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solving business problems

Tell me about a design where you set out to solve a business problem.

To me by definition UX is the art of problem solving, so I would say that every day and every job I’ve had to problem solve. I believe the key is total transparent communication. That is why when ever I’m in a leadership role I set a example by always being transparent. Always admitting what I do not know. I might not know everything, but that doesn’t make me a bad leader or a bad designer… rather, it makes me one who continues to grow. Once that space is created I can then proceed to create a path towards a viable and sustainable solution.

At Availity the main problem was breaking down silos and tons of hidden agendas by senior level management. Understanding that the only way to get buy in, in a very hostile environment is to validate your findings. Numbers never lies and numbers and stats are huge and sometimes the ONLY way to get buy-in and results.

What are the basic philosophies or principles that inform your design?
I could talk about F pattern design and grid based layouts or various design methodologies. However, to me the main thing that drives me is “purpose.” All great designs have purpose. They key of UCD is to always keep the needs of the end user front and center.

What questions do you need answered before you start designing an experience?
An experienced UX professional understands that the discovery period is crucial in developing the correct questions. It takes:
Real-world Observation
Trend Analysis
Knowledge of emerging trends
Understanding niche markets
Discovering if there are any opportunity gaps
Conduct rigorous consumer research if necessary
Undergo preliminary market research
and finally develop and Assumption Persona Development workshop and find ways to validate those findings… Then you ask questions if you still have any.

How do you stay current on UX innovations?
I’m teaching myself to become a front-end-developer and that will allow me to better understand key members of cross-functinal teams. I’ve always cross-pollinate with other UX professionals, and joined UX teams. I was a regular speaker at JAX-UX and joined Balanced Team NY. I’m authoring a book in UX entitled “UX, Keep It Simple.” And I read any book on UX I can get my hands on.

Is there anyone you admire in the UX field?
I’m friends with some of the top UX professionals and members of the TED Talk community. Currently working with Aaron Becker (TED TALK) and Steve Blanks (Godfather of UX)… and I’ve worked closely with people like Sean Rad (CEO Tinder). These are all members of the UX community that I really admire.

What are some of the UX designs that inspire you?
I’m a huge fan of blogger Aarron Walter ( http://aarronwalter.com/ ) – I love the simplicity of http://saltsurf.com/ and the editorial look and how well it stands as a responsive site. Same for http://www.nixon.com/us/en/ — Of course although never visually stunning amazon.com is still the industry go-to site for e-commerce best practices, so is tigerdirect.com –

An email to a head-hunter

I’ve been in the interactive space since 1994, an over 20 year veteran in e-commerce. Also, being the youngest CD at Grey I’ve been managing and leading teams since the 1990’s. I also feel as co-facilitator and coach for the #1 Fitness Team in the world (Team Glass – Charles Glass 2001-2015), I’ve acquired tons of transferable skills that allow to be a compassionate and effective leader, able to influence and motivate teams. I’m fortunate that in my career I’ve worked with some of the top brands in the world, from Louis Vuitton to Autobytel to Play Station 4.

My passion for UX is so colossal, I’ve been authoring a book for the past 2 years entitled “UX – Keep It Simple.” I’m constantly reading blogs, speaking at UX groups like JAX-UX and writing about UX. I’ve been invited to give a TED talk on UX and I’m currently working with one of their leaders on a UX project.

Not only will you get a great UX Director, but I’ve always been extremely hands-on. I understand the design and development process, and there’s nothing that my former teams did – that I could not complete, understand or create myself.

A lot of people assume that because I started my career as a Agency Creative Director and participated in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art Copyist program (11 years) gifting me the ability to copy any art, any photograph and any sculpture since age 12… that I prefer User Interface Design above User Experience Research and Development. However, that could not be further from the truth, experience has taught me that the true creative process starts during the discovery period, persona development, validation, research, ideation and prototyping. Therefore, I view UI as the icing on the cake, a reward for all the hard creative work that comes before it.

Another common misconception is that as a coach, mentor, and lead creative most of my career; that I might lack the ability to be an effective team leader as well as extremely collaborative. However, the beauty of UX is that in order to succeed it has to be a true collaborative effort. UX cannot exist or succeed any other way and I LOVE that about it. Unlike my years as a Creative Director where if push came to shove my team or I could complete deliverables on our own, UX can not work that way. Therefore, choosing the correct cross-functional team and being able to collaborate is crucial.

Critical thinking and analysis has been part of who I am since age 9 when I joined the Copyist Program at the MET. It requires extreme analytical skills to dissect a painting from Rembrandt and be able to reverse engineer its development. The last 10 years I’ve taken the time to educate myself on UCD, Empirical Research, and the top 20 UX methodologies.

Having a degree in Fashion and working with Gianni Versace as a teen might not appear to be relatable to UX. However, my over 20 years in high-end fashion as an illustrator, designer, and photographer developed in me a keen eye to simple lines, and high-end aesthetics that allowed not only the fashion industry to benefit from it, but financial companies looking for that beautiful simple look and those clean lines. My aesthetics was the main reason Merrill Lynch brought me on board to participate in their “Be Bullish” campaign in 1998, because they believed my designs would be more appealing to a younger and/or more sophisticated demographics.

I truly believe it will be hard to find a more passionate person for technology and design. Hence my ability to enter enterprises and elevate the equity of a brand by designing workshops that quickly assist teams to get on board and understand why the Pareto Principle is crucial and the dangers of JIC’s (Just in Case Items). Also, the ability to create triggers and engagement that will HOOK the end users and make some of my websites, designs and initiative a daily destination.

Finally, I have a great eye for finding talent. And I’m constantly humbled by some of the people I’ve hired and been fortunate enough to work with. My years developing pitches for Grey and many other agencies allows me to feel at ease in front of teams and audiences and be an effective story teller.

Your job description was exciting to read and I feel strongly I can be a good fit. I’m really looking forward to our continued dialog.

Sincerely,
Dolph Colon DieuDonne

20 UX Methods in Brief

The following chart illustrates where 20 popular methods appear along these dimensions:

Chart of 20 user research methods, classified along 3 dimensions

Each dimension provides a way to distinguish between studies in terms of the questions they answer and the purposes they are most suited for.

Here’s a short description of the user research methods shown in the above chart:

Usability-Lab Studies: participants are brought into a lab, one-on-one with a researcher, and given a set of scenarios that lead to tasks and usage of specific interest within a product or service.

Ethnographic Field Studies: researchers meet with and study participants in their natural environment, where they would most likely encounter the product or service in question.

Participatory Design: participants are given design elements or creative materials in order to construct their ideal experience in a concrete way that expresses what matters to them most and why.

Focus Groups: groups of 3-12 participants are lead through a discussion about a set of topics, giving verbal and written feedback through discussion and exercises.

Interviews: a researcher meets with participants one-on-one to discuss in depth what the participant thinks about the topic in question.

Eyetracking: an eyetracking device is configured to precisely measure where participants look as they perform tasks or interact naturally with websites, applications, physical products, or environments.

Usability Benchmarking: tightly scripted usability studies are performed with several participants, using precise and predetermined measures of performance.

Moderated Remote Usability Studies: usability studies conducted remotely with the use of tools such as screen-sharing software and remote control capabilities.

Unmoderated Remote Panel Studies:  a panel of trained participants who have video recording and data collection software installed on their own personal devices uses a website or product while thinking aloud, having their experience recorded for immediate playback and analysis by the researcher or company.

Concept Testing: a researcher shares an approximation of a product or service that captures the key essence (the value proposition) of a new concept or product in order to determine if it meets the needs of the target audience; it can be done one-on-one or with larger numbers of participants, and either in person or online.

Diary/Camera Studies: participants are given a mechanism (diary or camera) to record and describe aspects of their lives that are relevant to a product or service, or simply core to the target audience; diary studies are typically longitudinal and can only be done for data that is easily recorded by participants.

Customer Feedback: open-ended and/or close-ended information provided by a self-selected sample of users, often through a feedback link, button, form, or email.

Desirability Studies: participants are offered different visual-design alternatives and are expected to associate each alternative with a set of  attributes selected from a closed list; these studies can be both qualitative and quantitative.

Card Sorting: a quantitative or qualitative method that asks users to organize items into groups and assign categories to each group. This method helps create or refine the information architecture of a site by exposing users’ mental models.

Clickstream Analysis: analyzing the record of screens or pages that users clicks on and sees, as they use a site or software product; it requires the site to be instrumented properly or the application to have telemetry data collection enabled.

A/B Testing (also known as “multivariate testing,” “live testing,” or “bucket testing”): a method of scientifically testing different designs on a site by randomly assigning groups of users to interact with each of the different designs and measuring the effect of these assignments on user behavior.

Unmoderated UX Studies: a quantitative or qualitative and automated method that uses a specialized research tool to captures participant behaviors (through software installed on participant computers/browsers) and attitudes (through embedded survey questions), usually by giving participants goals or scenarios to accomplish with a site or prototype.

True-Intent Studies: a method that asks random site visitors what their goal or intention is upon entering the site, measures their subsequent behavior, and asks whether they were successful in achieving their goal upon exiting the site.

Intercept Surveys: a survey that is triggered during the use of a site or application.

Email Surveys: a survey in which participants are recruited from an email message.

Creating Good User Experiences by Focusing on Content

Content is everyone’s business. People in many different roles work toward shared project goals—whether they’re content strategists, UX designers, product managers, or Web developers. The outcome of both business-focused and user-centered goals is the user’s experience, and that user experience should have one thing at its heart: content.

The more you can embed content strategy into every step of your design process, the better the user experience will be. It is essential both that content be useful and that its presentation be usable. After all, it’s the content that brings users to your Web site.

The Importance of Good Content to User Experience

“Users don’t come to your Web site to appreciate its design or fancy interactions. These may catch their attention once they get there, but it is their need for information that brings them to your site.”

Users don’t come to your Web site to appreciate its design or fancy interactions. These may catch their attention once they get there, but it is their need for information that brings them to your site. They may need a store’s opening time, product details, directions, reviews, contact details, or service information—all content. No matter how good the design and functionality of a Web site is, if the content is poor, the overall user experience will be disappointing.

Because content is so crucial to the user experience, it seems nonsensical for conversations about content not to happen across an entire project team—including clients when appropriate. Without content, what are you designing? Without content, how can you make decisions about the necessary functionality and technology to support it?

Freelance consultant Sophie Dennis says, “If you’re focused on making wireframes and designs or building interactive prototypes, what you create can all too easily end up being basically a bunch of gray boxes saying ‘some content goes here.’” The risks of this approach are great and plentiful.

Paula Land summarizes these risks in her book, Content Audits and Inventories:

“Web site redesigns are sometimes driven by the creative or UX teams. Sometimes this results in content being an afterthought or being brought into the project after templates have been created. This can result in a large amount of rework later when the content doesn’t fit the templates and either the templates have to be redeveloped or the content reconfigured.

“These headaches and expense can be avoided if all affected disciplines are on board and working together from the start.”

Bridging the Gap Between Content Strategy and UX Design

“Creating good content is hard enough when it is your primary role on a team or within an organization. Adding this on top of an entirely different role makes doing it successfully harder still.”

This is by no means a criticism of designers or UX professionals. Creating good content is hard enough when it is your primary role on a team or within an organization. Adding this on top of an entirely different role makes doing it successfully harder still. But this is not a hopeless situation. You can bridge the gap between the two disciplines of content strategy and UX design.

Let me be clear on one thing: Content discussions and a better design process are possible without delivering all of the final content up front. If you can achieve that, fantastic! But the reality is that accomplishing this will always be the Holy Grail of Web-site redesign projects. It’s like the chicken-and-egg dilemma, but for content and design. Which comes first? Well, strategy should come first—and strategizing requires that you answer a lot of questions.

At the very least, the designers and developers on a project team should strive to understand the purpose of the content on each page. This means you need to answer many questions from several different perspectives, including the following:

  • content
  • design
  • technology, or development
  • business needs
  • user needs
  • governance

Karen McGrane has created a great visualization of some of the questions you should ask in relation to some of these facets of content strategy, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1—A slide from Karen McGrane’s UX Week 2010 talk, “Why UX Needs Content Strategy”

A slide from Karen McGrane's UX Week 2010 talk, Why UX Needs Content Strategy

Thus, Web-site redesign projects require teams to build a lot of bridges between disciplines and teams. Get designers involved in content discussions at the beginning of a project so they can start to understand what they are designing, why, and who it’s for. Include developers, too, so they can raise any warning flags in terms of what is or is not possible within the constraints of the technology. Encourage designers and developers to start communicating early.

Although your primary focus will be on what is necessary for your current project, ask questions regarding post-launch needs, too. Karen McGrane’s diagram again provides a good reference: Who will maintain the content and the technology?

If everyone understands a Web site’s content early on, you can make decisions about the governance of that content and put processes, systems, and documentation in place to ease the work. What benefits does this offer in creating a good user experience? Well, it ensures that a site’s content is consistent—and since you can manage and update the content efficiently, you can always keep it relevant and useful to users.

Providing Context with Content

“When final content is not yet available, Liam recommends that designers use … proto content to add context to their work.”

Even once a UX designer has a good understanding of the content and has completed the content strategy and planning, the content still may not yet exist. Perhaps the client or an internal stakeholder is writing the content in tandem with the design work. However, you can still embed content thinking into the design phase. Content Strategist Liam King is a champion for proto content, and I agree with his approach. He states that designing with Lorem Ipsum placeholder content “is inert, meaningless, and lacks context.” When final content is not yet available, Liam recommends that designers use one of the following types of proto content to add context to their work:

  • content on the current site
  • competitors’ content
  • throw-away content that you’ve written
  • draft content—while you’re waiting for signoff
  • sample content that you’ve commissioned

UX and product designer Alex Morris sums this up nicely:

“Design has to work hard to help the narrative of your content play out. Design provides context, inferred intent, trust, and helps bring content to life. It’s a tricky balance to find where design helps that narrative without getting in the way. To nail that level of nuance, you absolutely have to be designing with real content rather than faking it.”

This is why those proto content options are better than placeholder content or Lorem Ipsum. They provide some degree of context for the project team, and it is that context that enables the team to make better decisions. The outcome is a better user experience.

Your Inner Content Strategist

“Consider what your inner content strategist should be thinking.”

In a recent guide titled Content Strategy for UX Designers, author Liam King encourages UX professionals to consider what your inner content strategist should be thinking. This means, as part of  your regular processes and practices, you should take a step back and start asking questions about the content.

Ollie Wells, a digital creative, says, “A UX designer must be aware of the ways in which content is consumed by people and how content delivered through all channels must be planned and maintained.” A UX designer’s ability to ask the right questions about the content, at the right time, will reveal insights about the content that lead to a better user experience.

Now, let’s look at some UX-focused tasks and think about what content questions you could ask during your design and research processes.

Creating User Stories

“When you work with actual user stories, you can start to ask more specific questions and gain further insights.”

You’ve identified user needs and expressed them as user stories. What do these user stories reveal? Perhaps they tell you

  • what content types you need to create
  • whether those content types already exist
  • whether content should be multilingual

When you work with actual user stories, you can start to ask more specific questions and gain further insights. At this point, you can start to apply content thinking to your usual design practices. There is no need to change what you do—just add a new layer.

Conducting a Competitive Analysis

“When you’re looking at competitors’ sites from a content strategist’s point of view, you can determine what language and vocabulary your competitors use.”

During a competitive analysis, when you’re looking at competitors’ sites from a content strategist’s point of view, you can determine what language and vocabulary your competitors use. Perhaps this analysis may reveal an industry standard to which you can adhere. You can also spot other content conventions such as preferred map types and the use of icons or abbreviations. Do they use Tel, Telephone, Phone, or something else?

In addition to looking at the format and structure of your competitors’ content, note what types of content your competitors are providing. Should you include all of that content, too? This is not just a matter of looking at competitors’ sites from an aesthetic point of view to determine, for example, whether all of them use a similar color palette. Look at what they’re saying to their users and how their site designs support that narrative.

Mapping User Flows

When you’re mapping user flows, based on your understanding of the content that users need, you can note what templates you should create. This is where your content knowledge can start to influence the structure and the technology of the site. What content do users need, when, and in what form? Thinking about this enables you to design and develop whatever technology is necessary to support and deliver on a site’s content requirements—for example, what fields you need in the CMS.

Designing Content Models

“If your site requires calls to action, panels, or other modules, you can make decisions about where they should appear and how the CMS will display them.”

If your site requires calls to action, panels, or other modules, you can make decisions about where they should appear and how the CMS will display them. You can also consider the treatment of other types of media such as imagery and video.

Think about the workflow for different processes here. For example, if a user submits a question or query, what happens to that information? Who receives it? What information do you provide to users once they submit something or get in touch?

Asking what your inner content strategist should be thinking will likely reveal some issues that you need to resolve. Perhaps you’ve completely neglected a media type, workflow, or content type. Doing this can also validate your earlier decisions, making this time well spent.

Asking Questions to Discover Insights

“At each step throughout a project—from kickoff to planning, design to implementation, and launch to post-launch activities, ask questions about the content.”

At each step throughout a project—from kickoff to planning, design to implementation, and launch to post-launch activities, ask questions about the content. If there is a content person working with you at each stage of the process, make the most of it. But make sure that person is also considering design and development issues.

If there isn’t a dedicated content person on your project, make sure that everyone on the project team asks questions about the content. The result will be a better shared understanding of the purpose of the site, who it is for, how it meets users’ needs and achieves business goals, and how you can maintain the content. Bridge the gaps between disciplines, keep content front and center, and ensure a more pleasant project experience for your team, as well as a better experience for your users.

What Do Academic HCI Researchers Do?

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a rapidly expanding academic research domain. Academic institutions conduct most HCI research—in the US, UK, Europe, Australasia, and Japan, with growth in Southeast Asia and China. HCI research often occurs in Computer Science departments, but retains its historically strong relationship to Psychology and Human Factors. Plus, there are several large, prominent corporations that both conduct HCI research themselves and engage with the academic research community—for example, Microsoft Research, PARC, and Google.

What Do Academic HCI Researchers Do?

In general, academic HCI researchers do three things, as shown in Figure 1.

  1. They innovate novel computing user interfaces through exploratory engineering and by building complex interactive systems—for example, new software applications and infrastructures, wearable devices, and mobile hardware platforms.
  2. They develop an empirical understanding of the usage and the user experience of user interfaces—whether through the experimental testing of user interfaces in the lab or qualitative observation of people using user interfaces in the wild, as in ethnographic research.
  3. They develop theoretical knowledge about the design and use of interactive digital systems. While there are a few predictive theories—such as Fitts’s law, which describes the relationship between pointer movement and the dimensions of interface elements on a screen—more often, HCI theory takes the form of design frameworks comprising interrelated concepts. HCI research may either focus on one small part of the bigger picture or attempt to address the whole.

Figure 1—Academic HCI research [1]

Academic HCI research

The Qualitative versus Quantitative Dimension

The distinction here is an important one, and goes well beyond the narrow view of qualitative as “open ended” as in an open-ended survey question.  Rather, studies that are qualitative in nature generate data about behaviors or attitudes based on observing them directly, whereas in quantitative studies, the data about the behavior or attitudes in question are gathered indirectly, through a measurement or an instrument such as a survey or an analytics tool. In field studies and usability studies, for example, the researcher directly observes how people use technology (or not) to meet their needs. This gives them the ability to ask questions, probe on behavior, or possibly even adjust the study protocol to better meet its objectives. Analysis of the data is usually not mathematical.

By contrast, insights in quantitative methods are typically derived from mathematical analysis, since the instrument of data collection (e.g., survey tool or web-server log) captures such large amounts of data that are easily coded numerically.

Due to the nature of their differencesqualitative methods are much better suited for answering questions about why or how to fix a problem, whereas quantitative methods do a much better job answering how many and how much types of questions. Having such numbers helps prioritize resources, for example to focus on issues with the biggest impact. The following chart illustrates how the first two dimensions affect the types of questions that can be asked:

 

Two dimentions of questions that can be answered by user research

The Attitudinal versus Behavioral Dimension

This distinction can be summed up by contrasting “what people say” versus “what people do” (very often the two are quite different). The purpose of attitudinal research is usually to understand or measure people’s stated beliefs, which is why attitudinal research is used heavily in marketing departments.

While most usability studies should rely more on behavior, methods that use self-reported information can still be quite useful to designers. For example, card sorting provides insights about users’ mental model of an information space, and can help determine the best information architecture for your product, application, or website. Surveys measure and categorize attitudes or collect self-reported data that can help track or discover important issues to address. Focus groups tend to be less useful for usability purposes, for a variety of reasons, but provide a top-of-mind view of what people think about a brand or product concept in a group setting.

On the other end of this dimension, methods that focus mostly on behavior seek to understand “what people do” with the product or service in question. For example A/B testing presents changes to a site’s design to random samples of site visitors, but attempts to hold all else constant, in order to see the effect of different site-design choices on behavior, while eyetracking seeks to understand how users visually interact with interface designs.

Between these two extremes lie the two most popular methods we use: usability studies and field studies. They utilize a mixture of self-reported and behavioral data, and can move toward either end of this dimension, though leaning toward the behavioral side is generally recommended.