definition it speaks for itself that each project/company/organization may have a slightly different diagram, but complete coverage is essential.
We (my colleagues at Stroomt and the helpful people who kindly mailed in their suggestions) identified a generic set of UX elements, namely:
- Mission Statement
- Goals and principles
- Brand design
- Business Case
- Business Plan
- Define product/service(s)
- Conceptual Design
- Detailed Iterative Design
- Evaluate and refine design
- Release product and plan for next iteration
Each of these elements must have a sufficient level of maturity and stability in order to release a product or service to the world. The User Experience Strategist is obliged to review the state of each of these elements. It is not the job of the User Experience Strategist to be the person who delivers or executes on these elements, UX is by nature multi, or I would say macro-discplinary. The UX Strategist is a facilitator first and foremost.
Figure 2 UX Strategy Diagram with activities
If these elements are not in an acceptable state then activities should be planned to bring them up to the appropriate level. It is not the User Experience Strategists job to perform all of these activities, or even any of these activities. Like the elements, the activities also require many different disciplines. The UX Strategist may be able to assist and find and support the right people to perform the activities. However the strategist is primarily concerned that all the information is available, up to date, stable and mature.
Both activities and elements have properties, these depend on the need of the organization, but can include things such as:
- Start and end dates
- Deliverable requirements
Who is this for: Multi-disciplinary vs Macro-disciplinary
Last topic for this week: Who is this diagram for?
Well definitely not for the faint of heart.
The User Experience Strategist, Designer, Project Sponsors, Program Manager, Project Manager are those most to gain from getting this overview as well as wanting to be able to plan on a macro level. But the fact is, this is one way of getting all of the multi, or rather Macro-disciplinary team literally on the same page about who is doing what and how it all fits together.
I use the term Macro-disciplinary because unfortunately too often the word multi-disciplinary is bandied about to mean multiple disciplines without recognizing that these are mostly separate people. Most UI multi-disciplinary projects means the designer--or whoever the UI one man band is called-- is up late at night and weekends. They are also often caught talking to themselves in a desperate attempt to bring in another disciplines or perspective into their work. By Macro-disciplinary I want to show that it is impossible not to include many talented people with many complementary, but more often contradictory perspectives.
This last concept: contradictory perspectives is essential to every successful design project I have ever worked on. This diagram allows these contradictory perspectives to elegantly be laid plain in a map. It also allows you to plan activities for incorporating those perspectives back into the larger UX iteration so contradiction are resolved rather than brushed under the carpet.
Next week the UX Declaration of Engineering Independence.
09 February 2010
Next post Part II, a detailed discussion of the diagram below.
Part III. the UX Declaration of Independence from Engineering.]
So here is some other big news, amazing news for everyone in the UX business: design is not engineering. What? You knew that already? That is strange since I am yet to see a single UX strategy or UI process that is actually iterative let alone independent of a development cycle. Oh I am sure they are out there, its just the secret sauce of a chosen few who really get it right? Not likely. It seems to me that most people who claim to be UX designers are in fact UI designers.
That fact is so few people understand UI design that no one really notices when it goes by another name, especially one that sounds more expensive like UX design does. The reality is UI designers have nothing to be ashamed of: it is one of the most difficult and nuanced professions due to its inherent multi-disciplinary focus. The inclusion of Interaction Design, Information Architecture, Graphic Design, User Research etc is all classical UI design not User Experience design. Because of this confusion, too many people are spinning their wheels in UX design when they are really discussing the important and essential issues around UI design. Here I would like to discuss my take on the practice of User Experience design.
Here is the good news: there is a solution
I recently gave a talk in Utrecht UX Strategy. I include the slides with this post.
I think my most important point in that talk is a real iterative UX Strategy that is based on Design practice not software engineering practice. A subsidiary thesis to that talk could be: if you are fixated on how UX fits in a development method (e.g. Agile, RUP, Waterfall, etc.) than you are not a User Experience Designer at all but a UI Designer. There is no shame in doing UI design but then let’s not muddy the UX waters with it.
Moreover a real UX strategy should not only not resemble an engineering process, but should also be independent of it. To not accept this reality, is to concede the hegemony of engineering in both process and decision making on UX. That hegemony is not the reality except in engineering driven companies. UX is inherently strategic, whereas UI design is inherently tactical requiring a close association with engineering toward realization. Perhaps it bears noting that not all User Experiences have UI’s or have UI’s as their most important component. UI Design is in fact the place where Engineering and UX meet but UI design is not the end of the UX strategy, it is rather one of its many expressions.
The presentation above identified 3 goals of UX Strategy, they are not the three goals rather just the three I am concerned about:
1. Keep the client/business/organization focused on their business goals
2. Keep the Design and Technical teams focused on the Conceptual Design
3. Provide a predictable repeatable process
4. Maintain a UX reality check that is at once iterative, open-ended, and reliant on solid analysis (some may call this trusting one's gut) as any good design process should.
A good UX strategy is therefore better represented by a loop, as it is in the slide presentation above. A loop unlike any engineering process. A loop with no beginning, because we invariable enter at some arbitrary moment: when we contracted, when we were hired, etc. It reflects reality that we start anywhere in the process and it also reflects the interdependent nature that one step will invariably influence the other, if not for this product than maybe the next. Moreover there maybe multiple simultaneous iterations occuring at the same time.
A much improved version of the image from the presentation would look like the image below. This is what looks like a ferris wheel approach. Each node on the wheel below represents a common analytical element of a User Experience. This is a 1.0 release so hopefully some helpful comments will come forward and allow me to iterate on it.
This image recognizes the interconnectivity of an organization to the user experience and the ripple effect of one UX element will have on the rest. One error in the drawing is that everything appears to be the same weight and magnitude, which is not true. A gear like metaphor would be better. Each element, mission, goals, etc. could be represented as a gear that turns the larger iteration gear. A gear, whose size could change with each of the UX elements could have a bigger or smaller gear depending on the character of the company or organization.
Each element can have a series of activities associated with them. These activities will help continue the iteration cycle. The activity can vary with organization, its needs and (the weak link in the chain) the talents of whom they hired to iterate the User Experience.
Another important aspect to the drawing is the iteration cycle does not end. There is no ultimate goal with which life starts and then ends. The reality is relases/successes are temporary and no sooner is one goal achieved than the next goal must take over, the next quarter’s numbers must be met, the next new thing must be created to stay ahead, etc. In this way the UX evolves throughout the life of the organization.
A few examples of a chart completely filled in are given below. The first example is a complete cycle refresh. The next one is a product oriented iteration. The last one an organizational iteration with a proof of concept product at the end of the iteration cycle.
After the images below i welcome your comments. I will refine the presentation and the drawing (maybe a good visual designer would volunteer?). The the drawing will start to live, and will it ever be finished? I hope not, or we will be out of a job.
UX Strategy wheel template
UX Strategy wheel completely filled out
UX Strategy wheel completely filled out for a product oriented iteration
UX Strategy wheel completely filled out for a company iteration with a proof of concept product or service
20 October 2009
01 October 2009
I was wrong and closed minded, both of which I find annoying.
I was quite surprised to attend a very fine conference with a strong practitioner focus with competent representatives from industry giving case studies and thought provoking discussions. There were, of course, more than a few missers. However, when you attend a CHI conference misser you really wasted your time at some inapplicable pedantic presentation. These were all interesting even if not earth shattering.
I was also pleased to see that the attendees had a kind of willful confusion of IA with UX. Eric Reiss one of the leaders in the conference series said early on he was proud that they would have no debates on terminology or definitions.
What is IA
It seems to me that IA (Information Architecture) and HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) are two ways to achieve the same effect. One is information driven, the other is interaction driven. Both strive for but don’t quite achieve UCD. To borrow a Mahler analogy, these two movements seem to dig from opposite sides of the mountain to reach the center.
Setting the stage for the conference was an interesting case study keynote given by Scott Thomas on his work for the Obama presidential campaign web site. A refreshing talk, one would probably never hear at CHI, charting the work he did as both designer and web developer and IA for one of the most successful and high profile web presences.
It was clear at the conference that there are those who do specialize in IA and don’t touch interaction design with a ten foot pole; however the majority seem to blissfully switch between IA, ID, and UX designer labels based on what will get them the job or the most influence. The resulting conference content is interesting and competent, usually not pedantic (there were a couple regrettable forrays into pedantia--oh I am being pedantic aren't I?). I will hasten to add that probably 10% of these presentations would have been accepted at CHI.
Not that I am in anyway bashing CHI (well I guess i am sort of). CHI continues to be dominated by Academia, it is its reason to exist. So it makes sense that more practioner oriented organizations thrive and offer better conference experiences like EuroIA, SXSW is another such conference. However, there are some design heavy weights very active and present at CHI. People like Bill Gaver, Bill Verplank, Bill Buxton--hey are all of them named Bill? So I guess we should also include Bill Card and Bill Dray...
Still going to a CHI conference is daunting and if you do not stick to the Design or practitioner focussed papers it is really hit and miss. Then there is also the unfortunate academic who strays into a design paper and lambastes a practitioner for not holding double blind studies on a project with a limited client budget. Ah, it is always embarassing when people can't check their egos at the door.
So, it is good there are several credible alternatives to CHI. I guess this means I need to attend the next IA Summit and see what that’s all about. I don’t think I can take anymore good stuff...
In the end, I had a friendly familiar feeling at EuroIA. A feeling like I had met these people before. It seems that regardless of whether you are at CHI or EuroIA or UPA or wherever, people of our profession(s) share this common empathic passion for our stakeholders. This makes us a particularly caring and sympathetic tribe.
04 September 2009
Why a book review
The current state of books on UX is deplorable. Many UX books can’t make up their mind if they are about a given subject or the UX world according to Garp. Just looking at my UX bookshelves, I notice there are, for example, many books with authors who have a narrow or focussed expertise. These authors write books supposedly over a narrow subject, which they sustain for about a chapter or two before they deteriorate into their own homemade version of the User Centered Design process that has little if anything to do with the subject of the book they intended to write. The result is a book with grains of truth in a stew of platitudes. A review of just three books one claiming to be on prototyping, one on designing and another on UX communications, reveals that all of these books cover more or less the same material such as user research, task analysis, persona’s and prototyping; but it does it in such a way that they use both conflicting terminology and conflicting methods.
My more ideal UX books are those on a subject and stick to that subject. They explain their topic in a way that is process independent so that they can plug into whatever processes companies or organizations utilize. The fact of the matter is that no two organizations adopt the same software development process. What they all have in common whether they are called agile or waterfall, iterative or serial, is that they are all machiavellian. Therefore if a book's material cannot fit into the current machiavellian software development processes, then the book is largely worthless; even if entertaining (though probably not as entertaining as E.M. Forester).
I think one of the best services I can do then is to help people navigate around these literary cataracts and start a series of book reviews. These reviews will try and highlight the best of the UX literary corpus.
Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert
I want to start with one of the brighter lights in our industry Tom Tullis. I have often wondered why he had not earlier written a book, given the high quality of contributions he has made to our profession. Well the wait is over.
It's true it is a book on usability metrics. Now I realize there are some people who hate metrics. These people particularly hate any accountability for their design work. I can’t tell you the hate mail i received, even from large design firms, when as Interactions Editor we did a special issue on measuring usability that was guest edited by Jeff Sauro. Well, I purchased Measuring the User Experience (MUX if you will) expecting a more thorough version of that special edition that went into the statistical significance of usability testing. I was in for a very welcomed surprise: this book does not just cover summative usability statistics but many different ways to collect user experience metrics and the also discuss proper analysis techniques.
The book empowers the user to make the right decision regarding what methods you can use and what you can expect the metrics to be able to tell you or not tell you. As the book states metrics can help you to answer questions such as:
- Will the users like the product?
- Is this new product more efficient to use than the current product?
- How does the usability of this product compare to the competition?
- What are the most significant usability problems with this product?
- Are improvements being made from one design iteration to the next?
This is a refreshing change from just looking at time on task, error rates and task success rates. Though of course these play a role they are but ends to the means of answering these larger questions. Furthermore, the book also points out that there is also an analysis step that can greatly alter the seemingly obvious findings.
I cannot tell you the amount of time and money I have seen wasted as perfectly reasonable and wonderful user research was conducted, only to have its results obfuscated and mutilated beyond use. This book will not just enable the usability tester or researcher to avoid such mistakes it also empowers a project manager to see to it that a development project designs the solid usability study that will fit in the goals and needs of the development team.
In their discussion of designing the right usability study. The authors guide you in choosing the right metrics.
First you need to establish if the goal of your study is what the goal of the user’s are. Then on that basis you can look at which metrics, the authors identify 10 common types of usability studies:
- Completing a transaction
- Comparing products
- Evaluating frequent use of the same product
- Evaluating navigation and/or information architecture
- Increasing awareness
- Problem discovery
- Maximizing usability for a critical product
- Creating an overall positive user experience
- Evaluating the impact of subtle changes
- Comparing alternative designs
Then, a key issue they discuss is looking at the budgets and timelines, aka, the Machiavellian business case for the study. Then you can tailor the type of study: how many participants, will it be tests, or reviews or focus groups or a combination thereof.
In the conduct of these studies it is also important to track the right metrics. Tullis and Albert identify the following types of metrics:
- Performance Metrics -- time on task error rates, etc.
- Issue-based metrics -- particular problems or successes in the interface along with severity and frequency
- Self-reported metrics -- how a user can report their experience with questionnaires or interviews
- Behavior or physical metrics -- facial expressions, eye-tracking etc.
It handles these metrics as they should be as part of an overall strategy not favoring one over another as being innately superior. All too often usability testing consultants are one trick ponies, prisoners of whatever limited toolset they happen to have learned.
This book allows the user to assemble all the needed metrics across types to achieve a more holistic view of the user experience, or at least sensitize them that they are not looking at the whole picture.
What is also amazing is the focus and discipline in the book. I think many other authors would not be able to fight the temptation to then expand the book to include how to perform the different types of evaluations, usability tests, etc. These authors acknowledge there are already books that cover these other related aspects and keep their emphasis purely on the subject matter of their book: measuring the user experience.
Yes the book does also get into statistics and evens hows you how to do simple straightforward statistical analysis using that panacea to the world’s known problems’ excel (but that is next week’s topic).
And just in case your wondering the usability score for Amazon is 3.25, while Google’s is 4.13 and the Apple iPhone is a mere 2.97. While the web application suite I just finished designing got a perfect 4.627333.